The copyright of all photographs belongs to individual interviewees. Please get in touch for more information
Sir Erich Reich
Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
29 August 1939
Sir Erich Reich was born April 1935 in Vienna. His parents, Szapse and Mina Reich had come to Vienna from the Poland and his father was a salesman and chazzan. As the family therefore did not have Austrian papers, the family was transported to Zsbaszyn on the Polish/ German border. From there, his oldest brother went first on a Kindertransport to Britain and Sir Erich and his middle brother followed in August 1939. He arrived by boat (“The Warszawa”) in the London Docks and does not remember how he spent the first months in the UK. He has no memory of his parents and emigration (in contrast to his brothers who were older). He eventually was placed in the care of the Dorking Refugee Committee (chaired by composer Sir Ralph Vaughn William) and was given in the care of an elderly German (Protestant/Socialist) couple, Joseph and Emily Kreibich, who came from Sudetenland. They had emigrated in 1938 with their daughter and left behind a son. Erich was very happy with the foster parents who treated him like their own son. At first he went to the local primary school and then to his foster parents’ delight to Dorking Grammar school. His brother made contact with him after the war and he also had an uncle who lived in London. When his foster father passed away and there was some concern that he was not raised in an Jewish environment and he therefore was moved to Hasmonean Secondary School in London. After staying at Hasmonean for a few months, Erich decided this was “too religious” for him and to go on Youth Aliyah to Israel in 1949. In Israel he first stayed with an aunt in Haifa but soon joined some cousins in the Kibbutz Merhavia. He liked kibbutz life after learning Hebrew and settling in and only left to start his army service in 1953. After completing school and the army, Erich returned to the UK for his middle brother’s funeral in 1957 and then became a ‘shaliach’ for the Youth Movement ‘Hashomer Hazair’. He settled permanently in the UK in the late sixties, where he started to work in the travel business (Thompson Holidays and Thomas Cook). Eventually, he founded his own company called ‘Classic Tours’, specialising in fundraising trips (bike rides or hikes) for charities. After the first Kindertransport Reunion, he became involved with the Kindertransport Committee and is today its chairman. In 2010 he was knighted in honour of his work for the charitable sector and the Kindertransport. He lives in North London with his fourth wife and has five children. Although he feels strongly Jewish in a cultural sense he is not religious and all of his children have chosen different paths in regards of religion. Sir Erich is in close contact with his oldest brother who emigrated to Australia many decades ago. In the interview he stresses that while it is important to remember, one also needs to look forward.
Erich has very interesting documents of the meetings of the Dorking Refugee Committee, which discuss him regularly.
Vienna. Zbaszyn. Kindertransport. Warszawa. Dorking. Dorking Refugee Committee. Vaughn Williams. Youth Aliah. Kibbutz Merhavia. Classic Tours. Kindertransport Commemoration. AJR.
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.
I was playing on a scooter outside. I remember this very well. And a young man with his bicycle comes up, and says, “Where do Mr and Mrs Kreibich live?” My foster parents. I took him up. I went down to continue playing with my scooter. And my foster mother Emilie rushed down and said, “Come up! That was your brother.” So he didn’t recognise me, I didn’t recognise him.
For my eightieth birthday, my two youngest sons bought me tickets, for them and me, to go for a weekend in Vienna. They feel that’s – that’s where I was born. And whilst the people, I didn’t talk to them very much. But we went to the cemetery, we went to Riesenrad you know, we went all over the place. I didn’t think about it. If you think about it too much, you don’t progress, in my view. And I, I – I strongly believe you need to progress. You’re seventy years, eighty years later; you’ve got to remember, always remember, so it shouldn’t happen again. But you’ve also got to progress. That’s the view I have anyway.