In 1941, Abraham Jura wrote to his cousin in Palestine. He was writing from Vienna, and it was a letter written in desperation, knowing he would soon be deported. “We are lost… and beg you to look after our precious children.” He wrote these words having already sent his three children away in the hope they would be safe. But for him and his wife, Malka, they had nowhere to go. Within months of writing these words, they had both been rounded up by the Gestapo and sent to the Lodz ghetto, and from there to Auschwitz, where they were both murdered.
The story of the Jura family is one of loss, despair and, ultimately, murder at the hands of the Nazis. But, because of the brave decision made by Abraham and Malka to send their children away, all three daughters survived.
The Holocaust was the murder of six million Jewish men, women and children. But it didn’t start with gas chambers, it started with persecution and fear and, for some, it started with parents being forced to make heartbreaking decisions to send their children into hiding, to send them to foreign countries, to entrust them to the care of strangers, knowing that they may never see them again.
Part of understanding the Shoah is understanding the stories of those children, some only infants, alone, scared, fleeing, separated from their families and their communities and tasked with rebuilding their lives elsewhere.
That is why Stories from Willesden Lane is so special. Our project, working with 8,000 students from across London, explores one of these stories through the eyes of Lisa, one of Abraham and Malka’s daughters.
Lisa came to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1938. She was 14 when she left Vienna and an aspiring pianist, taking weekly lessons until Jewish children were forbidden from attending lessons with non-Jewish teachers. Her mother’s last words to her as she boarded the train were: “Hold on to your music and I will be with you every step of the way.”
She was young, in a foreign city, far from everyone she loved, during the Blitz. It would have been easy to let go of her dreams, to focus on just surviving from one day to the next.
Instead, in a hostel in Willesden Lane for Jewish child refugees, she kept practising the piano, kept searching for news of auditions, and eventually achieved her dream, being accepted to the Royal Academy. Even more incredibly, she played the Grieg Concerto, one of the most challenging pieces of music, at the iconic Wigmore Hall, as her piano debut. An incredible story.
For young students from across the capital, many of them refugees themselves, they are hearing that in adversity, even in the face of unimaginable circumstances, there can still be hope and new beginnings.
Learning about Lisa’s story and the Kindertransport is not just an introduction to understanding the Holocaust, but also teaches them something about the world we live in today.
I’m so proud the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) is bringing this story home, to London, where it all began.
- HET is hosting a special gala performance of The Children of Willesden Lane on Sunday, 10 June, at Wigmore Hall.
- For more details and to buy tickets, see wigmore-hall.org.uk