Postal service – help sought

One of our Kitchener descendants wrote to me this morning with a question about – and a description of – postal services during the war, between Germany (and the occupied territories) and Britain.

"When my parents were in Germany and I was in England, the only communication we had was through the Red Cross in Israel. We got a code from the Red Cross and they wrote to us 25 words and we sorted out the words, the meaning. And then it took about 6 months and then we returned the answer and they were also allowed 25 words."
Kitchener camp, Werner Weissenberg, Red Cross letters, information
Kitchener camp, Werner Weissenberg, Red Cross letters, information

The descendant also referred to an article that mentions letters being sent every six months from the National Socialist camps; another descendant confirms this was the case in their own family materials; and another confirms that short letters were sent from within a National Socialist ghetto in Poland to Germany (although not out of the Reich territories, as far as the family knows).

This issue of letters and other communications during the war is one I have long been fascinated by, although it didn’t occur to me, for some reason, that other people would be especially interested.

I know many families don’t have very much by way of materials, but if you do have letters and/or postcards from Germany to Britain (or other destinations), perhaps you could take a look at the postmarks and dates, whether there are any clues about how they were sent (there were a number of ‘secret addresses’ in Portugal, for example, and Thomas Cook was also used as a form of courier for these purposes), and whether any codes are used – false names, for instance, which we have in our own family correspondence.

In the example below, you can see drafts, trying to make sure the letter comes in at the correct number of words.

Richborough transit camp 1939, Red Cross letters, Drafts, 25 words
Kitchener camp 1939, Werner Weissenberg, Red Cross letters, Drafts, 25 words

I am going to write up some notes about the issue of communication in relation to Kitchener camp, but it would be good to have input from descendants about specific instances, if we can find any. Some of you may have examples of the Red Cross letters, from once war had broken out; some may have long puzzled over why a letter was addressed via Portugal!

Update

Families have kindly started to send in examples of post/mail – and the images that follow give very clear examples of how communications between the country of origin (here, the letters are sent from the city of Leipzig, Germany to Manchester) and Britain shrank when war broke out.

Many thanks to Judith Elam for sending in these examples from her family collection.

She writes: “In response to your post re letters and postmarks, I am attaching various letters written by my aunt, mother and grandmother, all sent through the Red Cross. My mum and one sister got out on the Kindertransport from Leipzig to England, and my grandmother was trapped behind with her youngest daughter and father-in-law, all of whom were murdered.”

Richborough transit camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, Postmark 18 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, Postmark 18 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Richborough transit camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, 18 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, 18 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Richborough transit camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, 21 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, Postmark 21 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, 20 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Letter from Frieda, 20 August 1939, Leipzig to Manchester, UK
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Telegram to Frieda, 22 January 1940, Red Cross, Geneva
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Telegram to Frieda, 22 January 1940, Red Cross, Geneva
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Telegram to Frieda, 7 August 1940, Red Cross, Geneva
Kitchener camp, Peisech Mendzigursky, Telegram to Frieda, 7 August 1940, Red Cross, Geneva

Somehow, some years ago, I formed in my mind a picture of a vast warehouse with all the letters that went missing in this context during the war. From time to time, I still imagine standing in the doorway of that place, looking in.

So many letters went missing just among our own family members: there must have been thousands upon thousands – somewhere …

I’ll leave it with you for now – and please do let me know if you have anything you think might help us to write up some notes on this subject.

It’s not the letters themselves, which I know many feel are very personal items – it’s the use of codes, of various addresses, and the secret means by which communications were sent – that’s what I am hoping to write about here.

As ever – many thanks.

Kitchener camp, censored letter, 21 august 1939
Kitchener camp, censored letter, 1939
Editor’s collection

 

General information about the project

For those of you who have read the data pages, you’ll know that we can see a certain amount of anonymised information about what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ of the website, and we thought you might be interested in a quick glimpse.

It doesn’t really make any difference to anything to do with the project, but it’s just kind of interesting.

For the first bit of curtain twitching, then, the site has been accessed in 50 countries in the few months it has been running. The most frequent access has been from the UK, followed by the USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and then Israel.

We are almost at 2,000 unique users of the site (1,986 to be precise) – of which, 52.1% are women and 47.9% are men. In terms of age, 33.69% (the largest group) are over 65, and 21% are in the next age category down at 21.01%. The smallest category is the youngest, with 5.6% of 18 to 24 year olds.

I note that a majority use Chrome as a browser – and the next biggest category is Safari, which is what I use. The vast majority access the site on a desktop computer rather than on mobile, which is a relief to me, because I don’t think the site works that well on mobile (that’s a result of the limited budget – and my apologies for that!).

