Feige Mendzigursky

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Feige Fay Shaw (Mendzigursky)

Also Known As: "Fella"
Birthdate: (91)
Birthplace: Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
Death: December 13, 2015 (91)
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Peisech Mendzigursky and Frieda Mendzigursky
Wife of Max Heinz Nathan and Julius Shaw
Mother of Judith Nathan Elam and Jacqueline Nathan
Sister of Margo Freedman; Etti Lea Mendzigursky and Abraham Mendzigursky

Managed by: Judith Nathan Elam
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Feige Mendzigursky



Jewish Telegraph - Friday, June 23, 2013 FEIGE RECALLS HER MOTHER'S FINAL WORDS AS SHE BOARDED TRAIN TO SAFETY INCREDIBLE STORY: Fay Shaw (Feige Mendzigursky) with Judith and Michael Elam and Susan Bookbinder

Susan Bookbinder represented Feige Mendzigursky at the 75th anniversary reception of the Kindertransport at St James' Palace. Here she shares her great-cousin's story and meets others who made same journey "LEARN, learn, learn - they can take everything from you except what's in your brain." A mother's last words to her teenage daughter at Leipzig Central Station in August 1939.

Feige Mendzigursky wore a name-tag stamped with swastikas around her neck - the pass was virtually all she had. It turned her into a refugee, but it was to save her life.

The pretty 14-year-old was boarding the last Kindertransport train out of Leipzig. Forced to say goodbye to her mother and younger sister, not knowing if she would ever see them and her grandfather again or what would become of them.

Feige was one of about 10,000 Jewish children under-17 allowed unaccompanied into Britain to start a new life in the homes of relatives.

Some of the 200 surviving Kinder were in London this week from all over the world to join Prince Charles at St James' Palace to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the unprecedented Kindertransport.

Eric Newman, who was also 14 at the time, described to me how he waved goodbye to his mother in Austria.

"I remember her crying and waving a handkerchief," he said. "I don't think I ever cried, I was just on my way, I thought it was an adventure to be travelling for the first time on the train and I didn't know what the future would be."

Erika Judge,who was just 13 when she left Vienna, explained why parents had to hold back the tears.

"There were Blackshirts standing at the back of the platform," she recalled. "All the parents saying goodbye were mostly women, because, like my father, most men were already in camps, and they were told to wave and smile, so in fact, nobody cried."

"Nobody cried," she repeated, with eyes that seemed to look back through seven decades to a little girl so totally alone on a journey which saw many horrors.

"In Munich, all the suitcases were taken down. The station was full of Nazis. some parents, thinking they would never see their children again, had tried to hide bits of jewellery in coat linings or in shoes.

"Some of the children were found with valuables and taken off the train. What happened to them, no one knows."

Thomas Bonin's mother Helge Dresner was on the same journey as Feige and her brother Rolf Dresner.

Thomas and his wife Petra told me how the rest of their family were taken to the death camps and murdered.

Albert Waxman came from Saarbrücken, where Jews, stripped of their rights to work and visit public places, were being openly beaten and abused.

He said: "Jews in Germany could not work or go to school, invariably it was 'Dogs and Jews not allowed'."

Mr Waxman was sent to a hostel in Bradford. He was the only Kinder from there to be reunited with his parents.

"We were 24 boys in the hostel, I was the only one who found my parents again after the war," he recalled. "They had survived in Paris under false names."

Judy Benton, a stunningly beautiful and immaculate woman of 92, told me with steely calm how the Nazis took away her father's factory and, as one of only six Jewish families in the town, she was exposed and lived in daily fear of the SS coming to take her parents away.

"The propaganda on the radio and in the newspapers was constant against Jews," she said. "Children at school were not talking to me anymore."

The Nazi antisemitic propaganda machine was virulent by the time she took the last Kindertransport out of Meissen in August 1939.

The British government had originally refused to get involved in the plight of Europe's Jews, but on November 9, 1938, everything changed with one word - Kristallnacht - a series of co-ordinated attacks against Jews throughout Germany and Austria.

The attacks left the streets covered in broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, homes and synagogues.

At least 91 Jews were killed, 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps, many were beaten to death.

Feige's father Peisech Mendzigursky was taken to the notorious Buchenwald, where he was beaten and eventually released.

News of the atrocities spread across Europe, and the British government was pressured to undertake a Parliamentary debate, which led to the Kindertransport.

The debate was re-enacted this week at the first gathering of Kinder and their second and third generations at the Jewish Free School in Kenton, London.

