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Tassaduq Ahmed MBE Tassaduq Ahmed

The article as it appeared in the newspaper.

The Observer

7 July 2002

Campaigners are fighting to save a crumbling London building that gave safety to refugees fleeing Hitler

Kamal Ahmed - Political Editor

Scribbled on a wall amid the scaffolding and peeling paint is one sentence, written in haste: 'You must listen to the past.' Demolish it and one more piece of history is gone forever.

This week will see the launch of a campaign to save one of Britain's most important historical houses. Described as the nation's answer to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, 19 Princelet Street in London's East End was refuge to hundreds of Jews fleeing persecution from the Nazis. The words were written by one of the refugees who has visited the site.

English Heritage will put the Georgian house on the Buildings At Risk register next month, because the fabric of the house is in danger of collapse. The ceilings are leaking, metal props support the walls and the staircases are crumbling.

The campaign, supported by the artist Tracey Emin, film maker David Puttnam and travel writer and Monty Python star Michael Palin, who described the house as 'one of the most remarkable places in London', is seeking to raise £3 million. A last-ditch appeal will also be made to the Government to keep the building standing.

'Tessa Jowell [the Culture Secretary] must realise that this is a beacon project,' said Susie Symes, chairwoman of the charity brought together to save 19 Princelet Street. 'Immigration and multi-culturalism has been the life blood of much of this coun try's history. We cannot let that crumble away.'

19 Princelet Street has a unique place in the history of immigration into Britain. As well as being a refuge for Jews, it was originally used by Huguenots escaping persecution in France. It is now a museum to all the East End's immigrants including Sikhs and Bengalis. Visitors and supporters of the project include those who have fled from Burundi, Somalia and Kosovo.

But it as a memorial to Jewish refugees that the house is best remembered. Many of the parents of children who came to the area perished in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Belsen.

A secret synagogue was built behind the Georgian facade of the building so that Jewish people could worship without the threat of attack from the Black Shirts attack during the 1930s.

The synagogue, which was discovered in the 1970s when the house had fallen into disrepair, still has the original benefactors painted in gold lettering around the gallery. It was built in the garden of the house so that it could not be seen from the main road.

Beneath the synagogue is a room excavated so that people who entered the house by the front door were unaware it was there. It was in the windowless room that the first British meetings of the anti-fascist movement were held.

The most famous victory first drawn up in the 'meeting room' was the successful campaign to head off a planned march by Oswald Mosley's British fascists through the East End. During the battle of Cable Street in the 1930s anti-fascist groups clashed with British Black Shirts, eventually stopping the march.

Jews who met and worshiped at Princelet Street are thought to include those who came to Britain as part of the Kindertransporte project. Business people and families rescued 10,000 children from Nazi-occupied Europe, many of whom came to Britain after long and dangerous journeys by train.

'Places like 19 Princelet Street must be kept alive for future generations,' said Gloria Morgan, whose husband, Peter, came to London from Vienna in 1938 when he was eight. 'My children and their children must know about their roots.'

Peter, who did not see his parents again until after the war and had 10 different sets of foster parents, lived around the corner from 19 Princelet Street. His picture, walking alongside a policeman with a gas mask slung around his shoulder, became one of the abiding images of the Second World War.

'This place was practically my home,' said Lorna Jaye, whose grandfather Myer Reback fled persecution in Russia, travelling by boat to Britain. Reback was the last caretaker of the house until 1960 when it was abandoned.

'It is very, very important that it is saved,' Jaye, who now lives in Essex, said. 'It is my heritage, but it is also the heritage of all the Jewish people who came to live in this area.'

For further details call, call 020 7247 5352 or
email information@19princeletstreet.org.uk
Website: www.19princeletstreet.org.uk