3. Arrival in Great Britain

Most Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria found it very difficult to enter Britain. However, by September 1939 about 70,000 Jews had been granted refuge in this country. The main area of settlement was North-West London.​

​Among those who obtained entry visas were many women who came as domestic servants. Almost 10,000 Jewish children were admitted without visas on Kindertransports. Several thousand men arrived on transit visas, which allowed them to re-emigrate to other countries.

The Jewish community in Britain responded actively to the desperate plight of Jews in the Third Reich. The Central British Fund for German Jewry was set up to raise funds. The CBF guaranteed the government that it would bear all costs of maintaining the Jewish refugees. The Jewish Refugees Committee and other Anglo-Jewish organisations found homes for the children and accommodation and jobs for the adults.

​In February 1939 these organisations and their Christian and charitable counterparts were housed in Bloomsbury House, London, a lifeline for many a desperate refugee. Initially, many refugees were destitute and faced a desperate struggle to maintain themselves and their dependents, while also coping with the emotional and psychological aftermath of enforced emigration.

Some sections of public opinion, and some organisations, remained hostile to the refugees. For many refugees, their cruel separation from homes and loved ones and their flight to a strange land was a bitter and traumatic experience.

All I wanted to be was an English schoolgirl. I had no regrets, I didn’t feel homesick, and I didn’t want to speak German. All I wanted to be was an English schoolgirl, in my school uniform, riding my bicycle.

But the behaviours we’d [the child survivors at Bulldogs Bank and Weir Courtney] learned in the camp we still continued. So that was quite interesting. You know, like the touching: we’d clearly seen dead bodies. When we were asleep we weren’t sure, so we checked each other at night just to- just to make sure. Other things. Getting used to having adults around. All we knew adults did was to bring food

So my parents and Aulchen [the nanny] had taken us, and then we boarded the train. And you know this was, as I said Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, but everybody, all the parents or anybody who had accompanied children, rushed off to take the S-Bahn zum Bahnhof Zoo, because the train would come through Bahnhof Zoo - you know from Friedrichstraße to Bahnhof Zoo - to wave once more. Dreadful, huh? Dreadful!

I remember the evacuation of course. And I remember it was very pretty, the countryside. It was just- We were all taught in a big room, so I was one of the youngest children there. And all the children somehow, you know we were right up to 14, 15 - we were all taught together. Since we were in the country we probably ate, ate quite well. I think that what I remember most about school is missing my parents. And how my parents of course, as enemy aliens, and with the difficulty of transport, couldn't visit. But I imagine all the children in the school were in the same boat as me because their parents were also- they were probably abroad and couldn't get back. So I saw my parents when- they had to get permission from the aliens department to go without an area twenty miles - fifteen twenty miles out of Edinburgh.

People need to remember, The Kindertransport is something quite unique. It didn’t happen before. There were Spanish, 3,000, but they went back most of them. But…remember what the British- They saved nearly 10,000 children. They, in my view, yeah? Contributed an enormous amount to making sure that some of the children got out. On the other hand, you’ve always got to remember that the children contributed back.

We were never separated. This, I think- People have said, many times to ask me about, “You know, you are refugees…” But my answer’s always been, you know, if you were on your own, and if you came as a child, then all sorts of things happen. You’ve lost your parents or… your siblings. You’re alone in a strange environment. Your language… isn’t what the one you’re used to. And many problems arise. But I think, the status and the sanity of those who came with parents and children, it’s a different story.

I remember as we left Prague with my mother’s parents on the platform, weeping. And …then my, Edith, my cousin, and my mother went out into the corridor …to weep. And then there was the great anxiety, of going across Germany. And the amazing relief which I as a small boy even, felt, as we entered Belgium. And… came to Ostend. And we were clear of the Germans. And of course all across Germany there were these guys clomping in with jackboots and …pistol holsters, looking at our papers. And how my parents, who had greater appreciation than me of the situation, must have been anxious is you know, mind boggling.

After my parents died, again I went through my mother’s papers. And I found that when she came, she was looking for work, writing to schools for…for work as a, as a modern language teacher. And I found one letter which read roughly, “You seem admirably qualified for this post. But if it should be the case that you’re of the Hebraic persuasion, that would disqualify.

We were never separated. This, I think- People have said, many times to ask me about, “You know, you are refugees…” But my answer’s always been, you know, if you were on your own, and if you came as a child, then all sorts of things happen. You’ve lost your parents or… your siblings. You’re alone in a strange environment. Your language… isn’t what the one you’re used to. And many problems arise. But I think, the status and the sanity of those who came with parents and children, it’s a different story.

