'I've been very lucky': New Year Honour for Highgate Holocaust survivor

Ivan Shaw has been given a BEM in the Queen's New Year Honours

Ivan Shaw has been given a BEM in the Queen's New Year Honours - Credit: Eileen Shaw

A Highgate Holocaust survivor who gives talks to school pupils in between volunteering at Kenwood House has been recognised in the New Year Honours.

Ivan Shaw receives a British Empire Medal for services to Holocaust Education and Awareness.

The grandfather-of-six only began speaking of his experiences four years ago as the memories were "too painful", but was persuaded to tell his story.

"I feel very honoured," he said. "I'm not sure I deserve it but it's a lovely surprise.

"There are a lot of other people who have done similar work but I am very honoured. My parents, who did not survive Auschwitz, would not imagine in their wildest dreams the journey I've been on."

Ivan was only five years old in May 1944 when the Germans began rounding up and deporting Jews from Novi Sad, where he lived with his parents in former Yugoslavia, now Serbia.

Ivan’s mother was summoned to go but his father was not because he was only half Jewish. But he could not abandon his wife and left, thinking Ivan would be safe with family.

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"I just thought my parents had left and I couldn't understand where they had gone to and why they hadn't come back," he said.

Young Ivan was found and taken away by the Gestapo to a prison cell where he stayed overnight, alone. From there, he was taken by lorry to a transit camp where he was found by family, and they looked after him.

After about 10 days, the inmates were marched to Novi Sad train station to be transported to a further camp.

One of Ivan’s aunts had been following his movements from outside and used the opportunity to snatch him from the line and hide him in a forest before taking him to her home and concealing him there, which ultimately saved his life.

"At the end of the war we didn't know what had happened to my parents, and there was total chaos in Europe," he said.

He found out his mother died in Bergen-Belsen. "She was actually there when the British Army arrived but she was so ill that she died a few days later."

In 2001, 46 years after his father's disappearance, he found out what happened to him after papers were released from the former USSR.

The Auschwitz Museum confirmed that he was there in May 1944 and in January 1945 he was taken to Buchenwald.

"He was so ill he couldn't pronounce or recognise his name – he recognised who he was by his tattoo number. So the Germans were sending these transport of prisoners with passenger lists – with your name against a number, absolutely bizarre, madness. 

"It was a shock to learn what happened to him but it was closure. But I was very happy to come to England settle eventually in Hampstead and now in Highgate. I've been very lucky." 

Other than family he didn't tell anyone of his experiences, so no-one at the Marks & Spencer's store in Baker Street, where he worked for a long time, knew of his past.

"I didn't talk about it for a very long time. I didn't hide it, my family all knew, but I didn't wear it on my sleeve.

"It was too painful. I was eventually persuaded that in an era of increasing antisemitism and intolerance I should speak out, so I started four years ago when I was 78 years old."

He has been touring schools around the country, sharing his experiences, something he said is "very satisfying" because children are very interested.

"This isn't history that happened years ago, this happened to someone who is still alive," he said.

"I'm now doing talks on Zoom. It's a good second best but it's not as good as talking to the pupils in the schools."

Ivan has been married to Eileen for 56 years and they have three children and six grandchildren "all of whom live on the Ham&High patch", he said.

Ivan was a magistrate for 24 years and volunteered for the Princes' Trust for a number of years.

More recently he has been volunteering at Kenwood House which he said is "a fascinating place".