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.

I was evacuated with the Westminster Jewish Faith School, we were sent to Wiltshire. My headmaster was Mr Silverstone. It was a large school so we were divided, I think, into three villages, and every, he was a very kind man, understanding man, but he had an impossible situation, because he had English Jewish children and continental Jewish children and the village people didn’t accept us very well. As far as they were concerned we were Germans, or we were Austrians, so we were the enemy, and I think there were 16 of us from Austria and Germany and we used to get together and gabble away in German until the headmaster separated us and put us into English speaking families, and we soon learned English. We were going to a village school. I was there for two years.

They [the parents] tried not to show it [the struggle as a refugee] as far as we, we were concerned and so on. But it was a real struggle for them in a sense. But my mother showed her qualities in the sense because she could cope much more easily than my father. My father was a businessman, but she was an artist. And she made these- and she made these handbags. Brilliant things. She designed them… and… cut the cloth and, and so on. And then went out into the- into the fashion shops in, in, in Mayfair and in Regent Street and everywhere and showed them.

I remember throwing a tantrum at the station when we were setting off to go to England on the Kindertransport. And I connected that in my mind with being a very, very naughty girl and that's why I was sent away. And if only I could be good, my parents would have me back home. And I never succeeded in being good, because I could never understand what adults wanted of me. I was always getting into trouble, particularly in the first foster family.

Well, they’d sent us to a Quaker boarding school when we were so unhappy in the first placement. Martin said that he got- a doctor came to give us vaccinations. And Martin told the doctor he must look at his sister's back, because I had been beaten regularly with a leather strap, and my back was just welts. I remember having to sleep on my tummy. And I think that got out- reported. The doctor would have found out who our sponsor was, and then we were rescued.

But [at Dovercourt Camp] I was absolutely dumbfounded and disturbed, deeply disturbed by the fact that there was a huge amount of rivalry between the Berlin and the Viennese boys, less boys, the older ones. Older than I was. Berlin and Vienna have a long history of enmity that would appear. And this was carried forward among Jewish lads who just escaped from Nazi Germany. And I actually couldn’t believe it. And there were actually knife fights between them. It was absolutely astounding and distressing, and really unbelievable that children who were just being rescued should continue this rather stupid enmity that existed between the two cities.

The first school, I was with the nuns. My parents didn’t want a girl to go in a rough school where the boys are, because my father had a lot of trouble there as well. Because we went past the cross and didn’t say prayers, didn’t bend down to it and they used to hit us. And the nun school was very nice, they looked after us. The only thing, we got in the wrong religion there. I wanted to be confirmed and said, ‘Can’t I have a white dress like they have a white dress?’ I was only little- five or six years old.

Mother must have just told us. I mean, never thinking that we wouldn’t see my mother again. I remember, sorting out what we could take. What can an eight-year-old carry? Just took a change of clothing and drawing books and pencils. I remember people coming to the house …And a lot of talking going on and they must have been the ones that arranged it all. I think the majority of Dr Schonfeld’s children went into Jewish homes. A lot of the Kindertransport children didn’t. They were only too pleased to find homes for them.

We went to Lyon’s Corner House and had lunch, which was absolutely fantastic because we hadn’t, of course, been in a restaurant or anything like that in Germany for years.

I had the domestic permit. We had to clean the rooms every day - although there was nobody in them. I also had to clear the grates, then the butler came after and laid the fire. The butler and the cook were the most important people. We were supposed to be in the servants’ hall with the others. So if I sat in the room, I had either the choice of sitting there in the cold or joining the others in the servants’ room.

My mother was in charge. She was very capable, even though she was so young. Any money that we had, you had to leave behind. So she decided that we were going to fly to England and spend the money on an expensive air ticket. It was February the 4th, I vaguely remember this, 1939. We went to Berlin by train and from Berlin to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Croydon. And then we went straight to Manchester.

On the S.S. Washington we had orange juice. Oh that was delicious. Never had it before. In Germany it was guns before butter; you just couldn’t get that. I remember the orange juice; it was beautiful.

Everybody had to have some kind of either job or somebody who could vouch for them in England. So, in August 1939 we had permission to go to America, see? England was only a transit. But being so close to the war, I’m not so sure we weren’t the last boat out- we landed up at Harwich. And then war broke out, so that was the end of that. We couldn’t go to America.

King George the Sixth I think it was called. It was a coal-carrying ship. That is all it had on board… and all the sailors smelt of tea, which was a new smell to us, tea … They were very, very nice to us, but of course they had no facilities for refugees.

