Ukrainian refugees | AMEL PAIN


Comparing the Home Office’s attitude to Ukrainian refugees last week with its attitude to Jewish refugees at the beginning of World War II, I saw many cruel similarities. But I was wrong to say that the department was now getting its act together, a month after the Russian invasion.

I based that opinion on two commitments to the House of Commons by Priti Patel: that no Ukrainian would be denied entry to Britain and that a Home Office official had been sent to Calais to speed up the handling of applications. Neither of these commitments has been honoured. Did she lie? No, we are told, it was just the usual Home Office mess-up. So that’s all right then.

I gave a detailed picture of the horrors faced by Jews in Britain when they arrived there as political refugees. Most were put in filthy internment camps, where some died. even though many of them were distinguished German artists, musicians and liberal journalists, some of whom had shown bravery against the Nazis. They were grouped together as probable Nazi spies

A friend said he agreed with most of my negative description of British attitudes at that time. But he added two words of which, he said, Britain should be proud: Winton and Kindertransport. I am very happy to put that record straight.

In 1938 Nicholas Winton put off a planned skiing holiday to help a friend who was working with refugees in Prague. He stayed one month and compiled, by visiting refugee camps and becoming beseiged at his hotel and his friend’s office, by mothers eager to send their children to safety in Britain before the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia.

He compiled a list of 669 children, with names. addresses and photographs, and arranged for them to be transported by train to Holland and then by ferry to Harwich. In London he persuaded the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, to allow their arrival, as long as they had papers, people to stay with and £50 to pay their possible return journey.

Winton advertised for people to foster the children and raised the money to pay the £50 deposits. He also had the prospective foster parents vetted for their suitability. The only problem he had was with senior rabbis, who objected to Jewish children being brought up in a Christian household.

His work was only recognised 50 years later in 1988, when it was featured in the TV programme, This is Your Life. Many of the children who had been saved were in the studio, some as parents, even grandparents, but they had no idea until that night how they had been saved and by whom.

Winton became an overnight hero, knighted by the Queen in 2003 and given the highest Czech honour in Prague. He died in 2015 at the age of 106.

In a way Kindertransport’s achievement was even more remarkable, in that they had to make their arrangements direct with Nazi leaders in Berlin and saved many more children. The key was the fact they were Quakers, who were honoured in Germany for the food programme they had delivered among the destitute after the First World War.

The originator of the scheme was Wilfred Israel, who owned one of Berlin’s biggest stores, was descended from the first British Chief Rabbi, and was a friend of Albert Einstein, who said of him: “Never in my life have I come in contact with a being so noble, so strong and as selfless.”

Israel knew he needed a young, energetic and fearless organiser and sought Bertha Bracey, an Englishwomen who had worked in Germany with refugees. She came to Berlin and, with the help of the Jewish Refugees Committee, she got this remarkable life-saving scheme going.

There were many brave people involved, mostly women, but if anyone deserves a retrospective Damehood for Kindertransport and the thousands of lives it saved it should be Bertha Bracey. She was a Quaker and a teacher who devoted her life to saving refugees in Germany. She was awarded the OBE in 1942, and became a Hero of the Holocaust in 2010. She died, aged 95, in 1989. She was asked on her death bed if she wanted anything: “Yes”, she said, “bring me tidings of great joy.”

Britain must pay Nazarin

When Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe gave her press conference on her release from six years’ imprisonment in Iran, she exuded grace, intelligence and dignity. She had one disagreement with her husband when he praised the official help they had received from the British Government. She made her point with typical elegance: “It must be nice to be in a country when you can contradict the Government and your husband in the same breath.” Her point is a good one.

She was told six years ago, when she was first arrested, that the asking price for her release was £400m owed to the Tehran regime by Britain. No one contested that the money was owed: for weapons that were never delivered. It took five foreign secretaries, including Boris Johnson, before it was recognised that paying the debt was the only way to secure her release.

Now that it has been paid and she has been released, Britain must surely compensate her for the lost six years of her life away from her family. The only reason she was held for so long was because the Foreign Office was too stubborn to pay a genuine debt, which it has now acknowledged by paying it.

Stick with unsteady Eddie

GO, GO, GO,” wrote the excitable Sunday Times correspondent about Eddie Jones, the England rugby coach after a mediocre performance in the Six Nations. It won’t happen because Jones is contracted until next year’s Rugby World Cup and coached England to the final of the last one.

The idea of using Warren Gatland, the former British Lions coach, as a stop-gap might have been exciting, but I can’t see it happening. What is distressing, though, is seeing Andy Farrell doing so well as coach to Ireland after England sacked him as an assistant coach in 2015 and Shaun Edwards proving himself to be the world’s best defence coach for France after England offered him an insulting one-year-contract (the French offered four years).

I have always felt that the RFU failed in both cases because of an old-fashioned aversion to rugby league.

To be fair to England, they were beaten by Scotland by a highly questionable penalty try and played Ireland with 14 men after one minute of the game. Next season they should have Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Joe Cokanasiga, Jonny Hill and (possibly) Manu Tuilagi back from injury.

I wouldn’t write them off yet for the Rugby World Cup, though most people already have. We’ll know more after the Autumn tour to Australia and next spring’s Six Nations - though France, on present form, are going to be very hard to beat in their own backyard.