WHY WE’RE L VING
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.