My father took my brother & me to some station in Berlin. We met children there from all over Germany. We didn’t know exactly where we were going. For years I always kept a daily diary. We thought we were going via Holland. I thought, ‘when we get to the Dutch border, they’re going to open & look, they’re going to read my diary’! I got so frightened! I got my diary & flushed it down the toilet. It would have been worth keeping. So once I’d flushed the last of my diary down the toilet I felt relieved. As it happened we were taken to Hamburg. The Jewish ladies there had laid on a spread for us. Fantastic welcome we were given. I’d never seen the sea before. In those days you could be a widely travelled person & never see the sea. So it was an eye-opener to me to see the sea. Believe it or not, it was fantastic. We were taken to England on a big American liner, The Washington, a transatlantic liner. From Hamburg to Le Havre, then next day from Le Havre to Southampton. To travel on a big American liner, pre-war, was a real eye-opener. I’d never seen such luxury & things. The food, the menus! For the first time in my life in a way, I was free, because no longer was my mother saying 'You mustn’t eat this & you mustn’t eat that'. I’d walk into a dining room, big menu in front, & I could eat anything & everything I liked & we were treated like grown-ups. So it was quite an experience, you know? We didn’t know we would never see our parents again ever. It was like going on a fantastic holiday, really
They drew up lists of parents who were willing to send their children. I suppose they just picked by putting a pin in, I don’t know really. Just sheer luck, you know. When I think about it now sometimes, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. To think how close I was to perishing myself. It was just a lottery.
Parents weren’t allowed to get too close to the train. So I remember my mother in her dark brown coat... with her big tummy [the mother gave birth the day after the older two had left]. Not crying. I think that must have been a big feat. And then once we were in the carriages we didn’t see anybody anymore. You didn’t stand by the window unless you were the last one in, and you could look. My nightmare was that my poor mother would leave the station, and she would fall or trip and the Nazi taxis wouldn’t pick her up- wouldn’t take a Jewish person to hospital. And...I didn’t think further, but I imagined bleeding to death or something, you know? What does a twelve-year-old know? So that was my feeling.
We were placed in a home, in Welwyn Garden City. The teacher there said that you must at all costs, if you were going to live a normal life, blot out your memories & speak only the language you're going to speak now. Hence I don’t speak German, I won’t speak German. He said: the only time you know you're going to settle in England is when you think & count in English, when you lay back & close your eyes all you think of is English. So lots of memories are blotted out by Welwyn Garden City.
It was an adventure. You did not realise the seriousness of it. You never thought you would never see your parents again. It’s sad. My father said 'you're going to go to a completely different way of life. You’re going to live behind a shop. You just have to get used to it.' My father couldn’t walk very well so he didn’t take me to the station. My mother took me. It was very sad. I never thought I would never see my father again. We met all the other children.
I had a little money bag with ID card & some money. Somebody had given me a new ring as a going-away present. I was frightened they would take it off me. You didn’t know what to expect. In London we were met with lovely ladies from some committees. They took us to a place in Whitechapel, a horrible place really but it was adequate, where we slept the night & they gave us herring. The next morning a quick tour of London & I came to Manchester. My uncle met me. I didn’t recognise him because he was wearing a bowler hat. Then he took me to the Needoffs. It was all very traumatic. Everybody came to have a look at me, all the relatives, at this little girl who had just come. That evening they said 'We are going to the pictures.' Well the pictures to me were pictures on the wall. So I got my little dictionary out for pictures on the wall & we went to the pictures. They were very good people. Everybody wanted to see me. They were very well known, very good charitable people that helped a lot of people.
It was the most wonderful, wonderful thing that the British government did. They saved the lives of 10,000 Jewish children by opening their doors to them. No other country in the whole wide world made such an offer, neither America nor Canada nor Australia only Great Britain. Great Britain was the only country in the whole wide world. The world must never forget this wonderful, wonderful action on the part of the British government. In Germany, they murdered Jewish children; in Great Britain families opened their homes to them to save their lives. Great Britain is the best country in the whole wide world! We must always, always remember that!
