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Wilfrid Israel : Wilfrid Israel used his Berlin department store as cover for smuggling thousands of Jewish children to safety in Britain.
Wilfrid Israel

With particular thanks to ‘The Silent Saviour of Germany’s Jews’, by Ofer Aderet at Haaretz.

Wilfrid Israel (1899-1943) was a wealthy German retailer, who used his business as a cover to bring thousands of Jewish children to Britain in the run-up to the Second World War, saving them from ‘deportation, extermination and annihilation’ - words thought too melodramatic at the time, but only too accurate.

EVEN before the Nazis came to power in 1933, Wilfrid Israel was helping Jews escape to Britain, America and the British Mandate for Palestine.*

As manager of a flagship Berlin department store, Wilfrid had a peculiar kind of influence. After the SS arrested some of his employees during Kristallnacht on 9th November, 1938, Wilfrid secured their release by offering the commander at the Sechsenhausen camp free shopping over Christmas.

Wilfrid’s report on the camps, passed covertly to Herbert Samuel in London, led directly to the Kindertransport, which smuggled some ten thousand Jewish children to Britain. In 1939 he followed them, advising British Intelligence and the Foreign Office on refugees and resistance movements, and widening his operations to include Spain and Portugal.

On a flight home from Lisbon on June 1st, 1943, his plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.** But this secretive man, whose struggle had been ‘to reach out and touch the world’, had already saved it, ten thousand times over.

* The State of Israel was not founded until 1948. The Mandate was created by the League of Nations in 1922 from what had been Ottoman Syria, with the express purpose of providing a homeland for Jewish people at some stage. See British Mandatory Palestine.

** On the same plane was actor Leslie Howard, who had been doing war-work in Spain and Portugal. See Leslie Howard.

With particular thanks to ‘The Silent Saviour of Germany’s Jews’, by Ofer Aderet at Haaretz.

See also: Wilfrid Israel Museum (Kibbutz Hazorea, Israel);
The Kindertransport Association.

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Picture: © Colin Pyle, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
The Kindertransport memorial in London’s Liverpool Street railway station. Thousands of Jewish children were saved from extermination by the Nazis through the efforts of Wilfrid Israel and sympathetic figures in the British Government, including Herbert Samuel (Liberals), Sir Stafford Cripps (Labour), and of course Winston Churchill (Conservatives).

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