The letter to Gladys Jones arrived with out fanfare – and possibly with out a lot hope of a reply.
It had been despatched by a household she’d met simply as soon as on a Danube riverboat in Vienna 5 years earlier.
Slightly boy’s shoe had threatened to muddy her skirt as he’d knelt as much as get a greater view, however she’d laughed it off and accepted his father’s invitation for espresso and a slice of Sachertorte (a wealthy Austrian chocolate cake) by means of apology.
On Gladys’s return to England, she’d despatched a be aware thanking him for his hospitality. Then, one imagines, this center aged spouse of a Chester dentist thought-about the encounter not more than a memento of her 1934 vacation.
Now, Frank Kessler and his spouse Annie had tracked her all the way down to say they and their son Harry, eight, had been in mortal hazard.
Gladys and William Jones from Chester took in a household of Jews from Czechoslovakia throughout World Battle Two after an opportunity encounter in Vienna led to them being requested for assist. Pictured: Gladys and William Jones
It was 1939 they usually had been Jews in a rustic which belonged to Hitler. They may flee – however solely with an affidavit from somebody past the Nazi empire prepared to take authorized and monetary duty for them.
With Britain on the eve of warfare, Gladys and her husband William might have been forgiven for ignoring such a plea from folks they barely knew and to whom they owed nothing.
But their reply was breathtaking in its generosity. ‘Come to England,’ it stated. ‘We are going to do no matter you want.’
The Kesslers took what they may carry by hand and acquired a method tickets on the trains nonetheless clattering out of Czechoslovakia and right into a free Europe.
Gladys Jones’s letter to Frank Kessler and his spouse Annie
It could have been a nerve-shredding journey with each station cease, each examination of the papers figuring out them as Jews, placing them liable to imprisonment or even perhaps abstract execution.
Within the leafy village of Churton, seven miles from Chester, the Joneses had been making good on their promise.
William organised a automotive to fulfill the ferry in Harwich whereas Gladys ready the spare rooms in her massive brick villa. She shopped for meals for 3 further mouths and located a spot on the native main faculty for Harry.
In Vienna, she had chatted to the Kesslers in her fractured German. Then, it had been endearing.
Now, it could be a lifeline till she might train them English.
Frank and Annie, refugees cleaved from snug, center class lives, repaid their benefactors by housekeeping and gardening however the Joneses actual reward was with out value: the data that amid the unfolding horror of the Holocaust, that they had saved three Jewish lives.
Gladys stored the Kesslers beneath her roof for a yr, a radical act of kindness little identified outdoors the 2 households for the final eight many years.
Now nevertheless, Harry’s daughter Liz Kessler, the five-million promoting kids’s creator, has used their shared historical past as the idea for her new novel, When the World Was Ours.
The guide tells the story of the Holocaust via the eyes of three Viennese kids Jewish Leo and Elsa, and their greatest good friend Max, monitoring their lives from 1936 to 1945.
Pictured: Annie, Harry and Frank Kessler
It opens with Leo crashing into an English couple Aileen and Eric Stewart as they share a cabin on Vienna’s fabled ferris wheel, the Riesenrad.
Within the novel Eric Stewart is a dentist attending a dental convention within the Austrian capital, accompanied by his spouse, identical to the Joneses in 1934.
Leo’s gregarious father invitations the English guests again to his household house to fulfill his spouse and have a slice of Sachertorte, as Frank Kessler did. When Aileen’s thanks be aware arrives he tucks it away in a cutlery drawer within the kitchen.
Harry Kessler, who’s now 90 and lives in Southport, Merseyside, remembers the true be aware which might change the course of his life – although his father stored that in his research.
Harry’s daughter Liz Kessler (pictured), the five-million promoting kids’s creator, has used their shared historical past as the idea for her new novel, When the World Was Ours
Written on headed paper from William Jones’s dental surgical procedure in Whitefriars, Chester, it learn: ‘My Pricey Mr Kessler, Now we have nothing forgotten. I can’t nicely German write however I believe typically out of you and that so beautiful son.’
