By decision of the British government, at the request of Leonard Montefiore, 1,000 orphaned children under 16 released from Theresienstatd concentration camp by Russian troops in May 45 were allowed to come to England to be cared for by the Jewish Community for a period of two years, time to return to a normal life.
However, it was not be possible to find the thousand children corresponding to the conditions of the British government, and only a little over 700 were eventually repatriated to England. These girls and boys became known as « The Boys », the title of the book (1) that Martin Gilbert dedicated to them.
Before boarding the military planes that would take the first three hundred children to Windemere in the Lake District in August 45, the group was photographed on Prague’s Old Town Square in front of the statue of the Czech hero, Jan Hus.
Gradually they found their place in the society of their host country, but some emigrated to Israel at the time of independence, others to the United States, Canada and even Australia.
The months they lived together in various institutions of the Jewish Community enabled them to learn a language, sometimes even a job, but what remained very strong is a sort of family link that unites them all until today. Soon they formed an association known as the 45 Aid Society.
Beyond the assistance they provided to those in need, they would meet annually for a great reunion. Their lives were marked by the social events that they lived like a huge family. Weddings, births, bar Mitzvahs were occasions where they liked to meet, and soon their children and their grandchildren attended these reunions (second and third generation).
« The Boys » lived a resurrection. Out of hell, they founded families who have each been revenge on the exterminating madness of the Nazis. How could this revenge be visualized? An idea emerged in recent years to redo the picture of August 1945 with their descendants, undeniable evidence of their victory over barbarism.
The project developed, the authorization of the municipality of Prague obtained, the appointment was given to the descendants and the « Boys » whose health allowed them to travel on May 12, 2019 to have the picture taken in the same place.
Thus in Prague, in this beautiful city where the shadows of the Golem, of Rabbi Loew the famous Maharal, of Kafka, several hundred participants gathered, the families of the « Boys ». Many arrived on Friday and as tourists visited the magnificent synagogues, the remains of a community decimated during the war.
Here we are, Janet and Rosalind, the daughters of Benny (Shaya) and Sala (Szajndla) Newton for this great Shabbat meeting in Prague. On Friday walking through the center of Prague there are moving encounters at every street corner. In the old Jewish quarter, amongst the many tourists, groups of people observe each other before recognizing a face. We, the second generation, now in our fifties and sixties have not seen each other for more than forty years, but soon we fall into each other’s arms. In the evening, after the service, in the Beit Chabad the children and grandchildren of the « Boys » gathered for a beautiful Sabbath dinner. We have come from all over the world, England, the USA, Canada and even Australia. We were all sitting together and you could hear the same questions being asked:
« You are the son-daughter of …? »,
« Of course, OMG, do you look like your father-mother! »
« Do you remember when …? »
« Do you know if so and so made it to Prague? »
And the one question that no one dared to ask: « How are your parents? ». The souls of the deceased, whom everyone cherished, hovered over the meeting.
The atmosphere, the warmth, the tears, the laughter, the memories, the emotion… the members of the same family were reunited on this unique occasion. Decades to catch up in a few hours. Everyone tried to learn as much as possible, to find a face, a voice through those of the second generation. Those who met again the next day at the Alte Neue Schulle listened to Yaacov Orzech (3), Hazan in Vancouver, singing a beautiful prayer for the State of Israel before moving everyone with an exceptional El Male Rahamim at the Theresienstatd camp the next day.
But before this visit, the historic photo was scheduled on Sunday morning at 8am to reserve the square before the arrival of tourists. Beneath grey skies ans drizzle, the participants arrived in small groups and took their places according to the instructions of the photographer and thanks to the ground marking prepared by the technicians responsible for the operation. The BBC and the British press filmed and photographed the event that was reported in several national media (2). In 1945 it was not possible to photograph all the children in a single shot, so there were three pictures. Today this can be done in a single shot. The rain stopped, just when it was time to take the historical picture.
During our weekend in Prague, thousands of memories were recalled, exchanged. For most of us, the second generation, it was the moment to perceive, through our stories, how much our parents have been, and are always, for those who remain, examples of positive lives, where to go forward was their only motivation. The making of this photo has proven that they are forever for their descendants a source of inspiration and models.
To all those who contributed to this event and worked for many months, may they find here the appreciation of all the participants.