The most remarkable figure to me is the sheer number of pages that have been accessed by a relatively small number of people. Although we may be fascinated by all this, it is, after all, a rather niche area of interest, but those who do turn up certainly have a good look around, which is great to see.

In all, well over 21,000 views have been registered – so most people are a long way from reading the first page and then ‘bouncing’ straight out again to look at Facebook or their news site of choice – which again is rather nice to know.

Many thanks for all your support for the project – from reading suggestions, to films and articles, to new friendships both online and off – and for the many and varied, but always fascinating and genuinely compelling histories in the many email exchanges we have every day.


We’ve had a few more group photographs arrive with the project, and another group identifiable by their hut number – this one is Hut 22 (see image below).

So do keep checking the group photographs page, just in case you see someone you can put a name to.

Richborough camp, Hut 22, Fritz Bleicher, 1939
Kitchener camp, Hut 22, Fritz Bleicher, 1939
Front right

Hut 22

For more information about the image below, please see ‘Kitchener camp’ under the Research heading in the menu: http://www.kitchenercamp.co.uk/research/kitchener-camp-2/

Plumbing and heating, Kitchener camp, 1939


Towards the end of this month Avotaynu is very kindly publishing an article on the Kitchener project for us as part of the work to ‘get out the word’ and hopefully reach more Kitchener families.

The article was written by Ann Rolett (a Kitchener descendant in New York) and carefully edited by Lynne Parsons, who is a Kitchener descendant here in the UK – thus highlighting the truly international nature of this project.

Do keep on letting people know we’re here and encourage them to check their family records. Quite a lot of folk don’t know they have this connection – perhaps especially where the records are now held by the third generation. It is a consequence of our fathers and grandfathers not really wanting to discuss this period of their lives, which makes finding families something of a challenge.

Having said that, most weeks at least one family gets in touch – some just to say hello or to ask a few questions about how to find records, some to discuss things at length, and some to send in images of their very precious materials. All are welcome, and all add to our increasing breadth of knowledge about this extraordinary rescue at Kitchener camp in Sandwich in 1939.

Kitchener camp, 1939, Moshe Chaim Grunbaum
Kitchener camp, 1939, Moshe Chaim Grunbaum

Interviews with some Kitchener men

A number of archives hold interviews that were made with some of the men who were in Kitchener camp, and I am gradually going to get around as many of these as I can.

This obviously takes some time – and travelling – so please bear with me, but I think descendants will be interested to read these accounts ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, as it were.

The first set of summaries of interviews are here: http://www.kitchenercamp.co.uk/research/interviews/ 

I cannot produce the interviews verbatim because of copyright issues, but I have provided a summary and a note of where I found the originals, should anyone wish to follow them up .


I am being sent some fascinating links by descendants and every one of these is appreciated. Not all pertain directly to Kitchener camp, but all address related issues.

Again due to issues of copyright, the best thing I can do to share these is to provide the links, some of which follow below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-44008751

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/holocaust-museum-rethinks-fdrs-world-war-ii-refugee-legacy/2018/04/20/b5fc96fa-369b-11e8-acd5-35eac230e514_story.html?utm_term=.df4c2e3aa415

https://exhibitions.ushmm.org/americans-and-the-holocaust/main?utm_source=mkto&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=1805MKTEM03879-horizontal-link-1&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTUdJd1pUVXdNbVE1TlRReiIsInQiOiJYb2JYNEtWMk1icE5MYWJyR0VSOGExZDQ1WjdYelN6TCtBMXkyNTFWdEFFSjZHcFZNN05aR0xoWFdOem02dFV1d0R5M2xnXC9SV3hOaXE1Kzg5VGxrTVN3VDYwNzdaWFVcL29OY2RlUnJTTk5YZHpRYlJIcjdEblBuMDlNZk55K2d4In0%3D

 

Future proofing the Kitchener project

We are very pleased to announce that the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide has now formally accepted our donation of this online Kitchener project. The handover will take place in 2019, as planned, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kitchener camp rescue.

We are very relieved to be able to make this announcement, because we can now be assured that our Kitchener materials have a solid and secure home with this renowned library, which is located in the country that gave our families safe haven. It feels appropriate – not least because Alfred Wiener, who founded the library, came to Britain on a train that must have been very similar to the one our fathers and grandfathers travelled on – and he travelled for very similar reasons (http://www.kitchenercamp.co.uk/wiener-library/).

Wiener’s main concern was to counter with education and information the rise of the fascism that so decimated our families and traumatised the survivors. And there has always been a strong sense among survivors and their families that educating people about this history is one significant means by which to counter ignorance and antisemitism today.

I am a Kitchener descendant – like every family member who has put their faith in this project and offered their family histories to this joint effort to gain and record more knowledge about our shared history. I have been profoundly touched – and changed – by the people I have met over the last few months, by the histories that have been imparted, and by the confidences that have been exchanged.