It’s signed Gladys H Jones and bears the apply’s phone quantity, Chester 602.
Harry remembers: ‘I’d had whooping cough and as a part of my convalescence my father took me for a Saturday afternoon steamer journey on the river to get some recent air. I used to be solely 4 in 1934 and I used to be kneeling as much as get a greater view.
My father stated: ‘Cautious Heinzele, you’ll soiled the girl’s gown!’ and she or he stated ‘No, it’s alright,’ and went on to go with my golden curls.’ (Gladys was herself the mom of two younger sons, William and Leslie.)
‘They began to speak and talked and talked till Gladys and William realised all the opposite convention delegates had disembarked a number of stops earlier.
My father invited them to our house, gave them espresso and cake after which noticed them safely again to their lodge.
For the reason that subsequent day was a Sunday, he requested them if he might present them the true Vienna so that they’d really feel like extra than simply vacationers. They accepted and weeks later Gladys’s thanks letter arrived. Father put it in his desk and that was that.’
We don’t know if it was sentimentality or a way of foreboding which made Frank Kessler pack the be aware when the household fled Vienna after the Austrian Anschluss in 1938.
Since he’d been born in Czechoslovakia, he was entitled to settle there and the household discovered a brand new residence and new work (Frank managed the menswear division of a wise retailer) in Brno, close to Prague.
Harry Kessler, who’s now 90 and lives in Southport, Merseyside, remembers the true be aware which might change the course of his life – although his father stored that in his research. Pictured: Liz Kessler together with her mom
‘It was crucial we received away from Vienna,’ says Harry. ‘We didn’t consider Hitler would take Czechoslovakia. After all, we had been unsuitable.’
As that nation too got here beneath Nazi occupation, it was clear they’d have to hunt sanctuary in England or America or face transportation to Hitler’s focus camps.
‘We merely didn’t know anybody overseas who would stand as our guarantor,’ Harry continues. ‘We had by no means been anyplace other than Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia on vacation.’
Their solely connection to the surface world was Gladys’s five-year-old thanks be aware.
It’s unimaginable to know the hope invested in that be aware or the fearful pleasure which will need to have accompanied the Jones’s reply.
Who had been Gladys and William Jones?
Helen Anderson is the granddaughter of Gladys and William Jones.
She says they had been a vibrant and dynamic couple who beloved their household, the group, international journey and dwelling life to the total.
‘It could have been fully consistent with their nature to assist anybody in want if they may,’ she confirms.
‘Gladys was a forceful outspoken character whose nice passions had been golf, fishing, bridge, and in later life an ever-changing succession of modern Mercedes two-seater sports activities vehicles.
‘She beloved cigarettes and brandy however however lived to 101.
‘Gladys used to take pleasure in internet hosting the village fete on the entrance garden of their home in Churton, close to Chester, the place the Kesslers stayed.
‘Her two boys Invoice and Leslie had been away at boarding faculty, so that might have given all of them a little bit of house.
‘My grandfather was a deeply ethical, sincere, type man who cared about folks, and particularly beloved kids.
‘He was gregarious, good humoured and easy-going – and like Gladys very community-minded.
‘He cared a fantastic deal about being , upright citizen.
‘He was a fantastic sportsman, an distinctive cricketer, who performed for Cheshire within the Minor Counties Championship and captained the facet in 1927-28.
‘He was an energetic member of varied establishments such because the Rotary Membership, changing into native chairman, and likewise a long-serving Justice of the Peace who chaired the Juvenile Courtroom.
‘Each my grandparents had been nice travellers and from the Thirties and Forties onwards they spent a minimum of a month a yr overseas.
‘Whilst a widow, Gladys nonetheless travelled a fantastic deal.’
William Jones was educated on the King’s College, Chester and certified as a dental surgeon on the Liverpool Dental Hospital in 1912.
He opened a dental apply in Abbey Sq., transferring to Financial institution Home, Whitefriars, Chester in 1918, which continues to be a dental surgical procedure at the moment.
His youthful son Leslie Jones succeeded him as senior companion; his different son Invoice was a revered native solicitor and district decide.
