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Old book gives clue to tragic story

PUBLISHED: 16:55 13 May 2009 | UPDATED: 11:18 08 July 2010

A dusty decade's old school exercise book uncovered at a Norfolk school has given historians a brief glimpse into a touching and tragic story that stands as a footnote to the full horror of the holocaust.

A dusty decade's old school exercise book uncovered at a Norfolk school has given historians a brief glimpse into a touching and tragic story that stands as a footnote to the full horror of the holocaust.

During a clearout at Swaffham Junior School earlier this year staff came across a fading blue A5 jotter.

Inside were lists of names of children who had attended the school in 1954 and details of the vaccinations they had had.

But when staff took the book to Swaffham Museum to be placed in the local archive, experts there discovered the first pages of the book revealed details of a hidden history of young holocaust survivors.

David Butters, chairman of Swaffham Museum Trustees, said: “When I first looked at the book it was open at a page where my name was as 1954 was my school age group.

“My assistant, being more meticulous, started at the beginning of the book.

“You can see the names on the first two pages are mainly foreign and the years of birth are much earlier than in the rest of the book.”

The names include Brym, Harrowitz and Wasserman and Mr Butters has discovered that out of the 25 children, who are listed along with details of whether they had been inoculated against German measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, diphtheria and tetanus, the majority were Jewish child refugees who had escaped the holocaust.

They were brought over to England as part of the 1938 kindertransport operation which saw thousands of Jewish children under the age of 17 evacuated from Germany and other Nazi occupied countries including Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Initially settled in Hackney, London, the children were evacuated, along with several local youngsters, to Cockley Cley Hall when bombing in the capital intensified during the blitz.

They were cared for by the owner's of the hall, The Dowager Lady Roberts and her husband, for the duration of the conflict.

There is no record of what happened to the children after they left Cockley Cley, though it is understood that Lady Roberts kept in contact with at least two of them for a time.

But for the Jewish youngsters who had survived the war and the brutal Nazi extermination there would have been little cause for celebration.

Though a small percentage of children were reunited with their families, many of whom had spent the war in hiding or who had survived the concentration camps, very few of those evacuated in the kindertransport ever saw their relatives again.

The majority grew up rootless in adopted homes or orphanages in a foreign land.

Mr Butters said: “Their relatives probably went to the concentration camps.

“If they had had brothers or sisters over the age of 17 they would not have been able to go on the kindertransport.

“The book is the only record we have of them and we do not know where they went.

“It is an important piece of local history and an important piece of these children's lives.

“It was a terrible, terrible time.”

The book will be on display at Swaffham Museum until the end of the year.

Anyone with any information about the children is asked to get in contact with Mr Butters at the Museum on 01760 721230.

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