If, together, we can open even one closed mind when it encounters this history, then the many hours of work – carried out in many different ways by many different people to achieve what this project is still becoming – will have been more than worthwhile.

We are very grateful to the Wiener Library: it has taken a lot of work to bring this about, and the result is an indication of how seriously our history is being taken.

Without the Kitchener families, the project would never have got off the ground; with our joint work, we have produced – and are still producing – something quite remarkable among us.

So – please do keep on spreading the word about what we are doing, and let us together keep adding to the knowledge and understanding of this remarkable Kitchener camp rescue.

For whatever its shortcomings and problems might have been, Kitchener camp is, after all, the reason that every one of us is here today to share our family histories.

When every other door closed, this one opened, at least for some.

And for each of us, and for our children and our grandchildren, it doesn’t get much more significant than that.


 

 

 

 

Yom HaShoah

Gleiwitz, 14 May 1942

My dear ones,

Today we got the order to present ourselves at the police station on Sunday. I’m certain that our deportation is inevitable. Therefore I am sending you the enclosed. It is better that you should have it than it end up with strangers. If you don’t receive any more news from me, don’t answer, in case your reply falls into the wrong hands.

Please send on my last greetings to my son, because it is ninety-nine percent certain that we won’t see him again.

To find his address, please contact the representative of the Jewish Congregation in London and inform him that Werner left Frankfurt on June 2nd 1939 for the Kitchener Camp, Richborough, England.

This letter must not be found in your possession.

Good health, my dear. May God be with you. He seems to have forgotten us.

Lots of love and greetings

From your Else


22nd May 1942

My dear ones,

A thousand thanks for the telegram and the lovely letter with the words of comfort. I trust you with all my heart but I am frightened to death. In case there is danger in informing you of Werner’s address. What you do not know is what is about to happen here. I begged you not to pass Werner’s address on but you must have misunderstood, although I thought I made it clear. There is a risk that I might be betrayed. I know what is happening, but you will not be aware of it, that is, you don’t know how they are mistreating us.

In case it is found by others, please don’t write to this address. I am going mad thinking there is danger in everything. I wish I hadn’t written anything down at all. The fact that mother and I are still here is a miracle. I am really worried that you may have sent additional information to England. I wouldn’t have given you his address if I had realised that there would be misunderstanding. I should have warned you about the dangers.

… On the 27th or 28th there is another transport departing and I expect we will be on that. I am just taking one rucksack, as my mother cannot carry one. It will contain clothes for summer and winter, no bedding , and necessities for two people. It must weigh no more than 20 kilos, but I wouldn’t be able to carry more anyway. If you pack more than you can carry you have to leave it behind and set off without anything. We can take enough bread for 2 days, sliced, and a flask of cold coffee.

They are talking about taking us to Poland but a Russian destination is also a possibility. They have even deported an 89-year old woman. Everyone has to go to the police station into the Air Raid Shelter.

What kind of reply is this to your kind letter. I will post this now, so that you understand about the mail to England. Thank you for your kindness and trust.

My very last greetings and kisses,

Your Else


Gleiwitz, 25th May 1942

My Dear Friends,

You will have received my letter by now, in which I begged you not to do anything. I hope you are not cross with me because I wrote in such an agitated manner, but I was so frightened.

As long as the war lasts, there is nothing I can do. We cannot, of course, go into the occupied zone: my mother and I are just one example. We are perishing. It is just one more wartime sacrifice, isn’t it. Unfortunately, I will have to decline the chances: on Wednesday at the latest we will certainly be off, it may even be before then.

Therefore, please do not reply to this in case your letters fall into the wrong hands. And I thank you a thousand times for your kind words of comfort. I know how heartfelt they were and how much you care, and every time I re-read your golden words, remember regretfully how we used to spend lovely spring holidays with you.

I am afraid we will certainly not meet again; in Poland, my dears, we will be completely isolated. And if we object they will use force. What do they know, with their pretension of culture? Above all, it makes us despair at their malice and meanness. And how pleased I am for you, as you do not, as this kind of behaviour makes one doubt the humanity of mankind.

You thank me for my love; all I have done is given you trouble and grief. God will reward you for your kindness and care.

If you should write to Frau Bisch, perhaps you could send her the same sender’s address as you have. I don’t know where we will be. I don’t receive acknowledgement from anyone; it is all in God’s will.

My clear source of comfort, stay well. If I don’t write you will know that it is because of impossible circumstances. My sisters-in-law are no longer in Beuthen; they wrote to me previously.

Completely devastated. My last farewell.

