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Sir Kenneth Adam

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
April 1934
Interview number:


Dr Anthony Grenville

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Kenneth Adam was born Klaus Hugo Adam in 1921 in Berlin to an old-established, highly assimilated Jewish family. He was educated at Collège Français until his emigration to Britain in 1934. He settled in N.W. London, where his mother ran a well-known refugee boarding-house. He attended St. Paul’s School, Architecture College, and then became a fighter pilot in the RAF. After the war he had a highly successful career as designer of film sets (2 Oscars). He was knighted in 2003.


Full Interview


I still, on my way to school, saw the burning of the Reichstag. That I witnessed. One grew up very quickly, when you saw these ghastly thugs, arresting people right and left and street fights and battles with the communists and so on. It wasn’t pleasant. And so then my mother took my younger brother and myself on a steamer from Hamburg to Grimsby Harbour.

I flew operations. I was with 609 and we were flying Typhoons, which were in those days the most powerful fighter in the RAF…. We became, from just before D-Day till all through D-Day and all through the advance through Belgium, Holland and finally Germany, close support for the Canadian and British armies.

I also had to run a military government court. I’m not a lawyer, so they sent a civilian lawyer from England who advised me. What I found unbelievable was the letters of denunciation and verbal denunciation I received daily from people saying ‘he was a Nazi’, ‘she was a Nazi’. I mean there was a complete moral collapse in Germany. Nobody had been a Nazi and everybody was a Nazi. It was an incredible experience.

I can’t remember celebrating any Jewish New Year or anything like that. I’d never been to a synagogue. So it came even as more of a shock to me when I heard anti-Semitic remarks for the 1st time & didn’t know what was wrong with me. Where I felt it 1st was in the village, with some of the village boys, whom I considered my friends. Who suddenly called me a Jew boy or something like that. I didn’t realise, you know, but you learn very quickly. Up by the Baltic in the late ‘20s or beginning of the ‘30s

If you spent several years with 20 to 30 immigrants from all over Europe, professors or doctors or lawyers or you name it, & you listen to their experiences – and I was a very good listener – I found that I learnt more in those boarding house evenings than I learnt at school.

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