Holocaust Memorial Day
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of January, we look into some of the first-hand accounts of Shropshire soldiers who saw the atrocities of the Holocaust and the local response here in Shropshire. The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Be the light in the darkness’.
Most Shropshire soldiers who fought in the Second World War belonged to a regiment known as the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (the KSLI). The 4th Battalion of the KSLI (pictured below) were among the first troops to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945.
At the archives, we hold a series of oral history interviews with soldiers from the 4th Battalion. The accounts are harrowing to read but also represent hope in the liberation of the camp.
One soldier, Douglas Jones remembers:
Belsen was liberated on 15 April 1945. Excerpts from the Battalion’s official war diary for this date record the troops discovering both the concentration camp and a Prisoner of War camp.
The following is a press statement released several weeks later by the British Military Government. The statement further describes the horrors of the Belsen concentration camp that British troops came upon when first entering and their response over the next few days and weeks.
Seven months before the liberation of Belsen, the 4th Battalion entered Antwerp, Belgium in September 1944. Again, they were the first troops there and were welcomed by the people of Antwerp.
Harry Langford, Platoon Sergeant, remembers:
The local response in Shropshire
Back in Shropshire, there were also efforts to help Jewish refugees who had fled Germany to escape the Nazi regime. It is estimated that around 70,000 had come to Britain by the time World War 2 broke out, with another 10,000 who arrived during the war years. The archives give some insight into how the local population of Shropshire assisted these Jewish refugees.
Sources we hold include a minute book for the Mayor of Shrewsbury’s Committee for Jewish refugee children and records relating to a local school for German Jewish refugees.
The committee minutes highlight many of the practicalities of taking in the refugee children, discussing topics including possible placements, reports on the children and ways to financially support them. In 1945, for example, a concert was held to raise money.
Below is a page from the committee minute book:
Bunce Court School
The school records we hold relate to Bunce Court School for German Jewish refugee children, which relocated from Kent to Trench Hall in Shropshire during the war years.
The school was set up by Anna Essinger, who had originally founded a boarding school in Germany in 1926, before escaping with her staff and pupils to Kent when Hitler came to power. This became Bunce Court School for refugee children. In June 1940, the school relocated to Trench Hall with 125 pupils.
The records at the archives tell us how the school was run during the war years and include recollections of former pupils and stories about how they integrated with some of the local people and neighbours, with some Shropshire children even becoming pupils. They reveal some of the fun activities the children were able to partake in, but also the isolation and despair felt by many who were separated from their parents and families.
At the end of the war, the school moved back to Bunce Court in Kent. There were few new refugee children, but the school did take in two 14-year-old boys who were survivors from concentration camps and were now orphans. The school finally closed in 1948.
For more information on Holocaust Memorial Day, please visit their website at: