Eric Lucas - Leaving Hoengen

Eric Lucas, a young German Jew who lived in Hoengen, was one of those who sought safety outside of the Reich, recalled: 'The train which was to carry me to safety waited on the platform. I had hoped that in a few days, that train would carry my sister and perhaps in a few months, my parents to safety.' He recalled the journey:

The town where we lived was the border-control point, as beyond it stretched the still free towns of Belgium and Holland. In just over an hour the train would speed through the fertile lowlands of Belgium and would take me right to the Channel Port of Ostend.

I was the only passenger who boarded the train at that station. To travel abroad, to leave the country, was only granted to emigrants and those who had a special reason connected with the interest of the state. The travelers were few, but the customs officials and the guarding soldiers were many. The men on whose whim hung one's final leaving were the sinister tall figures in new black unifiorms.

When I was at last allowed to board the train, I rushed to the window to look for my parents, whom I could not see until I had left the customs shed. They stood there, in the distance, but they did not come to the train. I waved timidly, and yet full of fear, after the control I had just passed; but even that was too much. A man in a black uniform rushed towards me, 'You Jewish swine - one more sign or word from you and we shall keep you here. You have passed the customs.'

And so I stood at the window of the train. In the distance stood a silent and aging couple, to whom I dared neither speak nor wave a last farewell; but I could see their faces very distinctly in the light of the oncoming morning. A few hours previously, first my father and then my mother had laid their hands gently on my bowed head to bless me, asking God to let be like Ephraim and Menashe. 'Let it be well with you. Do your work and duty and if God wills it we shall see you again. Never forget that you are a Jew, do not forget your people, and do not forget us.' Thus my father had said and his eyes had grown soft and dim. 'My boy - it may be that we can come after you, but you will never be away from me -from your mother.' Tears streamed down her infinitely kind and sad face. With a last effort she continued in the old, so familiar Hebrew words , 'Go now, in life and peace.'

Standing at the window of the train, I was suddenly overcome with a maiming certainty that I would never see my father and mother again. There they stood, lonely, and with the sadness of death. Cruel hands kept us apart in that last intimate moment. A passionate, rebellious cry stuck in my throat against all that senseless brutality and inhuman cruelty. Why, O God, had it all to be like that?

There stood my father and my mother. An old man, leaning heavily on his stick and holding his wife's hand. It was the first and the last time in my life that I had seen them both weep. Now and then my mother would stretch her hand out, as if to grasp mine- but the hand fell back, knowing it could never reach. Can the world ever justify the pain that burned in my father's eyes? My father's eyes were gentle and soft, but filled with tears of loneliness and fear. They were the eyes of a child that seeks the kindness of its mother's face, and the protection of its father.

As the train pulled out of the station to wheel me to safety, I leant my face against the cold glass of the window, and wept bitterly. Those who have crossed the Channel, escaping from fear of death to safety, can understand what it means to wait for those who are still beyond it, longing to cross it, but who will never reach these white cliffs, towering over the water.

Eric Lucas was one of more than fifty thousand German Jews who found safety in Britain. His parents, unable to obtain the necessary papers and permits, perished in 1942. at the Treblinka death camp, in Poland.