More than 600 came from all over the world. Among them, David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, whose parents were Jewish refugees.

David said it is crucial that we never forget.

"The whole country has a sense of reflection and recognition of what the Kindertransport means both to the Jewish community and to Britain's tradition of providing a home for people," he told me. "I also am here because of that very personal link."

David's family's story is similar to that of Feige. The family she left behind - her mother, grandfather and three-year-old sister - were taken by the Nazis, deported and murdered.

Other close relatives were also deported and murdered, including one to Buchenwald.

Children left Germany with one small suitcase and wearing an exit visa on a piece of string around their necks, bearing their name and picture.

The first thing that strikes you when you see Feige's pretty little face staring out of that photo, are the swastikas stamped all around it.

On the other side, the word 'Sara' next to her name. The Nazis added the middle name to all Jewish females, regardless of age, from 1938, as a means of discrimination.

Males were given the middle name 'Israel'.

Feige was born in Germany, but from that day was listed as 'staatlos' (stateless). Everything was taken from her, including her nationality.

Feige, her 13-year-old sister Margo and father Peisech - who had incredibly escaped death in Buchenwald - were given exit visas to leave Germany to live with cousins in Manchester.

Three sisters came to meet them at Liverpool Street Station on August 11, 1939, but Peisech, who arrived three weeks later, was immediately interned as an alien Jew in what was known as Kitchener camp in Kent.

Feige and Margo were taken by rail to their cousins' home in Cheetham Hill, not knowing if they would ever be reunited with their mother, little sister and grandfather again.

The two teenage sisters were welcomed into a loving Jewish family in Manchester and both later married and had children.

They were reunited with their father Peisech, who miraculously arrived one day before Britain was at war with Germany, and became part of the family, working as a machinist and acting rabbi in Manchester.

The two sisters also worked as machinists throughout the war in the grimy factories of the city.

The sisters would hide their pain and anxiety by giggling.

They heard nothing of their mother, grandfather and sister, except for a telegram in January, 1941, in which Frieda begged for information saying she was "fraught with worry" about her daughters.

It has now been discovered that on January 21, 1942, one of the coldest days on record, Frieda and the youngest daughter Etti Lea were deported in cattle trucks to the Riga ghetto in Latvia.

A swarm of onlookers jeered and screamed as they were taken with 561 others, including 56 children under the age of 10.

A "considerable number" of other Jews were forced onto the train at Dresden. Only 47 people survived.

HAPPY FAMILIES: Bookbinders and Mendzigurskys at the barmitzvah of Trevor Glass in 1943. The two young women at the front are Susan's great cousins. Margo Mendzigursky is holding a young boy on the front row, behind her, wearing a pendant, is Feige, aged 17. Behind her is great aunt Yetta. Sarah Bookbinder is on the right, while Blima Bookbinder is on the back row on the left. Peisech Mendzigursky is standing behind Sarah Bookbinder.

The rest, including Frieda and Etti Lea evidently froze to death.

Fay's grandfather, Meier Feiwel, was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in September, 1942, and died of typhus within months .

How do we know all this? Historian Judith Ellen Elam (nee Nathan) is Feige's eldest daughter and is named after Etti Lea.

For the last five years, she has travelled the desolate road back to discover the family's fate.

Feige, now known as Fay Shaw, having married Julius Shaw at the age of 42, following the tragic death of Max Nathan, father of Judith and her sister Jacky.

Fay is now almost 89 and lives in Otley in Yorkshire. She is looked after by her grandsons and her younger daughter Jacky Lawson, surrounded by photos and memories.

Judith has described to me the life of tragedy, hardship and guilt Fay has led - not least because she believed she could have saved her little sister's life if she had insisted to her parents to put Etti Lea on the Kindertransport as well, with or without an exit visa.

Judith told me of the faraway look, representing the Holocaust survivor guilt that blights so many of the Kinder.

Heartbreakingly, it is a guilt Fay bears without foundation, because Judith has determined that the Nazis would not allow children to leave Germany without the requisite Kinderausweis and inoculation certificates.

Fay's story was featured in the recently published Jewish Lives: Britain 1750-1950 by Melody Amsel-Arieli.

Fay is too frail to attend the Kinder events these days. So Judith asked me to represent Fay at the events this week.

Being among the Kinder at the Jewish Free School and hearing their stories was a great privilege and honour.

All the survivors I spoke to were in their late 80s and early 90s and were incredibly lucid, vibrant and so dignified.

Everyone was looking forward rather than indulging in self pity. Many of them playing down the hardship and horror they had endured and survived.

