Although Harry Bibring’s parents, Lea Ester (née Schneider, b. Sambor, 20.9.1891) and Michael Bibring (b. Stanislaw, 4.7.1891), were originally from Poland, they had met and married in Vienna, where Harry was born in 1925. Lea’s family was ‘very orthodox’ and she visited the shtetl, but Michael never returned to Poland; with Harry and older daughter Gerta, they enjoyed a middle class life in the 6th District, living at 105 Mariahilfer Strasse, known for its fashion shops.
But the March 1938 Anschluss and subsequent restrictions for Jews impacted on Michael’s income from his clothes shop (Kleider Bibring) in the 15th District, and on Harry’s education and passion for speed skating. Aged twelve, he ‘grew up quickly’ - especially when his father was briefly arrested - and the family, together with 30-40 other women and children, were forced from their homes, marched through the streets, and confined in a flat for 7-10 days. ‘It happened all over Vienna’ he recalled.
This experience prompted Michael Bibring’s thwarted plan to emigrate to Shanghai. Turning then to the Central British Fund (now World Jewish Relief), he arranged for both children to join the Kindertransport to Britain, departing on 30 March 1939. Harry’s Kindertransport label was No. 3361, Gerta’s No. 3360. ‘The scene was horrible, 200-300 children saying their farewells’. Crossing the border into Holland ‘was the happiest day. Dutch people offered sweets and toys’. Arriving at London’s Liverpool Street Station ‘was a miracle!’ Harry Bibring was very proud of how ‘the British government had acted quickly when it was necessary’.
‘The shock came after tea - white bread and cucumber sandwiches’. English foster parents Harry and Doris Landsman kept Gerta, accommodating her in the vacated maid’s room, and treated her as a replacement to look after their baby; Harry was ‘farmed out’ to various Landsman relatives as there was no room for him. Whereas studious Gerta had learnt English at school, Harry only spoke German, but learnt English quickly with the Cooklin family, improving when his school was evacuated from Stoke Newington to Fletton, near Peterborough. There, he was ‘greatly helped’ by Mr Rumsey, headmaster of the local grammar school, with whose family he was billeted.
Aged 14, however, Harry left school in 1939, followed by several years at night school to qualify as a Chartered Engineer. After a management post with Arrow Electric Switches, he taught at different colleges e.g. Hendon Technical Institute (later Middlesex University), becoming a full-time lecturer in manufacturing engineering, then later a consultant. Harry’s sister, in the meantime, worked for the war effort in a factory manufacturing aircraft parts, and subsequently married Sigmund Cormuss. Post war efforts traced Lea Bibring and Aunt Anna Geller (née Bibring) to Majdanek concentration camp near Sobibor, where they perished.* Michael died in 1940; how, is not known.
Harry’s involvement with the Holocaust Educational Trust began in 1993, speaking in schools (some 40-60 p.a.) and to adult groups e.g. London Jewish Cultural Centre, though previously he had never spoken about his life, believing that no-one was interested in it. He and his wife Muriel (née Gold, married 1947, died 2009), a secretary, went to such events together; these remain a cornerstone of his life. In 2018 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to Holocaust education.
Harry Bibring retained a number of Red Cross communications from his mother, received until June 1942. He maintained that Jewish refugees in Britain at that time knew nothing of the concentration camps. He later retrieved his father’s pocket-watch and jewellery Lea Bibring had left with an honest Aryan woman for safe-keeping in Vienna.