On the 27th of January, Holocaust Memorial Day, a group of representatives gathered to plant two oak trees (Quercus robur) to commemorate being chosen as a living memorial to the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR). The ceremony was part of “80 Years for 80 Trees” the two trees that were planted were sponsored by Milena Grenfell-Baines and Ellen Petzal. The Mayor, Jim Davies, gave a moving speech that explained in more depth the context of the ceremony.
The Mayor’s Speech
I am delighted to be here today to represent the Association of Jewish Refugees. In equal quantities and with equal zeal, I want to thank its members Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines and Ellen Petzal for sponsoring the Oak saplings we are planting today.
We will hear more about Lady Milena’s connections with Llanwrtyd Wells from Milena herself in just a minute. Unfortunately, Ellen Petzal can’t be with us today so she has asked me to share just a few words about her late husband Harry, in whose name she is sponsoring this tree.
Harry was born in Berlin in 1908. In 1939, aged 31, he escaped Nazi oppression in Germany age 31 by securing a special refugee visa to Britain. He had already trained as a metallurgist and his s s were very valuable both in his war work and later when he set up his own successful aluminum company in London. He died in September 1991, and is remembered with love.
Harry’s story is very typical of the Jewish refugees who managed to escape Nazi oppression and find safety here in Britain. Just like today’s refugees, most of them arrived here with very little and needed help finding jobs, housing, and education. So in 1941, the refugees set up a special organisation to help each other – the Association of Jewish Refugees, or AJR. Today the charity is 80 years old and still provides social, welfare, and volunteer services to Jewish victims of Nazi oppression. Nowadays many of its members represent the next generations and it has introduced special programs and activities for these groups.
Today is, of course, Holocaust Memorial Day, when communities all around the world take time to remember the atrocities that happened in Europe during World War Two and vow to never let them happen again. We are very proud that Llanwrtyd Wells is one of 80 different locations around the UK where the AJR is planting trees. From Castle Douglas up in Scotland down to Mousehole (pronounced Muzzle) on the coast of Cornwall, from the port of Harwich in Essex to Glyndebourne in Sussex the charity is marking 80 places that were hugely important to Jewish refugees 80 years ago, just like this one.
Each tree celebrates ‘the remarkable impact that has been made by Jewish refugees to every walk of British life. The literary critic George Steiner once said, “When you come to a house as a guest, you must try and leave the house a little nicer than you found it” Despite – or perhaps because of – the massive traumas the refugees had experienced they were determined to build a new and better life for themselves. They embraced all opportunities in their new homeland and in doing so have made a lasting impression across the fabric of British society – in industry, business, culture, media, the arts, and medical science, to name but a few.
Oak trees are Britain’s national trees, and they support more other forms of natural world life than other trees. But like lots of things in our environment, they are coming under threat and need our protection. So this tree is not just a way of remembering the Jewish refugees, it also helps them to give something back to the country which became their home. We are delighted that this tree is also being counted as part of Her Majesty The Queen’s Green Canopy – the special tree planting project which marks this year’s Platinum Jubilee. We promise to care for it well to ensure that Llanwrtyd residents can enjoy it for generations to come.