The scene on the platform was indescribable. There were some 2-300 children saying goodbye to their parents. Some were little toddlers with their sisters holding on to them & their brothers. That was horrible. We got on this train. Gerti & I, with our suitcases, sat with 8 other kids. We talked but I didn’t take their names. I have no idea who they were to this day. The guards were constantly marching up & down the corridors. It made me nervous. I’d had enough of seeing all these guns with swastikas & the rest of it. It lasted 24 hours before we crossed the border into Holland. The happiest day I had seen for many a time. The train stopped at a station, for the purposes of changing the German engine for a Dutch engine. The platform was crowded with Dutch people who threw us in sweets, toys & flags & reached out to us & we reached out to them. The 1st time in a year that I’d seen friendly non-Jewish people. Really remarkable. It made us feel not just a little, a lot better. We were welcomed.
People came [to the UK] without passports, just ID cards. When we talk today about ‘Something’s got to happen’: 'Well, it will take an Act of Parliament, it’s got to go through the Lords, It’s got to…' If you get something through in 6 months you've done a miracle. But this was in 6 weeks. It’s been said before & I do mention it as often as I can, because I’m very proud of the British government of that day, to have acted so rapidly, when it was needed to act rapidly.
She [Truus Wijsmuller, who had come to Vienna to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann to allow the Kindertransport release of 600 children after the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht)] said: ‘I’ve come to take 600 children out of Vienna.’ ‘When do you want to take them?’ She said: ‘Tomorrow if I can.’ ‘Right. You will take them on Saturday.’ The choice of inflicting pain on orthodox parents that the children should travel on Saturday–dafke [on purpose]–was something very, very Eichmann-y. The joke is he didn’t know that there is a very clear rule: For the saving of life, the rules of Shabbat are set aside. ‘Pikuah nefesch tochei Shabbat’. Anyhow, OK, Saturday. I knew nothing except that suddenly a whole load of new clothes appeared, clothes I’d never seen: suit, trousers, new underwear, shirts, everything. All new. And there we are. And, suddenly, I knew that I was going.
He came back very ill, my father, from Buchenwald. They had the electric wires there, they got no food. They told us to get away. We wanted to get away but we couldn’t get away! My parents were kind of stuck.
I volunteered to go to Israel, started with that Hachsharah. The worst thing is the people who stayed. My parents could have gone to Israel. They didn’t. They sent the furniture but they didn’t. I was upset because I couldn’t go to Israel. They chose somebody else instead of me. "So the next thing is the Kindertransport. At first they didn’t want to take me because I was over 14. But my mother said, ‘Oh, she’s got a little brother, he’s handicapped.’ Except he wasn’t. So we went together. They took us to the trains with our bits & pieces to England.
I remember throwing a tantrum at the station when we were setting off to go to England on the Kindertransport. I recognised that we weren't at the zoo station & I wanted to go to the zoo. I didn’t want to go to England. I connected that in my mind with being a very very naughty girl & that's why I was sent away. If only I could be good my parents would have me back home. I never succeeded in being good because I could never understand what adults wanted of me. I was always getting into trouble. Particularly the first foster family. The rector & his wife. He wanted to rescue children but I don't think he consulted his wife. She clearly didn't want to have to look after refugee children, which is difficult because they're not sweet & nice. They're homesick and bewildered. I don't think she knew anything about how to look after children. She was very cruel to us. But the Quakers who sponsored us, realised we were very unhappy & sent us to a lovely Quaker boarding school which really saved our sanity. A doctor came to give us vaccinations. I had been beaten regularly with a leather strap, my back was just welts. I remember having to sleep on my tummy. The doctor found out who our sponsor was & we were rescued. Being in England felt like being in a mad world.
Well, the date came for my departure, which was the 19th of April 1939. We went to the station, by underground, my parents looking at me as if they couldn’t take their eyes off me. Normally one of them would have sat next to me for a good cuddle. When we got to the station, there were hordes of parents and children, all crying. But we three, we kept up a pretence: “Oh! What an adventure you're going on Hannele. You're the pioneer. We will be joining you as soon as our papers are in order.” And then a whistle went for the final goodbye. And as Mum and Dad hugged and kissed me, they said I should look out of the train window at the next station but one. Well, I did this. And do you know, there were my parents on the platform, waving to me, as if their arms would drop off. But that was the very last time I ever saw my parents.