I was lying in bed trying to think which ways could I escape? Going on a train, underneath the train, on top of the train, in the toilet maybe? I decided that I’m going to go across and find my way into Belgium. When I mentioned this to my parents, they were aghast, ‘No you can’t do that. What made you think of doing this?’ I explained that though 14, I looked only like 12. ‘The Germans won’t do me any harm. They’ll probably let me through and then I’ll find my way.’

When I left on the Kindertransport train in Munich and my brother left a couple of months earlier, the feeling was: we’ll all be together again. We never thought we wouldn’t; that was inconceivable. I was then a little girl of 14 going on 10 by today’s standards. I went to Peru [at] 27. I had met my parents before, but I was able to spend two years with them and in a curious way, almost caught up with the childhood that I had missed out on.

I think without knowing anything, it lifted a weight off my shoulders when we arrived in England. I remember the feeling of joy as we drove down Market Street into Corporation Street. It was just like arriving in heaven, you know. I didn’t know enough about what was going on in Germany, but I did feel that something had been taken off my back, and that feeling has never left me. Even during the worst period in England, during the war. Somehow that feeling of having left Germany has been with me ever since.

I thought I would go to what is now Belsize Square [Synagogue], called the New Liberal at the time. To my utter amazement there was an awful lot of German in the service. The second day and that was all of German - that I couldn’t stand. Already on the boat I had decided to myself, ‘I am not speaking any German anymore.’

[Leaving on the Kindertransport:] Only one parent was allowed to come to the station. It was another little Nazi thing. We sat in the waiting room. Our names were called. Gestapo everywhere. And you just went. You were escorted to the train and you got onto the train. And then the train went off. That was it.

I loved my violin. But I wasn’t allowed to take it with me, and I was very sad about that. But what my mother did was to pack violin music in my suitcase, hoping when I got to England somebody would realise and give me a violin, which they did.

I had to take a job on Saturday afternoon. I saw an advertisement by a Cambridge professor for a gardener. I applied, and it turned out to be Professor Lauterpacht, a very famous international lawyer. I started gardening and he started talking to me and found out what my ambitions were. And he would tutor me for an hour and then insist on paying me for the gardening. So that was very good.

I’ve often been asked about the St. Louis. Not so much about what happened to the passengers, but the fact that the world could not take in 900-odd people and save them from what would have been certain death if they’d been sent back to Germany. It shows that the world did not care sufficiently to save us, and in those days there was no such thing as illegal immigrants. Goebbels wrote in the papers to say “nobody else wants them either. At least we’re building camps for them.” For Hitler it gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted to do, because he knew the world wouldn’t do anything about it.

I don’t know how it came about, but all I remember is that my parents told me, ‘You’re going to England’. And bags were packed, and one evening I found myself on a train for Amsterdam. As a boy I felt I was going on an adventure, a nice long rail journey, and I’d never travelled an awful lot. But I shall never forget my father’s face when the train pulled out.

When I first came to Manchester, my uncle said at fourteen years of age I wasn’t compelled to go to school. I would just have to educate myself and that is what I did. As soon as my English improved, I started reading some of the classics and so on, and I picked up English very quickly.

I found myself in a boarding house in Finsbury Park and a couple of people, older than I was took me to a cinema. My first visit to an English cinema was amazing. Half way between the two main programmes, the cinema organ came up from the floor and words appeared on the screen and people sang along with the cinema organ. I had never seen anything like this before and I thought I’d landed in a lunatic asylum. It was the strangest thing that I had seen.

I remember getting to England. And my first memory of England, it was Sunday, 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out. We arrived at Liverpool Street Station. And as the train slowed down and we were getting out of the train, the sirens went. When the sirens went, everybody started running; we had to go to a shelter. We went with the crowd, but there was also a Jewish Refugee Committee on the platform, and they went with us.

We didn’t know where my father was, we had no idea. My father came to England in June or July of 1939. When we arrived, we were put into a hostel, and the first thing my mother did was to go round the men’s hostels to see if anybody knew. She went with a photograph, if anybody had seen him, heard of him, knew of him, knew what had happened to him. ‘Cause I mean that’s what people did. And she knocked on this door, in this Highams [Lane] hostel. And my father opened it. And that was- That is quite remarkable, isn’t it? And that’s how they found each other.

