Simple and selfless, individual actions are enough to change an individual’s life.
However, thinking individual actions need to be brave and heroic is often a misconception. Yes, there were several extraordinary individuals who risked their lives to save others in times such as the Holocaust, including Irena Sendler, Oscar Schindler and Dietrich Bonhoffer.
But, to show compassion to an individual, we do not have to sacrifice our own lives. Simple individual acts of compassion too can shine a light of hope on a person’s life, especially if they are forced to flee conflict and persecution like Peter.
Peter grew up in a Jewish family in Nuremberg, Germany. In 1936, as the Nazis took over, Peter’s parents sent him to school in England. With the support of the West London Synagogue, Peter’s headteacher at Farnham Grammar School, Dr Morgan, was part of a close Christian family. He sent regular reports about Peter to his parents, Alex and Anne Singer, who were both dentists, still in Nuremberg.
On Kristallnacht, the Nazi state-sponsored riots against Jews on 9th November 1938, Alex and Anne’s flat was ransacked and Alex’s dental equipment stolen. Alex was deported to a concentration camp in Dachau and Anne was left traumatized by the experience.
Hearing of this, Peter’s headteacher started working closely with the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood and Lord Nathan of Churt to get Alex released from Dachau, by serving as guarantors and providing funds to confirm the promise of an English visa. Alex was released from Dachau after three months.
With these guarantees secured, Alex and Anne could now leave Germany. They arrived in England in May 1939, just four–months before the start of World War II. The Home Office gave them a 12-month visa with no right to work.
With no means to support themselves, Alex and Anne had to rely on the kindness of strangers, such as Dr Morgan.
Dr Morgan describes this arrangement in a letter dated 5th October 1939.
“They are under the care of my wife and myself. Lord Nathan pays the rent for the rooms in which they live – owing to the fact that we have no sleeping accommodation for them at the school…They have meals daily with my family”.
In another very touching letter Dr Morgan replies to Alex who had thanked him for his support:
“It will always be a source of gratification and pride to us that we were able to offer help and hospitality to two such undeserved victims of Hitler.”
Like in the actions of Dr Morgan, our simple actions are enough to change an individual’s life, just as Peter’s headteacher had changed Peter’s and his family’s lives.
Simple and individual acts of compassion show that we stand in solidarity with those who suffer. Adhering to human rights principles ensures safety and rights for all people.
The modern human rights framework emerged as a legacy of the Holocaust. And as such, we have to actively challenge the ‘hostile environment’ promoted against refugees and asylum seeker and those seeking safety in the UK.
This year, during Refugee Week, we encourage individuals to share messages of support with refugees and asylum seekers and show that the UK wants #CompassionNotCruelty to be the way we treat the stranger.