Love and kisses,

Else Weissenberg

 

All letters translated from the German originals by Helga Brown, geb. Steinhardt, BA, Dip. Ed.


http://db.yadvashem.org/deportation/transportDetails.html?language=en&itemId=5093097


 

On Yom HaShoah, in commemoration of all our family members who were not rescued

And who did not escape

 

 

Research question

A quick post this evening … and it’s a request for help rather than a piece of new information.

A student has got in touch who is looking into her grandfather’s history – from incarceration, to Kitchener camp, to Canada.

She wishes to contextualise what she finds to include some of the wider history.

Something she has got stuck on – and I have to say that I sympathise, because I am similarly stuck for ideas here – is in trying to find out something about the role of Woburn House (and later Bloomsbury House) in the Kitchener rescue.

If anyone knows anything about this anecdotally, please would you get in touch; if anyone knows of a written history, again, please would you let me know so I can pass it on – and use it myself!

Many thanks – and Chag Sameach – or a Happy Easter!


Kitchener camp 1939, Woburn House, London
Kitchener camp 1939, Woburn House, London

The 1939 Register – Kitchener camp

Kitchener Camp 1939 Register

As many of you may know, around the outbreak of the Second World War, the British government took a form of national census to see who was in the country, and where.

It is known as the 1939 Register.

I knew nothing of this when I started the Kitchener project, but a number of descendants had been finding the Register online and sending me their extracts from it. These images from the Register can be viewed at the National Archives at Kew. For a fee, the Register images are also viewable online through Find my Past: you may look up a specific name to be taken to a single page of entries.


National Registration Day: 29th September 1939.

The Register enabled officials to issue ID cards, and the information it contained also assisted with the distribution of rations during the war.

In light-hearted terms, for Kitchener camp, Richborough, Kent, we basically have ‘Householder’ Jonas May (Kitchener camp director) – and a ‘household’ that comprises around three and a half thousand mainly European, mainly Jewish, mainly men’s names.

For the purposes of the present research, then, this is an immensely useful document, and we have been given permission by the National Archives to transcribe* the Kitchener camp entry from the Register as part of this project.

*See the end of this blog post …


The previous national census had been taken in 1931, but this was subsequently destroyed in a fire during the Second World War.

The 1941 census didn’t take place because of the war.

Thus, the 1939 Register was – and remains – a crucial document both for government administration from 1939 to 1945 and, of course, for our purposes today.

It should be noted that this is not a complete list of the men and women who stayed in Kitchener camp for some period of time during 1939 and 1940.

Rather, it is a snapshot taken on a specific date.

Some residents had not yet arrived, and some had already left, so if your father, grandfather, or other relative is believed to have been in Kitchener, the fact that they may not appear on this list should not be taken as proof of anything. If you have other documentation or photographs that show they were here, that documentation takes precedence over this list.

Nevertheless, the 1939 Register is a remarkable document, and – history in the making – as far as we know, this is the first time the information from the Kitchener camp entry has been made publicly viewable in its entirety.


We will be looking into various ways of displaying this information over the coming weeks and months, but I did want to get the main list uploaded as a priority in order to help us reach more Kitchener descendant families. Not everyone knows their relative was here, and this may help people with their enquiries.

At the moment, it is presented here in the form of a simple PDF that you can search using the ‘Find’ command on your desktop or laptop.


Who to thank?

The big question, of course, is who do we have to thank for all this work?

Can you imagine transcribing all this information … for three and a half thousand or so people?

Well, that was the barrel I had been staring down, until I found myself chatting away to another KC descendant recently – and I happened to mention the frustration of knowing this list was out there, but not yet having it in a form we could use: we are allowed to transcribe the information, but we are not allowed to upload images of the list itself.

In any case, if we had been allowed to upload the images, these would not have been searchable, and so it would have been of limited use.

What a lot of work lay ahead …


Now, I’ve been in business for a long time, and I can’t tell you how rare it is for someone to simply pick up a task of this scale, do it, and return it – with no fuss, a minimum of questions, and nothing asked in return.

And yet – Kitchener descendant Peter Heilbrunn has done just that.

Not only has he undertaken what must have been hours (weeks!) of transcribing, but he has provided the information in a number of easily searchable tabs on a spreadsheet, including by surname, by gender, by occupation, and so on. And as soon as I can make some time available, I will be uploading the information in these different forms.

Which only leaves me to say – from all the Kitchener descendants, historians, and the future researchers who will now pour over this information in fascination and with gratitude – Peter – I take my hat off to you and thank you on behalf of us all for what is, in effect, an extraordinary act of commemoration.


