Memories (Real – or Imagined)

80 years ago today, on the 29th of August 1939, the SS Warszawa sailed up the Thames estuary, and docked in the Port of London. On board were about 70 Jewish refugee children, who had sailed just four days earlier from the Polish port of Gdynia on what was to be the last Kindertransport from Poland.

Great Britain, which had callously closed the doors of Palestine to the Jews of Germany desperately seeking sanctuary from the Nazis, (despite the fact that the terms of the British Mandate specified that Palestine was destined to return to its ancient status as the Jewish Homeland), agreed to accept 10,000 Jewish children to her own shores – without their parents – and on condition that sponsors could be found for them who would agree to cover their expenses (including the expense of their return home when circumstances should permit that).

One of those children was 12-year old Bernard Kessler, who arrived with his younger sister, leaving behind his parents, whom he was never to see again. They were murdered in the Holocaust. Now aged 92, he has recently published his memoirs – the tale of a childhood first happy, then traumatic, his Bar Mitzvah devoid of any family member at his side, adolescence in wartime England, military service in the British Army (first in the Jewish Brigade, then later, in the Royal Fusiliers), marriage to Marion, who died at a tragically early age, leaving him with three teenage children, years of service to the Zionist cause, his eventual aliyah (immigration) to Israel where he met and married his second wife, Ilana, and his life in the 45 years since, in his own words, he “came home”.


The book is written in an informal, often chatty style, with many digressions, not necessarily in strict chronological order, but rather in the way a grandfather would tell his grandchildren. And therein lies what makes this book special.

In these days of resurging antisemitism, it is well to remember where that most ancient of hatreds led – and could lead to again.  This book reminds us all. It is, as it says on the back cover, the story of  “an ordinary man in extraordinary times and an extraordinary man in ordinary times”.  A man who I happen to think is pretty special. Without him, I wouldn’t be here.

He just happens to be my Dad.

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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8 Responses to Memories (Real – or Imagined)

  1. tutioraloca says:

    Excellent summary of a timely and important book.

  2. tutioraloca says:

    Not only is there resurgent antisemitism in general, there is also resurgent holocaust denial (a sub-category of antisemitism). It needs to be stamped out.

  3. Lynn Riley says:

    Your father and his sister endured the unimaginable and it should never have happened. Thankfully he had you and other children to carry on. I find it disgusting to know in the USA we are eliminating teaching about the Holocaust. Actually any of the wars we were in.

    • I didn’t even know that the Holocaust was being eliminated from the curriculum in the USA. That IS disgusting.
      No doubt they felt they had to drop something to make room for “important” subjects like “gender studies” (sarcasm definitely intended here).

  4. Pingback: A Most Extraordinary, Ordinary Man | THE VIEW FROM THE PALACE

  5. 15andmeowing says:

    I am going to buy this book.

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