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Award will recognise those who risked all during the war

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: July 21, 2009

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THE bravery of a remarkable woman who lived her last 30 years in Cornwall after a wartime risking her life helping Jewish prisoners in an internment camp is to be recognised by a new award for British Heroes of the Holocaust.

Sofka Skipwith, who lived in a small hamlet between St Breward and Blisland on Bodmin Moor, had been imprisoned by Germans in an internment camp in Vittel, Southern France, after going to Paris to bring her parents, a Russian Prince and Princess, to Britain shortly after the outbreak of war.

She tried to help groups of Polish Jews in the camp by giving them smuggled Red Cross parcels.

Aware of the fate they faced, she wrote down all the names of the Jewish prisoners on cigarette paper, rolled them into capsules and sent them to the British authorities.

She also enabled many prisoners on passage for Nazi death camps to escape and join the French Resistance movement.

Sofka also saved a newborn Jewish baby, who had been overlooked by the camp authorities. In the majority of cases Jewish babies were murdered on arrival.

After the war, Skipwith ran a travel firm sending tours to Communist countries and also worked as an assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier before spending the last 30 years of her life living high on Bodmin Moor in an old cottage in the hamlet of Bradford for the benefit of her health.

She was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial authority in 1998.

Her son from her first marriage, Peter Zinovieff, met with Communities Minister Shahid Malik MP last week to discuss the new award.

Discussions follow an initiative by the Holocaust Educational Trust to secure recognition for British people who risked their own lives and often the lives of their families to aid or rescue thousands of Jewish people and others from almost certain death.

Mr Zinovieff commented: "I remember my mother telling me that for her, this wasn't about being brave but in her mind, there was no other option but to help."

He said she and her father, both of them from Russian aristocratic stock, had divorced before the war and she had married Grey Skipwith, an RAF navigator who died when his plane was shot down in a bombing raid over Berlin in 1943.

She headed off to Paris to bring back her parents and left her youngest son, now baronet Sir Patrick Skipwith, with the milkman's family.

"They were surprised when she didn't return. As a British subject she was kept in captivity in France until the end of the war.

"She moved to Cornwall because property was cheap then and bought a derelict cottage, improved it and installed electricity and a telephone. She wrote her memoirs, kept chickens and had a partner, Jack King.

"After she died her ashes were spread in the garden there," said Mr Zinovieff.

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