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A film tells the story of German and Austrian refugees who fought against Hitler, writes Rosy Moorhead
Many personal stories of World War Two have been told over the years - often heroic, sometimes horrific, always moving. Now it’s time for the stories of another remarkable group of people to be heard – the 10,000 German and Austrian Jewish refugees who fought on the side of the British.
“They’re incredible,” says Dr Helen Fry, whose book was the basis for the National Geographic documentary Churchill’s German Army, “and they don’t think they’ve done anything exceptional!”
The London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) is screening the documentary and present will be Helen and seven of the veterans, all over 90, who inspired the book. “It will be good for people to hear them,” Helen says, “it’s like touching history.”
Helen, a teacher at the LJCC, happened across the story of 4,000 refugee soldiers who had trained for the British army, in the unarmed Pioneer Corps. “These guys were involved in every aspect of the campaign – in the commandoes, going on raids behind enemy lines and interrogating German prisoners of war.”
Helen heard about a group of veterans who still meet once a month at the Imperial Cafe in Golders Green, close to where she lives. It is members of this group that will be joining her at the screening next week.
“Without them, the war would have lasted longer,” she says, “and certainly at the end of the war we wouldn’t have had the stability in Europe without their help in the denazification process. Their overall contribution was immense.”
Churchill’s German Army will be shown at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, North End Road, Golders Green on Tuesday, May 29 from 11am to 3pm. Details: 020 8457 5019, www.ljcc.org.uk
Willy Field, who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 91, fought for 11 months on the front line, landing in the D-Day bombings and fighting his way through France and Holland into Germany.
“He said it was his proudest moment,” says Helen. His parents had been shot, before the camps, for being Jewish and Willy had to flee to Britain to escape the same fate. He saw his contribution as him ‘giving something back to Britain for saving his life’.
Geoffrey Perry, 90, originally from Berlin, worked in T-force (‘t’ for target) restoring democracy to the German media.
Geoffrey was the man who gave the first Allied broadcast to the German people, in 1945, from the microphone of the notorious William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw Haw.
Geoffrey’s connection with Joyce wasn’t to end there – he and his unit were in a forest in Flensburg, on the German-Danish border, when they came across “a rough-looking character," Geoffrey rembembers.
"I said ‘You wouldn’t be William Joyce, would you?’ and he said no, and his hand went to his pocket so I pulled out a pistol and aimed for his pocket – but I hit him in the bum! We put him into the truck and drove him to the nearest frontier post.”
After the war, Geoffrey came back to the UK and has lived in Brondesbury Park since 1960, and continued his career in magazine production until his retirement.
Fritz and Susan Lustig
Fritz Lustig, 93, from Berlin, worked in the Intelligence Corps and worked for two years as one of the listeners-in to German POWs, in work linked to Bletchley.
He met his wife Susan in the Corps, who had come from Wrocław (German: Breslau) in Poland on a domestic permit to work for a family in Finchley.
They met in 1943, when Fritz was 24 and Susan 22. They married in 1945 and both were naturalised in 1947. After living in Reading for more than 50 years, they now live in Muswell Hill, and their son Robin Lustig is the successful and respected presenter of The World Tonight on Radio 4.
"Germany was no longer our home country," Fritz says, "we felt completely non-German, completely British."