The Duchess of Cambridge went on a voyage of discovery yesterday with two Holocaust survivors to hear how they rebuilt their lives under an extraordinary refugee project in the Lake District.
Kate went on a boat trip on Lake Windermere with Arek Hersh and Ike Alterman, who were among 300 Jewish children flown by the RAF from Prague to Britain in August 1945 for a period of recuperation before resettlement here or overseas.
The group, who came to be known as the Windermere Children, had been liberated from the notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech town of Terezin, where they had been marched by their captors from ghettos and death camps.
Many had been used as slave labour and witnessed the horrors of camps such as Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
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Mr Hersh, 93, who lives in Leeds, lost 81 members of his immediately family in the Holocaust. Only one of his sisters survived. Like Mr Alterman, who lives in Manchester and is also 93, he spent time in Auschwitz and other camps.
But during six months on the shores of Lake Windermere they underwent then revolutionary sessions with a psychiatrist, took part in art therapy, outdoor pursuits such as hiking, climbing and swimming and took the first steps towards rebuilding their lives.
Kate, 39, had asked to meet them after reading about the Windermere Children. She was curious to know if their resilience in overcoming the horrors they had witnessed and the therapy they received offered lessons for her own work with disadvantaged children across Britain.
“It was so forward thinking for the time,” she declared of the therapy after meeting the survivors and relatives and listening to their stories about the little bit of heaven they found in this corner of north western England. “It’s so relevant still today.”
She joined the two Holocaust survivors on Osprey, a 1902 steam launch, for a tour of the places they remembered.
They pointed out the bay where they used to go swimming and the site of the Calgarth Estate, a wartime housing complex at Troutbeck Bridge, a mile from Windermere, that was built for aircraft factory workers but became their home for their first six months in Britain after the war.