THE BOYS’ STORY
Ascot’s Belsen Boys were 34 of 732 young Holocaust survivors who were brought to the UK after the Second World War. The children came to be known as ‘The Boys’, despite the fact that 80 of the 732 survivors were girls. The vast majority of the children brought to the UK had been in concentration camps, where boys were selected as slave labourers for their strength.
Their arrival in the UK was organised by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF), which was established in 1933 to help German Jewish refugees. The CBF had also organised and raised the finance for the Kindertransport scheme, which between November 1938 and September 1939 evacuated nearly 10,000 predominately Jewish children from Nazi occupied Europe. The children were given leave to remain for only two years and were allowed into the country on the condition that they did not cost the taxpayer a penny. Money to care for them was raised privately, largely by the Jewish community.
Although the arrival of children from continental Europe came to an end when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the CBF continued to care for those children already in the UK. As hostilities drew to a close, the CBF began to lobby the government for permission to bring some surviving children to the UK. The story of ‘The Boys’ is the forgotten final chapter of the Kindertransport.
The British government eventually agreed to offer 1,000 visas for orphaned children, under the age of 16, to come to Britain for a limited period of two years. As with the Kindertransport, this was on the agreement that they would not cost the taxpayer any money and that they would be funded by the CBF. Many of the children who arrived lied about their ages and were in fact much older than 16.
The first group of 300 children were identified in the former ghetto of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), which had become a Displaced Person’s (DP) camp, like many other camps after the war. The children were flown to Britain in Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers and taken to Carlisle, before being moved to a temporary camp near Windermere in the Lake District.
A second group of children were flown from Munich in southern Germany in October 1945. Fifty of those children came from Kloster Indersdorf, an International DP Children’s Camp in Markt Indersdorf, not far from Dachau. About a hundred came from the nearby Feldafing DP camp. They spent the first few weeks in hostels in Southampton before being moved to 24 different hostels scattered around the UK. One of the 24 hostels was Woodcote House, a large country mansion on Windsor Road, that took in 34 boys.
The hostels, which had been set up specifically by the CBF, were all different in their approach to looking after the children. Woodcote House was run by Manny Silver, a 23-year-old member of the Jewish Zionist youth group Habonim. The hostel was run on a co-operative basis and classes were not compulsory. They were taught English, Maths and Geography as well as Hebrew as most of the boys wanted to go Palestine.
The arrival of the boys in Ascot made quite an impact on the local community. Margaret Nutley, who grew up in Ascot, remembered meeting a group of unfamiliar boys on the Ascot. She recalled seeing boys wearing striped concentration camp jackets playing football on the racecourse in autumn 1945.
Although local residents recall them being happy and lively children, the boys who arrived at Woodcote House had endured unimaginable persecution. Rehabilitation started with the basics; many of the boys were taught table manners and persuaded not to stockpile food. Their experiences meant that every mealtime the children sneaked slices of bread from the table to hide in their pockets and under the pillows of their beds.
The emphasis at Woodcote House was on the future and providing the children with the skills to build a new life. The languages used in Woodcote House were German and Yiddish, but the boys were issued with English textbooks donated by the British Council. Manny Silver described the boys as having a "devouring need to learn."
The time spent at Ascot was crucial for many of the boys. It was here that they began their new lives after the Holocaust. They learned to speak English and received a basic education. They also recuperated and began to enjoy life. Many of the boys recall shopping in the high street, going to the cinema, riding bikes, rowing on the river and playing football on the racecourse.
After leaving Woodcote House, a number of the boys went to fight in Palestine during the 1947-8 Civil War for the newly created state of Israel. At least half of the 732 children left the UK only a few years after arriving, but many of the boys remained close and they set up their own charitable mutual aid organisation, the ’45 Aid Society’.
Woodcote House was demolished in the 1990s.
If you would like to learn more about the story, you can read more on this BBC article about The Boys.