New Year’s Honours: Wembley grandmother Vera Schaufeld made MBE for services to Holocaust Education
PUBLISHED: 12:24 29 December 2018
A Wembley grandmother who survived the Holocaust and went on to educate children and teachers throughout Brent has been recognised in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List.
Vera Schaufeld, who has dedicated her life to teaching adults and children with little or no knowledge of the English language, has been made an MBE for services to Holocaust Education.
The 88-year-old, who lives in Barn Hill, said: “I couldn’t have been more surprised. It’s absolutely amazing to get this honour. My husband was ill for two years before he died in 2017. Before that I did a lot of talks in schools and colleges, but when he died I didn’t work for a long time so I didn’t expect anything like this. It really is amazing – I’m most grateful.”
Vera came to England on the Kinderstransport, leaving her beloved family in Czechoslovakia, believing they would be reunited. “I was nine years old,” she said, “an only child.
“I was very lucky. I went to live with an English family who had an older daughter who was also an only child. The family expected to have me for a short time. They thought my parents would be able to get out of Czechoslovakia but then they were stuck with me.
“I was dreadfully, desperately homesick. Everything was strange. I didn’t know one word of English but my guardians were very kind to me: their daughter became a life-long friend.
“They sent me to the same boarding school as their daughter. I was the only Jewish person there. Other than that I was a normal wartime child like anyone else.”
Shattering news came after the war. “I heard through the Red Cross that my parents, my grandmother, my aunt and uncle were murdered. I was devastated.
“My parents were in Treblinka. Everybody was shot there, shot into a ditch. My grandmother died of starvation.”
After qualifying as a teacher she joined a Kibbutz in Israel for a year where on her first night she met her husband, Avram, with a tattoo showing he had survived Nazi camps.
They were married for more than 60 years and had two children.
“I’ve been a teacher all my life,” said Vera. “In 1972 I was living in Wembley when Idi Amin was president of Uganda and expelling the Ugandan people. A lot of that community came to Brent.
“I found that there were a lot of children who were going to a language centre to learn English.
“Because of my experience having to learn English I was very interested in children who had the same difficulties I’d had – coming to a new country, learning a new language, living in a completely different culture.”
She applied to the Language Service in Willesden and was sponsored by Brent Council to attend Ealing College and specialise in English as a second language.
“Eventually the language service grew and grew,” she said. “Europe paid for any teachers that we needed in order to provide necessary help to children. There were so many languages spoken in Brent. I became an advisory teacher, placing teachers in Brent schools. I went to all of them – nursery, primary, secondary – where children needed extra support.”
Aside from her teaching and advisory work, the grandmother of four was involved in the establishment of the Holocaust Centre and Museum and has frequently spoken across the UK about her experiences, promoting a message of tolerance, particularly in recent years.
In 2015, she took part in Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s Moving Portraits project: her portrait was beamed onto the wall of the Royal Festival Hall for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Her work with the Holocaust Education Trust resulted in a lesson based on her story being produced as part of a guide for all primary school teachers.
She said: “I had a really interesting, satisfactory career. To get this award is something I never thought about. I was surprised and honoured especially that my job had risen out of my own experience. I knew what it was like to be speak a different language and be in a different culture. It influenced my whole experience working with children, then with teachers within the language service.”