Liberation and arrival in Windermere
At Theresienstadt, Alfred sat on some of the Russian tanks and met the soldiers who had arrived to liberate the camp. He walked outside to see what it felt like to “be free” and in a nearby field found a dead soldier’s belt; on it was etched the words ‘God is with us’.
By this time Alfred had a high temperature, and didn’t feel very hungry. Fortunately he didn’t go to get extra food rations since some of those who did had dysentery and died. Alfred was accommodated in the German soldier’s barracks, received medical attention and allowed to have showers for the first time in many years.
A Czech doctor at Theresienstadt contacted a Jewish charity that negotiated with the authorities to bring a group of child Holocaust Survivors to England. Very few of the children wanted to return to Poland; some of those who did return initially couldn’t find their families and were threatened with murder.
In June 1945 the Home Office gave permission for a thousand orphans aged from eight to sixteen to be brought to the UK for recuperation, and ultimate re-emigration overseas. The Home Office were made aware that it was unlikely that any documents would be available giving proof of age, and the children rescued from concentration camps would most probably have no identification papers of any kind.
With this fact established, the first three hundred children were moved from Theresienstadt to Prague. Alfred was one of those chosen to make the journey and later remembered his short stay in Prague, meeting very kind and friendly Czechs and being taken to a circus before his flight with the other children.
On 13 August 1945, ten Stirling aircraft of 196 Squadron set off for Prague from the UK to collect the children and other passengers, in order to transport them to the Lake District. According to immigration officials the first of the Stirling aircraft to arrive at Crosby on Eden from Prague touched down at 5.00pm on 14 August 1945.
A series of buses was used to transport the children to Windermere, though towards the end army trucks had to be co-opted and the final passengers departed from the airfield at 10.30pm.
Alfred’s first new home in England was on the now ‘lost’ village of Calgarth Estate that stood at Troutbeck Bridge, about one mile from Windermere. Calgarth Estate was a wartime housing scheme built for aircraft factory workers employed at nearby White Cross Bay. The estate had its own shops, canteen, entertainment hall and many other facilities.
On his arrival Alfred’s only possessions were some shorts and a ladies’ jacket. The children were given clothes, their own small room, a bed and clean linen.
(More details about the children’s stay at Calgarth are available on the Lake District Holocaust Project website): www.ldhp.org.uk
By this stage Alfred’s illness had been diagnosed as tuberculosis. He was only at Windermere for a few days before he was taken to the Westmorland General Hospital. He was then transferred to the TB Colony at Papworth where he shared a room with an RAF airman called Bill Shepherd. With his expertise in learning languages, Alfred quickly learnt English so he could speak to Bill.
From Papworth Alfred was sent to stay in the Bolney Block at Ashford Sanatorium where he met up again with Minia Jay, one of the few girls who had come with him to Windermere. Coincidentally, years later, the site at Ashford became a training school for the police and Alfred’s son trained as a policeman there.
After his discharge at Ashford, Alfred returned briefly to Windermere. Whilst he was there he discovered, to his great delight, that one of his five sisters, Ides had survived the war. One of ‘the boys’, Sam Dresner, was reading a Jewish newspaper where people, who were trying to find out if their relatives were still alive, wrote making enquiries. Alfred decided to write to the paper and gave names of his family members. An aunt living in France, who was still alive and in contact with his sister Ides who was also living there, rushed to see her and told her ‘she had won the lottery’. During an English lesson while he was staying at Ashford, Alfred received a telegram sent on the 12th July, 1946.
Alfred was to be reunited with Ides later that year.