Millionaire businesswoman who fled Nazis as five-year-old refugee returning to Shropshire
A millionaire businesswoman who was educated in Oswestry after fleeing Hitler’s Nazis as a five-year-old refugee is returning to the county.
Entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, Dame Stephanie Shirley, will be a keynote speaker at a seminar celebrating the centenary of the Save the Children charity, founded by Ellesmere-born sisters Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton.
The 86-year-old, who has given away at least £67 million of the estimated £150 million fortune she accumulated after selling her IT company in 1993, is also keen to meet some of her old school friends from her days at Oswestry Girls’ High School in the late 1940s.
Her remarkable life began in Germany in 1933 as the Nazis seized power. Soon afterwards, her father, a Jewish judge in Dortmund, was sacked and the family moved to Austria.
But by 1939, with the Second World War looming and Jewish people facing violence and repression, her parents decided it was too dangerous for her to stay. She and her nine- year-old sister, Renata, were put on a train as ‘Kindertransport’ child refugees and arrived in Britain, unaccompanied, penniless and without a word of English.
After initially staying with foster parents in Sutton Coldfield, she moved to Oswestry to be looked after by a couple she called uncle and aunty. Although reunited with her birth parents after the war, their relationship was never the same.
"I spent six important wartime years growing up in peaceful Oswestry," she said.
"I attended the Girls’ High School, whose principal, Miss Craig, was formidable. I sang in the school choir, led by Mr Moore-Bridger, including at the Eisteddfod, and boarded at Oakhurst Hall.
"Because girls of my generation were not expected to study certain subjects, I also attended the Boys’ High School for tuition in maths, which was, and still is, my passion."
Now, she is preparing to revisit the area, where she spent so much of her childhood, to talk about the legacy of the Jebb sisters who, who set up the charity in 1919 to help starving children in Germany and Austria at the end of the First World War.
The centenary seminar at Ellesmere College Arts Centre on April 1 will also look at the current refugee crisis and the challenges facing international aid agencies including the growing threats caused by climate change and global warming.
Other speakers will include Clare Mulley, author, broadcaster and biographer of Eglantyne Jebb; a member of the British Rohingya Community representing refugees from Myanmar and a senior executive from Save the Children.
The seminar is being organised by volunteers from the Ellesmere Sculpture Initiative which is leading an 18-month community project to mark the centenary, involving local councils, schools and community group, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.
Tickets for the event will be on sale shortly, but a number of free places will be offered to students at local schools and colleges.
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