Campaign UK

WHY WE’RE L VING

- HENRY JACOBI

WHAT HE DID As a teenager in 1938, Jacobi es­caped the Holo­caust and ended up in the UK. Now 91 years old, he holds an MBE and is a vice-pres­i­dent of Lib­eral Ju­daism. He has taken part in a new film for Unicef, cre­ated by 180 Am­s­ter­dam, that shows the par­al­lels be­tween Jacobi’s story and that of Ahmed, a Syr­ian refugee.

Tell us your story. Af­ter Kristall­nacht of 1938, my mother sent me away by Kin­der­trans­port to Holland in Fe­bru­ary 1939. On 10 May 1940, Holland was in­vaded by the Nazis. A non-jewish woman hired buses to take the chil­dren to the port, where she per­suaded a cargo boat cap­tain to take 40 chil­dren and a few adults on board.

While cross­ing the Chan­nel, the ship was strafed by Nazi fighter planes aim­ing to sink it. I was on deck and man­aged to roll un­der a lifeboat just in time. The ship was re­ported as sunk on Ger­man ra­dio but, in fact, had moored out­side Fal­mouth for three days, while the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment de­cided whether the pas­sen­gers would be al­lowed to land or not. Fi­nally, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment al­lowed the boat to dock and let the chil­dren come to safety.

What was it like ar­riv­ing in the UK? The refugee com­mit­tee in Am­s­ter­dam ar­ranged some houses for us and I spent the war years in Manch­ester. We were un­der­stand­ably very con­fused at the time of our ar­rival – we didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing, but we were happy be­cause we es­caped the Ger­mans. We felt safe.

What ad­vice do you have for get­ting through dif­fi­cult times? Be op­ti­mistic.

Why did you want to work with Unicef? I was in­tro­duced through the As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Refugees and was more than happy to par­tic­i­pate in such a wor­thy cause. In 2016, I trav­elled to the Calais jun­gle and I’m com­mit­ted to help­ing Syr­ian refugees. Many young refugees en­dured far more trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences than I did, so I have a huge amount of em­pa­thy for them.

What do you think about the cur­rent state of the world? It’s very up­set­ting. Since World War II, the gov­ern­ment has had a quota of refugees al­lowed into the coun­try, but there has never been any sense of ur­gency. My mother also had the pos­si­bil­ity to come but never made it be­cause of this. We’ve seen this hap­pen to­day with the Dubs scheme amend­ment – the gov­ern­ment promised to ac­cept 3,000 chil­dren but has only taken in about 150.

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