Wales

Holocaust refugee Renate Collins discovers family’s fate

Renate Collins

Image caption

Renate Collins has found out what happened to her family after 79 years

A woman who escaped the Nazis as a child 80 years ago has finally learned how her mother and grandmother were murdered in the Holocaust.

Renate Collins, 85, lost 65 members of her family and survived only because she was put on the last train out of Prague before World War Two broke out.

Last year one of her sons went to the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel and discovered the women’s fate.

They were being transported in a train that broke down. Guards then shot them.

Mrs Collins of Caldicot, Monmouthshire, said: “It’s taken me 79 years to find out what happened to them.

“They are recorded as dying at Treblinka [a Nazi extermination camp in German-occupied Poland]. They were on their way on the train, and the train broke down and instead of waiting for the train to be repaired, or whatever, it needed doing, and then taking the people on to Treblinka, they shot them all.

“And then they were taken by train and just buried in Treblinka. “

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Renate Collins’ papers meant she could escape the fate of other Jewish children

Mrs Collins was on the last of the so-called Kindertransports – Kinder being the German word for children – organised by Sir Nicholas Winton for Jewish child refugees to leave the then Czechoslovakia.

Her mother put her on the sealed train when she was five in June 1939 to live with a foster family in Porth, Rhondda Cynon Taff.

The last contact the pair had was a note the young Renate Kress received via the Red Cross in July 1942, the month the Nazis recorded the death of her mother, Hilda.

Last train

Mrs Collins told BBC Radio Wales’ Eye on Wales programme she “vividly” remembered being put on the train.

She said: “I had chickenpox and a temperature of 104. There was only one parent allowed to be at the station so my mother came and our friend, the doctor, came with her daughter.

“And because I was ill, my mother did not want to put me on the train. She said she thinks she will take me home. And the doctor’s words were, ‘if you don’t put her on the train, she’ll never go’. “

That prediction turned out to be right, because the next train arranged by Sir Nicholas and his fellow activists, loaded with 250 children, was refused permission to leave because war had broken out a day earlier. It is thought only a handful of those children survived the Holocaust.

Britain agreed to let in about 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany and Austria in the months before the war began.

Sir Nicholas Winton died in 2015 aged 106. His work rescuing more than 600 Czech and Slovak Jewish children was highlighted in 1988 on the BBC programme That’s Life!

His daughter Barbara told Eye on Wales she was cataloguing the archive of documents and photographs her father left of his work.

She said: “I feel that my duty to him and to the future is to make his archive available to people to look at and to use as a way of educating people about the choices they can make.”


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