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Hospice patient reunites with long lost childhood friend

  • Published date
    26/01/2015
  • Author
    NLH Admin
  • Category
    North London Hospice

helmut 033Hospice patient Helmut Turnsek was reunited with his boyhood friend, Franz Leichter. Their meeting may never have taken place were it not for the heroic act of bravery by Helmut’s mother. Helmut’s moving tale only surfaced when he began talking to one of the Hospice social workers as part of the support he received during his illness. Helmut’s mother Maria was employed as a housekeeper for a Viennese Jewish family. The two families enjoyed a strong bond, and their six-year-old boys, Helmut and Franz, formed a close friendship. As Jews faced the terror of the Nazis, Maria was asked to take Franz to Paris where his father, Otto, was living. The only way Maria could do this was to pose as Franz’s mother. After the perilous journey, Franz was reunited with his father. However, back in Vienna Maria was wanted for ‘kidnapping’ a Jewish child. Unable to return home, she escaped to England. Franz and his family ended up in New York. His mother Kathy remained in Vienna and sadly perished in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Helmut remained in Vienna staying with his foster family who sadly died and he was then left without a guardian. Helmut was placed in an orphanage and then, incredibly, in a sanatorium. ‘I was allowed to write a maximum of 25 words to my mother every six months,’ says Helmut, ‘until finally at the age of 17, ten years after she left, I at long last joined her in England’. Anne Mossack, social worker at the Hospice, said: ‘Helmut was never angry about what happened and was only ever proud of his mother’s kindness and bravery, even though it meant they were separated. I had to see if I could try to get Maria the recognition she deserved.’ Helmut’s lifelong wish was for his mother to be recognised by Yad Vashem as one of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, the highest honour reserved for non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. Yad Vashem traced Franz Leichter to the USA. Franz eventually travelled to London to meet Helmut. Their reunion was held in the spring of 2014 at Helmut and his wife Doreen’s home with their entire family who shared the special meeting. The two friends finally embraced, reminisced about their lives in Vienna and finished each other’s life stories. Helmut and Franz confessed they had never stopped thinking about each other. Sadly, just a week after the reunion, Helmut died. It was an immense privilege for the Hospice community team to share and be part of this incredible piece of personal history and to be able to support the reunion to take place

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