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Gisela and Sonja visit the Palace ahead of Platinum Jubilee celebrations

Two Jewish sisters from Manchester have commemorated their British Empire Medals (BEMs) alongside members of the royal family at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, hosted on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen.

Gisela Feldman, 98, and Sonja Sternberg, 96, travelled to the capital from their home at Belong Morris Feinmann care village in Didsbury to enjoy an afternoon of tea and cake and the opportunity to explore the palace gardens. Joining them and the other guests invited in recognition of their achievements and service to the country were Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Kate Middleton, and Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s first cousin.

The siblings have dedicated their lives to Holocaust education, sharing their personal experiences, the plight of modern refugees, and keeping alive the memory of those lost so that future generations all over the world continue learning about WWII. Gisela summarises: “We are the last generation of eyewitnesses – people cannot deny what we experienced. It is said that bad things only happen if good people do nothing, and this is what drives us to educate others to do better.”

Gisela and Sonja fled Nazi persecution in 1939, along with 900 Jews, travelling via sea to Cuba on a journey now coined the ‘Voyage of the Damned.’ The ship was denied entry to the country and later, the USA, forcing it back to Europe where some of the refugees were rehomed throughout the continent. Others less fortunate lost their lives, along with the sisters’ father and 30 of their relatives.

The pair were appointed in the 2020 New Year honours and awarded their medals by Sir Warren Smith, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, who represents the Queen in the area. After a two-year wait owing to the pandemic, they have now been able to mark the occasion at the palace for one of the Queen’s annual parties, amongst much excitement in the lead-up to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, next week.

Speaking of the Garden Party experience, Gisela Feldman said: “It was very exciting; we had the most beautiful weather for high tea in the garden – I feel honoured to have shared the day with my family.” 

Sonja Sternberg added: “I saw Kate Middleton and would have liked to tell her I’m the same age as the Queen. It was the most thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

In related news, Gisela and Sonja are also set to feature in Belong Morris Feinmann’s Holocaust Survivors exhibition, due to open this summer at the Palatine Road care village’s onsite synagogue. Members of the public will be invited to experience the stories of those who lived through the Holocaust, with more event details to be announced in the coming weeks.

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