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John Hajdu, a member of North London U3A, has been awarded an MBE for services to Holocaust education in the New Years Honours list for his work speaking to schoolchildren about the horrors of persecution.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1937, John tells how life changed for Jews when the Hungarian government formed an alliance with the Nazis and how he hid in a cupboard with his aunt to escape being sent to a concentration camp with his mother. 

In an article in next month’s members’ magazine, Third Age Matters, John describes life in a Jewish ghetto with little food or water until the end of the war and then life under Soviet occupation. He finally fled Hungary, involving a nerve-wracking train journey and 25-mile trek through minefields to Austria following the Hungarian uprising of 1956 with nothing but a bag of food, the clothes he stood up in and his childhood teddy. 

John received his letter from the Cabinet Office informing him of the MBE in November but had to keep it secret until the New Year Honours were announced. He said, “When I opened the letter, I had to read it twice to comprehend it. My wife just screamed ‘What is this?’ Neither of us had any idea that this was coming. It was a huge surprise. There was no reason why I should have expected it at all. Of course, I had to keep it a secret over Christmas and my children and grandchildren where not able to share in this. Two or three times I very nearly let the secret out.”

To find out more about your nearest U3A go to https://www.u3a.org.uk/find