Saturday 31 January 2015

Elsie Tilney's glory

Postings every week

Sometime ago I wrote a piece on Always-hanging-around in support for a local Norwich lady who during a very dangerous period in world history showed exceptional humility and bravery that her actions deserved to be honoured. Her name was Elsie Tilney and there were many who thought she should be remembered at Yad Vashem the Righteous Among the Nations. I am pleased to say this is now going to happened as reported in the local press. The article below brings into true prospective how comfortable modern life is for most of us in the Western world and what little is expected of us in return for this pleasure.

Elsie Tilney, Norwich’s unsung heroine of the Holocaust, given international honour by Yad Vashem

Surrey Chapel missionary Elsie Tilney from Norwich, who helped Jewish people to escape from Nazi internment camps during the second world war.Surrey Chapel missionary Elsie Tilney from Norwich, who helped Jewish people to escape from Nazi internment camps during the second world war.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
6:00 AM
Norwich’s unsung heroine of the Holocaust has finally gained international recognition for her selfless actions to protect Jewish people during the Second World War – and her home city has been urged to help celebrate it.

The story of Elsie Tilney

Elsie Maude Tilney was born in Norwich in 1893. In 1919 she applied to the North Africa Mission (NAM) and was appointed jointly with the Mildmay Mission to the Jews.
She spent several spells in northern Africa until the second world war loomed.
In 1939, Elsie travelled to Vienna, in Austria, and brought a one-year-old Jewish girl called Ruth Buchholz back to Paris on July 23. Ruth later became the mother of Philippe Sands QC, whose family research helped uncover Elsie’s exploits.
Elsie continued working in Paris until it fell under German occupation in June 1940.
Along with hundreds of other foreign nationals, she was placed in an internment camp at Vittel – described as one of the more “hospitable” camps, as it was located in requisitioned hotels.
One of the most extraordinary accounts of Elsie’s selfless bravery involves Sashe Krawec, a Polish soldier who was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, but was transferred to Vittel along with 400 other Jews on the basis of his South American passport, probably bought on the black market. Elsie became his English teacher.
When orders were issued for all those people to be taken to Auschwitz for extermination, Sashe mysteriously disappeared – until Vittel was liberated by French forces in 1944.
A letter included in a NAM newsletter tells of some of Elsie’s actions. It says: “She hid for a period of 16 weeks a young Jew condemned to be sent to an annihilation camp in Poland.”
A second letter says: “When the Germans abandoned the camp in September, she again put herself in great personal danger by hiding the camp records and papers, for she had been camp archivist.”
Elsie stayed at Vittel until the Germans abandoned it in September 1944, and then remained to help with the repatriation of about 200 Jewish people.
After the war, Elsie travelled to Lisbon, and worked with the Swiss Mission in South Africa. She eventually moved to Florida in the USA, where she lived close to her brother, Frederick. She died there in 1974.
The extraordinary story of Elsie Tilney had never been told until it was uncovered two years ago by London barrister Prof Philippe Sands, when he began researching his family history.
He discovered that his mother Ruth Buchholz had been rescued from annexed Austria as a one-year-old in 1939 and taken to Paris by the devout Surrey Chapel missionary, who was subsequently held for four years at an internment camp in Vittel, in occupied France.
There, she used her position as camp archivist to hide camp records and papers which could have exposed Jewish internees to Nazi suspicion, and the horrors of the concentration camps.
One Polish soldier named Sashe Krawec, destined for Auschwitz, was hidden in Elsie’s bathroom for 16 weeks – until Vittel was liberated by French forces in 1944.
Now, her humble heroism has been formally honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the official Holocaust remembrance authority at Yad Vashem in Israel – one of more than 25,000 people recognised for risking their lives to save Jews during the darkest days of the war, but only the 21st British recipient of the honour.
In a London ceremony on Wednesday, a medal is due to be presented by Israel’s ambassador to Elsie’s closest living relative, 84-year-old Joseph Schultz, who lives at the Great Hospital in Norwich’s Bishopgate.
And on February 1, the people of the city have been invited to join a special commemorative event and service at Surrey Chapel, Elsie’s spiritual home.
Dr Derek Haylock, a retired elder at Surrey Chapel who is organising the event, said: “We knew of Elsie Tilney as one of our missionaries, but she was not much more than a name in our archives. The story of her extraordinary exploits in France during the Second World War was something she seemed to have kept to herself.
“We’re very excited that one of our former church members is being honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, one of only 21 such award to British people. This award is a great honour for our church, for Elsie’s surviving relatives and for the city of Norwich.”
Mr Schultz said: “Elsie was my mother’s first cousin, but I can’t really remember her saying anything about her. I think people were more modest in those days, they didn’t wave flags about to say what they had done.
“Elsie is an unsung local heroine, and she is very similar in many ways to Edith Cavell. When you look back at the facts, how people lived daily under the threat of Nazism and in those conditions during the war, you cannot believe how people in those conditions could risk their lives to save other people.
“I am very proud to be associated with her, even at this distance. I think locally many people will be very, very surprised to learn of this story, but they can be very, very pleased about it too.”
The commemorative event at Surrey Chapel on Botolph Street in Norwich will start at 4.30pm on Sunday February 1, with a presentation by Philippe Sands QC, followed by a themed evening service from 6.15pm–7pm.

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