A PRIVATE detective from Hale Barns has been named ‘Investigator of the Year 2014’ for his part in tracing five prisoners of war who saved a Jewish girl who was close to death, having escaped a Nazi death march.
Anthony Davis was driving home from work in March 2013 when he heard a Radio 4 item featuring the story of Hannah Sara Rigler, who was born Sara Matuson, in Luthuania in 1928.
When Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis in 1941, Sara’s father was taken away and she never saw him again, while she, her mother and sister, were sent to the Shavli ghetto.
They were then sent to Stutthof concentration camp in 1944.
As the war came to an end the following year, around 1,000 women from the camp, dressed only in rags, were driven by SS guards in a death march through the snow.
Within a month, only 300 women remained and, in desperation, Sara’s mother begged her daughter to try to flee.
Anthony said: “An opportunity for escape came and she took the heartbreaking decision to leave her mother and sister in a bid for freedom.”
She hid, starving, in a barn for hours, waiting for the Nazis to kill her and fearing desperately for her mother and sister.
Sara never saw them again and she later changed her name to Hannah, which had been her sister’s name, in her honour.
Eventually Sara was found, not by a Nazi, but by a POW named Stan Wells.
Stan and nine of his fellow POWs smuggled Sara into their camp, fed, clothed and nursed her back to health, until she was eventually freed.
Sara was later able to meet the men who saved her in the 1970s.
Five of these POWs were then recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Living’ by Yad Vashem, in Israel, which safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations.
But according to Anthony, ‘for some unknown reason’, the other five POWs were not recognised until 35 years later.
“The British Government and Yad Vashem, with all their resources could not find any trace of these men or their families and that is where I came in,” said the private investigator of 25 years.
Anthony and his colleague Helen took up the case, free of charge, and were able to track down all of the five men’s families within a year and all were recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ at a ceremony at the House of Lords in October 2013.
Anthony said: “It was just so nice to do something where you can see the end result, to see their families go to the House of Lords to get the reward was quite moving.
“We feel like we made a difference and that’s not something you can say a lot.
“We do feel that we did something special.”
Gail Rigler, the daughter of Sara ‘Hannah’ Rigler, said: “What Anthony Davis did meant so much to me and my family on so many levels.
“It took my mom well over 20 years to first find the Englishmen who saved her life and many years later to have them all recognised as Righteous among the LIving at Yad Vashem in Israel.
“Several were still alive to make the trip from England and receive the recognition they so deserved, but several could not make the trip.
“It wasn't until one person, reading my mom's story in the paper many years later, thought something should be done to ensure that the remaining Englishmen receive their recognition.
“How many people would have just thought it was an interesting story and turned the page?
“Most, but not Anthony Davis, who took it upon himself, with nothing to gain other than doing what his heart told him to do, asking no money or recognition himself.
Gail, who lives in America, added: “A very lengthy way of saying what an amazing human being Anthony Davis is and how blessed we feel that such good people actually exist in the world today.”