In celebration of Phillip Meyer’s 50 years of serving Christian pilgrims coming to Israel, we have asked him to share about his remarkable life. Over the next year, we will share more about Phillip and Berit, as well as Immanuel Tours and how Phillip as one of the original tour operators in the country has made an impression on the entire industry!
I was born in Oberzwehren outside Kassel in June 1931 just two years before Hitler came to power in Germany. My father, a Jewish tailor had left Poland for Hamburg in the early 1920’s, intending to embark on a ship to New York. Instead he met a Hebrew Christian pastor whose testimony introduced him to the Messiah. His life changed again when he met and married my mother, a fellow believer though not Jewish. Unfortunately her parents never accepted her marrying a Jew.
From the moment the Nazis came to power in 1933, and especially following the 1935 anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, German Jews suffered great persecution. Many were killed, others were sent to concentration camps, synagogues were burnt, and Jewish shops destroyed. My father was forbidden to carry on his trade as a tailor and was forced to go from house to house selling such things as zippers, buttons, cloth and other small wares in order to make a bare living. He made frantic efforts to try to leave Germany including an attempt to emigrate to the “Land of Israel” but all to no avail.
Krystallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass) on November 8, 1938 signaled the start of the violent Nazi reign of terror and bloodshed against the Jews which was to end in the Holocaust. In response to the widespread outcry and appeal by both Jewish and Christian groups in the United Kingdom,and only a few days after Krystallnacht, the British Government enacted a law to allow 10,000 unaccompanied, predominantly Jewish children of between the ages of 7 to 17 to enter the UK. Each child had to be sponsored, so on July 23, 1939, sponsored by the London based International Hebrew Christian Alliance (IHCA) I and my two older brothers set out for England together with 400 other children. This was a rescue mission which became known as “Kindertransport” and which moved children out of Europe, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Danzig, during the 9 months before the outbreak of World War ll on September 3, 1939, and brought them to England as refugees.
After a brief farewell with our parents at the railway station, under the watchful eye of the Gestapo, we boarded the train that took us through the Netherlands to the Hook of Holland and from there by cross channel ferry boat across the English Channel to the English port of Harwich. From there we were taken by rail to London’s Liverpool Street Station where we were met by our sponsors. After a few days in London, staying in an IHCA hostel, my brothers and I were sent by train to a picturesque village, near Exeter, in South West England, called Widecombe- in- the- Moor. There we were housed in a large Manor House made available to us and other Jewish children, from different parts of Europe, by a local squire. This was to be our home for the first 12 months of our stay in England. Although we were only children, ages 8-10, and were generally well received by the local population there were some people who suspected us of being German spies. Between 1939 and 1945, we were moved uneventfully from one foster home to another and had very little contact with our parents. An occasional letter would arrive by way of the Red Cross or through relatives in California but even this ceased in 1942, after the United States entered the war.
At the end of the war in Europe in May 1945 we had very little information about our parents and our younger brother, who did not qualify for the Kindertransport because he was too young. We did not know what had happened to them during the Holocaust and it was only in the year 1947 after a separation of more than 8 years that we were able to be re-united with them when they came to England to visit us. Our re-union was very emotional and difficult, especially for our mother. She, of course remembered us as little children.
It was only then that we learned that our father had first been incarcerated in a Gestapo prison camp for the period of one year and was later held in a labor camp with other Jews near the town of Hannover in northern Germany. It was there that he had earned the nick-name of “Jesus Meyer” because he constantly witnessed to fellow inmates about his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Father escaped from the camp, assisted by an evangelical pastor who hid him during during the last months of the war. All the Jews and other prisoners in camp were eventually transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and from there to the Auschwitz extermination camp.
Our mother refused to give in to the Nazi demand to divorce her husband and as a result she and our younger brother were sent to house with Jewish women where the treatment so seriously affected her health that she was later granted an 85% lifetime disability pension. Both our parents died in the 1960’s, and neither of them reached the age of 70.
78 years have passed since the momentous events of 1939 and my eventful life has brought me through 86 years, 56 of them in Israel, the Land my father so desperately wanted to reach away from the Nazis. I came to a personal faith in our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the late 1950’s. An even that greatly contributed to my faith journey was the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948, a fulfillment of the prophecies and the promises of God.
Two great events took place in the year 1962, the first being my Aliyah to Israel in April of that year and the second of even greater importance was my wedding to my Norwegian wife, Berit, on November 17 of that year. We met and got to know each other a few years earlier when she came to London to brush up on her knowledge of the English language prior to being sent out to Israel. The wedding was celebrated in Israel’s third largest city of Haifa in a little Lutheran Church of the Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel.
The third important event of our years in Israel took place in November 1983 when after many years of work in the tourist industry, I was able, by the grace of God, to establish my own travel and tourist agency with the name IMMANUEL TOURS. This has become a family concern which with the years has enabled us to establish a worldwide reputation for service which is second to none. The Lord has indeed richly blessed us for which we give him thanks and praise! What a privilege it is to bring pilgrims and visitors to the Land of Israel and to help them to see what GOD HAS DONE in the 70 years since the rebirth of the State of Israel.
“O give thanks to the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever”.
Psalm 136 verse 1