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Why this Suffolk school rallied round in the fight against the Holocaust

PUBLISHED: 15:01 14 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:14 28 January 2020

Refugees fleeing the Holocaust arrive at St Felix School in Reydon. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

Refugees fleeing the Holocaust arrive at St Felix School in Reydon. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

It played a proud and important part in world history - and now a Southwold school is set to poignantly mark how it helped support refugees fleeing persecution by hosting an event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD).

The children arrived on a Kindertransport train at Lowestoft railway station. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOLThe children arrived on a Kindertransport train at Lowestoft railway station. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

In the late 1930s, thousands of men, women and children were rounded up and sent to concentration camps such as Auschwitz as part of the brutal Nazi regime in Germany.

Many would perish in prison, be used as slaves or be killed in gas chambers.

But for some, there was hope - as the Kindertransport rescue effort, joined by St Felix School in Reydon, near Southwold, took 10,000 children from Nazi-occupied territories to give them a new life in Britain free from persecution.

Lowestoft railway station was an arrival point for Jewish refugees in 1938, with the Lowestoft Journal even printing a message in Germand and English under the heading: "We greet you."

The young people had been staying at Pakefield holiday camp but had to evacuate when a harsh winter hit. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOLThe young people had been staying at Pakefield holiday camp but had to evacuate when a harsh winter hit. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

Hundreds of the youngsters had been staying at the nearby Pakefield holiday camp but had to evacuate when the weather took a turn for the worse in winter.

With the three boarding houses at St Felix vacated by girls leaving for the Christmas holidays, staff and neighbours rallied round to provide food, clothing and a warm welcome for the 200 boys aged between 12 and 18.

Arriving in the midst of a snowstorm in December 1938, they would stay for two weeks in what the children thought was "paradise".

They were looked after by staff throughout the Christmas period, with many giving up holiday time to help support them.

St Felix School in Reydon took in about 200 young people for a two-week stay. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOLSt Felix School in Reydon took in about 200 young people for a two-week stay. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

And while the housemistress at St Felix at the time spoke of how the children seemed happy and friendly, she said: "It was sometimes difficult to realise all that lay beneath the surface, and all the tragic experiences through which so many of them had passed."

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Today an independent school for both boys and girls, St Felix is set to remember the vital role it played and highlight the ongoing need to fight all forms of discrimination at a special ceremony on HMD on January 27.

Organised by the Southwold and Reydon HMD Group, St Felix has been chosen for its long-standing commitment in supporting refugees - not just during the Holocaust, but also Serbian refugees during the First World War and Ugandan asylum seekers in the 1970s.

St Felix School will be hosting an event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOLSt Felix School will be hosting an event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Picture: ST FELIX SCHOOL

Under the theme of "stand together", the event will start with an illustrated talk on Kindertransport by Nigel Spencer MBE, followed by moving talks by two Holocaust survivors.

Evelyne Raphael will talk about her time hiding from Nazi persecution in France, while Larry Lisner will discuss his father, who was in Auschwitz for two years.

The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda will be remembered by Mr Ganza Gahizi Dieudonne, who lost 50 members of his family.

There will be the very moving 'Kaddish' prayer for those lives lost, followed by a time of quiet reflection alongside music by the Klezmerized band.

Janet Gershlick, who has helped to organise the event, said: "I am passionate about the current generation hearing these survivor stories. Listening, hearing and witnessing living history whilst we still can.

"I feel both honoured and humbled to be part of this planning group that allows us to share these moments together."

Chris Ure, on behalf of the planning group, emphasised that the free event is open to everyone and he hopes that as many people as possible will attend - "so that as a community we can truly stand together to remember and to understand the importance of opposing racism and hatred in any of its forms".

The event has been financially supported by Suffolk County Council, East Suffolk Council and the Southwold Trust.

For further information, contact Chris Ure on 01502 725793 or ure.spring@btinternet.com

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