One hundred Jewish children survivors of the Holocaust were brought to Clonyn Castle in Westmeath to recuperate from the trauma.
More than six million Jews were systematically exterminated by the Nazi regime during World War II, but it was not until 1949 that the Irish government permitted a group of one hundred traumatised and displaced children a one year visa to Ireland.
They came for rest, recuperation and care to Clonyn Castle near Delvin in County Westmeath, through the efforts of English Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld. Instrumental in rescuing thousands of Jews during the war, he continued his work when it ended, travelling to continental Europe to help those who had survived the concentration camps, especially children.
David Rosenfeld who was a pupil in a boarding school when he met Rabbi Schonfeld and agreed to spend a year in Ireland. A seriously ill and malnourished Murray Lynn was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945, his family all having perished in the Holocaust. Having made his way to Bratislava, he was offered a place on the Rabbi's transport to Ireland. Jerry Weiser been separated from his mother as a baby during the war, and was being cared for by a Christian family who were raising him as their own son.
In May 1949 the children arrived in at Clonyn Castle after months of negotiation between the Jewish organisation the Religious Emergency Council, and the Irish Department of Justice.
The castle had been purchased by a wealthy Jewish businessman, as one of the stipulations of the visa was that the project must be entirely self-sufficient. Unaware of all of this, Murray Lynn recalls how he felt as a teenager arriving there,
We were all bewildered and traumatised. We were all destabilized people. We were afraid of our own shadow, terribly fearful of our future.
The Gardaí who met them in Delvin had changed out of their uniforms so as not to frighten them, remembers local man Terence Moore. Unfortunately the year was marred by an isolated arson attack on the castle, during which the front door was burned.
Although the language barrier kept them at a distance from the locals, they remember them being going for walks with their carers around the village and being brought down to the local shoe shop for new plimsolls for the Jewish festival of Tisha B’Av. As David Rosenfeld remembers,
We had a very happy and very pleasant time there.
As part of The Gathering in 2013 the Delvin Historical Society prepared a reception to welcome back some of the children who had come to Clonyn Castle in 1949, and held a reception for them in the parish hall. There both sides met and talked about that time.
David Rosenfeld and Murray Lynn have happy memories of the year in Clonyn Castle playing with the other children in the extensive grounds of the castle and many games of football. Having all suffered similar traumas, the children were able to help each other, and the process of healing began,
It was a powerful catharsis for all of us, talking about ourselves, talking about our past, talking about our grief.
For Jerry Weiser, the break from war torn Europe in a supportive and caring environment allowed him to enjoy being a child,
I found myself again...it was so nice and warm and pleasant to be there.
All are glad that they returned to the place which and helped them begin to recover. They were received with open arms in Ireland, says Murray Lynn
They were the kindest, gentlest, nicest people that we ever met. It’s the first time we were treated as human beings.
Would You Believe : The Children of Clonyn Castle was broadcast on 26 January 2014. The reporter is Mick Peelo.