John Grenville was born Hans Juergen Guhrauer in 1928 in Berlin. His father was Landgerichtsdirektor in Berlin.
He came on the Kindertransport in March 1939 and was sent to a Boarding School called Mistley Place Prep School, sponsored by an anonymous lady. He had a place in a public secondary school but the refugee committee decided that he should do an apprenticeship with a tailor in Leeds. John’s father, who had managed to get to the UK on a transit visa to the US and was working in a factory in Croydon, objected to this decision. John was thus sent to a technical school in Cambridge. While at that school he also managed to get his O-levels through a correspondence course (again the Refugee Committee objected to this). In 1942/43 he found a job as a laboratory assistant and started studying chemistry and physics. After a health problem at the lab, he became a gardener at Peterhouse College, while taking the intermediate London University Exam in History, Latin, and Economics, and German. He then worked as a teacher and studied at Birkbeck College and did his PhD in history at the LSE. After positions at Nottingham University and Yale, and Leeds, he became Professor of History at the University of Birmingham. He has written many books on European and American History and is Joint Editor of the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book.
[Leaving on the Kindertransport:] Only one parent was allowed to come to the station. It was another little Nazi thing. We sat in the waiting room. Our names were called. Gestapo everywhere. And you just went. You were escorted to the train and you got onto the train. And then the train went off. That was it.
I loved my violin. But I wasn’t allowed to take it with me, and I was very sad about that. But what my mother did was to pack violin music in my suitcase, hoping when I got to England somebody would realise and give me a violin, which they did.
I had to take a job on Saturday afternoon. I saw an advertisement by a Cambridge professor for a gardener. I applied, and it turned out to be Professor Lauterpacht, a very famous international lawyer. I started gardening and he started talking to me and found out what my ambitions were. And he would tutor me for an hour and then insist on paying me for the gardening. So that was very good.
Everyone’s experience is different. …Not to make generalisations about people – either Jews, Germans or anybody else. That’s it.
I was very homesick for a while. But I soon got under the way of the school. I noticed the huge difference between the English schoolchildren and German school children. The English school children were all very kind. They’d been told who we were - there were about 3 children who arrived in the school, and they helped us all they could. Whereas in Germany you would have expected, if you were different in any way, you would have been bothered or discriminated against. In the English school it was the opposite; you were helped.