A train journey that saved two children’s lives

by ANTONY CLAY

Tim Mulroy

A POPULAR Rotherham GP had a secret which few people knew.

His enthralling story is kept alive by his son in a bid to stop an important part of history being forgotten.

John Mulroy was a popular family doctor in Rotherham for many years and was known as a person that patients trusted.

But few could have known that his birth name was Hans Kohn and he was one of hundreds of children who escaped the Nazis in Czechoslovakia just before the Second World War.

With his twin sister Hanah, Hans was taken by train to England aged just ten years old.

He never saw his family again as it is believed they perished in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

It is a tragic tale but one of immense heroism on the part of the two youngsters who were able to live safe and happy lives with loving adoptive parents.

Both of them gave a lot back to the country that had given them a home… and hope.

John Mulroy

John’s son, Tim Mulroy, now takes every opportunity to tell his father and aunt’s tale to audiences across the area. He feels it is his duty to keep their story alive.

John and his sister were just two of 669 children saved from the Nazis by Briton Nicholas Winton who arranged the kindertransport trains off his own back. John and Hanah travelled from Plzen in Czechoslovakia to Rotherham.

Their sister Greta, aged 14, was due to catch a train one month later. The train never left Prague. Hanah once said: “We later heard that Greta could have been on our train. There was some sort of clerical error.”

The brother and sister’s remarkable story is a symbol of hope against the darkness of Nazi Germany.

Tim said: “My father was a well-known person in Rotherham. When I do my talks people remember him.”

John lived in Brinsworth, then Clifton and Broom during his adult life and was a GP on Clifton Lane, and at the health centre in Wickersley until his retirement in 1992.

Born in 1928, John and Hanah arrived in this country with no English and had never even travelled abroad before.

Hanah

But John went on to grammar school and then trained as a doctor in Durham. Hanah went to school in Sheffield and became a teacher.

Tim said that when the rescued children arrived in Britain, Nicholas Winton wanted to find them good homes and so “hawked” them to people across the land who wished to be foster parents.

“I am sure it would be illegal now,” said Tim.

But for John and Hanah it was the start of a good life, and a safe one away from Hitler’s murderous activities in their homeland.

John was adopted by Harold and Kath Mulroy, who lived in Rotherham.

“Harold had seen the photograph of my father and the person who organised it said this child has a twin sister so she comes with the deal,” said Tim.

Hanah was fostered nearby in Sheffield so they were kept close together.

Tim said: “They were in contact with their family initially via letters which were delivered by the Red Cross. But after 1942 the letters stopped. It was the start of Hitler’s Final Solution and the parents Felix and Irma, their sister Greta and grandparents were transported to a camp at Terezin and then to Auschwitz.

“There was one grandparent who survived.

“I think it made it easier for Hanah and Dad not to go back. There was nothing to go back to.”

Greta, Hans and Hanah

John changed his birth name Hans Kohn to Hans Mulroy before becoming John Mulroy at university.

Tim said: “He did not talk about his life in Czechoslovakia much because people did not in those days.”

While John became a GP, Hanah became a teacher in Manchester and then Liverpool, ironically teaching German.

Tim said: “She never wanted to have children. She said to me she didn’t want to have to give them up like her mother had had to do.”

John, however, became a family man and had four children, as well as eight grandchildren.

Tim said that John and Hanah were able to make the most of life in Britain.

He said: They had a wonderful experience. They were welcomed with open arms. That’s why my dad always wanted to stay in Rotherham.

“He wanted to repay the debt to the people who adopted him, for saving him.”

Perhaps surprisingly, John was not in adult life a political person, according to Tim, but he did have great empathy with the other people.

Tim said: “His experience certainly shaped his character because he was always the sort of person people went to for advice. He always had a balanced view.

“He was quietly spoken.

“He had compassion and was a good doctor. He engendered trust.”

John did not go back to Czechoslovakia — which is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia — until 1991.

“He was concerned he would not be let out again, “ said Tim.

“But I think it was cathartic and therapeutic to go back.

“I went with my wife to Auschwitz a few years ago. I think it’s important for people to go. It’s a poignant place to go, to learn about man’s inhumanity to man.

“It’s horrendous this sort of thing continues to happen.

John and Hanah’s parents, Felix and Irma

“When I do my talks, I am trying to educate the next generation.”

John died of a heart attack two decades ago but Hanah is 90.

Writing movingly about her experiences, she said: “I drifted into teaching languages and at one time thought to myself ‘What am I doing teaching German? I hate Germans.’ But that was the wrong attitude because the best thing I did was go to Germany for three months after I got my degree from Sheffield University. I met ordinary German people and realised they were not ogres.

“Some dreadful things happened but I counterbalance this with the goodness and kindness of the English people. Hitler didn’t win.”

The man who saved John and Hanah, Nicholas Winton, was a stockbroker who went to Prague and saw that no one was helping children caught up in the growing tensions of pre-Second World War Czechoslovakia when Germany annexed the Sudetenland.

Winton accumulated a list of 1,500 children he wanted to help, organising transport and potential foster parents for as many as possible. He also fundraised because every child who came to Britain had to have £50.

Tim said: “I think Nicholas got frustrated because there was a view that nothing would happen in Germany.”

Initially the German authorities were happy to allow Jewish children to leave the country.

“I think the policy was if they are somewhere else they are not our problem,” said Tim.

Winton — dubbed Britain’s Oskar Schindler — was knighted in 2003 for what he did to save children but remained a humble man about what he had done.

But his valiant work was highlighted on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life TV programme. He was invited to be in the audience, little realising that every other member was a person he had helped to save.

The man regarded as a hero by many members of the Jewish community died aged 106 in 2015.

On May 19, 2016, a memorial service was held for him at London’s Guildhall which was attended by 400 people, including 28 who his actions had saved, as well as Czech, Slovak and UK government representatives.

In 2017, a memorial garden was opened in Maidenhead’s Oaken Grove Park by Prime Minister Theresa May and there is a stained glass memorial in the garden of Budapest’s Grand Synagogue.

Tim, who works in the Department of Engineering and Mathematics at Shefield Hallam University, said that the response to his talks about his father’s life is positive and people, young and old, are fascinated to hear the tale. He has give more than 50 talks and has many organised for 2019.

Tim said: “It was quite funny when I did a talk at a primary school. I realised they were the age that my father was when he left Czechoslovakia.”

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