By the point it arrived it Jewish males had been being snatched off the streets so it was Annie who queued alone to safe their valuable exit visas.
Harry remembers little of their the journey or his arrival in Churton in Might 1939. He does recall the sense of his childhood resuming due to the Jones household’s two sons William and Leslie who launched him to fishing and birdwatching.
He remembers being bullied on the native main faculty – not as a result of he was Jewish however as a result of he didn’t communicate English.
The ever sensible Gladys organized a scholarship place at her sons’ prep faculty and when Harry was 14, and absolutely fluent in his second language, he secured a full scholarship to a personal senior faculty in North Yorkshire.
Frank and Annie turned turned naturalised English residents and at 21 Frank deserted his twin nationality. ‘I didn’t need to mess about. I selected to be English.’
He did nationwide service, went into enterprise within the UK and the Far East, married in 1961 and had three kids, of which novelist Liz is the youngest.
Within the austere aftermath of the warfare years the 2 households grew aside. Frank had joined the Free Czech Military and returned to Europe Annie had discovered an workplace job, incomes sufficient for her to hire rooms and permit the Joneses to reclaim their residence.
There had been, Harry is eager to emphasize, no falling out, only a recognition that his household had arrived in search of independence, not charity.
However then 10 years in the past, in one other tiny coincidence with profound penalties, Harry was having fun with a time out in Chester when he stumbled throughout Whitefriars and recognised the Jones’s previous dental surgical procedure.
Via the apply he traced Leslie Jones’s widow, and his daughter Helen. Now she is a pricey good friend of Liz, interweaving a brand new technology of Kesslers and Joneses.
The renaissance of the households’ extraordinary bond prompted Liz to consider dramatising her father’s story, though it could take one other decade and a pilgrimage to Vienna with Harry earlier than she was able to confront the previous.
She says: ‘I’m obsessive about these tiny, random occasions on which our lives flip, these “Sliding Doorways” moments.
‘I like the concept we don’t know if what occurs to us is luck or destiny. It took me a very long time to understand my obsession is because of that second on the steamer in Vienna which performed a pivotal half in my very own historical past.’
The analysis she undertook in 2019 for When the World Was Ours was, she says, the hardest factor she has ever accomplished.
Accompanied by her spouse Laura, with whom she lives on a houseboat on the Macclesfield Canal, Liz travelled to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Holland and visited 4 focus camps Dachau, Auschwitz, Birkenau and Mauthausen.
She turned the primary member of her household to return to the Kessler’s residence in Brno, deserted in 1939.
‘I felt very robust connection not simply to my household historical past however to my heritage too.
‘At Auschwitz we discovered my nice aunt Elsa’s title within the E-book of Names [the list of the millions killed in the Holocaust] and I learn Kaddish [an ancient form of Jewish prayer for the dead] over it.
‘I felt a way of mourning but additionally of survival too. We’re nonetheless right here. They didn’t win.’
In When the World Was Ours the character of Elsa, named in her nice aunt’s honour, is Liz’s imagining of what would have befallen her household if not for the compassion and bravado displayed by the Jones household.
Max is a psychological unpicking of how an individual’s human decency might be obliterated by Nazi fervour and Leo, who escapes to the Stewarts in England is, in fact, Harry.
There’s nevertheless, one joyous publish script to his story which doesn’t seem in her novel. In 1945 Frank Kessler adopted the Allies’ D-Day forces throughout Europe to Prague.
There he traced his mom Omama to the Czech ghetto of Theresienstadt, the way in which station to Auschwitz, the place she’d been despatched 4 years earlier.
Frank discovered her aged 77, ravenous and sick, however nonetheless alive and had her nursed again to well being. Finally she was nicely sufficient to affix her household in England and would die peacefully on the age of 84 in 1952.
Harry Kessler nonetheless has the yellow Star of David badge which was stitched onto his grandmother’s camp garments, figuring out her as Jewish.
It was lower off when she was liberated, the image of one other soul in the end saved by the girl who saved him: Mrs Gladys H Jones.