Posts Tagged ‘would’

My Nazi grandfather would have murdered me

April 13th, 2015

Flicking through its pages, she realised with a start that a photo of a woman in a summer dress perfectly matched the picture she had of her grandmother, Ruth Irene. What’s more, the photo of the author on the cover of the book – entitled I Have To Love My Father, Right? – look familliar, too. It was that of her birth mother, Monika.

“It was this immediate physical shock,” she told me. “I felt this physical need to just lie down. I had to leave the library.

“I became weak because I knew that this book would give me so many answers. When you grow up with so many open questions in your head, this is something that turns your life upside down.”

Jennifer Teege and her adoptive brother Matthias

Teege was so startled to find any information about her family that the subject matter of the book almost passed her by completely.

It only hit her as her husband drove her home.

Her grandfather, Amon Goeth, had been a Nazi: the commandant of Plaszow concentration camp.

Teege recalls staying up all night researching his story online and feeling like she had “entered a chamber of horrors”. She discovered that Goeth, called ‘the Butcher of Plaszow’ was “a man who killed people by the dozen and, what is more, enjoyed it”.

He quickly rose through the Nazi ranks, slaughtering 2,000 Jews during the clearing of the Krakow Ghetto and up to 12,000 as the chief of Plaszow (a 200-acre camp built by the Nazis on top of a Jewish cemetery near Krakow, Poland).

What’s more, he was a natural sadist. He trained his two dogs, a Great Dane and an Alsatian called Rolf and Ralf, to tear humans apart and would often ride around the camp on his white horse wearing white gloves and a white scarf. His costume was a sign to the prisoners that he was in a particularly vicious mood.

The Polish prosecutor at his trial in 1946, described him as: “a man who has become a legend in his lifetime for being the modern incarnation of the biblical Satan”.

Goeth’s special brand of horror was given lasting infamy by Steven Spielberg in the film Schindler’s List, with Ralph Fiennes playing the role.

His name has stuck in the public consciousness thanks to one scene in particular – where he takes potshots at prisoners from his bedroom balcony, described as “his personal form of morning exercise” in Teege’s own book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (an English translation of which has just been published in the UK to coincide with Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust remembrance day).

Teege in Israel in 1992, aged 16

During that night of feverish internet searches, Teege, now 44, remembered having watched Schindler’s List in Israel. She spent four years there as a student and learnt to speak fluent Hebrew.

And by another astonishing coincidence, or twist of fate – Teege is still undecided – in the course of her research, she discovered that her biological mother was appearing in a TV documentary about Goeth’s death camp the following evening.

Teege desperately wanted to find an explanation for her grandfather’s behaviour. She assumed – hoped, even – that she would find “some traumatic incident in his childhood that would explain his cruelty”.

But Goeth’s upbringing was perfectly normal.

Nor could she find any signs of remorse in either grandparent. Goeth’s final act was a Nazi salute and shout of “Heil Hitler!” before he was hanged in 1946.

Teege’s grandmother, Ruth, lived happily in Goeth’s camp villa as his loyal mistress, after the couple were introduced by Oskar Schindler. They never married but Ruth went to great efforts to take her fiance’s surname after his death, a name Teege herself had until her adoption at the age of seven.

Right up until the end, when she committed suicide in 1983, Ruth had a picture of Goeth hanging above her bed. She used to gush about her lover as “a real gentleman”. He had impeccable table manners, she remembered fondly.

According to one of Goeth’s Jewish former maids: “Most of the time, [Ruth] was busy lying around with a cucumber mask on her face. She would turn the music way up so that she couldn’t hear the shots.”

Spielberg portrayed her burying her head in the pillow while Goeth was shooting from his balcony.

Teege is keen to point out that, after the war, Ruth lived with an African and a gay man. “So she was open-minded. I have tried to analyse her. There’s so much complexity that you can’t define her.”

Unsurprisingly, Teege was unable to leave the house for two weeks following her toxic discovery. She eventually sought help from a psychoanalyst who burst into tears during their first meeting.

But it wasn’t her grandfather’s atrocities that shook Teege most. Rather it was her grandmother’s complicity.

The Nazi mistress was the person who “mattered most” to Teege when she was a fearful and neglected child – who held her hand and “radiated kindness” until she was adopted.

