HENRY Glanz woke up freezing on a makeshift straw bed in a derelict castle, washed in ice cold water from the nearby Irish Sea. He felt lucky to be alive.
The 15-year-old was one of the last Jewish children to flee Germany on the refugee trains known as Kindertransport, escaping just a few hours before the Nazis invaded Poland in September, 1939.
Along with 200 other children, he was put up in Gwrych Castle, in North Wales – set to be the venue for this year’s I’m A Celebrity.
ITV recently announced the hit show was moving to the Abergele landmark – said to be haunted – because of coronavirus lockdown laws in Australia.
For almost two years Henry lived in the run-down building, working on the vast grounds and exploring its secret tunnels – which will soon be featuring in Bushtucker Trials.
But while the castle itself brings back happy memories, they are mixed with unspeakable tragedy – as the family he was forced to leave behind were murdered alongside thousands in Nazi death camps.
Tearful goodbye as mum sends son to safety
As he began his new life in the UK, Henry’s mother, father and 12-year-old brother Joachim were deported to Polish concentration camps.
In an exclusive interview with Sun Online, Henry, now 96, says: “Life at the Castle was fine and we were well received by the locals, who were kind.
“The worst thing was the uncertainty, not knowing about my parents and my brother.
"It wasn't until after the war that I learned that all three were murdered in the Holocaust.”
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, on November 9, 1938, soldiers and civilians rampaged through the streets of Germany, smashing the windows of Jewish homes and businesses, setting fire to synagogues and attacking residents.
During Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass – over 600 were killed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
In response, the British government launched a rescue mission to save 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Henry, then 15, had been due to spend time on a kibbutz in Palestine on an agricultural training programme, along with 1,000 other teens, but their visas were cancelled at the last minute.
Instead, they were interviewed by a refugee charity and granted passage on the Kindertransport.
Henry’s 12-year-old sister Gisella had already been in the UK a month, and was living in a London hostel, when he said goodbye to his tearful mother at Kiel Station.
We crossed the Dutch Border around midnight on September 1 – five hours before the invasion of Poland.
As he boarded the train, with one small leather suitcase, the terrified teen had no idea he would never see her again.
“The train travelled all over Germany, stopping at various stations to pick up children,” Henry recalls.
“After the last pick up at Berlin, we were straight though and we crossed the Dutch Border around midnight on September 1st – five hours before the invasion of Poland.
“Years later I read in a German newspaper that 10 hours after we crossed, a train from Vienna with 120 children on board was stopped at the border. Apparently they were all murdered.”
Straw beds and cold sea baths
After travelling for three days, Henry and the other 200 child refugees arrived at Gwrych Castle at midnight on September 2nd, 1939.
The following day, Britain declared war on Germany.
“We thought the castle was fantastic, with its beautiful view of the Irish Sea,” he recalls.
“But it was very primitive. It had been uninhabited for 15 years and there were no toilets and no electricity, only paraffin lamps.
“There were no beds, so for the first few days we were sleeping on straw, on the stone floor, until a Quaker from Abergele supplied us with furniture.
The castle was very primitive. It had been uninhabited for 15 years and there were no toilets and no electricity
“There was no hot water but it was September and it was still fairly nice weather so we had a bath in the sea. I remember the soap wouldn't melt because of the salt water.”
The castle, loaned to the refugee organisations by Lord Dundonald, stood on a 500-acre plot with woods and lawns.
Inside the four-storied building was a 52-step marble staircase leading to 128 rooms including a billiard room, a music room, eight bathrooms and servant quarters.
Henry spent hours exploring the secret tunnels under the castle, unaware of the rumours that it was haunted.
“l never heard any stories about Gwrych Castle being haunted,” he says. “l am sure that l would not have been scared, had l known.”
Policeman reduced to tears by tragic teens
After settling in to their new home, the boys were sent to work on nearby farms while the girls worked in the kitchen, or took in sewing.
The locals in Abergele were friendly, bringing food and bedding to the castle to help out.
On one occasion, Henry and three other boys were window-shopping in the town when a policeman approached them.
Two of the boys fled in fear and, when the policeman caught up with them, he asked Henry – the only one who spoke fluent English – why they had run away.
“If a policeman approaches Jewish children in Germany, it means trouble,” Henry told him.
“The policeman nearly cried,” he recalls.
“He said: ‘Tell them that this is not Germany. Here a policeman is your friend. When you’re in trouble, you don’t run away from a policeman. You look for one.’
“A few days later several policemen came to the castle to talk to us about the British police – and they brought tea and cakes.”
On another night a German bomb dropped on a nearby garage, where two of the refugee children worked.
Although it didn’t explode, the ‘jelly bomb’ caused serious damage to the property.
“When the boys went to work the next morning, they were told 'you buggers did it. you buggers clear it away.'”
Heartbreaking last letter from murdered mum
While starting his new life in the UK, Henry thought constantly about his parents and little brother.
Fearing for his life after Kristallnacht, Henry’s father had gone to Switzerland, but was deported back to Germany, before ending up in Belgium.
The women and children left in Kiel, including his mother and brother, were sent to a disused school in Leipzig where they lived for two years.
Through the Red Cross, Henry was able to send one letter a month, containing just 25 words, costing two shillings a time.
“My father wrote to me telling me to be very careful what I said in my letters because of the German censors,” he says.
“He didn't want them to find out I lived in England."
After a year and eight months at Gwrych Castle, the children were told they would have to move out as Lord Dundonald was selling up.
While the others were sent to live and work on farms in the area, Henry, now 17, was determined to join his sister in London because “I didn’t want to be on my own”.
But with pocket money of just a shilling a week, he could only save enough money to get to Birmingham.
“They found me a hostel in Birmingham, where I stayed for three months,” he says. “I worked clearing bombed houses then saved enough money to go to London and find Grisella.
“It was a very emotional reunion.”
The last letter I got from my mother said how happy she was that my sister and I were together now.
Soon afterwards, a letter to his mother and brother came back from the Red Cross, with a note saying they had left without leaving an address.
In fact they had been deported to Poland and incarcerated in a concentration camp.
“It was terrible because we didn’t know what had happened to my parents,” recalls Henry.
“The last letter I got from my mother said how happy she was that my sister and I were together now.”
As soon as the war ended, Henry learned his mother and brother, then 12, had died in Majdenek concentration camp in Poland in 1941.
It would be three years before he found out, from German records, that his father had also died in a camp, shortly after the invasion of Belgium.
Treasured memories of castle that saved his life
While many of the Kindertransport children travelled back to Germany after the war, Henry stayed in the UK.
He went on to join the Army before settling down and marrying English wife Roberta – known as Bobby – and setting up home in London, where he still lives today.
But he has fond memories of Gwrych Castle and returned, years later, with his two children and Bobby, who passed away four years ago.
“Both of my sons are in their 60s now but when they were about 10 and 12 years old Bobby and I took them there,” he says.
“I was showing them all the secret passages and nooks and crannies. They were so excited.”
This Autumn those secret passages are likely to be filled with rats, snakes and spiders as the latest batch of celebrities face the dreaded Bushtucker Trials.
For Henry, whose stay at the 'haunted' castle literally saved his life, the series will raise a few ghosts from the past.
For more information go to the Association of Jewish Refugees.
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