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Wartime friends re-united after 30 years

A Lancashire woman has told of her joy at discovering a youngster who stayed with her family during the war is still alive – after believing he had been dead for 30 years.

Rolf Hertz, who is Jewish, fled Nazi Germany when he was 11 to stay with the family of Edith Johnston, 94, at Brackenbury Street, Preston, on the outbreak of war in 1939.

Edith, who now lives in Penwortham, received a letter from a German undertaker in the 1970s to say Rolf had died in his 40s.

But just over a month ago, Edith's phone rang and it was Rolf, now 81, on the other end, calling from his flat in Cologne.

Mother-of-four and grandmother-of-seven Edith said she was shocked but overjoyed to talk to her long-lost friend.

She said: "I did not like to say that I thought he was dead. I said 'What a long time. Are you all right? It's lovely darling to speak to you.

"I can't picture him as a man. We speak every week. I enjoy ringing, he's excellent at English."

Edith believes there was a mix-up with the undertakers in Germany when Rolf's mother died and she was told Rolf had died by mistake.

Edith's family was approached by Father Klomp, from English Martyrs Church on Garstang Road, to take in the refugee and he was welcomed with open arms – despite there already being seven in the Wilding household.

Rolf, an only child, was one of nearly 10,000 mostly Jewish children sent to live in the UK in what was known as the Kindertransport or the Refugee Children Movement.

His mother Kate was sent to live in Yorkshire to work as a housemaid but his father was captured by the Nazis, sent to a concentration camp and tortured.

In 1945, 16-year-old Rolf was returned to his homeland despite wanting to stay in Preston.

Rolf, who went to Preston Catholic College, said: "I didn't know that she was still alive.

"I like speaking to her. I liked the whole family. I knew her husband.

"I was proud to be in England. I never wanted to go back to Germany. I remember I used to ask to take back the bottles across the road for a few pence to go to the pictures, the Bracky we used to call it."

Rolf, who worked for a car manufacturers exporting vehicles, married his late wife Lis in 1957.

Edith now plans to keep in touch and send him a parcel for his birthday next month with photographs of her family and his favourite sweets which he used to buy from a former shop on Brackenbury Street.

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