Terrible, ja. My poor mother, I don’t know, it must have killed her. I don’t know how they lived. I remember them seeing me off, seeing my brother off first. And then me.I forget [which station Ruth left from]. I've forgotten. And of course she didn’t hardly speak, because of all the Nazis were on the platform. And then… it wasn’t until we came to the… Holland border, you know the border where Germany finished and Holland started. And it was tulip time; I remember that when I came. But my brother had been; he’d been earlier [her brother had been on an earlier Kindertransport]. And I remember the tulip fields after we could breathe, you know, after we left Germany.

It was terrible, cause especially when we had to cross on the boat, you know, the channel. And all those kids crying, those little ones, little - younger ones, three years, five years old. They were crying, and I remember the children crying. And…

I remember that [leaving with the Kindertransport from Westbahnhof], and I remember, that was the last glimpse I got of my uncle- The family that was shot in Yugoslavia. Because they all came to the station. And I still- There were so many people milling around, you couldn’t find anybody. But when I looked out of the window when the train started moving, I saw them. And we waved, and that was the last I ever saw of them. Ja. I was sad, really.

We had meetings with the YCL, you know, the ‘Young Communist League’. And the rambles we went on with the ‘Young Communist League’. And so much so I became so... enthusiastic... that I had a very good job in the early 40s. I worked in a lovely, very elegant shop in Piccadilly. And I earned a lot of money. And suddenly the... the ‘Young Austria’ authorities said, “Everybody has to work in munitions work.” You know, ‘nobody can work privately’. And my mother begged me not to leave, but I did. And I worked in the munitions factory, where I earned next to nothing. The war effort.

Well we left Hachestraße [ in Essen] at - at dawn. Light was just breaking. And I remember that I had a particular blanket, which I see in retrospect was a comforter. Comforter blanket. The station was immediately opposite our flat, so we had a very, very short walk. The train journey is vague, but I remember …coming over on the ferry. And I was one of the few people who was not sick. The sea was rough and I saw everyone else being sick and I couldn’t understand why.

No I didn’t [feel lonely] cause I had my lovely [foster] mum and dad. I was bullied of course, if you call it bullying, when I first came and went to school because... I was German. Because I was Jewish meant nothing to the children, but remember, that these children’s fathers were fighting the Germans. So... I wasn’t too happy at the first school. So when I came to Kidderminster, I went under my [foster] mum and dad’s name. Not my German name. But all the children at the high school know me because I had a dark brown uniform; their uniform was navy blue. And I had a German, possibly a - a Yorkshire accent. So people I know in high school would say, “You did sort of stick out like a sore thumb.” [laughs] I was very happy at the high school. Very happy. I you know, I met lots of good friends.

The good Lowestoft people, the first breakfast we had there [arriving in England with the Kindertransport], gave us kippers. And not just good Lowestoft kippers, not boiled kippers, but roasted kippers.We thought this was an attempt to poison us.

There was a little girl [on the Kindertransport] who was in absolutely frantic, because she'd lost a case of- it was clear [key] to her suitcase. I mean, whether she ever found it or not, remains one of the unanswered questions in my life. She was in a terrible state about that, and my sister was very good to her.

…At the end of 1937… one could see what was going on and my father was vouched for by Sir Henry Dale, a very eminent British Scientist. …he came to England and had to take his medical exams again. 1938 and my father had passed all his exams, he had a paid research job at Leicester University College, and the Principal was the father of Richard and David Attenborough… I remember going there for tea…

As we know, whatever criticism one might make of the attitudes of the British government, there was no doubt that the private and voluntary efforts to aid refugees in Britain were second to none. And, in the end, through the good offices of a clergyman’s family in Hertfordshire, we were able to come out in February 1939.

My first day in Manchester? Do you really want me to tell you? They were very nice people, but the first day we were having tea and I cut up the lettuce. I was told you don't eat lettuce cut up. It was London lettuce and you eat it with your hands. So I got tears in my eyes. That was my first day. I don’t want to .. I should imagine it isn't easy taking on another child when you have got three, but they saved my life. They were very good people, but maybe it was home-sickness? I don't know.

Well, I understood I was going to school. My mother always said, “If you do well in your chemistry, you will be able to work for Solly.” (My cousin was an analytical chemist - he had a laboratory in town). But I never went to school. Whatever I learned, I learned. Later on I went to live with an aunt. Then the Refugee Committee put me into a factory to learn to be a machinist. I was not very keen on that so I learned shorthand and typing at night... I worked in offices later on.

Well I only know from the- the... person I came with. Gerti was her name. She said- she told me that I held her hand all the way, on the journey [with the Kindertransport from Vienna]. And I remember stopping. It must have been at the border. And people came, and they gave a- a sweet drink. And then we carried on. And when we got to Liverpool Street, my uncle- my- an older brother of my father's, he- he was waiting at Liverpool Street for us. And we spent the night in London. ... And then the following morning, my uncle took Gerti and me to Hinckley. ... Well she said I just clung to her the whole time, and that even when they wanted me to give me a bath and put it to bed, you know, I still wanted her to come with me. But then you know we were separated.

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@ Refugee Voices 2019