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Ida & Louise Cook: An Extraordinary & Inspirational Story

By Thursday 25 January 2024Inspiration, Thinking

The following is the the final chapter in my latest book My Royal Navy Friend. It’s such an inspirational story, that I thought it deserved to be shared far and wide. So I decided to post it here:

Hi Roy,

My last email. A whole year in the Royal Navy. Well done, I’m so proud of you.

There’s nothing more inspiring to me than ordinary people that do the extraordinary for others. The story of Ida and Louise Cook is one such story.

Ida and Louise were British sisters who worked as Clerks for the Civil Service. Ida also wrote romance books under the pen name Mary Burchell, authoring a staggering 112 books in her writing career.

These sisters loved the Opera and would often travel abroad together to see their favourite singers and performances.

Sometime in the 1930s they began hearing about how bad Jewish people were being treated in Germany and Austria. 

The sisters travelled to both of these countries under the guise of seeing Operas and witnessing this poor treatment of the Jews for themselves. Then something remarkable and extraordinary happened: These two incredible and amazing ladies decided that they must help as many Jewish people as they could to escape this persecution.

Ida and Louise could see that it was only going to get worse for Jewish people in Germany and Austria. Remember this was before the outbreak of World War 2, before the concentration camps and genocide that would follow.

Jews were free to leave Germany and Austria at the time, but they weren’t allowed to take any assets with them. This meant no money and no valuables. The policy of the UK and many other countries that were safe for Jewish people was that they had to prove they had the financial assets to support themselves and their families. 

This meant the Jewish people were essentially stuck in Germany and Austria. Now at this point in the story, I want to scream: What were the UK Government and Governments of safe countries thinking with this ridiculous policy? Why weren’t the general population outraged by this policy?

But what we have to remember is that at the time, there was no internet or social media. Many people didn’t travel abroad.  People weren’t as connected as they are now. So the vast majority of the general public didn’t know what Jewish people were experiencing in Germany and Austria.

Back to the story. Ida and Louise came up with a plan. They would travel to Germany and Austria as often as they could, using the guise of going to see the Opera as the reason for their frequent travels. On the return journey they would smuggle anything of value given to them by Jewish families. This was so that Jewish families could prove to the UK Government that financially they could support themselves.

Ida and Louise’s plan not only took a great deal of planning, their own money and time, but came at a huge personal risk. Imagine if they had been discovered in Germany and Austria.

In November 1938, just less than a year before World War 2 officially started, in the dark of night the Jewish people were targeted in Germany and Austria. 

Over two nights, Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed, Synagogues (Jewish places of worship) were attacked and there are even reports of individual Jewish people being arrested without cause. This was all backed by the Germany and Austria Governments and citizens were actively encouraged to participate in the assaults on the Jewish communities.

Ida and Louise’s response was fantastic. It was to up their game. They continued the asset smuggling, but went further. Ida and Louise worked hard in the UK to make sure officials signed off as many visas as possible, as quickly as possible, to save as many Jews as possible.

Ida travelled throughout England, making as many people aware of the situation for Jewish people in Germany and Austria as she could. In some of these talks she also raised small amounts of money for Jewish people that needed help. Every penny went to the Jewish people in need.

Ida and Louise rented a flat in London for homeless Jewish people to live whilst they established a life in the UK. The cost of this flat being paid by Ida and Louise.

Ida and Louise took no payment for their work from the Jewish people. They paid for everything themselves, mostly funding their endeavours through Ida’s fiction writing.

In total, Ida and Louise saved 29 Jewish people. They helped them escape persecution and come to the safety of the UK. Throughout their lives Ida and Louise kept in touch with these people, keeping an active interest in their lives and continuing to support them in any way that they could.

What an incredible true story of two wonderfully kind, compassionate and inspirational people. 

Best Wishes,

Antony

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