Yesterday, the Duchess of Cornwall paid her first solo visit in the Jewish community to the Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre, (HSC). She met with 40 survivors who took refuge in the UK during and after the Nazi occupation.
For more than 20 years, the HSC has been a lifeline for holocaust survivors; a place where they might come to socialize and receive emotional and practical advice. The ajoining Shalvata facility provides the same support services to refugees of more recent conflicts. “Everything seems to happen here,” the Duchess commented after hearing about the range of activities and services available to members of the community.
During her time at the centre, the Duchess spoke with great pride how the UK looked after these refugees in their time of need. She shook hands with everyone in attendance and asked them to share their experiences during these difficult years and what impact in sharing them is having on younger generations.
She expressed the importance of educating and passing on these dark and tragic memories “to my generation and to the next generation.”
She added: “I just hope these stories will continue so people know just how incredible you’ve all been. I’m also very proud this country has looked after you so well.”
The Duchess worked her way through the nine tables, escorted by Lord Levy, the President of Jewish Care’s. She immediately recognized Henrietta Kelly, the woman responsible for bringing her to the centre.
Ms. Kelly spent 20 months in Bergen Belsen when she was only six years old. The Royal’s invitation came about when she attended last year’s national commemoration ceremony of the seventieth aniversery and liberation of Auschwitz with her husband. The two women happened to be seated beside one another.
Kelly said: “She remembered me and another lady on my table – and even recalled what I’d told her that my parents didn’t recognise each other when they met on the street in Paris after the War,”
She continued by expressing her shock and awe of meeting a member of the Royal Family. “She really is so interested and chatty and made sure everybody had a chance to speak. I could never have imagined in a million years that I would meet a member of the Royal Family.”
Kelly and the Duchess have exchanged a number of letters. When she was asked where she intended to invite the Duchess next, she teased: “I think it’s her turn to invite us next.”
At the next table, the Duchess met Freddie Knoller who said: “She’s an amazing women, so easy to talk to . She was asking lots of questions and I told her the Centre is like our second home where the survivors can come together.”
Even though the circumstances which brought everyone together – survivors sharing their stories and the Duchess speaking about her father’s own experiences as a prisoner of war, the visit did have its lighter moments. The Duchess had an interesting discussion about soup with a Romanian refugee.
For many years, Prince Charles has attended numerous events and remembrance ceremonies in support of refugees. The Duchess was given many messages to pass on to him and, when asked about the Queen, she said she was doing “very well” and “looking forward” to her upcoming birthday.
Lord Levy remarked: “The fact we had such a senior member of the Royal Family visit the Centre is an indication of how the Royal Family understand and relate to all the different communities, particularly the Jewish community.
He further went on by saying: “Everybody at the Centre had a day that will live long in the memory. One survivor said to me that the visit ‘was yet another stage in the healing process for me.”
The HSC’s vice-chair, Dame Gail Ronson, dedicated a presentation of flowers to the late survivor Bettine Le Beau, paying tribute to her “continental chutzpah” and saying she loved chatting with her at the HSC. Speaking to those in attendance, she added: “The Duchess’ had the best time ever and looking at you all why wouldn’t she.”