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Hannah Wurzburger

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
September 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Hannah was born in 1934 in Berlin. She has very little memory of her time in Berlin before she went on the Kindertransport. She recalls her father teaching her English. Her father had come from Poland to Berlin and was a violinist and teacher. They lived on the Kurfuerstenstrasse. Hannah had a brother Manfred who died of measles as an infant. Hannah, then five years old, went on the last Kindertransport from Berlin in September 1939. She does vaguely recall saying goodbye to her parents but does not recall the trip.


When she arrived in England she was allowed to join her aunt Betty Hermann who worked as a domestic in London. Soon she was sent to a Jewish children’s home in Hemel Hempstead, called Shalom House. Hannah describes that she was not happy in the home and that it was very strict and that nobody except one young woman took an interest in her. She took comfort from the dog who lived in the house. 


The children were punished when they misbehaved and they had to do many chores. There were a few refugee children but they were mostly English. Hannah recalls going to the Jewish Board of Guardians in the East End. Her aunt came to visit her regularly and Hannah describes that the aunt, as a refugee, was not treated well by the matron. When Hannah was older, friends of her aunt gave her paper and envelopes and advised her to keep it in school so that she could write freely to them, as the letters from the Home were read. After it became clear, that she was not happy, it was arranged that Hannah went to Stoatley Rough Boarding School in Hazelmere, Surrey. The school was led by three German Jewish women and many of the pupils were from a refugee background. Hannah describes that she felt that she ‘had landed’ and that she was among people who were interested in her. She recalls meeting her guardian, Mr Wolf, in Finchley,  and discussing her plans for the future.


Once she finished her schooling, she attended the Arts school in Farnham for four years and she remained as a boarder in Stoatley Rough. She was also taken under the wings of a Czech lady called Mrs Loeb. When she was 16, she returned to Berlin with her aunt to meet her grand-parents and aunts who had survived. Her parents had been killed but she does not know the details of their deaths. It was difficult to feel comfortable in Germany but she appreciated her grandparents who made a big effort when she came. She continued to visit them. Although she had forgotten all her German, it came back to her in Berlin.


Hannah enrolled in the Slade School of Art and moved to London. There, she felt again like an outsider and suffered a nervous breakdown and needed to be hospitalized. Hannah thinks this was a delayed reaction to her childhood experiences. She finished the Slade in 1957. Her aunt lived in Swiss Cottage and worked for the Dorice and other refugee establishments. Later she developed MS and had a difficult time. Hannah regrets not having spent more time with her. Hannah started working as an art teacher in secondary schools for a number of years. At some point, she went to live in a Kibbutz in Israel and met Danni Wurzburger, a refugee from Frankfurt, whose two brothers lived in the UK. When Hannah came back she contacted them and Walter Wurzburger, a composer and musician who worked for the Continental telephone Exchange, became her husband. He was 20 years older than her and had spent the war years in Australia, where he was interned as an enemy alien. They settled in Surbiton and had twin daughters. Hannah went back to teaching when the children went to secondary school. It was very important for Hannah to have her own family. Her husband died in 1995. Hannah feels the Kindertransport and the lack of the support of a nuclear family had a considerable impact on her life. It made her unsure of herself and made her not believe in herself. She therefore did not take her art very seriously. 


Full Interview


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.

[as a young child in Shalom House] But ... I don’t know. You didn't think further ahead. You didn't think it would ever end. And you didn't- not consciously think, “Well, when will this end?” Not- nothing like that. Just say, you know, things which are done to you. So that you just- children do accept but some are more...

You’re stateless forever because... I mean I have this loyalty to the... to the British. But... you don't really... I don’t know where I belong. [half laughs] It’s... it’s...I’m alright here, really. I mean I wouldn't know where else... you know... Yeah, I mean... I’m, I’m- I’m at home here, really. I'm not sure if anybody who's, who's- is not born and who went through this ever can ...totally identify with this... with you know- with the country that- with their ‘host country’ if you like... I still have this very strong affinity feeling with Germany. With Berlin. Whether I like it or not. So...

Shalom House. Which it was anything but. They used us pretty well for all their domestic needs. It was a very bad place, a very bad set up. Very bad things there.

Well, the fact that I didn't have a family, a near, close family of my own, to support me… That would be probably- I mean you need that, even if they're not always the best. You know, where you belong. I was always sort of floating a bit you know, not well-grounded… You, you have to know your heritage if you like, your inheritance. And I think that's- that's a great loss if you don't have that from the word go.

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