Today at a special event in London (26 March 2015), Communities Secretary Eric Pickles presented British Heroes of the Holocaust Medals to the families of William Ernest Fisher, Edwin Alan Hambling and Bill Keeble, 3 British heroes of the Holocaust who risked their lives to save a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The 3 men were part of a group of ten British prisoners of war who saved Lithuanian-born Sara Rigler, a 15-year old who had escaped from a death March outside Danzig, Poland by smuggling her into the Gross Golmkau camp and hiding her in a hayloft. Had Sara been discovered, all 10 prisoners would have been executed.
All 10 British prisoners of War have been recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations and now the families of all ten have been presented with the commemorative medal.
Eric Pickles said:
In the midst of the darkest days of human history, William Fisher, Edwin Hambling and Bill Keeble and their fellow prisoners of war, were shining beacons of hope.
At a great risk to themselves they showcased the very best of British values – tolerance, respect and compassion – to save the life of a stranger.
Their greatest legacy is the long and full life that Sara Rigler has enjoyed but I hope that this medal will help ensure that their acts of bravery, in risking their lives for others, will never be forgotten.
Also at the ceremony the Grand Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, a man at the forefront of saving and preserving Jewish Cemeteries and mass graves all over Europe, was presented with one of the special commemorative medals commissioned by the Treasury to mark 70 years since the end of the Holocaust by Communities Minister Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon.
Later at the event, Eric Pickles launched a range of initiatives to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.
the 3D scanning of Bergen-Belsen to help British people understand the size and scale of the death camp
the production of 100-150 ultra-HD filmed survivor testimonies to ensure powerful speakers stories are enshrined in history
the creation of a new interactive survivors testimony film for the National Holocaust Centre in Newark to create a life-like conversation between learners and survivors
Also launched was an international project enabling Holocaust survivors to complete a Torah scroll saved from the Nazis. Here a group of Holocaust survivors took the first steps in restoring a Torah that was discovered last year by Warsaw University students.
It had been given to a local shepherd by a Rabbi in 1939 who had begged him to take in his holy book before being deported to the Treblinka extermination camp where he approximately 280 residents from the village of Filipów were murdered.
Speaking at the Foreign Office’s Locarno Suite, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
The Torah that From the Depths is so carefully restoring was hidden to avoid destruction during the Holocaust. Now, 70 years later, it will become whole again – to be used and cherished by future generations of Jewish people.
Individual stories and survivor testimonies provide the tools we need to help tell stories that are sometimes too shocking for words. It is all of our collective responsibility to educate future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust and never to forget why we need to challenge and combat the forces of hate.
Jonny Daniels, Executive Director and Founder of From the Depths said:
It is an honour to start the process of renewing this Holy Torah Scroll, together with the British government.
The story of the Torah Scroll is the story of the Jewish people, just as the nazis were unable to destroy the Jewish people they too were unable to destroy the Torah, the focal point of the Jewish spirit.
We are truly grateful and thankful to Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP for all he is doing to remember and memorize the lessons of the Holocaust.
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:
We are delighted to be part of this special event - this Torah would have been treasured at the heart of the Jewish community in Filipów before the Holocaust and it is incredibly poignant that it is being restored in such a beautiful and symbolic way.
We are also particularly proud that our initiative to honour British Heroes of the Holocaust has meant government recognition for the courageous acts of so many, and is today being presented to the families of the final three individuals who saved a young Jewish girl’s life in the final days of the Holocaust.
The 10 British Prisoners of War who saved the life of Sara Rigler were Alan Edwards Bert Hambling, Bill Keeble, Bill Scruton, George Hammond, Jack Buckley, Roger Letchford, Stan Wells, Tommy Noble and Willy Fisher. To read more of the incredible story see Yad Vashem.
The British Heroes of the Holocaust Medal was introduced after a campaign by the Holocaust Educational Trust to recognise British citizens who had gone beyond the call of duty to save Jews during the Holocaust. It was subsequently agreed that British citizens who saved other persecuted groups like the Roma/Sinti, homosexuals and political opponents of Hitler would also be considered. For more information about the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, go to www.het.org.uk
The new projects announced are being supported by Department for Communities and Local Government funding of £1.49 million to help ensure survivor testimony and Bergen-Belsen are never forgotten.
The Torah restoration project is being undertaken by From the Depths. From the Depths is an international charity which works with Holocaust survivors from around the world to ensure their stories are not forgotten.
A Torah is a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses, hand-written in the original Hebrew. It is rolled up around two wooden shafts, attached to either end of the scroll. It is usually kept in holiest spot within a synagogue, the Aron Kodesh (“Holly Ark”). The Torah scroll is routinely read aloud during Jewish services and prayers and blessings are offered in its presence we offer.
Edwin ‘Bert’ Hambling
Edwin Hambling, known as Bert, was born on November 25, 1918. During the Second World War, Bert signed up to fight in the Worcestershire Regiment. In 1940 Mr Hambling was captured and sent to German-run prison camp Stalag 20B, near what is now Gdansk, Poland. He served out the rest of the war in captivity.
On his return, in 1947, he married Mavis Stokes, who he met while in hospital and had a child, Susan Hambling, in 1957. He lived in Vernon Road, Stourport and in the 1960s, worked as an administrative clerk at Stourport Police Station. After Mavis died, Mr Hambling married Jean Hilton in 1975. He died in 1985 and is survived by two grandchildren, Adam and Jason Laird.
William ‘Bill’ Keable/Keeble
William Keable (or Keeble), known as Bill was born in Hull around the time of the First World War. One of a large family his early adult life was spent working a docker but work was very scarce. Before the Second World War, Bill joined the Duke of Wellingtons regiment and served in India. He was on leave in Hull when the Second World War broke out His leave was cut short and he went to war. He was taken prisoner at Dunkirk and later moved to Prisoner of War camp Stalag 20B.
Bill was released in 1945 but could not return to Hull as his family’s flat had been bombed and his family had moved to Filey. He lived and worked in Filey doing building work until he met his future wife Nellie, who had been in the WAAF. Bill and Nellie moved to Gloucestershire near Moreton in the Marsh where they both worked for Mr Kleinwort, of Kleinwort Bensons merchant bank. They had one daughter Marilyn.
William Fischer, known as Willy or Bill, was born in 1912 in Tottenham. One of a big family (7 brothers and 1 sister) he was a regular soldier with the Seaforth Highlanders when war broke out. In the first year of War he was taken as a Prisoner of War and was moved to the camp Stalag 20B. After the War he became a security guard in Bradford. Sarah Rigler found him in his later life and they kept in regular correspondence with William meeting both her and her son when they came to the UK.
Keeping a diary all of his life, much of the passages were recorded by Sara in her book, 10 British Prisoners-of-War Saved My Life. William died on the 1 December 1976.