Please click on this link to view the PDF – Kitchener Camp 1939 Register

Source: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/

Peter has suggested the following additional notes:

  • The Findmypast access provides both a transcript and a view of the original Register page;
  • MyHeritage now offers access to the Register but only in transcript form;
  • Of the approx. 3,500 people recorded on the 29th September as being at Kitchener camp, 469 cannot be viewed. They are “closed records” because the person is less than 100 years from date of birth. However, relatives who think their ancestor was at the camp can apply to have the record made public, provided that they can supply a death certificate;
  • The Register has been subsequently updated and shows change of name through marriage and otherwise.

The Diary of Phineas May

Update

Although I am still working on the contextual elements of the presentation for this project, the complete diary of Phineas May has now been uploaded. Rather tantalisingly, the last entry is dated 30st August 1939.

(See below for links to the diary)

For anyone interested in the narrative of Kitchener camp, Phineas’s diaries are a wonderful addition – informative, thought-provoking, poignant, and at the same time often very funny indeed.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the May family and to Clare Ungerson, who had the diaries transcribed when she was writing her excellent book about Kitchener camp, Four thousand lives (2014). They gave us their kind permission to reproduce the diary transcription here, and I hope they like this new format and contextual additions.

It has been an honour, as well as a lot of fun, to have worked through the diary in detail. I have tried to provide context in the form of timeline extracts and photographs, and I am also starting to add in the names of the men where we know their date of arrival.

From time to time, Phineas mentions that ‘another 80 refugees arrived today’, or something similar, and it is fascinating to be able to cross-reference this with who actually arrived on that date.

So, if you know your father’s, grandfather’s, or uncle’s date of arrival and haven’t yet passed it on, please do let me know and I’ll add it in. If you don’t know but would like to try to find out – may I point you once again to World Jewish Relief, which has many of the arrivals cards and does not charge a fee for giving you copies of your relative’s records. Also, the people at WJR are just a lovely group of people, waiting for you to get in touch with them.

This link tells you why World Jewish Relief is relevant to our history, and this one takes you to their form to fill in: https://www.worldjewishrelief.org/about-us/your-family-history

Please do come back to us if you find new information that is relevant to the Kitchener history – and especially if you get an arrival date.

Best of luck!


The diary can be found in the research section of the menu, or by clicking on the titles (in bold) below:

Kitchener camp diary, Part I

Kitchener camp diary, Part II

Kitchener camp diary, Part III

Kitchener camp diary, Part IV


Once the idea of Kitchener camp was finally, and hurriedly, being brought into physical existence in response to the outcomes of November 1938, the organisers among the CBF committee members needed someone to run the place.

Thus, having previously been Secretary of the Jewish Lads Brigade, Jonas May was now ‘volunteered’ to be the Director of Kitchener camp.

Jonas’s brother Phineas May was also ‘volunteered,’ in this instance by the United Synagogue, where he had previously been working. He was given the title ‘Sports and Recreation Officer,’ but seems in effect to have operated as a co-Director with his brother.

Jonas and Phineas May were only in their early thirties at this time, and Jonas and his wife had a baby to look after that year as well, but when someone needed to step up and take on the running of this extraordinary undertaking, they did so – despite their nearest comparable experience being the running of a summer camp for boys.

As we know from Ungerson’s book on Kitchener camp, Four thousand lives (2014), Phineas arrived in Sandwich on the last Sunday in January 1939; Jonas had arrived a few days before:

“They were the youngest of five siblings, born into an Orthodox Jewish family … Jonas and Phineas were steeped in their family’s religion and Phineas, particularly, spent his subsequent life, until the day he died, working for and with Jewish causes” (pp. 41-42).

………………………………..

One of the many remarkable documents held at the Wiener library is the diary of Phineas May. He stayed for his first week in Sandwich at the Bell Hotel (where a group of Kitchener descendants met for the first time in summer 2017 – an event that gave rise to the idea for the present online project). He was driven down to Sandwich by Michael J Banks, who was about the same age as Phineas and who had been appointed as ‘Assistant Camp Director’ (according to his entry in the 1939 Register).

Ungerson’s book paints a delightful picture of Phineas’s time here and of the early days at Kitchener – and if you haven’t yet read this account I would strongly recommend you do so.

When Professor Ungerson was carrying out research for her book, she drew frequently on the diaries written by Phineas May, on Bell Hotel notepaper. When she realised how much she would want to use this wonderful resource, however, her heart sank because the script is difficult to read, so she arranged for a typed transcription – and both the transcription and the original diary are now held at the Wiener Library.

We are incredibly lucky to count both Professor Ungerson and Adrienne – the daughter of Phineas May – as committee members of the Kitchener Descendants Group, and they have both given their very kind permission for the typescript of Phineas’s diaries to be reproduced here.

I can’t think of another resource that paints such a detailed picture of life in Kitchener. It is obviously a subjective account, created by a man living physically and emotionally at some distance from the experiences of the residents.

