I paid tribute to Caldicot resident Renate Collins during a parliamentary debate to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
Renate was one of the last children to be brought to Britain through the Kindertransport scheme during the Second World War.
My speech from the debate is copied in full below.
Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this debate in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday. The theme this year is ‘Torn From Home’ – the chance to think about the impact that the holocaust and genocide has on those wrenched from the place they call home for fear of threat and persecution. And I wanted, in this year in which we are urged to be louder in the face of the disturbing rise in antisemitism, to use my contribution to pay tribute to my constituent Renate Collins.
I am hugely privileged to have Renate as a constituent – she is an amazing woman who works tirelessly with groups and schools to share her family story experience to ensure this never happens again. I am so grateful to her for the work she does and would like to put her story on record today.
Renate was one of the last children to be put on the Kindertransport which brought some 10,000 young Jewish children to Britain from Germany, Austria, former Czechoslovakia, Poland and elsewhere.
On the 30th of June, 1939, her train was the last to leave Prague before the Nazi invasion. She was just 5 years old when her mother and family doctor put her on the train – her mother and father not knowing if they would see her again. Renate had a high temperature and chicken pox so her mother was reluctant to put her on that train. But the doctor told her “if you don’t put Renate on this train, she will never go”.
Renate at just 5 and with her hair in pigtails had no idea where she was going, thinking that she might have been going on a holiday. Yet her two day journey through Holland and London brought her to Porth in the Rhondda. It was here she lived with Reverend Fred Coppleston and his wife Arianwen where she was brought up as their own.
She arrived in Britain with her visa bearing a Third Reich stamp with swastika and spoke just two words of English: ‘Yes’ and ‘no’. Before going, her mother helped her write letters to the family she would be arriving with. With the innocence only a child could have in such grave circumstances, she had written to the Welsh Family:
“I hope there is no spinach in England. But I do hope there are many ice creams over there as I am terribly fond of it, and can be, throughout a whole day, the best girl in the world if I get plenty of it. I am thanking you for all you are going to do for me, and I will be a very good child to you.”
In a letter Renate still has that her mother sent to the Reverend and his wife she had written: “I’m thanking you for your beautiful and helpful letter. I would call myself happy to know my little one in a surrounding of so much affection and love.”
Tragically both her mother and father were killed by the Nazis. In total, Renate lost 64 family members in the Holocaust – Renate surviving because of the decisions her parents made 79 years ago. Over the last year she has discovered new information about the deaths of some of her closest relatives, coldly murdered in the open air by guards when their train to Treblinka was held up in bad weather.
I really wanted to get Renate’s story on record today, as it is so important we remember the families, homes and lives torn apart, children who never saw their family again, and the dangers and devastating consequences of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism.
Renate, who as I said is an absolutely brilliant woman, has always told me that this extreme hatred and intolerance can always “raise its ugly head again” and the importance of the Holocaust Memorial Day is that we learn these lessons and act to see that it is never repeated.
I too like other members would like to pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust; Holocaust Memorial Day trust; and finally I pay tribute to Renate, her whole family, and her continued commitment to educating and informing people about what she and millions of others went through within our lifetime. Nothing can compare to the testimony of survivors.