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South Coast Woman Remembers Historic Evacuation From Nazi Germany 80 Years Ago Which Saved Her Life

It’s been 80 years, but a Ventura County woman remembers it was like it was yesterday. Lee Edwards was just 15 when she became one of some 10,000 mostly Jewish children living in Germany, and other European companies evacuated to Great Britain to avoid the growing Nazi threat. The now 95 year old year old woman says it’s a now almost forgotten story people need to know, so history doesn’t repeat itself.

Edwards says she was a just a child when she and her family found themselves in the terrifying grip of the Nazis. Edwards says the pressure on Jews in Germany started slowly, but quickly picked up steam as the Nazis took power, and made anti-Semitism not only acceptable, but public policy.

Her brother was the first member of her family to face serious persecution.  He was a 20 year old college student who was arrested for his anti-Nazi work, but survived eight years in the Buchenwald concentration camp.  The teen wanted her family to flee Germany after her brother’s arrest, but her parents wanted to wait until the young man was released.

Then, in November of 1938, something called Kristallnacht occurred. Mobs burned Jewish synagogues and beat Jews as authorities turned their heads, or even sanctioned attacks. Edwards says it led to the arrest of her father, who ended up at the same concentration camp as her brother.  He brother told her father than even if the parent didn't want to leave German, they should send the teenage girl out of the country for her safety.

Her father was released, and her parents decided the teen needed to leave. They were able to get her on the list for the Kindertransport effort to Great Britain. A family in Coventry agreed to provide her a home. It was a young couple with a small business, and expecting their first child, so they though she could be an au pair.

Edwards says she was a typical teen, and not excited about the hard work involved. She admits at the time, she didn’t realize Kindertransport saved her life. Her father, who had been tortured in captivity, died shortly after she left Germany. Her mother died in one of the Nazi death camps. But, she didn’t know it until after the war, when she returned to Germany to try to find them.

By then, she was 23, and she met Jimmy Edwards, who would become her husband. They moved to England, and then Canada before that got papers to move to American in 1952. He became an accountant, and she an office worker. They were married more than a half century before he died.

Edwards says while they never had kids, that little boy in Conventry she helped raised is like her child. She still talks regularly with the now 78 year old man, who is a retired dentist.

Even at 95, Edwards still goes to schools, and community centers to talk about the Kindertransport. She believes it’s important that people, especially young people know what happened, so we don’t repeat history’s mistakes.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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