A pair of teenage refugees who met in Wales found their own “real love story” at Gwrych Castle.
One of the most recognisable buildings in North Wales, the castle is now widely known for hosting I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2020 – but its history and the fascinating stories from within the grounds go further back.
During the Second World War, the castle – which was built in the early 1800s – acted as a refuge for 180 Jewish children who had come to Britain as part of the Kindertransport effort.
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The children arrived at the castle in Abergele in 1939 as part of the 10,000 Jewish refugees who escaped to the UK from Nazi-occupied countries and at the time, only refugees aged 17 or under were allowed into Britain.
Among those were teenagers Herthel and Gerhard, who met at the castle at age 14 before starting new lives in London and later getting married and having two children.
The couple lost almost all of their family in the Holocaust and their years at the Abergele castle was a time when they could “still be children” – and also where their “real love story” began.
Posting to Facebook, Gwrych Castle said: “Herthel and Gerhard were part of a group of 200 or so Jewish child refugees that came over separately from different parts of Germany just before the war as part of the Kindertransport programme and they both lived at the castle.
“They came from Leipzig and Breslau respectively aged 14 and met at Gwrych Castle! They always described it as the most wonderful time. They stayed for two years and were looked after by a group of older Jewish men and women until they left and started new lives in London. Having met at the castle, theirs was a real love story; they went out for another seven years and then got married at the age of 21 and had two sons.
“They went back to visit the castle in 1949 and took these photos as they always remember it fondly. They’d lost almost all of their family in the Holocaust so the time at the castle was a time when they could still be children again after their lives were disrupted by war.”
A member of the family contacted Gwrych Castle Trust to share the photos and their ancestors’ story.
On their Facebook page, one person commented: “Great true story how our local Castle on North Wales coast which was home to so many children.
While another said: “At least some shred of happiness in very dark times. What a story for the castle.”
Professor Nathan Abrams, founder of JewThink and lecturer at Bangor University, told NorthWalesLive: “The castle provided a training centre to help prepare young Jews for their emigration to Israel, or to make aliyah, as it’s also known.
“They were taught how to live on a kibbutz (a community traditionally based on agriculture), so they would have been taught how to farm and how to live an agricultural life during their time there.
“Gwrych Castle provided the perfect environment, being set in a rural area which is, of course, perfect for farming.”
Prof Abrams said that the young people were being prepared for life in Israel during their time at the castle, receiving Zionist education along with their agricultural training.
The castle also hosted the first ever national gathering of Bnei Akiva, a worldwide religious Zionist youth movement.
Gwrych Castle Trust has since restored the photos of Herthel and Gerhard and they are available to view on their Facebook page.
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