Two remarkable sisters from Manchester travelled to Buckingham Palace for a royal garden party after being recognised for their work teaching people about the Holocaust.
Gisela Feldman and Sonja Sternberg, who are 98 and 96, were invited to the capital city after receiving British Empire Medals (BEMs) for services to raising awareness of the horrors of the Third Reich and its attempt to exterminate the Jewish people during World War Two.
Gisela and Sonja fled Europe in 1939 on what became known as the Voyage of the Damned.
This summer they will feature in a Holocaust survivors’ exhibition at the Manchester care village where they live.
How did Gisela and Sonja get invited to Buckingham Palace?
Gisela and Sonja were invited to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace after getting BEMs for their services to Holocaust education.
They travelled from the Belong Morris Feinmann care village in Didsbury to London for an afternoon of tea and cake which also included an opportunity to explore the palace. grounds.
Joining them and the other guests who were invited in recognition of their achievements and service to the country were Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s first cousin.
Gisela said: “It was very exciting; we had the most beautiful weather for high tea in the garden – I feel honoured to have shared the day with my family.”
Sonja added: “I saw Kate Middleton and would have liked to tell her I’m the same age as the Queen. It was the most thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The sisters’ extraordinary experience as refugees in World War Two
Gisela and Sonja were forced to leave their lives in Europe behind on the eve of war breaking out in 1939.
Along with 900 other Jewish people they fled Nazi persecution on a ship heading for Cuba on a trip across the Atlantic Ocean that has become known as the Voyage of the Damned.
The ship was denied entry to Cuba and the passengers were not given sanctuary in the USA either.
That meant the vessel had to head back to Europe where some of the refugees were rehomed across the continent.
Others, sadly, were not so lucky, and lost their lives as they tried to find safety from the inhuman goals of the Third Reich.
Among those who died were Gisela and Sonja’s father and 30 of their relatives.
Gisela and Sonja have since worked to teach people the truth about Nazi Germany and the ‘Final Solution’ it attempted to bring about, which involved the murder of some six million Jewish people.
Their efforts for Holocaust education were recognised in the 2020 New Year honours and they were awarded their medals by Sir Warren Smith, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester who represents the Queen in the area.
However, they then faced a two-year wait to go to a royal garden party due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They finally made the trip to Buckingham Palace as the country gears up to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Recognition of Holocaust survivors
Gisela and Sonja are also set to feature in Belong Morris Feinmann’s Holocaust survivors exhibition which is due to open this summer at the Palatine Road care village’s onsite synagogue.
Members of the public will be invited to experience the stories of those who lived through the Holocaust, with more event details to be announced in the coming weeks.
The care village originally started out as a home for Holocaust survivors and Belong, which runs it today, works closely with the Morris Feinmann Trust to maintain its Jewish ethos and culture.