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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
6 February 1940
Born on 11 March 1929, John [Hans] Farago considered himself ‘a lucky refugee’. His father, Nicholas [Miklos] Farago, was born in Szeged, Hungary, 14 May 1896; a 2nd Lieutenant in the Hungarian Army (1916–1918), he later became a wholesale stationery agent in Vienna. Farago’s mother, Hilda [Hilde] (nee Kohn), was born in Leobersdorf, Austria, 25 June 1907, and pre-marriage was a furniture store assistant in the family business. The Farago family lived in Pfauengasse, Vienna VI, near the Hofburg Palace, where their social circle was described as ‘lower middle class’ and ‘almost entirely secular Jews’. Despite seeing the ‘huge crowds in Mariahilfer Strasse’ during the Anschluss, nine-year-old John ‘was unaware of what it meant to be an “Israelite”’– but did so by Kristallnacht – shunned by non-Jewish children, and forced to move to a Jewish school.
Nicholas lost his job. John was consequently taken in by his parents’ friends, Hugo and Liesl Neumann, in Brussels, and travelled there on the Kindertransport in March 1939.* Attending Mlle. Hamede’s private school he felt alienated. His parents in the meantime had fortunately obtained posts as butler and cook-housekeeper in Basingstoke, and visited him en route, but could not take him with them in August 1939. With the imminent threat of German invasion, however, John arrived in Folkestone in February 1940, to join his father’s Hungarian cousin, George Schatz and his wife Magda, moving with them to Amersham at the onset of WWII. Deemed ‘enemy aliens’, Nicholas and Hilda were not permitted to live in Basingstoke, so in May 1940 also moved to Amersham; Nicholas, though, was soon interned in Warner Camp, Isle of Man for some fifteen months.
Subsequently reunited, Nicholas Farago worked as a clerk for his cousin, while son John attended Amersham College then Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham, and later Battersea Polytechnic where he briefly studied chemistry. A trade journalist with Temple Press (1949–1954), John held various sales/export roles in Bunzl PLC until 1989, using his language skills in French and German, and later became Director of the Society for Organisational Learning UK. His father had gradually become an independent textile agent, but took his own life in1954. John did not know why.
Having changed his first name from Hans to John early on, John did not previously feel a refugee or have a particular interest in his ‘refugee identity’, and only briefly joined the Zionist Aliya organization c.1947–48. Nevertheless, in 2000 he helped organize a reunion in Sopron, Hungary, of his maternal grandmother’s (Paula Kohn, nee Kraus)** descendants, and with increased interest in his background as ‘a secular Jew’, is drawing up a family tree. Neither of John’s wives, Joan (nee Paernell, died 1997) or Sidonia (nee Kendrick), were Jewish. He has a sense of ‘local belonging’, and is a ‘passionate European with a multi-national outlook’, who does not think of himself as victim, and stated that overall he has had a happy life.
NB There are often various ways of spelling Hungarian and Austrian personal or place names. Only some are included here.
*It was not part of the Nicholas Winton Kindertransports.
**She perished in Auschwitz in 1944, her sister and niece survived.
Key words: Farago; George; Hilda [Hilde]; Hugo; John [Hans]; Joan [Joanna]; Josef [Joszef]; Karoline; Kendrick: Kohn; Kraus [Krausz]; Liesl; Magda; Marcus; Marietta; Nicholas [Miklos]; Neumann; Paernell; Paula [Pauline]; Schatz; Sidonia [Donnie]. Amersham; Austria; Basingstoke; Belgium; Brussels; Hungary; Isle of Man; Kritzendorf; Leobersdorf; London; Pfauengasse; Sopron; Szeged; Vienna. Anschluss; Auschwitz; Bunzl PLC; Kindertransport; Kristallnacht; interned; “Israelite”; Zionist Aliya organization.
In March 1939, I went on the Kindertransport to Belgium [from Vienna]. It’s generally thought that the Kindertransport was only for England. But people in Belgium, Holland & France also took children. I was just dispassionate about the whole thing.
I got to Brussels. The Neumann family. They had 2 small children of their own. They treated me as part of the family. I was made to write home to Vienna. I thought that was a bit of a chore rather than something that I was keen to do. The only time something went wrong, the only time I felt alienated, so to say, was when I caught mumps at school. Liesl Neumann, my–let’s call her foster mother–was anxious about her own little children. They lived in a 1930s house with a room upstairs & an open flat roof. It was very hot. The roof was tarred. I remember being exiled to this place, really felt unhappy. But that was the only time. Otherwise I had my first girlfriend, the niece of Hugo Neumann. We went to the cinema. I learnt to ride a bicycle. I got some very bad reports about my misbehaviour, but apart from that…