“Her character is so interesting,” Teege says. “She represents the majority of people during the war who followed the system.

“To differentiate yourself from my grandfather is very easy. Within my grandmother, it’s easier to see oneself. It begs the question: How would I have behaved?”

Teege’s grandmother and Goeth’s mistress, Ruth

Teege, a married mother of two who has established a successful career in advertising, has wrestled with the notion that she has Goeth’s blood flowing through her veins.

She was disturbed by an article she read in 2010, detailing how Bettina Goering – the great-niece of Hitler’s second-in-command – had been sterilised so she would “not pass on the blood of a monster”.

“I feel a bit sorry for her,” says Teege haltingly. “This in my eyes is so fundamentally wrong. Because you can decide who you want to be, and to set a different example is better than to cut the blood line. Actually it was one of the quotes that inspired me to share my story with the public.”

One also gets the sense that, with her book, she is trying to reach out to her mother. Monika agreed to meet her following the library discovery, but she has since shunned her daughter’s approaches.

Teege says with a smile: “I hope she has read it.”

She also insists that the story will always have relevance:

“I hope that society has developed, but look what is happening now with Islamic State. I mean, there are people here from London – they grew up normally and they are following an ideology. There is still a danger out there that people follow blindly.”

Writing the book, along with copious therapy, has helped Teege come to terms with her poisonous inheritance.

But it is also helping others.

“I met one survivor at my last event in Israel,” she says. “He was in the front row and during the Q&A, his daughter told me that he was a survivor from Plaszow and his father was the personal shoemaker of my grandfather. He said my grandfather was his worst nightmare as a child and he wasn’t sure at first whether he wanted to come to this event.

“In his words, he said, ‘You are my birthday present’.

He was turning 80 the following week and he said he was really happy that he met me, because he could see that history does not have to repeat itself.”

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair, is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20)

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‘I thought anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. Naïve really’

January 24th, 2015

We were put in prison until I was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had to take my clothes off, my head was shaved and a number was tattooed on to my left arm. Having my head shaved was almost more traumatic because you were really reduced to a nobody. I happened to mention to the prisoner who was registering me that I played the cello. She looked at me and said, “This is fantastic. Stand aside. You will be saved.” If I had just been one of the crowd I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.

Alma Rosé was the conductor of the camp orchestra, and Gustav Mahler’s niece. Our job was to stand at the main gate and play marches as the prisoners marched out in the morning and again in the evening when they came back. [The camp was surrounded by factories where the prisoners worked.] Every Sunday we did a concert in the camp.

It is impossible to convey fully what life was like in Auschwitz. My experience was different because I was in the orchestra. But we all knew it was an extermination camp. The smell, the smoke is unmistakable. And it was burning non-stop. The system in Auschwitz was very clever. You rarely had much to do with the Germans because they delegated the power to prisoners. It was a system of fear.

We had to keep our shoes clean. The ground was a sort of yellow clay and the minute it rained or snowed this was impossible. There were endless roll-calls. Even when people had dysentery they would be made to stand outside, five deep in the freezing cold, in agony.

The girl who had registered me when I arrived had asked for my shoes and I had given them to her. They were black pigskin with red laces and big pompoms. The same girl was wearing my shoes when my sister arrived. My sister asked where she got them and she told her they belonged to someone in the orchestra. Auschwitz was huge and we might never have found each other otherwise.

In 1944 we were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. More and more people arrived and it was totally chaotic. The people in charge didn’t know what to do with us, so the best thing was to do nothing and let us die. We were surrounded by corpses. It was winter and we didn’t have proper clothes, but when it got warmer the bodies started to decay.

We were liberated on 15 April 1945. We didn’t have anywhere to go. I never thought about going home. I was full of hatred for the Germans. Anyway, home was in Poland by then. What would I find there? Another language spoken, nobody from my family, no friends, nothing.

We reached England in March 1946. Nobody asked us about our experience. People just didn’t know how to deal with it. What do you say to someone who has survived a concentration camp?

My sister and I thought we would change the world, that anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. Naïve really. It took me nearly half a century to return to Germany. I’m often asked about forgiveness. But you can’t forgive the unforgivable.

