Interviewed by Amálie Vystavělová, Year 5, for www.lauderky.cz
Milena, a nine year old girl, with her younger sister, left Prague’s main railway station on August 2, 1939, on the last successful train organised by Sir Nicholas Winton. During her life in Britain, she was involved in the merging of her two homelands and was awarded the Gratias agit prize. Today she is the Patron of the Emmy Destinn Foundation.
Do you think that in the months or years before the war, people had realised what the scale and impact of it would it be?
I think they expected a lot of bad things because they knew what was going on in Germany since 1933 . They put in prison the Communists, the Jews ... People probably did not expect all of Czechoslovakia to be occupied, but they saw that people were already sending children to England (about 10,000 German Jewish children on kindertransport before the war). But I have the impression that no one knew, no one could see what was going to happen here.
In your opinion, is there sufficient awareness nowadays of what the Holocaust was?
I have the impression that over the past ten years - of course I do not live here, but in England - people are talking a lot about it, every school has so-called holocaust studies. I do a lot of lectures in English schools and I have learned that most students when they are in the equivalent of ECP’s Years 1 and 2, their school usually organises excursions to Auschwitz.
What is your relationship to Judaism?
I was never brought up as a Jew, but of course I am Jewish. My father was not religious and my mother was a Jew, so I know all about it and I do talk about it at the lectures, and I was on Sir Nicholas's train, but I was not brought up as a Jewish girl.
Have you ever thought you would follow up on your Jewish roots?
I do not, my sister does, after sixty years, which surprised me, because she did not want to admit it at all. She said she had been struggling with the departure for years, she just did not know why we left. She was three and a half years old and thought her mother was angry at her in some way when she was sitting on that train. She even went to what is now called "counselling" .
How did you feel about this separation from your parents? What do you still remember about it today?
I was nine years old when we left with my sister. I remember that she did not speak the whole way. My sister then completely loved her English mother. It was probably more of a trauma for her than for me. Of course, it was all right again (the Fleischmann family, unlike most other families in Britain, were once again reunited). When I talk to my children, they say to me, "I would not put anyone on a train that way." One cannot imagine today what it was like for the parents.
Sir Nicholas Winton wrote this mission statement: "Do not be content in your life just to do no wrong". How does this work for you?
It was just that Nicky said it was not enough just to be good and not to be angry, but that every day one should try to do something good. So we as "Winton's children" are trying to live up to this.
How did it affect your life when you became aware or somehow discovered how lucky you were and who helped you?
What was interesting is that our parents never said anything about it after we settled and lived in England. So, we took the English way of life as normal. Only after the Holocaust had begun and when we really learned about it, of course, we all started to think about it and the fact that our cousins, grandfather, grandmother died there... So for us it was completely ... it cannot be explained.
Your grandfather gave you a memorial book before you left, where he wrote that you would forget about your homeland as you are leaving and your family. How and in what direction do you think national consciousness is important?
This is an interesting question in this country. So I know what's going on here, and I've never imagined it. I always thought that once the Communists left, there would be paradise, which is a stupid idea. We also have problems with our Government in England, but I'm so used to living in England today, so I'm getting used to it, and I can not judge it from this point of view. But I have noticed that ordinary people here know much more about European history than in England. What I really appreciate here is Czech music and culture, but I would skip politics.
How should people remember Sir Nicholas’s actions?
In Bohemia they all know him today. A school is named after him, he is a star... And he always said it was not he alone who did it, that there was a whole team of people in Prague, that he came back and that he was never in danger. That’s what he claims. But in the end, he was the only one of them who survived, so people should see him as an example. He is someone who should not be forgotten.
Originální verze rozhovoru v českém jazyce zde:
MILENA GRENFELL-BAINES: NESTAČÍ JEN ŽÍT SVŮJ ŽIVOT A NEZLOBIT
AUTOR: Amálie Vystavělová, 5. ročník