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V2: Silent Terror From the Skies

One of Hitler’s deadly V2 rockets is launched. It’s target: London Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880-Wikimedia Commons

As we mark the end of the Second World War 70 years ago this year, there are many sad anniversaries being commemorated of tragedies that occurred to Jewish communities around the world.

One of those being marked by London Jews, happened on the fatal morning of March 27 1945 when the last of the German V2 rockets fell on the capital.

It hit a tenement building called Hughes Mansions located in the Borough of Stepney, in the heart of London's Jewish East End.

A total of 131 people – 120 of them Jewish – were instantly killed.

That dreadful incident has many poignant memories for me as 21 fellow members of the Brady Youth Club and Settlement were amongst the dead. I wrote the memoriam that appeared in the club's magazine.

The fact that the war was virtually over – Auschwitz had been liberated two months earlier – emphasized the senselessness of this carnage.

On the opposite page is part of the report of the bombing which appeared in the News Chronicle on April 27 that year. It is interesting to note that the newspaper delayed reporting the tragedy until a full month had passed.

This may well have been because of not wanting to indicate the location of the incident, not divulging knowledge that might have helped the enemy in improving the aim of following rockets.

As it happened, this was the last V2 rocket to fall on London.

Compare this with the current reports by today's electronic media of incidents which circulate around the world within moments of them happening!

During last year's spate of rockets falling on Israel from bases in Gaza, I was asked how much warning we received during the Nazi bombardment of London – and was it as bad?

Israelis living close to Gaza had only 30 seconds to seek shelter after an alarm was sounded. The sight of mothers and young children scurrying to shelters was heartbreaking.

I explained that during World War II, there were three phases in the German attacks on Britain.

1. Plenty of warning was given when German aircraft were approaching on regular, or random, bombing raids.

2. Unmanned aircraft (V1s or 'doodlebugs') loaded with bombs, were launched from European sites with just enough fuel to reach their targets. When the fuel ran out, the engines would fail, and the planes together with their explosive loads would fall to earth.

The time between engine failure and planes reaching land varied according to conditions. Sometimes they fell instantly, like a stone, while on other occasions they glided silently for several minutes before landing. While the rasping engine sound was heard, one felt safe.

It was the period of silence, waiting for the inevitable explosion and devastating blast, that was disconcerting. Once the boom of the explosion was heard, one felt safe again – until the roar of the next plane approached.

3. In the third phase there was no warning at all – none! Only after a V2 rocket had fallen and the explosion heard did one know that it had arrived. By that time, it might well have been too late.

So which was worse? It's hard to tell – but peace is better!

In 1939, there were 100,000 Yiddish-speaking Jews living in Stepney and next-door boroughs. More than 90 per cent were forcibly dispersed by targeted Luftwaffe bombing.

More than 40,000 bombs fell on the enclave during the war, and one-third of the housing was destroyed or made uninhabitable.

Most of the many synagogues and Jewish educational institutions were destroyed.

In one of his Nazi propaganda broadcasts, Lord Haw-Haw said: "Hardest of all, the Luftwaffe will smash Stepney. I know the East End. Those dirty Jews and Cockneys will run like rabbits into their holes."

Today, the Jewish East End Celebration Society is restoring some of the area's vibrant Jewish history by way of plaques and other memorials, it's Cable magazine, guided tours and educational events.



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Thursday, 29 February 2024

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