Bettine Le Beau, 82, was a ‘hidden child’ during the Holocaust. She was in a concentration camp in France with her mother and brother before being hidden on a farm for three years

Le Beau: ‘My mother told me, “All your life you’re going to be lucky.” I believed it.’ (THOM ATKINSON)

My war started in 1940 when the Germans marched into Belgium. I was eight. My father was a furrier and was in London on business. My mother told him to stay put and said she would go to Paris with me and my brother. From there we would get to England.

The Gare du Midi in Brussels was chock-a-block with people because everybody wanted to get out. We couldn’t get on a train, so my mother asked a taxi driver to take us to Paris. The roads were full of people walking. They had left their suitcases by the side of the road because they couldn’t carry them and they knew life was more important.

We arrived in Paris and went to stay with friends of my father’s. To try to make it exciting for me, my mother told me I was very lucky to see Paris. When the Germans arrived in Paris we moved to a village near Bordeaux. Then we were taken to an internment camp. Until then I kept thinking, “I’m going to see my daddy.” I didn’t realise what was happening.

The camp was terrible. It was the first time in my life I saw men crying. My whole outlook on life changed. We were moved to a concentration camp where the men, women and children were separated. Inside our barracks there were about 30 children. We slept on a sack with straw in it.

Kids are very resilient. We used to find games to play, we used to tell stories, make friends. We weren’t worried like the grown-ups. My mother had told me when I was about three or four, “You are a very lucky girl and all your life you’re going to be lucky.” It was very clever because I believed it.

One night a volunteer from one of the organisations helping children to escape smuggled herself into the camp. She said, “I can take out 10 children tonight.” A lot of mothers said no, but my mother said, “You can take them both but, if I ever get out of here, I want to know how to contact them.”The first night away I wet the bed from the trauma and I was so ashamed. I had lice, so they put powder on my head and tied a scarf around it.

In 1942 it was the Final Solution and the organisations knew they had to close the children’s homes or the Germans would come and take them. The OSE [Oeuvre des Secours aux Enfants] sent us to a chalet on the border with Switzerland and every week 10 children would be smuggled across. Finally it was the turn of my brother and me, but the week we were supposed to go the Germans caught the guide and killed him.

They found a farmer who would take two girls. But first they took me into a room and told me my surname was no longer Fallek. I had a new identity: I was French, my father was a prisoner of war and my mother was dead. “Whoever is nice to you,” they said, “even if you think they’re wonderful, stick to this.” The farmer and his wife were wonderfully kind and I was there for three years.

At the end of the war my brother found me and we went to our mother. She had been in concentration camps in France. She never told me anything that had happened to her and she didn’t want to know what happened to me.

We went to Paris, to the family we had first stayed with. Their two boys, whose beds we had slept in, had been sent to Auschwitz. The mother was crying. We eventually arrived in London, where my father had a house by now. But in the time he had been in London he had met someone else and had another child. My mother was devastated.

My experience made me want to be positive all the time. Be positive and it works. My mother said I was lucky and that’s what I believed.

Eve Kugler, 83, was born in Germany. She was separated from her parents and lived in a children’s home for displaced Jewish children until she was evacuated to America

Kugler: ‘I used to look at my parents as ordinary. But they were very special’ (THOM ATKINSON)

In 1933 I was two, living in a mid-sized German city, where my father had a business. The situation for Jewish people hugely deteriorated in the next five years. Jews were assaulted, arrested, and my father’s business began to decline. People didn’t want to trade with him.

On 9 November 1938 – Kristallnacht – Nazis came barging into our apartment in the middle of the night and trashed it. My sister Ruth and I were standing at the door of our room watching. My father was taken to Buchenwald, but with a forged visa he was able to leave for Paris (at that point, if you could produce a visa for a person in Dachau or Buchenwald, they could leave). My mother, two sisters and I were evicted, so my mother took us to live with her father in Leipzig and she stayed behind.

In June 1939 we flew to Paris on another forged visa. My father had rented a room in a boarding-house for the five of us with an outside toilet. When war broke out the French arrested my father as a German national and put him in a concentration camp. My mother was now destitute with three children, so Ruth and I went to a home for displaced Jewish children run by OSE.

My story is one of constant separation: my grandfather was arrested at the end of October, then my father disappeared, came back, and disappeared again. Then we were separated from our mother and sister. But I don’t remember anything because you can’t be selective in what you choose to forget. I’ve just wiped out everything that happened in those years.

