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Lola Hahn-Warburg: My successful guardian angel

By Gerard Friedenfeld

March 29th, 2010

I arrived at London’s Liverpool Street station from Prague in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on June 2, 1939 at age 14. I and 135 other Jewish children had left our parents in Prague two days earlier, becoming instant orphans and heading into the unknown, among strangers.

As I stepped off the train, walking laboriously with the aid of two canes, I spotted the first truly beautiful and elegant woman I saw in my then short life.

She was tall, slender, engaged in animated conversation with a tall, pipe-smoking man. When they spotted me, the only child using canes, they rushed toward me and welcomed me. I used canes because Nazi goons fractured my right leg in a refugee camp in central Moravia.

The beautiful lady introduced herself as Lola Hahn-Warburg. Her speech was forceful, and energetic. She seemed to be in charge of arrangements for the arriving children.

Whenever I describe this extraordinary lady in my public appearances I enjoy saying, “Had she been born a man, she could have commanded the invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944 instead of and just as successfully as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did.”

 
“Royalty in exile”

According to Ron Chernow’s 1993 book, “The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family,” the Warburgs were internationally successful investment bankers with connections to the very top of the world’s bankers, manufacturers and governments. Driven out of Germany in 1938, the family lost much of their wealth.

Chernow writes, “They didn’t lapse into brooding or self-pity but hit the ground running. They had lost wealth, power and position, but not their brains, talents, connections and self-confidence. Like royalty in exile, they still felt responsible for German Jews.”

In November 1938, Lola Hahn-Warburg accompanied a delegation of British Jews to the Home Office to plead for persecuted German-Jewish children. According to Chernow, their pleading was effective and that night, Sir Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, told the House of Commons that the British government would admit the children without passports.

By December, the first children began to arrive in England from Germany and Austria. Many were orphans or had parents in concentration camps.

“The Children’s Transport (Kindertransport) movement,” Chernow writes, “was a magnificent achievement that had snatched 10,000 children from the gas chambers by the time it ended in August 1939. It rescued one third of all Jewish children who escaped the Nazis. Half the Jewish children in Germany were never to emerge again.”

 
A second life

Because my injured leg required immediate medical attention, Mrs. Hahn-Warburg invited me to reside with her and with her family in their comfortable London home. From there, she traveled with me several times to visit a bone specialist, a Mr. Milne at the Great London Hospital.

One day she called me from her drawing room on the spacious ground floor, asking me to come downstairs. Halfway down the staircase, I looked down into the drawing room and there I spotted one of my heroes sitting with Mrs. Hahn-Warburg.

It was Professor Chaim Weizmann, a world-renowned chemist/inventor/genius and, at that time, the president of the worldwide Zionist Organization, destined to become the first president of the future State of Israel nine years later, in 1948.

Weizmann and the Warburg family collaborated in the founding of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Weizmann eventually became a friend not only of the Warburgs but of the cream of mankind worldwide.

After the war, Hahn-Warburg helped to rescue and to rehabilitate in England thousands of orphans found in various stages of abuse and neglect in Nazi concentration camps, an accomplishment that was chronicled in all its horror in Sarah Moskovitz’s book, “Love despite Hate — Child Survivors of the Holocaust and their Adult Lives” (Schocken Books, New York, 1983).

Hahn-Warburg died in 1989. After her death, her numerous friends and admirers published a book titled “Burning for the Cause — Centenary Celebration of Lola Hahn-Warburg, 1901–1989.” It contains selected correspondence with some of the world’s former, most prominent persons and with “kinder” whose lives she and her devoted associates saved.

To this day I do not know the names of all the kind, decent, courageous persons who were involved in my rescue from Hitler seventy years ago and how they pulled it off in a Nazi-occupied land. Words fail me to thank them.

But I recall Lola Hahn-Warburg, who gave me and thousands of other Jewish children the opportunity for a second life.

I invite all other members of the Kindertransport to meet and trade stories while there is still time.

Gerard Friedenfeld lives in Milwaukee. He can be contacted at GerDor9345@aol.com.