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Schindler medal awarded to British soldier

A medal awarded to Oskar Schindler has been given to a British man who saved a Jewish girl from death at the hands of the Nazis.

George Hammond died seven years before the medal was awarded in 2010, but it has finally been collected by his relatives.

The Righteous Among the Nations medal was given to Mr Schindler, a German businessman in Cracow, Poland who single-handedly saved some 1,200 Jews.

His rescue feat, made famous by the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s List, was seen as unparalleled in its daring and execution.

He is one of almost 24,000 persons from 45 countries have thus far been identified and honoured, under a program created by law, at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial.

Mr Hammond, a Kent soldier, has now posthumously been awarded the same medal for his part in hiding a 17-year-old Jewish girl in a cupboard whilst working in Gross Golmkau as a prisoner of war.

He returned to his camp in February 1945, he discovered his friends had found Sara Rigler who had escaped. They were hiding her in a cupboard.

Nearly 70 years later she still alive, living in a retirement home in the USA, and owes her life to the men who kept her hidden.

Her family were murdered but she survived after they hid her in their barn for three weeks, clothing and feeding her.

She eventually met the 10 men who saved her life, but all of them are now thought to have passed away.

Last month at the Houses of Parliament, George’s nephew, Chris Hammond, collected an award for his uncle’s humanity shown in the face of conflict.

Now Mr Hammond is searching for the families of his uncle’s friends who helped save Sara, so they can also be given their medals.

The 59-year-old of Herne Bay, Kent, said: “It would be nice to draw a matter to a close by finding the other nine.

“This award is rarer than a VC, it is very important that these things are remembered.”

Born in 1919, George Hammond joined the First Battalion of the Royal West Kent as a private.

After the war he worked as a special policeman, reaching the rank of inspector, and worked for a seating manufacturer until he retired in 1984.

He lived with lifelong partner Rene Harpin in Sheerness, Kent, where he died in 2003.

Then in 2010, George Hammond and his nine comrades at his camp were awarded the Righteous Among the Nations Honored by Yad Vashem medal, shortly after Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Auschwitz.

Yet none of the medals had been given out until Chris collected his uncle’s honour from minister Eric Pickles at Westminster Hall in February.

One of George’s friends was another Kent soldier, Roger Letchford, who is known to have lived in Dartford.

Chris said: “George was affected by what he saw out there. It upset him all his life. He could never talk about it.

“I think he would have been very pleased with the medal and that things had been recognished.”

George Hamilton’s brigade was captured by Germans at Addenarde in Belgium in 1940, during the Allies’ withdrawal from Dunkirk.

He was eventually taken to Poland to labour as a prisoner of war, where he and nine friends saved Sara.

His campmate Willy Fisher wrote in his diary how the 10 English men found the emaciated girl, writing: “I got my forefinger and thumb round the upper part of her arm easily.”

They smuggled her into the camp under the noses of the German guards.

The men then hid the girl in a hayloft above their billet in the camp. The temperature outside was -10C.

Despite her terrible state, she managed to tell them her name, age and that she was registered as prisoner No. 58,384 at Stutthof concentration camp in Poland.

They visited her with food and found her a pair of shoes and a sweater to put over her ripped dress.

The biggest danger was that a farmer might clear the hay while they were out working during the day as they had no choice but to leave her.

Early one morning, three weeks after finding Sara, they were ordered off on a march and never had time to warn her.

Yet she eventually made her way to a gathering point for Jewish refugees in Bialystock, Poland, and emigrated to America in 1948, thanks to an arranged – and brief – marriage.

She completed college, remarried in 1952, and went on to have a nursing career in New York.

She never lost contact with her saviours and planted a tree with them during a get-together in Israel in 1989.

Chris said: “They were very chatty. She got on well with all the 10.

“That one incident took over her life. You have got to bear in mind she lost her family and there is always that feeling of ‘why did I survive and they didn’t?’

“Whenever she couldn’t make a get together of the 10, she always sent a telegram.”

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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