However, as noted above, when someone was needed to step up, Jonas and Phineas May stepped up immediately, and they took on, in what appears to be remarkably good spirits, what must have been a daunting task in an atmosphere that at times must have been terrible.

So – Kitchener descendants all – with our heartfelt, sincere thanks to Adrienne and her family, and to Clare Ungerson – may we introduce you to the Kitchener camp diaries of Phineas May.

 

 

Women in Kitchener camp

From September 1939 when war broke out, a single change must have made an extraordinary difference for a short time at Kitchener transit camp, Richborough.

From 5th September (Ungerson, p. 142; see also the document below) it is estimated that around 200 women entered the camp – and all are thought to have been wives of the Kitchener men.

This change took place because when war was declared city school children were evacuated to the countryside, and these wives had been living in and around Sandwich, in homes that now needed to provide rural spaces of safety for the nation’s youngsters. Hence, for a short time, the women moved into Kitchener with their husbands.

Almost.

In fact, the women were largely kept separate from the men, being housed in a separate area of the camp with the few children who came with them. This area was divided from the men’s camp by a wire fence. There were visiting hours, but these were only for about an hour  day, although presumably couples could chat through the fence.

Curiously, we are not really hearing from descendant families about these women – but we would love to know more, so if your mother, aunt, or grandmother was in Kitchener, even if only for a very short time, please do let us know – and, as ever, a photograph from around these years would be wonderful. It’s always so good to put a face to a name.

Meanwhile – wherever you are living – here’s to International Women’s Day.

And some pictures below show a few of the women we know about who were in Kitchener camp, albeit briefly, in 1939.

Kitchener camp 1939, Herbert Finkelstein
Frieda and Fritz Nowak, Kittchens camp, 1939
Kitchener camp 1939, Herbert Finkelstein
Erna and Herbert Finkelstein outside Hut 8, Kitchener camp
Walter Brill, Kitchener camp 1939
Walter Brill, Irmgard Brill (geb. Levy), and son Winston J. Brill
Kitchener camp, Erna Finkelstein, Alien's card, 5 May 1939
Kitchener camp, Erna Finkelstein, Alien’s card, 5 May 1939

 

Some suggestions for family research

A couple of descendants have been making suggestions for places where people can check their family history research in this context.

One suggestion was to highlight again that World Jewish Relief (WJR) would be very happy to hear from families wanting to enquire about records of Jewish relatives who entered Britain throughout the 1930s: https://www.worldjewishrelief.org/about-us/your-family-history

Some background as to why WJR are significant in this context is here:

Central British Fund for German Jewry

Another suggestion pertains to Austrian searches:

https://www.nationalfonds.org/home.html

These pages in particular, on life stories, look interesting: https://www.nationalfonds.org/life-stories.html

https://www.nationalfonds.org/dan-porat-en.html

Anyway, I know there are a lot of Austrian descendants among Kitchener families, and something here might prove interesting / useful.

For Kitchener specifically, around 1,000 places were given to Austrian Jews, and around 2,000 places were for German Jews.

In Vienna, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IK) ran operations to get people out; in Germany the first port of call for families was the Hilfsverein der Juden in Deutschland, and applications then went to the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland.

An RV letter is shown below, as an example:

And below is an example of a Hilfsverein letter – a route out to Britain:

 

I’d be really interested to know if anyone has had any luck finding access somewhere to travel permits, passports, or boat crossings for this era. Records must have been kept somewhere, but I’ve had no luck finding anything myself.

You know where to contact us if you can help, and if anyone does know I will add the information to this page.

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Don’t forget – if you live in the USA, Australia, Canada, or Israel (particularly, but not exclusively), your father, grandfather, or uncle may still have been in Kitchener camp if they left Europe in 1939. Many came to KC first before moving onwards – either voluntarily or through deportation.

Please do check – and feel free to ask if you have a name you would like me to try to find out about. I may not be able to help, but I’m always happy to try.

 

Kitchener camp magazine

We are incredibly fortunate to have been given kind permission to put a copy of the Kitchener camp magazine on the website as part of this project. This copy is owned by one of our Kitchener descendant families.

To date, three of the men in the photographs have been named by descendants, and if you recognise your family member in any of these pictures, as usual, please do get in touch and let us know.

The magazine is quite extraordinary. It is a curious mix of what we would today consider to be Soviet-style propaganda pictures, with text that appears to take the brutal aims of the National Socialist concentration camps and, by drawing on and yet subverting their language and imagery, turning them into something that instead works for the good of the men living here:

“There is no barbed wire, no armed sentry … They find happiness in their new work”

Anyway, we hope you’ll find it an interesting read – and don’t forget to look out for your fathers and grandfathers in the photographs!

And as usual, as more information comes in, it will be added to the relevant pages.

