Sunderland’s ‘Schindler sisters’ honoured with blue plaque for heroism saving Jews from Nazis

Ida Cook and sister Louise.

Ida Cook and sister Louise.

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Two Sunderland heroines who saved Jews from Nazi persecution are to be honoured in style in the city.

And Echo readers can play their own part in the efforts to recognise the bravery of Ida and Louise Cook.

Ida and Louise Cook.

Ida and Louise Cook.

A blue plaque will be unveiled in the memory of the two sisters but campaigners also want to any remaining relatives of Ida and Louise, to be there at the ceremony.

That’s where our readers come in. An appeal has been issued to find any family of Ida and Louise.

Sunderland City Council will honour the women in a day of remembrance on January 27 next year, which is Holocaust Memorial Day.

It will start with the unveiling of the plaque in Croft Avenue, where the sisters lived.

We were careful on detail. We never took earrings for pierced ears, because neither of us had pierced ears. That was the kind of thing they caught you on

Ida Cook

After that, local historian Stuart Miller will give talk on the Cook sisters on the afternoon of January 27, from 1.30pm in the Museum and Winter Gardens.

It’s all being held in memory of Ida who lived from 1904-1986, and her sister Louise who lived from 1901-1991.

Ida Cook used money made from writing love stories for Mills and Boon in the 1930s to help smuggle scores of people out of Germany.

She was the second daughter in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys.

After completing her education at The Duchess School in Alnwick, she followed her sister Louise to London to work for the Civil Service.

They developed a passion for opera and went to see shows at Covent Garden.

Many of the performers became their friends, including Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss and his fiancée, the soprano Viorica Ursuleac.”

As pressure on the Jews in Germany mounted in 1934, Ursuleac asked the sisters to help a Jewish friend, Mitia Mayer-Lismann, escape the country.

The Cooks immediately agreed and Ida later recalled: “Though we did not know it then, our first refugee had been commended to our care.”

Once the Mayer-Lismann family was safely in England, the Cook sisters volunteered for further refugee action - spending the next five years working under cover.

They made repeated trips to Germany, where they would interview Jews desperate to emigrate.

The Echo previously reported:“They would then return home draped in the would-be refugee’s jewellery and furs, to be sold to provide immigration guarantees for the British government.”

Ida later recalled: “We were careful on detail. We never took earrings for pierced ears, because neither of us had pierced ears. That was the kind of thing they caught you on.”

The sisters personally helped rescue almost 30 refugees from Hitler, and dozens more benefited from the money and guidance they poured into evacuation missions.

Now comes the campaign to recognise the women who have already been honoured in 1965 as Righteous among the Nations by the state of Israel, alongside better-known heroes such as Oscar Schindler.

Coun John Kelly, the portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: “This blue plaque provides us with a great opportunity to raise awareness of these remarkable ladies and their remarkable bravery during the darkest days in history.”

Free tickets for the talk are available from the museum reception.

For more information, contact the Heritage Team on (0191) 5618413, e-mail janet.robinson@sunderland.gov.uk, or visit www.seeitdoitsunderland.co.uk/sunderland-museum- winter-gardens

l Do you know of any relations of the Cook sisters? Contact (0191) 5618411.