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Tiny Christmas tree that gave the Nazis' prisoners hope: Survivor still lights candles 78 years after receiving gift from his parentsPolish POW was sent the tree whilst in German camp in 1944
Janusz Kent, 87, who now lives in East Sussex, has lit the tree each Christmas since
23:49 GMT, 26 December 2012
It is only a few inches tall, but this tiny tree had the power to lend hope to hundreds of the Nazis’ prisoners.
Janusz Kent received it in 1944 while he was in the Stalag 11A camp in southern Germany, having been locked up for taking part in the Warsaw Uprising.
Within minutes hundreds of prisoners in the camp, which included inmates from across Europe and Russia, had gathered around his window, to sing Silent Night and other carols in different languages in the snow.
Ray of hope: The tree was smuggled into the WWII camp in a food parcel and brought Christmas cheer to prisoners of war at Stalag 11A
Mr Kent, then 19, had been incarcerated by Hitler’s regime three months earlier while fighting against the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising.
The tree was the last gift he received from his parents, who he would not see for another 15 years.
Mr Kent, now 87 and living in Wivelsfield Green, near Haywards Heath, East Sussex, took the tree with him when he and 75,000 other prisoners at the camp, close to Moosburg, southern Germany, were liberated four months later.
He has treasured it for the past 58 years, lighting it every Christmas as a reminder of the hope it brought him during his internment.
‘We had been forbidden Christmas trees, even though we were surrounded by them in a beautiful pine forest, but when I received this little collapsible tree from my parents in Poland, I decided I just had to share it,’ Mr Kent, a retired architect, said.
‘My heart was so full, because here was a link with home, where every year we had a tree.
was a frosty night, and within minutes hundreds of prisoners who saw
the candles in the window had gathered outside in the snow. They came
from all over the world, and started singing Silent Night and other
carols in all their different languages, some wiping tears from their
‘We had practically
nothing to eat – just watery soup the Germans gave us – but we had
survived – and to us it felt like Christmas.’
Memories: Mr Janusz, pictured in his home in East Sussex and aged 17, lights the Christmas tree every year
After the camp was liberated by Allied forces in April 1915, Mr Kent, who had badly injured his right arm during the uprising, was sent to Brussels and later England for treatment.
He arrived in the UK on a stretcher with a bag containing just a toothbrush, a scrap of soap and his tiny, treasured tree.
He spent three years in an orthopaedic hospital in Mansfield, where he studied for an architecture degree, and later moved to Wivelsfield Green to work on the expansion of Gatwick Airport.
‘The tree was the last thing I had from my parents, whom I would not see again for 15 years,’ said Mr Kent, who was later decorated by the British for his war heroics.
‘I joined the Polish resistance at 14, helped blow up bridges and planes and fought for five years before I was wounded and captured in the Warsaw Uprising.
‘Thankfully, my parents survived and so did my sister, who was in another prison camp, though it would be years before we would all find each other and manage to be reunited.
‘I studied for my architect’s degree during the three years I was an inmate at the orthopaedic hospital in Mansfield where my arm was saved. I was very fortunate in having the services of Ian Campbell, personal surgeon to King George VI.’
Mr Kent met and married a British woman, with whom he had two daughters, before divorcing. He met his second wife, Halina, 81, a Pole who also fled her home country after the war, in the early 1960s.
The couple have a daughter and three grandchildren and will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary next year.
The tree is so important to them that this year they decided to include it on their Christmas card to family and friends.
‘Every year, when we light the tree we feel so close together, so lucky that we have each other, that Janusz survived all those horrible years, and it makes Christmas come alive for us,’ Mrs Kent said.
‘The tree has seen better times, having survived a fire and other mishaps, but every year it makes us both feel grateful we have had such a beautiful life together.’