When the Nazis reached Paris, OSE put us in a home near Limoges. My mother, who had stayed behind with my sister Lea, eventually arrived. Incredibly, my father was let out of the camp and we were all reunited at the children’s home. The American state department had issued visas for a couple of hundred Jewish children in concentration camps, but it wasn’t possible to get the children out of them, so they gave the visas to children’s homes.

Two days before they were due to leave, two children got sick and lost their health clearance. We were the only ones able to go at such short notice – my parents were there, so could sign the papers. They argued the whole night, my mother saying, “They can’t go, they’re too little, it’s too far.” My father said, “But that’s the point.” In the end they decided Ruth and I could go but that Lea was too little. Even after the war I had the guilt of survivors.

I survived because somebody else could not go. I have no idea who those two children were, nor if they survived. I was 10 when we sailed for America but I have no memory of boarding the ship or the two-week journey.

During the war I was in three different foster homes in New York. I was miserable, but I felt I always had to be good and not make trouble. I was sure that my parents must be dead.

In fact, my parents survived the concentration camps and my little sister Lea was hidden by the Resistance. In 1941 we were reunited in America.

I used to look at my parents as very ordinary people. When they settled in New York, they lived lives that were not very special. But they were obviously extremely special. We were an entire nuclear family who survived. We were very lucky.

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James Runcie: 'My father would have been bemused and amused by Grantchester'

October 5th, 2014

The six-part ITV series is based on The Grantchester Mysteries, a sequence of novels I began to write five years ago. I didn’t intend them to be a fictionalised, alternative biography of my father – and I still hope they aren’t – but one cannot easily escape a strong paternal influence.

Robert Runcie became a clergyman shortly after the war. He lived in Cambridge at the beginning of his ministry (I was born there) and was later chosen to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1979. He didn’t go round solving murders, but when I began to write a series of six crime novels, intended as a moral history of post-war Britain, it seemed almost obvious to make the central character a clergyman (the only alternative would have been a doctor). He would be a fictionalised version of my father, sharing his love of humanity, his ability to think the best of people (while sometimes fearing the worst), his cheerfulness and his love of the ridiculous, as well as his sadness and disappointment in the face of human failing.

I wanted to place this man in the midst of social change, beginning in 1953, the year of the Coronation. Britain was beginning to find itself again, DNA was discovered, the death penalty was still in effect, homosexuality was illegal, and career opportunities for women were limited. The novels would stretch over some 25 years and trace how modern Britain evolved, chronicling and balancing what I take to be good things (higher living standards, medical advance, the abolition of the death penalty, greater opportunities for women) with the bad (the decline of community, selfishness, intolerance, racism, homophobia, crime).

The series is easy enough to describe. It’s an Anglican Father Brown, Morse with morals, or Barbara Pym with no clothes on. This, by the way, is important. I wanted a sexy vicar, and I know we have found in Norton just the man; someone fresh from playing a psychopath in Happy Valley, who is a world away from the comedy clergy of Dick Emery, Derek Nimmo, and Arthur Lowe and much closer, I hope, to Tom Hollander’s excellent Adam Smallbone in Rev. That series has, in many ways, prepared the ground – without it, we might not have had such a positive response to the original, seriously unfashionable idea (a central character who is a practising Christian? Was I out of my mind?). Setting the tale in the Fifties obviously helps, as it makes the religion more confident and less of an anomaly than it is in Smallbone’s aggressively secular world.

READ: Why does Happy Valley have everyone talking?

James Norton stars as Sidney Chambers in Grantchester (ITV)

Not that this is cosy. Like my father, Chambers fought against evil in the war; now, he has to confront different evils in the ensuing peace. What keeps him going, apart from a strong faith, is both his love of intrigue and his compassion. The paradox is simple: as a clergyman, he has to think the best of people; as a detective, he must assume the worst.

The Fifties setting offers a more closed world than the one we know today. This is a time of tact, reticence and, for want of a better word, manners. It is far from shouty modern life in which people declare their most intimate secrets either on Facebook or over their second pint of lager. Sidney has to decode conversations in which privacy is fiercely held and secrets are dangerous. He has to understand both what drives people to commit acts of desperation (sex, money, betrayal, revenge) and what may eventually redeem them.

