Vera Gissing UNESCO 2014

Vera Gissing (née Diamant) was born on July 4, 1928 in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). Her father, Karel, owned a wine and spirits business in
Celakovice, near Prague. Her mother, Irma, ran the business office. Vera attended a local Gymnasium and was very proud to be a Czech citizen. She had a sister, Eva,
four years her senior.

On March 15, 1939, Celakovice was occupied by the German armed forces. Soon after that, the family was forced to billet a newly-appointed town commandant who subjected the family to brutal treatment. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Irma put Vera and Eva’s names down on the list for Kindertransport— the organized movement of refugee children, most of them Jewish, from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. Leaving in June 1939, the sisters were separated: Vera was placed in a foster family in Liverpool, and Eva went to a school in Dorset. While in Liverpool, Vera managed to get in touch with Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia during 1935-1938, who after forced resignation had fled the country and established a Czechoslovak national committee in England. With Benes’ help, Vera started attending a school for Czech refugee children in Whitchurch, England. In 1943, the school moved to better quarters in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales.

When the war ended in 1945, Vera found out that her mother, having survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, died of typhoid two days after liberation. Her father perished during the Holocaust. After the war, Vera went back to Prague to study and became a literary translator. Eventually, she moved back to England. Vera married Michael Gissing in 1949. She freelanced as an interpreter, translator, and editor for various British publishers, and wrote children’s books and an autobiography, Pearls of Childhood (1988). Vera’s story has been serialized on Czech radio and has become the subject of several television documentaries. She is known for her work on The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton (2002), All My Loved Ones (1999) and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000). The Power of Good won the 2002 International Emmy for Best TV Documentary.

At the time of her interview, Vera had three children and three grandchildren. The interview was conducted on October 25, 1996 in Marlow, England, United Kingdom; interviewer: Bernice Krantz; videographer: Jonathan Harrison.

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