105-year-old thanked by woman she rescued during WW2
- 10 October 2016
- From the section UK
The journalist who broke the news about the start of World War Two turns 105 on Monday. Before becoming a reporter, Clare Hollingworth helped rescue thousands of people from Hitler's forces. One of the people she saved has sent her a birthday message - almost 80 years on.
Margo Drotar was four when she and her mother were arrested in Poland in 1939.
The family, who were communists from Hungary, were fleeing the advance of Hitler through eastern Europe when they were detained.
They starved for five days in jail. Desperate that Margo should live, her mother held her up to the bars of the cell and told her to cry.
"And then, as I was crying, a lady was passing," says Margo, now an 81-year-old grandmother.
The passing woman got in touch with the resistance in Katowice jail in Poland.
Margo's family was smuggled into an apartment, where they were interviewed by a British woman with clipped tones.
In 1938, a year before war was declared, thousands of refugees were flooding across borders looking for asylum.
In response, Clare Hollingworth, a glamorous 27-year-old political activist from Leicester, booked a Christmas holiday to Kitzbühel in Austria.
She visited the well-heeled ski-resort in December 1938 to carry out reconnaissance, and returned to the UK with a Nazi-approved visa in her passport.
That stamp enabled her to volunteer for a dangerous humanitarian mission.
The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC) sent her to Katowice.
She was put in charge of the lives of hundreds - and later thousands - of Jews, trade unionists, communists and other persecuted minorities.
In a country teetering on invasion, she led a one-woman operation to find people a British visa, as well as food and housing.
It is estimated that between March and July 1939 Clare helped to process visas for between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees to come to Britain and beyond.
One of them was Margo.
After leaving on the last ship out of Poland, the family arrived in London two days before war broke out on 1 September 1 1939.
They were met by a photographer. Her picture appeared on the front page of The People newspaper under the headline: "What are we fighting for?"
It was only in August 2016 that the family found out the extent of Clare's role in their rescue after reading a biography of Clare - Of Fortunes and War - written by her great-nephew Patrick Garrett.
Patrick, a 49-year-old author and former BBC picture editor, started investigating after finding an unexplained hand-written certificate in the bottom of a family trunk. It didn't tally with any of his great-aunt's usual war stories.
If the certificate was right, he realised, there might be generations of people living in the UK who owed their lives to Clare Hollingworth. By then her memory had faded, so he turned to the National Archive in Kew in west London.
There he found hundreds of recently de-classified documents - telegrams and letters Clare wrote demanding more money, as well as approved visas. There were also applications to come to Britain which were turned down.
It is the rejected applications, Patrick thinks, that explain his great-aunt's silence for all those years. Rather than take pride in the lives she saved, she felt guilt for those left behind.
The archive also contained suggestions of why her work in Katowice came to an abrupt end in July 1939.
Letters from MI5 officials show complaints were made high-up about the number of "undesirables" - including Germans, communists and Jews - that were showing up with British visas signed by "Hollingworth".
Back in England, Clare began working for the Daily Telegraph. A week after starting, she landed the scoop of the century: Germany was planning to invade Poland.
She became the doyenne of war correspondents - filing copy into her 90s - and had a knack for being in the right place at the right time of history.
Patrick said: "As a journalist Clare was interested in the events of history but she failed to see her own role in making it.
"Most people say: 'I know Clare Hollingworth, she reported the start of the Second World War', but that has overshadowed this more important human story."
Clare moved to Hong Kong in 1981 and still goes to the Foreign Correspondents' Club, visited by war reporters who all have their "Clare story".
The stories were told again at her birthday party in Hong Kong on Monday - complete with a video message from someone she has not seen for 77 years.
Margo Stanyer - nee Drotar - now lives in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. After being rescued from Poland, she had four children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.
"Happy Birthday darling Clare," said Margo in her message.
"Live for a hundred years again. I will think of you to the end of my life.
"Thank you very much for what you gave me, and for all those other people. Thank you."
See a full report on the Six O'Clock News on BBC One on Monday