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Dr Kinnear – Holocaust Memorial

As we embark on a period of contemplation and tribute for Holocaust Memorial Day, I have looked into our Archives to uncover a story from Mill Hill’s history that connects with this period.

Old Millhillian, Dr Nigel Alexander Kinnear was born in 1907 in Dublin. The son of an accountant, Nigel was sent to Mill Hill in 1919 at age 13 to complete his education. Throughout his time at Mill Hill, Nigel excelled as a keen scientist and sportsman—earning a spot on the Hockey 1st XI—and became a prominent figure in the school, serving as a Monitor in his final year in 1925.

After his tenure at Mill Hill, Nigel studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1930. He did further training in Vienna and America, before settling back in Ireland.

During World War Two, Nigel joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and the British Red Cross. In 1945, as the war drew to a close, he joined a team of Irish doctors heading to the recently liberated concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. They reached their destination on April 23, 1945, just weeks after the passing of Margot and Anne Frank at Belsen. Arriving at the gates of the concentration camp, the group had no idea of the horrors that were to await them inside.

One of Nigel’s colleagues prepared a report for the British Medical Journal on June 9th, 1945, outlining the appalling and barbaric conditions found in the camps:

“A dense mass of emaciated apathetic scarecrows huddled together in wooden huts without beds or blankets in many cases, without any clothing whatsoever in some cases. The females in worse condition than the men, their clothing generally, if they have any, only filthy rags… Sanitation is non-existent….There is no running water or electricity.

This is a brief preliminary report of Belsen Camp to give the medical profession in Britain some idea of the medical problems involved. It is a complete understatement.”

Despite their lack of experience, Nigel and his colleagues offered what aid and comfort they could. As Dr Collins states later in his report:

“All honour is due to the Royal Army Medical Corps and the doctors, nurses, and medical students of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John, under whose umbrella a large number of people of different nationalities have worked in perfect harmony.”

The horrors of the Holocaust are permanent, impossible to erase or forget, and with each passing year, the number of survivors from that dark period steadily diminishes.  The responsibility now falls to each of us and to every new generation, to retell these stories ensuring that the world never forgets the brutal and tragic end of so many innocent lives.

Francesca Forte