The moving story of how a Sheffield family took child refugees into their home, saving them from Auschwitz

‘Hello, my name is John Fieldsend, though I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1931 as Hans Heini Feige. I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because I’m about to share the rather harrowing story of how I was snatched from the jaws of the Nazis in the nick of time and, with the help of a very kind Englishman, was able to escape the prospect of almost certain death to begin a new life here in Sheffield. My mother was Czech and my father German. We lived in Dresden until 1938 when it became too dangerous to remain there, so we fled across the border to my mother’s parental home in Czechoslovakia. But after the German annexation of Sudetenland, my parents could see the writing on the wall and willingly gave up their two boys for adoption to save them from the horrors of Auschwitz, where they were to perish themselves, along with most of my relatives, within a few short years. I’m sure you can imagine how traumatic it must have been for me and my brother Arthur, aged seven and ten, to be parted from our parents as we became beneficiaries in 1938 of the Czech Kindertransport project led by Sir Nicholas Winton, who died recently aged 106. A young stockbroker at the time, he arranged the rescue of one thousand Jewish children from Czechoslovakia. But despite the heartbreak, my brother and I found new hope as we grew up in Sheffield comforted by the love and devotion of a Christian couple, Les and Vera Cumpsty, and their son John. Shortly after our arrival in the City of Steel, foster father Les became the butt of neighbourhood jokes as he set about building an elaborate air-raid shelter in the garden of our home in the southern suburb of Handsworth. But of course, like Noah building an ark on dry ground, he was thoroughly vindicated when the city was heavily blitzed by the Luftwaffe on the nights of the 12th and 15th December 1940. Les was under-manager of Tinsley Park Colliery at the time and later moved to Worksop following promotion to Inspector of Mines and Quarries for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. Following the lead of my older brother, I eventually anglicized my name to John Fieldsend, preferring the English equivalent of my first name Hans (as I had generally been known as Heini). Not surprisingly perhaps in view of our foster parents’ example, I also discovered a personal faith in Jesus and, although I qualified as an engineer with practical experience of working on aircraft during my time in the RAF, I felt a strong call to full-time Christian ministry and became an Anglican vicar overseeing a thriving church in Bayston Hill, Shropshire. Dwelling on my past was difficult to face at first, but in time I felt drawn to re-focus on my Jewish roots and identified myself as a Messianic Jew – a Jew who follows Jesus as our Messiah. The Jewish aspect of my identity had taken a leap forward when TV personality Esther Rantzen arranged an emotional 50th anniversary reunion between Sir Nicholas Winton and some of the children he rescued as part of her very popular That’s Life! programme. In my recently published book, A Wondering Jew (available from CMJ UK), I recall visits made to the Children’s Memorial in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, which commemorates the one-and-a-half million children who died at the hands of the Nazis. As we listened to the names of the children being read out on an endlessly looping tape – which took several days to go round – I realized that had my journey from Czechoslovakia been delayed by only a few weeks, my name would have been on that tape! It was a very dramatic experience… My ministry has taken me all over Britain and to many parts of the world, and on one occasion in South Africa, after sharing my story and speaking about Jewish and Gentile reconciliation through Jesus, I was approached by a man who rather hesitantly confessed that he had spent the war years as a member of the Hitler Youth. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that I had been challenged to practice what I had just preached! But of course I recognized that we were now brothers in Messiah and I was able to forgive him. My wife Elizabeth and I celebrated our golden wedding in 2011, and we have three children and seven grandchildren. I thank God for Sir Nicholas Winton, but I also thank God for the ‘light of the world’ who helps to make sense of a world full of trouble and darkness.’

Posted by Phil Bowell on .