Mitzvah Day marked 74 years after Jewish World War II refugees fled to Shefford

Mr Richard Kaufman, one of the Jewish children who was evacuated to Shefford during the war

Mr Richard Kaufman, one of the Jewish children who was evacuated to Shefford during the war - Credit: Archant

A town has celebrated its special links with a Jewish community which go back to World War II.

Mitzvah Day, an annual global day of social action for Jewish communities, has been marked in Shefford for the first time with an afternoon tea in recognition of links established 74 years ago.

At the start of World War II, in August 1939, 500 Jewish children – many refugees from Germany who had been taken to a Jewish school in London – were evacuated to Shefford where they were taken in by families until the end of the war in 1945.

Those who helped were invited to afternoon tea with members of the North Herts Liberal Jewish Community as a show of appreciation.

Among them was Peter Best, 74, whose family took in three boys.

He said: “They couldn’t speak much English which made things difficult for the families and the children. All the people of Shefford took as many of the children as they could even though times were tough, with one family taking in six children. Most people had never seen a strict orthodox Jew before.”

“One of the boys moved after a few months but the other two boys, Martin Friedman and Stanley Bernstein stayed, with us until 1945. I thought of them as elder brothers and that is how they were treated. After they left we never heard from Stanley but Martin used to visit each summer for a day to see my mother until her death in 1952.

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“They say it doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, if there is a Jewish person and they hear the word Shefford, straight away they will come and talk to you. We are really proud of this legacy.”

There are only six of the original evacuees still alive today and Richard Kaufman, who now lives in London, is one of them.

The 87-year-old came to Shefford as 12-year-old boy and stayed with a Mrs Rainbow in Campton Road.

He said: “I can’t forget the kindness showed to us in spite of some of us barely speaking the language and having strange mannerisms. I spent four memorable years in Shefford during my most formative years arriving aged 12 and leaving at 16. Later on I moved to Mrs Ward in Clifton Road who introduced me to the joys of gardening which I still practice to this day.”

Mr Kaufman never saw his parents again, after they were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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