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  • Debra Barnes

Looking back at 2020 - a most unusual year

As we approach the end of a most unusual year, we wanted to share some of the highs… and lows… of AJR’s testimony book series, My Story, in 2020.

The year began well. We had a full team of four coordinators and a long list of inspirational members wanting to tell their stories and wonderful volunteers ready to visit them.

We published some fascinating life stories which were added to the My Story website as free downloads:

Tommy Gutwin, one of the Winton children, told us about how he arrived in England from Prague all alone just before his fourth birthday.

Monique Liliane Blake described her life as a hidden child in France after her parents were deported.

Irene Brauner shared her incredible story of hiding in Germany throughout the war as a Polish Catholic.

Ruth Grant recounted her experiences as a young girl in Nazi Germany experiencing Kristallnacht and escaping on the Kindertransport.

Rudi Leavor BEM related his life in Berlin before his family escaped to England. His My Story book has since been serialised in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.

Father Francis Wahle explained how, despite having four Jewish grandparents, he was brought up as Catholic and became a priest.

Once the Covid-19 pandemic took hold we adapted our way of working. Where possible we moved our interviewing to video and telephone calls and were able to recruit a number of experienced volunteers who were on furlough from their jobs as journalists and communication specialists. In this way we were able to produce two books in record time:

Joanna Millan BEM JP’s book chronicles her infancy in Theresienstadt and as one of the Windermere children.

Ernest Simon BEM told us of his journey to England on the Kindertransport, leaving behind his parents and brother who followed shortly after.

The pandemic also meant that we had streamline our team. Four coordinators became two, and we thank Sharon Mail and Keith Rowe for their contribution. We were very sorry to see them go.

Sadly, we said goodbye to some of our interviewees: Heinz Skyte passed away on the last day of 2019 and Katinka Seiner-Easton passed away in January, leaving us with wonderful memories of sharing stories over a cup of strong coffee in her flat.

For 2021 we will be focusing on completing the many projects already started with our members up and down the country, chronicling their incredible life stories and messages for future generations.

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