You may have seen Gloucestershire Archives’ online exhibition telling the story of ten young Jewish refugees who came to Gloucester in 1939. As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, we’re pleased to be able to share the moving story of one of those boys, as told by his son, Michael Zorek.
My father, Warren Zorek, passed away in December of 2006 at the age of 81. 68 years earlier, when he was just 13, his family was awaiting word about his admission into a program started soon after Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. This program allowed parents to send their children, some as young as 2, but not older than 16, out of Nazi occupied Europe until the political strife blew over. Happily, my father was accepted and left his home in Breslau, Germany in February of 1939. After several months in a couple of refugee camps my father’s name came up on a list of 10 boys who were being sent to Gloucester. It was here that a committee, The Gloucester Association to Aid Refugees or GAAR, had raised the money to purchase a home on Alexandria Road and hired a Czech Doctor and his wife to care for the boys. The 10 boys were all about 13 or 14, a hard age to place as refugees. The boys arrived the week of June 12, 1939 most likely speaking passable English and unsure of how long they would be in their new home.
The boys were enrolled in The Archdeacon Street Senior Boys School the same week. The school was in a notably deprived area of the city and catered for those with more vocational than academic talents. It might also be assumed that presumptions were made concerning the boys’ command of English and therefore Archdeacon School was considered a suitable place. Due to the city’s plans to amalgamate the boys’ school and Kingsholm Senior Girls School, the refugees were then transferred in September to Kingsholm Senior Mixed School.
In September of 1939 all plans were changed as the War broke out.
In the Fall of 1941 the Doctor running the hostel announced his plans to retire. The boys were then farmed out to local families. My father stayed with a school friend, Jim Thew, who had a brother off fighting in the War. Being assimilated into the town, my father helped out as a fire warden, spending two nights a month at the top of Gloucester Cathedral watching for fires or possibly planes. He worked as a woodworker at Wm. T. Nicholls Ltd. St. Paul’s Road. We don’t know a great deal about his day to day activities but do know that he stayed in Gloucester till August of 1947. He tried to find word of his parents and sister and heard through a family friend who had contacted him that they had been murdered, though he never received official notice.
In August of 1947 my father sailed to the United States to start a new life with cousins in New York. While he visited the UK, I do not know if he ever returned to Gloucester.
In 2016, my sister and I followed our father’s journey, starting in Wroclaw, Poland (Formally Breslau, Germany) and took the ferry, as he did, from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. We then took a train to London then drove to Gloucester. We were fortunate enough to have the assistance of the Gloucestershire Archives who set aside several boxes of letters and other materials relating to the 10 boys who were fostered there, known as “Our Boys.” While we did not find a great deal of personal material, there were many pay stubs bearing our father’s signature and several documents that mentioned him and spoke of his personality and his work ethic. We were also happy to have been visited by the Mayor of Gloucester at that time, Sebastian Field, who personally welcomed us to Gloucester.
Our trip, in February of 2016 could not have made us feel warmer. We were treated to a trip to the top of Gloucester Cathedral, a site not usually open in February, we were interviewed by BBC Radio and we were happy to be in the town that had welcomed our father so many years ago.
On Saturday, January 27, as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day we think of those murdered in the holocaust and we say, never again. I think of my grandparents and aunt and mourn their loss, but I also think of the good people of Gloucester and the GAAR who reached out and gave my father an opportunity that many others did not receive. The opportunity helped to make him the man he became as well as the husband and father he came to be.
So, on this day, I say my thanks to Gloucester and the families of those who reached out to help 10 boys in need.