Cousins who fled from Nazis on same train united at last
WHEN the frightened ten-year-old boy said goodbye at a German train station shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, he thought he would never see anyone in his family again.
Stephen Brent was one of the lucky few Jewish children to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany and was evacuated to the safety of Edinburgh.
As he built a new life for himself over the years, he had to live with the knowledge that most of his relatives had been killed in the Holocaust.
But now – 70 years later – he has been united with the cousin he never knew he had, following a feature in the Evening News telling his story.
He was amazed to discover that Walter Bernard, 83, left on the same train as him as part of the Kindertransport humanitarian scheme. They have now had an emotional meeting at Mr Bernard's house in Milton Keynes.
Mr Brent's distant relative Ron Brinitzer, who was researching their family tree, contacted him following the News article in May. He told him that his cousin was living in England. And after their meeting, the pair now keep in touch with regular phone calls.
Mr Brent, 79, said: "I never knew I had a family, apart from my sister Hanna, who moved to Israel. I thought they had all been killed. Walter came across in the same transport on the same day. But we didn't know who the other was. I knew I had an uncle, but my father had fallen out with him. When I met him, I saw the resemblance to my father right away. We talked for several hours."
Mr Brent, who was born Stefan Brienitzer, was adopted by a family friend, Tom McGregor, in Portobello. Mr Bernard, also originally Brienitzer, whose family had converted to Catholicism, was sent to a Jesuit boarding school in England. The fact that both had chosen to Anglicise their names when they were adults had made it difficult for relatives to trace them.
Their parents had also used a different spelling in Germany.
Mr Brent said life had become increasingly difficult in the 1930s.
He remembers the aftermath of the infamous Kristallnacht, when Nazis destroyed Jewish property, breaking shop windows and painting the star of David.
A few months later, in July 1939, his mother took him to the station and gave him a suitcase filled with clothes and food. He never saw her again. He travelled by ferry to Harwich and then to Edinburgh.
He said: "They gave me a watch as a present, but I lost it on the train. My mother gave me lots of chocolate, but I couldn't eat it on the journey.
"When I arrived I was met by Tom McGregor. I couldn't speak English and he couldn't speak German. I phoned home but I was so upset I threw up. I only ever spoke to my parents once more."
Mr Brent attended Portobello Junior School and then won a place at George Heriot's. He later ran a grocer's shop in Haddington, where he still lives with his wife Angela. They have three sons.
He only found out about his family's fate several years after the war. His parents Gunther and Ella had been killed in Auschwitz, as had many other relatives.
He said: "After the war I assumed the worst. But it was many years before I found out what happened.
"The Germans kept records of who they sent to the camps. My maternal grandmother finished up in a camp for older people. But they decided they weren't dying quickly enough so she was sent to one of the final camps."
Mr Brent's niece discovered a last scribbled note from his mother while researching her PhD.
He said: "She found messages that people had written before they were taken to the camps. One was in my mother's handwriting. They were given to a little half-Jewish girl who survived. It was her last communication. She would have had no idea if anyone would ever read it."
Mr Brent still finds it difficult to talk about the past, although he is determined it should never be forgotten. He contributed to an exhibition in Haddington in May to remember the Holocaust.
He now plans to keep in touch with Mr Bernard, and has invited him to visit in East Lothian.
"It is really nice to know I'm not alone," he said.
THE LUCKY ONES ESCAPED BUT NEVER SAW THEIR PARENTS AGAIN
AROUND 10,000 Jewish children were taken to Britain under the Kindertransport, or Refugee Children Movement, scheme.
They fled Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia between 1938 and 1939.
Britain had agreed to allow an unspecified number of under-17s into the country in response to the Nazis' growing anti-semitism.
A delegation of British Jewish leaders had appealed in person to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, following Kristallnacht on November 15, 1938.
The last sealed train left Germany on September 1, 1939, just days before war broke out. When the children arrived in the UK, some were taken in by foster families, some went to orphanages and some worked on farms.
These included Whittingehame Farm School, which was set up in East Lothian. Around 160 teenage Jewish refugees lived there between 1939 and 1941, attending school and learning skills such as forestry and farming skills.
Although most of the refugee children survived the war, the vast majority never saw their parents again. The Nazis and their collaborators killed nearly six million European Jews, including nearly 1.5 million children.
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