His talent as a detective lies in his ability to listen and to understand far more than he is being told. People share confidences that they wouldn’t with anyone else (particularly the police) and so Sidney becomes party to information that he must either withhold or reveal. (The series begins after a funeral when a woman insists that her secret lover did not commit suicide but was murdered.)

Grantchester is not Dostoevsky (although he is an influence), but it comes, as you might expect, from a liberal Anglican sensibility that understands ambiguity, seeks understanding and embraces tolerance.


There are, perhaps, indulgences. Sidney (named after my father’s favourite Anglican, Sydney Smith) becomes intrigued by a piano- playing German woman who loves Bach (my mother taught the piano); his first love (played by Morven Christie) is an amalgamation of two of my best friends; while Inspector Geordie Keating (played by Robson Green) is named after Roly Keating, now chief executive of the British Library.

The series is written out of affection for its characters and is designed to entertain rather than impress (it took me four novels to work that one out), and there is little of the gruesome evisceration found in the work of Stieg Larsson or Martina Cole. We are closer to John Mortimer’s Rumpole and even (bizarrely, hopefully and ambitiously) P?G Wodehouse.

Recalling that writer’s Great Sermon Handicap, in which bets are placed on various clergymen’s sermon lengths, I have to confess there is perhaps an element of preachiness to it all. My editor once said to me: “These are disguised sermons, aren’t they?” I am not ashamed of that and I am hopeful that the television series, as well as being dramatic, consists of thoughtful and moral meditations on subjects such as loyalty, friendship, deceit, cruelty and generosity. There are all the usual human fallibilities and they are taken seriously; but they are also viewed, wherever possible, with a kindly eye. (Hate the sin, but love the sinner.)

I try to imagine what my father would think of it all, and I can almost see him, aged 93, in a wheelchair perhaps, with a rug over his lap, watching the filming of that war scene. I think he would have been bemused – and amused. I can imagine him laughing about it afterwards and saying that it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t think for a minute that he would ever say that he was proud of me, but I hope he would at least be secretly intrigued.

And this is, of course, is what fiction does. It brings the dead back to us. It allows thought, conversation, an alternative afterlife. It reminds us that we are not alone, that we can find moments of respite beyond our own flickering humanity and that, while those who are no longer with us can still be remembered, death’s dominion is neither dark nor desolate.

Grantchester begins on ITV on October 6 at 9.00pm

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‘If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over’

May 31st, 2014

Of course, I have no monopoly on being proud of a close relative’s part in the war effort: there are many people up and down the country whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and cousins also played courageous roles in the fight against Nazi Germany.

However, my father was, unwittingly, largely responsible for my boyhood interest in bravery: something that quickly developed into a passion and one that has played a significant part in my life for more than half a century.

Eric Ashcroft, a gentle, kind, popular man with a wicked sense of humour, was always modest about his wartime exploits, but eventually, with much prompting from his persistent son, he told me of his terrifying experience on D-Day.

I was about 10 at the time and the conversation took place at our family home in Diss, Norfolk. I sat wide-eyed as he conjured up the metaphorical smell of fear and the physical smell of vomit as his landing craft crashed through the waves and approached Sword Beach. As part of Operation Overlord, more than 155,000 men came across the Channel in some 5,000 vessels to land on five beach areas, each given a codeword.

Lord Ashcroft with his father after the war

Decades after my father filled me with pride over his exploits, he gave a recorded interview to the Imperial War Museums (IWM) that remains in their archives.

As he landed on an area of Sword Beach designated for the assault by his Battalion of The South Lancashire Regiment, he and his comrades were greeted by anti-tank, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire, most of it from the main German defence strongpoint, codenamed “Cod”.

My father, the battalion signals’ officer, described his run up the beach: “About two-thirds to high watermark, I was knocked sideways when, so it would appear now, an 88mm splinter struck my right arm as I was moving across the beach… I just kept moving until the party got cleared of the beach and took stock of our position some 200 yards inland.”

When my father paused beneath a bank with the enemy beach wire just ahead, he applied a field dressing to his bloodied wound and crouched besides his CO. “Colonel [Richard] Burbury was about two feet away from me and the next thing I knew he rolled to his side and was shot in the chest,” my father said. His CO had been killed by a sniper.

