08 April 2013

Lest we forget

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and London Daily Photo had posted a picture of the statue erected at London's Liverpool Street Station to commemorate the arrivals of the Kindertransport - a rescue mission to ship Jewish children from all over Europe to the UK to escape Nazi oppression.




 

I have mentioned in the past that my father (aged 14) and his brother(aged 17) were two of these children.  Although their mother (my grandmother) had come from a Jewish family,  the family were not practising Jews and my grandmother had never even been in a synagogue in her life. She married my grandfather who was a Protestant Lutheran and raised their children as Lutherans.  In their early years they lived in Berlin, then later moved to a town near Dresden where the children grew up. Both were christened and confirmed.  However this was not enough to appease the strict Aryan codes of the Nazis and my father and his brother were excluded from partaking in anything their friends were expected to do, such as the Hitler Youth.  It became very apparent they were being side-lined.


 

Things came to a head in late 1938 when the Nazis came one evening and "arrested" my uncle. They took him to Buchenwald concentration camp where he spent three months. "Before and after photos" of him showed such a striking difference: in the "after photos", not only was he much thinner, but the fear in his eyes was palpable.  I was told he used to have to watch hangings and bury the dead. In that short time he also had a number tattooed on his arm, which I can still remember seeing as a small girl.
 
My German grandparents were middle class and had some standing in the community as well as wealth. They turned to the Lutheran church for help but their cries fell on deaf ears.  My grandfather somehow found out about the Quakers in England and the work they were doing to help Jewish children get over here. With connections and money he was able to "buy" my uncle out of Buchenwald on the understanding the family would leave Germany forever and never ever return. He set about organising the boys' passage to England in March 1939 with the Kindertransport.  When the boys arrived at Liverpool Street station, my 17-year-old  uncle was sent in one direction, my 14-year-old father in another, having to board a train to West Mersea in Essex. He was billeted on a farm to do light agricultural work. He spoke no English and the farmers were a Scottish family who only spoke Gaelic! He earned a few pence by doing extra work such as scrubbing out the stables, so he could afford  a few necessary things like toothpaste. He must have been so frightened. Months later my grandparents were able to get across to England as well, so the whole family were safely over here, when war was declared on Germany in September 1939. 
 
Eventually my father met a Land Girl, married and I was born five years after war ended, growing up as an English woman, studying German and even living in Germany both as a student and also when newly married to Greg. Ironically I have a good many German friends there now with whom I stay in contact.  As time passes, it would be easy to forget what happened all those years ago, but I shall always remember.... I owe it to my father and to the wider family on his side who were not so lucky to  escape the death camps.


7 comments:

Hippo said...

Wow. What a fascinating post. As one who has temporarily fostered a number of children here until their families could be found this story is deeply poignant.

The Kindertransport was testament to the humanity of a number of people, the charity of more and a chilling endictment of the government of the time who stuck their heads into the sand and refused to believe what was happening. The most nauseating aspect of their conduct was failing to understand that if parents were willing to send their children unaccompanied to an uncertain future, how dire their situation must have been. What would any parent do when facing the choice of almost certain death for the whole family or a chance of at least saving their children?

Gattina said...

I was born in Germany and only know from what my parents and grandparents told me about this horrible time. One brother of my Grandma died in Dachau because he couldn't keep his mouth shut and was against Hitler and my father's brother was forced to be a soldier at 15 ! He was caught and spent 10 years of his life in Siberia in a prisoner camp. I always remember when he came back, he was like a scarecrow, very sick and never really recovered from this awful time. He was 25 when he returned home !

Hippo said...

I meant to mention the violin case. A subtle message from the sculptor that these children were not peasant refugees but intelligent, talented, bewildered children wondering what what the hell was going on.

Didn't three or four ex Kindertransport children end up as Nobel prize winners?

Kelloggs Ville said...

What a fascinating read, both this and the land girl post. So interesting but I feel a little strange that it is so personal and important that I was so wrapped up in it reading it like it was a 'story' and not your life. Strange feeling. That is a memorial I think I would like to go to look at.

Nota Bene said...

This post seemed to disappear and then reappear again. I'm glad it did. So glad your family managed to escape. What went on in those times is beyond belief...and that's why the effort to keep alive those memories must be maintained to ensure the terrible things that happened are never repeated

Flowerpot said...

Fabulous post Addy - very interesting indeed. Truth is so often stranger and more remarkable than fiction.

city said...

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