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Julian Layton – letters

I spent a couple of hours in the Wiener archives on Friday afternoon, mostly reading the correspondence of Julian Layton.

Layton was born in 1906, was a stockbroker by profession, and was of German Jewish background. He is a key figure in the Kitchener narrative, as well as in the Pioneer history, and he was important to the events that unfolded when many refugees were deported to Australia.

The CBF made good use of Layton’s talents: he was brought in as a trouble-shooter at several key points in this history. From 1934 onwards, he was also often asked to help in Germany and Austria in choosing which Jews would benefit from specific migration opportunities. Following the Anschluß in particular, he spent a lot of time in Austria between then and the outbreak of war in September 1939. There is a letter in the archives, for example, dated 6th June 1939, sent to the British Home Office (Aliens dept). The writer states that he has dropped a line to the passport office about a visit by Julian Layton to Berlin and Vienna, “to select suitable candidates for the Richborough camp.”

Later, once war was underway, there were problems among the men stuck in Kitchener waiting to be allowed to use their visas to travel onwards to other countries, or to be allowed to otherwise go about their lives after the majority had joined the army. Layton was again brought in to keep the peace, which he apparently managed with his usual mix of diplomacy and kindness. He was also sent to help the refugees deported to Australia when things had gone so badly wrong on board HMT Dunera.

Both in Australia and in Kitchener, the refugees seem to have been appreciative of Layton’s interventions, and one of the good things about getting a chance to look through his correspondence in the library on Friday was the opportunity to read the many thank you letters that the Kitchener men wrote to him.

I have produced some extracts below, with names redacted, so you can get a sense of the gratitude with which Layton’s kindness was received by the Kitchener residents.

Letter 21 March 1940

“You are not only the man who was bringing us to Freedom and Right; you are the first man who is lovable”
Letter 8 May 1940

“I received today my ‘for-good-permit’ from the Kitchener Camp, and I want to thank you once more for all you have done for me. Not only have you liberated me from the concentration camp which I had been in for 15 months, by getting me the British visa, but also I have felt your kindness during the many months I had the privilege to spend in the camp under your direction.”
Letter 21 May 1940

"In this moment where we are to leave the KC, we both should like to express you our feelings of gratitude and to render homage to your kindness and multiple endeavours to facilitate our living”
Letter 24 June 1940

“Dear Mr Layton In the name of the 41 internees of house 17, may I express our gratitude to you for what you have done for us ... it is not only the material help, it is perhaps even more your [?] and sympathy for our position and feeling which gives us some hope and spiritual support.”

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Descendants

When descendants get in touch with the project, it is notable how many people say at some point that they don’t have much information, that their fathers or grandfathers didn’t really talk very much about their time in the camp – or at all. People apologise for not knowing very much, or for not having very much material to send in.

First, then, a reassurance – this is completely normal. The most common situation, in fact, is that families have very small amounts of information at best, and that their relatives barely mentioned anything about this period of their lives.

In response, I try to reassure fellow descendants that this is what we expect – that this is normal – and that we still very much welcome the small pieces of information – or the one precious photograph, or the interesting document or letter, to add to this Kitchener camp project.

In other words, this was what we were expecting to be the case, so there is no surprise or disappointment at this end of things. Indeed, we have been overwhelmed at times by the stories and the items arriving. And deeply moved.

What I also try to highlight is that the point of the project in part is to gather together our many, many small pieces of information – and from these we may build a much larger picture of the camp and its context than has been available in the history to date.

And as we start to build up this project further over the coming weeks and months, then significant historical findings may start to come to light.

This evening, I have just looked up from my Excel spreadsheet (not a comfortable environment for me, it should be said!) – and I wanted to share what I think I have discerned from the List of Names that has been quietly building in the background.

We have something in the region of 750 names at this stage – a little under that, but close. And what we thought we knew to date is that the age range for the camp ran from 17 to 40 – some stated it ran to age 45.

However … and a drum roll for Kitchener descendants everywhere, if you please …. Even given these relatively few names so far – we have a 50 year old man, and a couple of others who are approaching that.

Every rule gets broken, eventually.

One lesson learned here is that digitised records can make a complete hash of reading original documents, because using digitised summaries in some instances, I initially believed we had people much older than this registered in the camp, but in fact it has been that the digitisation scans were incorrect. Always wait to see the originals …

It will be intriguing to see what else appears as these figures grow – and I hope we will find out much more about where the men came from (in terms of that perennial question of ‘why‘ people got a place), their Kitchener experiences, and about what they went on to do.

And at some point, of course, we will also be starting to explore the issue of the women and children who were in the camp. They haven’t been forgotten, but I need to take this one step at a time …

Anyway – that’s it for now. I’ll be back when I’ve done some more solid, archival work over the next few weeks.

