Obituary: Kindertransport refugee and Anne Frank guide who escaped Hitler’s clutches dies
A tour guide who taught Anne Frank’s story to thousands, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, has died aged 85.
As a nine-year-old German Jewish child, Herbert Levy arrived alone in England on the Kindertransport, the children’s rescue mission, having been born in Berlin in 1929 just as the Nazis were on their rise to power.
Thankfully, his parents followed just as the doors were closing in August 1939, but during the Second World War the family were interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man, along with Nazi prisoners of war.
Despite this Herbert, who lived in Fordington Road, Highgate for 22 years, went on to serve in the British Army.
In Berlin, Herbert had experienced a frighteningly close encounter with Adolf Hitler.
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When only six, he and his mother accidently walked into a Hitler rally and the little blond boy had found himself carried aloft by Hitler’s adoring followers to the front to be shown to the Führer.
Young Herbert had the wherewithal to make the expected Hitler salute and was then returned to his relieved mother.
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As an adult, Herbert’s dream was to have been an actor or theatre director. He set up an amateur dramatics group, putting on productions at Belsize Square Synagogue, in Belsize Square, Belsize Park, of which his parents were among the German refugee founder members.
It was aimed at alleviating the trauma of the continental families who had lost so many in the Holocaust.
Instead of a professional life in theatre, he set up a successful hosiery business to support his family.
Herbert had married Lilian Davidson, who was orphaned in Bergen-Belsen, and they helped each other through the trauma of their childhoods.
His theatrical ambitions however were eventually realised, as from 1991 Herbert Levy became the principal guide for the Anne Frank travelling exhibition.
He tirelessly travelled around the UK and educated thousands of young people and guides in his unforgettable way. Part of his tour involved showing a photograph of two very blonde children which had been posted outside a 1930s Berlin chemist shop with the caption, “Two beautiful Aryan children”.
Herbert would then explain that ironically this was in fact him and his cousin Ellen Eva.
He spent much of this time in prisons, training inmates to be confident exhibition guides.
In January 1997, he took Tony and Cherie Blair around the Anne Frank exhibition at Southwark Cathedral and actually introduced Doreen Lawrence to the Blairs, as her murdered son Stephen was featured in a panel.
Blair was so moved by this meeting that he determined to set up a special commission to investigate the police handling of the murder.
Herbert Levy inspired and influenced people young and old throughout this country to be compassionate and free from prejudice.
His autobiography Voices from the Past is still widely read.
Despite the effects of Parkinson’s disease, Herbert’s last public appearance was only last year, in a theatre production in Trier, Germany, where he provided the voiceover for a German play.
He is survived by wife Lilian, son Andrew, daughter Hilary and grandchildren Rosie and Zack.