Kate Middleton meets with survivors of Terezín concentration camp

The Duchess of Cambridge took a boat trip with two Holocaust survivors who were flown from Prague to Britain in 1945.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass
Published on 22.09.2021 18:00 (updated on 23.09.2021)

The Terezín concentration camp and ghetto used by the Nazis during the occupation of the Czech lands during World War II represents a dark chapter in the country's history. Over 155,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia as well as other countries under Nazi dominion were transported to the camp throughout the war, only around 23,000 of whom are thought to have survived to see the end of the war.

Some children from the concentration camp were taken to Great Britain for recuperation after the war. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, recently met two of the “Windermere Children” to hear the story of their lives in the United Kingdom following the horrors of the war.

The Duchess asked to meet Arek Hersh and Ike Alterman after reading about the story of the Windermere Children, who were flown from Prague to Britain for recuperation in August 1945. During a six-month stay on the shores of Lake Windermere in the British Lake District, they underwent psychiatric treatment and undertook art therapy as well as outdoor activities, all to help them rebuild their lives in a new country.

“It was so forward thinking for the time,” the Duchess said about the treatment which the Windermere Children received. “It’s still so relevant today,” she added.

The Duchess also heard the harrowing stories of the Terezín inhabitants, who lost everything during the Holocaust but managed to build a new life in Britain.

“It took some years to get rid of the whole situation,” said Arek Hersh, now 92. “I lost everybody, my parents, brothers and sisters. [Kate] can’t help me as far as that’s concerned. I met her and her husband [Prince William] in London, and we discussed certain things. I told her my point of view. The outdoor life here helped a little bit but it wasn’t everything.”

The notorious Terezín concentration camp has been the subject of numerous documentaries and films over the years. A new Italian-Czech-Slovak production entitled “Terezín” is now being filmed at locations in the Czech Republic, and the English-language production is expected to hit screens next year.

As well as helping rehabilitate Holocaust survivors after the war, British support for Czechs and Slovaks under Nazi occupation involved significant wartime cooperation. Czechoslovak pilots who escaped the country to fight from abroad played a major role in Britain’s Royal Air Force, becoming renowned for their bravery and skill.

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In 2014, the Winged Lion Memorial was unveiled in central Prague to celebrate the courage of the pilots. And Operation Anthropoid, in which Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague, was carried out in 1942 by soldiers of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile after preparation and training by British special forces.

For war survivors such as the Windermere Children, British support helped them build a new life abroad. Yet as Kate Middleton’s meeting with Arek Hersh and Ike Alterman confirmed, the scars of the Holocaust have never fully healed: either for individual survivors, or for the Czech Republic as a whole. 

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