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James Parkes

1896 to 1981

James Parkes was born on the island of Guernsey, which is off the coast of Normandy, north of St Malo; it is a British Crown dependency.

Parkes was an infantryman during World War One, then studied at the University of Oxford, and was ordained by the Anglican Church in 1926. For over a decade he worked in Europe, promoting  international cooperation. Here, he learnt at first hand of the rising antisemitism in Germany, and despite an attempt to assassinate him in 1935, he continued his activist work – which included rescuing Jewish refugees during the 1930s.

Reverend Dr James Parkes returned to Britain and continued his work – which in part took the form of many hundreds of articles and books, including The conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1934), and The Jew and his neighbour: A study in the causes of anti-Semitism (1930). Today, Parkes is regarded as a pioneer in the study of antisemitism: he built a collection that became known as the Parkes Library, which he donated to the University of Southampton in 1964: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/parkes/libraryandarchives/index.page

For those of you who have read Clare Ungerson’s (2014) book on Kitchener camp, you will know the importance of Neville Laski to our Kitchener history. Laski was President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and one of the group of men who pleaded with Prime Minister Chamberlain to provide assistance to European Jews trying desperately to leave Austria and Germany in the late 1930s, which, of course, became this Kitchener camp rescue.

Laski keeps appearing in the Kitchener narrative, mainly because he was on the Board of the CBF, and his papers, for example, are held at the Parkes Institute today, as are those of the Anglo-Jewish Association. Also of interest in our present context are the papers of Rabbi Dr Werner Van der Zyl, and the papers of Sir Robert Waley Cohen, who again will be a familiar figure to those who have read Four Thousand Lives. All these are held at the Parkes Institute in Southampton.

Among many archives I hope to get to over the course of this year, the Parkes Institute is high on my list, if they’ll have me. And when I have made my visit, as usual, I will report back here: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/parkes/index.page?

Rescuers

There have been a number of articles recently about people who saved Jews from the National Socialist policies of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. And this and lighter, yet still related, items have set me to thinking about the issue of ‘rescue’ in our context, in its many and varied forms (there is an interesting article on the general war-time context of ‘rescue’ by USHMM, here: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005185.)

Over the weekend I was sent a link to a story about a British spy who helped save around 10,000 Jews – putting his own safety at risk so that others might survive: https://www.timesofisrael.com/uk-spy-agency-celebrates-agent-who-saved-10000-jews-from-holocaust/.

Towards the end of last year, I was sent an article, from The Guardian, about two sisters who flew back and forth to Germany to rescue Jews – smuggling people out across the borders – again at great risk to themselves: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/05/ida-louise-cook-sisters-helped-jewish-refugees-flee-nazis-spy-mystery-film.

While this period of history was as dark as it gets, it is also important to remember those who helped our families – taking risks of a kind that most of us cannot imagine today.

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In our own context, of course, during the events of November 1938, Consul Robert Smallbones was a crucial figure – arranging visas to get people out of Germany, and visiting concentration camps to secure the release of many who had been taken from their families during that dreadful time. Smallbones had been instructed by the British government not to intervene, but did so nevertheless – regardless both of those orders and, again, of his own safety. In 2013, posthumously, he was finally recognised for this work, being awarded a medal as a Hero of the Holocaust: http://www.ajr.org.uk/index.cfm/section.journal/issue.Jun13/article=12732.

In the specific context of Kitchener, we have many people to remember and thank – including the members of the CBF who worked for so many years to get our families to safety – and our thoughts on this must always include the May family – and especially Phineas and Jonas May – the young men who ran Kitchener camp.

Someone needed to step up – and to do so quickly – and Jonas and Phineas May did so. Can any one of us imagine giving up so many months of our lives for others in this way? Even if we think we can imagine it – have we ever made the step to do so? The two things are a world apart: from contemplation to action.

Phineas May’s daughter has recently given us permission to publish her father’s diaries for this Kitchener camp project, and when all the paperwork has been settled, I will be uploading the diary here.

We will be honoured to display her father’s thoughts and writing here.

For an overview of Jewish rescues, see USHMM, here: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005519

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There is a lot of good work being done to recognise war-time rescues during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, of course, has a fair amount of material on this, including some work specifically on women rescuers: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/righteous-women/index.asp

And on teachers: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/righteous-teachers/index.asp

And about Jewish rescuers: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/rescue/rescue-by-jews.html

The Wiener library holds information on this topic as well, for example, at https://wienerlibrary.co.uk/Rescues_of_the_Holocaust

Finally here, a mention of another British man who did so much in such a dreadful time: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/world/europe/nicholas-winton-is-dead-at-106-saved-children-from-the-holocaust.html