Sheree Charalampous, Textile Artist, a major contributor to this project, writes here of her experience.
Three years ago, as a volunteer for Jewish Care, I created a collaborative memory quilt project that celebrated the lives of people living with dementia and resulted in a lasting legacy.
The project required patience, immeasurable powers of persuasion and the creative skills to sew together 42 squares made of 42 different fabrics that fought against each other under the sewing machine needle. After completion, I sighed with pride and relief and had no intention of repeating the project. THEN, I received a phone call from Julia.
Having seen the memory quilt at a presentation I made, she contacted me and asked if I would consider helping her create a similar project for the ‘45 Aid Society. Without hesitation, I jumped at the chance and for the past many months I have been a proud part of the team that have created the four quilts.
I am deeply honoured to be involved in this amazing project celebrating "The Boys" who, through unthinkable adversity, went on to build wonderful, inspirational, productive lives. I have no doubt that these quilts and the stories behind each square will touch the hearts of whoever sees them.
I can remember the '45 Aid Committee meeting where we decided that putting together a tangible and lasting memorial to our survivors was agreed as a "great idea". A list of all of their names, recorded and published lest any of them be forgotten. I volunteered to get the list of names together, thinking that the task shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks. None of us imagined how much work would be needed in order to accomplish this as, contrary to popular myth, there was no single list of "the 732" available.
The starting point was the oldest list of the Boys found within the archives of the "45 Aid Society. This included the London, Manchester, US, Canada & Israel based members. Another list included information on which Boys had stayed in the Windermere and Southampton hostels. Together, these lists yielded nearly 450 names, some with birth dates and towns of birth.
However, very few names matched those we had on our '45 Aid Society Survivors' list, because many of The Boys had chosen to anglicise how they were spelled. For example, Charlie Shane was actually Chaim Szlamberg and Josh Segal was Jehoszua Cygelfarb!
With further help from the Wiener Library, Sir Martin Gilbert's book "The Boys", a copy of the original list compiled by the Central British Fund (now World Jewish Relief) and a list of child survivors from Theresienstadt, we finally got there. I am grateful for the additional assistance of Sala Newton-Katz, Irene Radstone, Ben Helfgott and Zdenka Husserl all of whom helped me complete the details of The Boys.
Just looking at these lists and thinking of what these young people had been through was challenging, but seeing the word ‘survivor’ and all it stood for reminded me of what this project has been all about.
In total we now have 764 names, written on the maps as follows: Poland 348, Czechoslovakia 50, Hungary 31, Germany 30, Romania 17, Austria 12 and 284 names whose countries’ of birth are unknown (sewn into the border). The reason there are more than the original target of 732 is because we have also included some individuals who survived the camps and came to England independently, befriending our group because of their common experiences.
Between us all, first and second generations, we have done our utmost to ensure that every one of the Boys who came to England in 1945/46 has been included. I realise there may be some oversights or mistakes. For anyone, living or dead, whose name may have been accidentally omitted, I sincerely apologise to them or any remaining family member. If anyone has any more accurate information about any of our original survivors, please let me know and I will endeavour to rectify it.
Max Kim Stern (Szternfeld), Secretary, ’45 Aid Society