L-R: Gisela Feldman, Sonia Peters and Sonja Feldman

Two Manchester sisters who fled the Nazis on a ship to Cuba that was forced back to Europe have been honoured by the Queen for their services to Holocaust education.

Gisela Feldman and Sonja Sternberg, aged 96 and 93 respectively, have spoken all over the world about their experiences and the plight of modern refugees.

The Didsbury sisters were among more than 900 Jewish refugees who set sail to Cuba in 1939 on the MS St Louis.

The tragic story of the ship and its passengers was later told in the 1976 film Voyage of the Damned.

“It is very important that the next generation learn about what happened to us, as it is still happening today and not just to Jewish people,” said Mrs Sternberg.

Manchester sisters who fled the Nazis honoured by the Queen I Love Manchester
Gisela (far left front) and Sonja (far right front) on the MS St. Louis

The sisters boarded the ship from Hamburg in 1939, hoping to travel on to the USA after disembarking in Cuba.

However, the ship was blocked entry into Havana and denied permission to land.

The captain, Gustav Schröder, then went on to the United States and Canada but again the ship’s entry was blocked by the authorities.

This forced it back to Europe where, after five weeks at sea, Belgium, France, Holland and the UK all agreed to take a quarter of the passengers. The sisters were granted entry into the UK and settled in Manchester.

Manchester sisters who fled the Nazis honoured by the Queen I Love Manchester
Sonja’s first day at school in Berlin, with Gisela stood next to her

But many others, including their father and more than 30 of their relatives, were not as fortunate and were never seen again by the sisters.

Historians estimate that around a quarter of the MS St. Louis’s passengers perished when Hitler’s forces swept across Western Europe.

Determined to keep the memory of those lost during World War II alive, Gisela and Sonja have dedicated their lives to educating others about the Holocaust.

“It is a great surprise and a great honour to be awarded the British Empire Medal. We are the last generation of eyewitnesses. People cannot deny what we experienced,” added Mrs Feldman.

“It is said that bad things only happen if good people do nothing, and this is what drives us to educate others to do better.”

Speak your mind