The Holocaust Educational Trust are deeply saddened at the passing of Ernest Simon BEM, a refugee from the Nazis.

Ernest was a kind and gentle man who inspired thousands of students each year telling his incredible story. Born in Austria in 1930, Ernest witnessed the horrific events of the November Pogrom, known as Kristallnacht, which he recalled vividly for the rest of his life. In January 1939 he left his home, family, and everything familiar to come to the UK on the Kindertransport. Incredibly, his parents and brother were later able to join him in the UK. Ernest shared his testimony in schools across the UK week in, week out. We will miss him dearly. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

Ernest Simon BEM 1930-2023

Ernest was born in May 1930 in Eisenstadt, Austria. He lived with his parents and younger brother in the Judengasse, a self-imposed restricted area with a chain at each end to prevent vehicles passing through during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. After the German Anschluss of Austria in March 1938, Ernest and his family moved to Vienna, where they settled in a small flat in the Jewish Quarter. As soon as they had moved, his father began making desperate attempts to help the family leave the country, applying for visas to England, the USA and Palestine. On 9th November 1938, Ernest witnessed Kristallnacht. From his bedroom window, he could see the prayer books and Torah scrolls from the synagogue on his road being deliberately burned.

Following Kristallnacht, Ernest’s parents were finally able to secure a place for him on a Kindertransport train. He left Vienna on 11th January 1939. He travelled through Germany and the Netherlands to the Hoek of Holland where he was put on a ship to Harwich, England. Ernest’s younger brother remained in Austria with his parents. However, a month later they were able to travel to the UK on domestic permits. During their separation, Ernest lived with a Jewish family in Leeds. After his family arrived in the UK, his parents worked and lived just outside of Leeds and his brother lived with foster parents nearby. This meant the family was able to spend time together.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernest was sent to Lincolnshire. After four months of living in Lincolnshire, Ernest returned to his family in Leeds. His father was arrested and interned for 12 months on the Isle of Man as an ‘Enemy Alien’. On his release in 1942, the family moved into a small house, and for the first time since leaving Austria were able to live together as a family.