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Claus the Holocaust teddy helps secure refugee pledge at Clerkenwell School

"Wouldn’t you feel awful if someone beat your mum? Wouldn’t you feel awful. That’s how I felt."

14 December, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Wendla Kernig with Claus and Kai at Hugh Myddelton Primary School 


THE true story of an 85- year-old teddy bear and his owner escaping the Nazis enthralled hundreds of schoolchildren during a special assembly on Friday.

Two survivors of the Holocaust were invited to talk at Hugh Myddelton Primary School in Clerkenwell after a pupil wrote a letter to her teachers saying the council should accept more child refugees.

Wendla Kernig, 87, spoke of her family’s ordeal leaving Germany and Czechoslovakia before the Second World War and how her teddy bear Claus helped her survive.

Yasna Taher with Wendla Kernig and Elsa Shamash, who both survived the Holocaust 

Her story of how some of her classmates were rounded up by the Nazis from her Jewish school in Prague and sent to a concentration camp reduced some of the Hugh Myddelton teachers to tears.

“When the mums and dads went to the school, there were no children and staff and those children were never seen again. I escaped that by a few weeks. Imagine what that was like for the mums and dads, imagine how scared the children were. Some of us were lucky,” she said.

She added her family decided to travel to England after her mother was beaten by the secret police. Ms Kernig, a former headteacher, said her parents gave her Claus when she was a toddler and he travelled with her through Europe until she made it to England with her baby sister and mother.

She said: “Wouldn’t you feel awful if someone beat your mum? Wouldn’t you feel awful. That’s how I felt. We came to England on the train, we arrived in Victoria station. There was no one to help us. We couldn’t speak English.

“My mother and I were crying. Eventually a very kind man, a porter, called the Czech refugee service and someone took us to a hotel. From then on we lived in various hostels.”

Ms Kernig praised Yasna Taher, 11, a former student at Hugh Myddelton who is now at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, who wrote the letter high-lighting her wish for Islington Council to help more refugee children.

Yasna’s letter inspired her school friends to start a petition calling for Islington to house 100 unaccompanied child refugees in the next 10 years – a pledge the council has promised to fulfil if they are given enough government funding.

She said: “A kind person in England, that’s what you’re doing, helped to get enough money for children to be put on big trains called the Kindertransport.”

The gathered schoolchildren gasped in delight as Ms Kernig invited six-year-old Kai onto the stage to unveil Claus from a white plastic bag.

“He’s been with me for 85 years,” she said.

The children also welcomed Elsa Shamash, a Holocaust survivor and former child refugee, who spoke of how difficult her childhood was under Nazi rule.

She said: “We arrived in Britain as child refugees, alone and separated from our families.

“Now we believe the UK government should give more children the same life-saving opportunity that we had. That is why we call on the government to match the efforts of the Kindertransport by committing to resettle 10,000 child refugees over the next 10 years.”

Councillor Sue Lukes, Islington Council’s migrant champion, whose father was a Kindertransport child, said after the assembly: “It’s wonderful to be able to sign this pledge in the same year that we are commemorating the 80th anniversary of the start of the Kindertransport, which was both a massive rescue operation and a collective decision to shelter and protect thousands of innocent children who were fleeing for their lives.”

The event was backed by Safe Passage, a project run by Citizens UK, which helps support refugees fleeing harm.

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