The Prince of Wales has heard “astonishing” stories from people who were rescued as children from the Nazis as part of the Kindertransport, as he told them: “I hope that people have learned lessons”.
Many of those who attended a Clarence House reception marking the 80th anniversary of the start of the effort to bring children to safety in the lead up to the Second World War are now in their eighties and nineties.
They shared tales of how they fled persecution, of their families left behind in concentration camps, of being separated from loved ones who were never seen again and life working for the British in the Second World War.
Charles, who is patron of The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the World Jewish Relief Fund, said: “I can never get over your stories. I think what you all have gone through is astonishing.”
He hoped that “lessons were learned” from their suffering, and said he was encouraged when many said they now go into schools to talk about their stories so they are never forgotten.
The Kindertransport brought some 10,000 children aged between three and 17 years to safety from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and Poland in the lead up to the Second World War. Most were Jewish and more than half the children never saw their parents again.
Husband and wife Bob and Ann Kirk, were aged 13 and 10 respectively, when they came separately to Britain on the Kindertransport.
Mr Kirk, 93, said: “I think they call it the 40-year syndrome because we never used to talk about what it was like on Kindertransport. We did not speak about it in the Blitz or long after. Now we keep talking about it.”
Mrs Kirk, 90, described Charles as being “extremely supportive” and that he takes a “very serious” interest in the Kindertransport.
She thought it may be because his grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Edinburgh’s mother, saved the lives of Jews in Nazi-occupied Athens by hiding them during the war.
Marcel Anisfeld, 84, told Charles he had “survived the war by deportation”, before leading a chorus of Happy Birthday to the Prince, who has just turned 70.
He then handed over a birthday card with a hologram of a lion on it and Charles thanked him and promised to read it later, before turning to the Kirks and saying: “I need my glasses.”
On ageing, he joked: “As you get older you start noticing things changing – my eyes water and my nose runs.”
The first transport, from an orphanage in Berlin, arrived into London Liverpool Street station on December 2 1938, while some of the children rescued went to Southampton by boat. The first transport from Vienna left on December 11 the same year.
Charles also spoke to Herman Rothman, 94, who was 15 when he arrived in Britain from Berlin a week before the war broke out.
Mr Rothman went on to work for the British intelligence service, was an interrogator and also one of the people to translate Hitler’s will. He said Charles was “very interested” in his work for the British.
Charles later worked a historic printing press and was told about experiments to reduce the environmental impact of methane from cows during a visit to the Royal College of Art (RCA).
He used the Hockney Press, named after former RCA student David Hockney, which dates back to 1851 and was used in the Great Exhibition.
As he turned the large but smooth-running wheel to create an aquatint, he said: “It has the most fantastic gearing. Am I going at the right speed? This is very good exercise.”
Former student Francisco Morris also told Charles about his work in trying to transform methane from cows so it reduces the potential global warming impact of the gas.
It was Charles’s first visit to the Battersea campus in south-west London, since becoming Royal Visitor in May.
He also saw displays of melting and fusing glass, slip casting and glass blowing by students.
Vice chancellor Dr Paul Thompson, who said the RCA aims to combine science, arts and industry, said: “It was a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate how we are leading the way in design globally and embracing new areas of research and innovation.”