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Charlotte Stenham

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
October 1938
Mode of Arrival:
Sent by parents to Bunce Court School

Interview Summary:

Charlotte Stenham (née Cohn) was born in 1922 in the Eppendorf district of Hamburg, not far from the Grindel, where Jewish life flourished. Her father had served in World War One and had been wounded and decorated. He ran the family business. The family was not religious but had lost most of their non-Jewish social circle due to the rise in antisemitism. Charlotte’s education was disrupted by anti-Jewish measures and she had to move to a Jewish girls’ school (Höhere jüdische Töchterscule). In 1938 she was sent by her parents to Bunce Court School in Kent, which was largely a refugee establishment.

 

Charlotte left the school in 1940. She initially had a difficult time living on her own in London, until she was virtually adopted by the Oppenheimer family, refugees from Nuremberg who lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb. She found a job at Bloomsbury House with the Jewish Refugees Committee and also worked at night in the Fire Service in Soho.

 

In 1944 Charlotte married Charles Stenham (Sternheim) from Leipzig. The wedding was held at the North-Western Reform Synagogue in Alyth Gardens by the refugee Rabbi Werner van der Zyl. The couple settled in London and had two sons. Charles became a successful businessman, mainly selling brushes for art, and worked with a large refugee business that manufactured brushes on the Teme Valley Industrial Estate, Gateshead.

[Doing fire service] The V2s came over, which were soundless. I was assigned to go up on the roof with some of the officers in Rupert Street, one of the tall buildings, to monitor and watch what was happening. I saw them coming over and heard them explode, but nothing happened to me. And when I spoke to the Oppenheimers, they said, ‘How can you? It’s so dangerous! And in Soho of all places!’ I did that until the end of the war, and then I was discharged.

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@ Refugee Voices 2020

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