I think it is illuminating that almost all the men used the word 'adventure' to describe their thoughts as children, as they entered the trains which took them away from their parents.

I was able to speak to so many of the Kinder and their representatives because around my neck, I was wearing the Kinderausweis pass bearing the photo of Feige, as she did in August, 1939, as she boarded the Kindertransport in Leipzig.

I have been a journalist and broadcaster all my life and have reported on many momentous and historic events, including IRA bombings, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and I've seen a few governments come and go.

But this was one of the most challenging stories on which I have reported and one of the most emotional days of my life.

The responsibility and honour of representing Fay is huge, exacerbated by the great privilege and responsibility I have in being able to report on the suffering and survival of my family and millions like Fay - so that history does not forget.

So why me? Well, because of the enormity of the suffering of the Holocaust, I felt I had no right to make this story about me. It is their story of survival and not mine.

So that is why I thought I would leave it until now to tell you that Fay is my great-cousin, and her cousins, the three sisters who met her and her sister Margo at Liverpool Street station in August 1939, were my great-aunts, Sarah, Blima and Yetta Bookbinder.

They had already taken in five more Mendzigursky siblings who had arrived on the Kindertransport two months previously with their father.

Judith's research has enabled us to know how we are all linked - by our great-grandmother, Reisel Devora Miedzygorski.

She became a Bookbinder - or a Buchbinder - when she married our great-grandfather, Hyman Abba Bookbinder in Ksiaz Wielki Poland in 1886.

Judith has done an immense job in tracking down Bookbinders and Mendzigurskys in Manchester, London and Israel from her home in Hawaii and has built an incredible family tree, with 4,200 names, including about 500 Miedzygorski/Mendzigursky and Buchbinder/Bookbinder.

She first contacted me through Facebook in 2009 and we immediately became great friends, sharing a love of history and a fascination and pride in our family.

When Judith visited Fay for her birthday that year, I drove up to Otley to meet her, her husband Mike and Fay.

Facebook has certainly played its part in bringing the family together and reminding us of our place in history. I was so proud to be asked to represent Fay that I posted about it on my Facebook page.

There has been a tremendous reaction and it is a wonderful feeling to see that Facebook, and this great honour I have been given, has brought history up to date with all the Bookbinders and Mendzigurskys back together.

Sarah Bookbinder's great-granddaughter Joanne Neilson said: "Grandma would have loved all this."

My cousins, Tally Bookbinder and Hilary Sheldon, granddaughter of Sarah Bookbinder Bowman, and fellow great-granddaughters of Reizel Mendzigursky-Buchbinder, also posted.

I recently wrote two chapters about my late brother John - who died aged 37 in 2006 - in Teenage Kicks, a book about the Manchester City FA Youth Cup winning squad of 1986, of which John was part.

During the year I was in touch with Teenage Kicks co-author Phill Gatenby, he became more and more interested in the Bookbinders and suggested writing a book about us.

FAMILY SAFETY: Susan Bookbinder interviews Thomas and Petra Bonin

Facebook has now brought Judith and her research to Phill's attention and they are working on a book about the Bookbinder-Mendzigurskys, of Manchester.

We are interested in any contributions and memories from relatives who may be reading this, so please get in touch with me at susan.bookbinder@lbc.co.uk

To represent Fay and the whole family has concentrated my mind on how fortunate I am to be a Bookbinder-Mendzigursky and to be a journalist so that I can nail our part in history with my trade.

Cousin Tally says it so succinctly: "I've never been prouder to be a Bookbinder."

There has been an amazing response from listeners to the report I did for my radio show on LBC.

I have been a wordsmith all my life and as a journalist, it is my job to report the facts and try not to let my emotions colour or cloud what I see.

It is for that reason, I have done my best to be objective and report this incredible story as a journalist, a reporter, rather than an insider.

However, I find that I am now unable to distance myself. And I need to say, 'how could this happen? Why did so many millions have to die?'

For once, I am totally out of words to describe the searing pain I feel for those who were butchered, beaten, tortured and executed and the outrage to those who stood by and did nothing.

It is right, therefore, to leave Frieda Mendzigursky to take over - with the last words she said to my cousins as she had to let them go on the Kindertransport, knowing she might never see her daughters again.

"Learn, learn, learn, they can take everything from you, except what is in your brain."

Please can history learn, learn, learn; never again.

Susan Bookbinder presents The Morning News on London radio station LBC

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Feige Mendzigursky's Timeline

September 26, 1924
Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
December 13, 2015
Age 91
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom