Daedalian Glass Studios were first contacted by Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines on the 9th November 2015. The brief was to create a glass memorial for the parents and children separated by the kindertransport in the late 1930`s – The Farewell Memorial.
The kindertransport was a humanitarian project that emerged after the British authorities agreed to allow an unspecified number of children (under 17 years of age) to enter Great Britain from German or German-annexed territories. It spawned a series of rescue operations and saw 9,000 – 10,000 children arrive from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland (7’500 of which were Jewish).
One of these operations, focussed on Czechoslovak children, was organised by Nicholas Winton – a stockbroker of German-Jewish ancestry (although baptised Anglican). He decided to organise his kindertransport after going on holiday to Czechoslovakia and witnessing the refugee camps filled with Jewish and political opponents from the occupied Sudetenland. The first of his transports left Prague by plane on March 14th 1939, the day before Germany occupied the entirety of the Czechoslovakia, but later trips took trains across Europe. The last trainload departed Prague on August 2nd 1939 – a total of 669 children were known to be saved by Nicholas Winton before Britain and Poland declared war on 1st September 1939 and operations ceased. In 2002, Winton was honoured with a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity.
The memorial design concept is for a train door in the same style as on trains of the period. This will evoke the heart-wrenching scene as the trains were due to leave.
Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines
Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines is not just an organiser of this project, she also holds a personal connection to the memorial. Her maiden name is Milena Ruth Fleischmann and she was born into a non-practicing Jewish family from Czechoslovakia in 1929.
Her father Rudolf was the advertising manager for a medical magazine. He was also a strong supporter of anti-NAZI author Thomas Mann and interceded with the Czech president to help secure an offer of citizenship after Dr Mann was rendered stateless by the Nazi regime. Rudolf travelled to Zurich personally to present the exiled author with his new documents. Because of this activity he was warned it was unsafe for him to remain and fled Prague for Ashton-under-Lyne (Manchester, England) March 13 the day before the NAZI invasion of Czechoslovakia leaving Milena with her mother and younger sister Eva.
A year later, Milena and Eva (now aged 9 and 3 ½) along with their cousin Helen 2 ½ were fortunate enough to be one of the 669 children who escaped on the Kindertransport organised by Sir Nicholas Winton. As she left Czechoslovakia full of uncertainty, Milena`s grandfather gave her an autograph book in which he wrote that she should remain faithful to her old country, to her parents and her grandfather – she never saw him again. These 669 children were handed over by their parents to be taken away to safety and trusted into the care of strangers in a foreign land. Neither parent or child knew whether they would meet again, and indeed many did not due to perishing in the holocaust.
When Milena arrived in England, Rudolf Fleischman was unable to care for his daughter’s due to chest problems requiring his hospitalisation. They were placed with guardians in Ashton-under-Lyne, the Radcliffs, who cared for them until her mother managed to arrive a year later (having made the journey from Czechoslovakia via Norway). Her guardian for the year, Roland Radcliffe, was the secretary of the local Labour Party.
Her new country
Milena stayed in England after the war and, in an interesting link to the industry we work in, married Professor Sir George Grenfell-Baines – founder of the architecture firm BDP. The couple met less than 20 miles from the Daedalian studio, in Preston, where she had moved due to her fathers’ work. George (known affectionately as GG) was knighted in 1978, upon which Milena became Lady Milena.
Other noteworthy events in Milena`s action packed life include being the translator for the Czech Football Team during the Euro’96 tournament held in England and riding on the team coach, organising a dinner in 2004 to promote unity at Ewood Park in Blackburn with the Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian ambassadors attending at her invitation, and over 30 years of involvement with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in helping to promote their work.
The 70 years’ anniversary of the Winton’s Kindertransport
On 1st September 2009, Milena was among 22 surviving refugees and their descendants who replicated the children’s journey across Europe on one of the original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930`s. This event marked the 70th anniversary of the last scheduled Kindertransport of Nicholas Winton which was due to set off on the 3rd September 1939 but was cancelled due to the outbreak of the 2nd world war. Nicholas Winton, 100 years old at the time, met the train in London upon its arrival.
The majority of funding for this project will be raised by public subscription. Donations can be made by using the link for the appeal website.