And I had three suitcases and a pair of skis when I came to England. [laughs]...Well I’d had one skiing holiday with the school and this skis- this pair of skis had actually been given to me by somebody who no longer wanted them. But [laughs] it does seem rather ridiculous that there I came with- and in those days you could arrange for luggage to be sent… on my train. And so these three suitcases and my skis did arrive in London, much to my surprise.

And so in the course of two years I was with eight different families. Some were wonderful. Some had a Rolls Royce and a television in 1939. Amazing. And others were- dreadful. Where there was a spinster – no it couldn’t have been a spinster. She was a lady who had lost her husband in the First World War and still had a swagger stick. He was a sergeant in the British Army in the First World War and… she beat me with that swagger stick if I didn’t do exactly as she said. So there were good times and not so good times. And I wrote to my mother once a week. …And that- she wrote to me once a week and that’s how we kept in touch. I saw her at Christmas basically as twice only in that time.

It was an opportunity to have a cheap maid. I'm quite sure of it. But how could you not understand, being a Jew? That you know, I mean I didn't go there- I told them what was happening in Vienna, what happened to us... that we lost everything, et cetera. So it wasn't that she was ignorant and didn't know. She just was not a very nice person.

[after arriving in London staying with distant relatives] I cried a lot. But fortunately there was this little baby, so I was able to push him around in a pram. And I think they were quite good to me. But of course they didn't speak German, so I had to learn to speak English quickly - and I did.

Well strange was of course the food and me being cook. I found it very strange because a lot of the food, of course, I didn’t even know. For instance, one of the daughters got married just as the war broke out, and the reception was at home, and I was asked to make veal and ham pie. Well the ham didn’t worry me, the veal didn’t worry me, but the pie bit worried me, because that’s a totally not continental thing, to serve meat and pastry. Pastry is jam or cheese, or God knows what, but certainly not meat. And it was an absolute disaster that I produced there, and somehow we survived it, I don’t know, the pastry, so called, was that hard, they needed a chain saw to cut it. However, it was OK.

I seem to- I have a...a- a picture - whether it's made up or not – of being with lots of children. This train- I think I had actually a teddy bear thing and my parents - my mother I remember, I think on the station. I don’t know how they let me get there or anything, but it mean- it may be an imaginary thing. I don't know. What you- I think what you think you remember is probably more important than what actually happened. So... And I don't remember anything of the journey or at the other end, coming in here.

It was called- it had two names. Chestnuts because of the- obviously the... trees. And also a misnomer if there ever was one: Shalom House, right? Which... it was anything but. And I was there for six years. There were other refugee children there- at the end probably about forty children altogether- something like that. We- we did most of the housework, cleaning, make beds and that before we went to school. Or also you know they, they used us pretty well for- for all their domestic needs. And it was- it was a very bad place and, and punishments and... and hitting. And was really- it was very bad.

It was the first time I saw television. The television was in the hall of that little hotel in Bloomsbury and all I could remember is it was a tiny screen, it must have been nine inches across, and it was standing in the hall and the pictures were blue and white. Not black and white but blue and white. I don’t know why. And it was flickering and I said to my father, I said, papa look, a film, a Kino, a cinema here in a room. And he said yes that’s a new invention and so on. This was 1938.

But all I remember is, sitting in a train, travelling northwards across Poland, with my parents, sitting on wooden train seats and the four of us almost frozen with fear. Sitting in that train, not speaking and just sitting there praying we'd get to the port of Gdynia, to get on that boat. As far as I know, I think it was the last time that boat actually left Gdynia, to put to sea, to go to England. And that was in middle of June ‘39.

So, quite suddenly, I was told I was going to be taken to London. Packed a little suitcase, was taken to the Hauptbahnhof, the main station in Berlin. And I remember my carers, an uncle and a grandparent, walking up and down the platform, saying to the people who were going on that train, “Fahren Sie nach London? Fahren Sie nach London? Fahren Sie nach London?” And in the end, they found a couple who not only were travelling to London, but were willing to take me with them. And so I said to my family, on the platform of the Hauptbahnhof, and of course, I never saw them again

They [the people he was travelling with from Berlin to London ] were photographers. And on the frontier with Holland, the Germans instituted a thing called “Eine Stichprobe”. It was a [random] sample- search of people who they thought might be smuggling, who were taken off the train. The train departed without us, so I - because I was in their care - was held back on the frontier while they went through a twenty-four hour search procedure. So I actually got onto the train on the following day. But being held back by the Nazis was, even for an eight-year-old, pretty scary.

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