Eric Ashcroft during the war

Lieutenant Colonel Burbury’s life was over, aged 38, and, soon afterwards, my father’s war was effectively over, too: but not before his battalion had moved on later the same day to seize the village of Hermanville less than a mile away. My father was eventually ordered from the battlefield and received treatment, first, at the regimental aid post and, later, on the hospital ship returning to Britain.

As I reached my teens, the initial interest in bravery that my father had generated grew and grew. I became the schoolboy geek who knew more about the Normandy landings than any of my contemporaries.

Courage is a truly wonderful quality, yet it is so difficult to understand. You can’t accurately measure it, you can’t bottle it and you can’t buy it, yet those who display it are, quite rightly, looked up to by others and are admired by society. Wiser men than me have struggled to comprehend gallantry and what makes some individuals risk the greatest gift of all – life itself – for a comrade, for Queen and country or sometimes even for a stranger.

Yet, perhaps, ultimately we do not have need fully to understand why individuals display courage; all we need do is admire it. Over the years, my passion for bravery, in general, transformed itself into one for gallantry medals, in particular.

Such medals are the tangible record of an individual’s service and courage. When I was in my early twenties, I hoped one day to own a Victoria Cross, the ultimate decoration in Britain and the Commonwealth for bravery in the face of the enemy.

Shortly after my 40th birthday and by then fortunate enough to have made a little money as an entrepreneur, I bought at auction my first VC: a decoration that had been awarded to Leading Seaman James Magennis during the final year of the Second World War.

Today, from that modest start, the collection is comfortably the largest in the world. In 2008, I made a sizeable donation so that the VCs could go on display in a new, purpose-built gallery at IWM, London, along with decorations already in the care of the museum. The gallery was opened in November 2010 by the Princess Royal, and today I am the proud owner of 183 VCs and 14 George Crosses, the latter being Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.

I have written four books on bravery, I have a monthly column in Britain at War magazine and I write widely for national and regional newspapers about courage. Furthermore, I regularly lecture on gallantry up and down the country.

My continuing aim is simple: to highlight great acts of courage and to ensure that those brave men who carried them out, whether they lived or died following their actions, are not forgotten.

On a personal level, I credit the conversation I had with my father nearly 60 years ago for leading to my passion for gallantry. Indeed, when the VC and GC gallery bearing my name was unveiled four years ago, I publicly dedicated it to him.

My father was one of the fortunate wartime servicemen: he made a full recovery from his injuries, was promoted to captain, survived the war, had a satisfying career as a colonial officer and, eventually, died in February 2002, a month before his 85th birthday.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, I am glad that I travelled to Sword Beach and stood, for the first time, where my father was wounded and where so many of his comrades fell. Matt Limb, my enthusiastic and knowledgeable battlefield guide, was able to pinpoint, to within a few yards, the exact spot where my father had landed.

I also visited Hermanville War Cemetery to lay a poppy cross at the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Burbury. Incidentally, his gravestone wrongly gives his date of death as June 7 1944 – rather than June 6 – and, for the sake of accuracy, I am going to investigate how it might be corrected.

In an area of more than 1,000 war graves and with birdsong as the only sound, I contemplated the thin margin between life and death. If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over, aged just 27, and I would never have been born.

Lord Ashcroft at Hermanville War Cemetery at the grave of his father’s CO, Lt Colonel Richard Burbury (JULIAN SIMMONDS FOR THE TELEGRAPH)

At Pegasus Bridge Café Gondrée, the first house liberated by the Allies at the dawn of D-Day, I was given a warm welcome for lunch by the charming Arlette Gondrée, whose parents lived in the property during the German occupation with their three young daughters. It is the sort of welcome she and her family have generously extended to the British veterans for seven decades.

On Friday, as the veterans gather in Normandy for their “swan song”, I will join the rest of the nation in paying my respects to all the courageous individuals who turned the course of the war in the Allies’ favour with the greatest sea invasion in history.

However, given all that he did for me, I hope I will be forgiven if just one of those brave young men remains at the forefront of my thoughts for much of the day: Eric Ashcroft, my father, my inspiration, my hero.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a Tory peer, international businessman, philanthropist and author. For more information on his life and work, visit For more information on his VC collection, visit Follow him on Twitter @LordAshcroft

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