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Hannelore Napier

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
21 June 1939
Interview number:


Dr Jana Buresova

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Throughout the interview, Hannelore Napier sat with the small brown suitcase that had accompanied her to Britain from Berlin on 20‒21 June 1939. She did not recall its original contents, but it remains a cherished possession. Aged five, she witnessed ‘Hitler’s cavalcade and did a “Heil Hitler”’, and remembers Kristallnacht in November 1938. A special photograph taken of the interviewee with her mother marked Hannelore’s impending departure,  and their farewells were perforce outside the station.


Although born in Schonlanke  on 16 April 1930, from 1935‒1939 Napier went to a Jewish boarding school in Berlin with some fifty pupils, taking Hebrew lessons which she ‘did not understand.’ Her assimilated parents, Siegfried Spagat (born 12 December 1893) and Kathe (born Lewin in Schonlanke, 18 January 1905) duly divorced. Siegfried was sent to Auschwitz in 1943, but Kathe reached Britain a week before WWII commenced, thus survived. A letter from Hannelore’s foster parents in Cardiff precipitated the journey; two‒three weeks after receiving their ward they wanted to adopt Hannelore and convert her to Christianity, but would allow Kathe to visit her. Having lost her son Arbert who fatally fell from a window, to also lose her daughter was too much to bear. Kathe declined.


Her daughter had been met at Liverpool Street Station by the Christian Mr and Mrs Bolton, then spent a month in Cardiff where she was ‘bullied as a German’, before moving to a ‘half-way house’ in Tunbridge Wells, where she was well treated. However, it was with Methodists Nellie and Alfred Garbutt, a carpet designer in West Riding, Yorkshire, that Hannelore found a new home and loving foster parents, even adopting their family name. Although they did not try to convert her, at sixteen Hannelore voluntarily became a member of the Methodist Church. She had Christian friends and the nearest synagogue was in Leeds, too far away to attend, but she remained proud of her German-Jewish background.


She did well at Heckmondwike Grammar School, Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire and Kidderminster High School for Girls, but chose not to study German, and left school at seventeen. She had wanted to be a teacher, but in 1945 moved to Kidderminster to work in an office, and became a book-keeper. In the meantime, her mother proved to be ‘a good worker.’ Initially barred from employment except as a resident domestic or nurse, Kathe had moved to London, cooking by day plus working at night. Contrary to expectation, Hannelore did not go and live with her blood mother – the bond had been broken. In 1956 the interviewee married an Anglican Christian engineer from Malpeth; her mother was unhappy about the marriage and within herself.


To ‘give something back to England’, Hannelore Napier was actively involved as a Girl Guider, a prison probation volunteer, in the church, and in organizing ‘shoebox gifts’ for the needy in Britain/abroad, then in 1990 began her Holocaust survivor talks to school children and groups of all ages, which she believes is a very important and worthwhile activity. An 80th birthday family gift was a three-week trip ‘to find her roots’ in Germany and visit Auschwitz, where her father and most other family members had perished, though her observant uncle Artur came to Britain in 1948.


A further commemorative journey took place on 1 July 2016, retracing the route from London’s Liverpool Street Station to Harwich, where a Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance was held at St. Nicholas Church, followed by the screening of Kindertransport material in the Electric Palace Cinema and other events.  Twenty-five people including two from Berlin took part. Napier was again accompanied by her daughter Rachel, but on this occasion by her grand-daughter Sarah too, both of whom are interested in their family heritage. Indeed Rachel, a Religious Education teacher, wears a cross mounted on a Star of David, reflecting both acceptance and a sense of continuity as the second generation.


Full Interview


But by June [1939], parents weren’t allowed to go on the platform [seeing their children leave on the Kindertransport]. They had to be- say their goodbyes outside the station. And when the train left, our blinds were drawn. As soon as we left the station, we could, could pull our blinds up again. And I saw to my amazement, my father driving alongside in his car.

No I didn’t [feel lonely] cause I had my lovely [foster] mum and dad. I was bullied of course, if you call it bullying, when I first came and went to school because... I was German. Because I was Jewish meant nothing to the children, but remember, that these children’s fathers were fighting the Germans. So... I wasn’t too happy at the first school. So when I came to Kidderminster, I went under my [foster] mum and dad’s name. Not my German name. But all the children at the high school know me because I had a dark brown uniform; their uniform was navy blue. And I had a German, possibly a - a Yorkshire accent. So people I know in high school would say, “You did sort of stick out like a sore thumb.” [laughs] I was very happy at the high school. Very happy. I you know, I met lots of good friends.

When my eightieth birthday was looming, six years ago, they said, “What would you like for your birthday?” And I said, “Well, what I would like to do is find my roots. I would like to go to my birthplace. I would like to perhaps go to the little village where I was born. Where my mother must have pushed me in a pram. I would like to go to Berlin, where I lived. I must find out the address.” Cause I remembered my father’s address very, very clearly and not my mother’s so it just shows. It was 96 Gneisenaustrasse – I even know- even know how to spell it. And then I wanted to go to Auschwitz. I knew at that time, through the internet, that my father had gone to Auschwitz. I didn’t know before then. So we did that.

In fact, at the local high school I was asked to speak to an assembly in Holocaust Week. And my youngest grandson is there. And I spoke to different...different ages and different days. And on the last day, my grandson was there. I thought he’d feel embarrassed, but he didn’t. Before I went there, and he was asked if he would try and lead me in, and he did. So all school know about his grandmother.

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