Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The British POWs Who Rescued Her Grandmother

 by Gili Diamant
Righteous Among the Nations Alan Edwards and
 Holocaust survivor Sarah Hannah Rigler planting a tree
 in Yad Vashem on March 16, 1989

Yesterday, twelve-year-old Dani Milner visited Yad Vashem with her class from the Levine Academy in Dallas, Texas, where they saw the tree Dani's grandmother planted in 1989 in honor of her rescuers. Irena Steinfeldt, Director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations showed Rigler and her classmates the tree planted in honor of Righteous among the Nations Stan Wells, George Hammond, Tommy Noble, Alan Edwards, Roger Letchford, Bill Keeble, Bert Hambling, Bill Scruton, Jack Buckley and Will Fisher.

Towards the end of the war, as the Soviet army was nearing the Stutthof concentration camp, its prisoners were taken on the long death march. Sarah Matuson and her mother Gita were marching with the rest of the inmates, starved and desperate. Gita was determined to help her daughter survive, and eventually forced her out of the ranks. Sarah ran away to find refuge in a barn nearby, where she collapsed.

Dani Milner, granddaughter of Holocaust survivor
 Sarah Hanna Rigler, beside the tree her grandmother planted

It was there that she was found by British POW Stan Wells. He and nine other British soldiers had been captured in 1940 in France and were transferred to the east. They were interned in a camp close to the Baltic coast, and were then forced to work on German farms in the area. Upon finding Sarah in the barn, starved and totally exhausted, Wells first gave her some food and then brought her to the other prisoners wrapped in an old army coat. Shocked by her poor physical condition, they decided to help her. They smuggled Sarah into their prisoner of war camp – Stalag 20B in Gross-Golmkau, where they hid her in a hayloft.

In view of her fragile state, they took turns caring for her. They brought her food, tended her frostbite, applied paraffin to her hair against lice, bathed her and nursed her back to health. The danger of discovery was great; a police station was just outside their living quarters. The horses used by the police were housed in the very same barn where Sarah was hidden in the hayloft.

Soon, however, the British POWs were slated to be moved. On the eve of their evacuation into Germany, Sarah’s British benefactors arranged for a local woman to take care of Sarah until the arrival of the Red Army.

After liberation Sarah found out that she was the only survivor of her family. She eventually settled in the United States, and in memory of her sister added the name Hannah to her own. For many years she tried to find her rescuers, but only 25 years after the end of the war was she able to locate them and renew the contact.

On  November 2, 1988 Yad Vashem recognized Stan Wells, George Hammond, Tommy Noble and Alan Edwards as Righteous Among the Nations. On March 15, 1989 Yad Vashem recognized Roger Letchford as Righteous Among the Nations. On October 11, 2011 Yad Vashem recognized Bill Keeble, Bert Hambling, Bill Scruton, Jack Buckley and Will Fisher as Righteous Among the Nations.

Read the full story here.

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