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Bob Kirk

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
4 May 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Born Rudolf Kircheimer 1925 in Hanover, came to the UK on the Kindertransport in May 1939. After staying with a family for a short time, he was evacuated with Hampstead Parochial School to Whipsnade until 1941. After doing war work in Dunstable, he joined the Royal Artillery and in April 1945 he was transferred as an interpreter to a Prisoner of War Camp in Yorkshire. His parents were deported to Riga in 1941 and killed. In 1959 he married fellow Kindertransportee Ann and they raised two sons. Bob has been very involved with Liberal Judaism in the UK and together with Ann is an active Holocaust speaker and educator. 

I started with quite a lot of friends at the primary school. Thoroughly enjoyed it. But in 1933 the temperature changed quite rapidly. The thing is, some- and at that point the Hitler Youth wasn’t compulsory but some of the boys did join, and it was a bit- but became rather scary that they started turning up at school, in uniform. Of course in 1936 it became compulsory. And one of my abiding memories is getting, soon after January 1933, a lot of dictation, not from the form master but from the headmaster. We filled exercise book after exercise book with dictation. No idea what it was about at the time, but later on realised these were extracts from Mein Kampf. So there was an enormous amount of indoctrination going on. And of course every time there was a speech by Hitler or sometimes Goebbels or Goering we had to sit and listen to the loudspeakers. That was frightening.

But my father didn't like the idea of emigrating. And he- he had the view that he- his family had lived in Germany for several hundred years. He was a good German who happened to be Jewish. He couldn’t see why he needed to leave. In any case, Hitler was a madman; he couldn't possibly - last. So it would all blow over. There were never any arguments in my hearing, except with my sister, who took an opp- opposite view, because she was much older and she had a view of her own. And in the end she said, “Well, I'm leaving.” So she went to South Africa in 1936. But- and by that time Dad probably had got to the idea that it would be better to leave, but it was too late.

I get the impression, in retrospect, that it was really presented as a temporary measure. It wasn't a- going to be a big deal. I would go- we’d go to London, and, as I say, a temporary measure. To the extent that I didn't bring any photographs with me. Possibly in order to- not to underline the fact that this could take a long time. I didn’t learn any English and once I arrived with absolutely no knowledge of English. There was no preparation and I- the only way I can think, only reason for that, I think, could have been that - I was not to be alarmed. A slight miscalculation.

And I sat there just minding my own business for most of the journey, and… was terrified. As we stopped at the border, at [Bad] Bentheim, as the train- the border police came on board - came through checking, mainly checking- checking luggage. I mean, there wasn’t much in the way of paperwork, because after all we were on a group visa. But a number of things got confiscated, including my stamp collection. I didn't have an export licence for it, so I couldn’t argue.

My brother was in the same barracks eight weeks earlier. He was called in to the office the first day he was in barracks and told to change his name. He asked why. So it was explained that if he went- if he went on active service and was unlucky enough to be taken prisoner, he would have great troubles with a name like that. So, he asked for guidance as to what to change it to. His CO who was Scot, wanted to know what the name meant. He explained - Kirchheimer. The first part of the name is- is Kirch, Kirchheimer. “Kirch is a church.” “Okay, Kirch is a church. We're in Scotland. A church is a kirk, so therefore your name is Kirk.” So I decided I better follow suit.

In fact, it's one of those problems, because we never spoke German to them. We never spoke German to each other. We never talked about our history to them… under the possibly mistaken view that we didn’t want to burden them. We wanted them to have as normal a childhood as possible. But of course, they knew we'd come from Germany as children. And they knew we were different. I mean, they had a birthday party, there's just us, and the two aunts - and maybe a cousin. When they went to other children's cele- birthday celebrations, there were the grandparents, and the aunts, and the uncles and the cousins. They didn't have that. So, of course they found out what was going on, but not from us. And in fact, the first time we spoke, which was at Northwood here at the invitation of Rabbi Andrew Goldstein for Kristallnacht service, David our elder son was in- in the audience. And a friend turned around to him after and said, “Of course you knew all that.” He said, “No.” And it- it may have been a mistake, but that was our choice. Our decision.

But the main thing is that you have to respect people's identity and individuality. And I always make the point that you must never use a broad brush- brush description, like “the asylum seekers”, “the refugees”, “the Muslims”, “the this” and “the that”. Everybody is an individual, with their own dreams and fears. And they have to be respected as that. And it just, you know, our story shows what happens when people are prejudiced and discriminate and humiliate.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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