Spectators can also watch without a ticket, standing between the Cenotaph and Banqueting House, assembling from 1.30pm.
Everyone is welcome to attend. It would be lovely if as many Kitchener families as possible could be there – whether or not your father or grandfather was in the armed forces.
We are unlikely to run another Kitchener event this year, so it’s a last chance to gather in our 80th year. And for such a worthwhile occasion.
AJEX, The Jewish Military Association UK, is unique.
Established as the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Legion after the Great War, it exists to celebrate and support the contribution of those members of the Anglo-Jewish community who have served and continue to serve Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
The Charity is organised across three pillars:
Welfare, Remembrance and Education
In commemoration of the dreadful events that were to be the trigger for the Kitchener camp rescue, the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) held a service at Belsize synagogue, London, on 7 November 2019 (http://www.synagogue.org.uk).
Belsize was founded by German Jewish refugees in 1939. It was a special place to be – especially on this date.
That November 7th is a meaningful date for my family can be understood from the copy of my speech, uploaded below. The service was led by Rabbi Wittenberg, whose grandfather would have been my father’s rabbi in Frankfurt. He was rounded up and imprisoned in Dachau, as my dad was.
I was therefore deeply honoured to be asked to say a few words at the service about these events and about the experiences of our fathers and grandfathers – especially on this particular date and in this moving context.
I was also honoured to speak in company with Eli Abt, a Kindertransport survivor from Breslau, who spoke movingly for the first time about his family’s harrowing experiences over these months and years.
You will be pleased to hear that the congregation was very interested in the Kitchener history, and that I also met new ‘Kitchener descendants’ whom we hope to see at some of our events in the near future.
I’ve been asked to upload a copy of my talk, which can be found below.
‘Kristallnacht’ commemoration, Belsize synagogue
A talk given by Clare Weissenberg, a Kitchener descendant
Thank you for inviting me to speak about Kitchener camp – at this service to commemorate ‘Kristallnacht’.
My father – Werner Weissenberg – was one of 30,000 men arrested during those few days. He was imprisoned in Dachau until February 1939.
He was one of thousands desperate to escape Germany. And in June 1939, he was finally rescued to safety at Kitchener refugee camp in Kent.
What do we know about the 30,000 men imprisoned in November 1938? Who were they – these husbands, sons, and brothers … ?
Why were they selected for arrest? How many subsequently emigrated? How many were killed in the Holocaust?
While we seem to know little about the tens of thousands caught up in ‘Kristallnacht’, descendants of those rescued through Kitchener camp are interweaving the wider history of the November arrests with individual accounts of 4,000 of these men who were rescued to Britain.
Kitchener refugee Lothar Nelken was a judge before his profession was forbidden to Jews, and in British wartime documents he is recorded as being ‘a weaver’. What did other Kitchener refugees do before anti-Jewish legislation changed forever so many thousands of lives, so many tens of thousands of life chances, and so many hundreds of thousands of chances at life?
In the 1930s, my dad was a physicist at the University of Breslau – until he was forced out in 1936.
Drawing on his Jewish fraternity network, Werner obtained a rare teaching post in mathematics at Philanthropin – a Jewish school in Frankfurt am Main.
He supplemented his small income by teaching private English lessons, which were taken to increase his pupils’ chances of successful emigration.
And so my father was teaching children in Frankfurt when the November Terror was unleashed and four synagogues were set alight. He was arrested with thousands of others, including Rabbi Wittenberg’s grandfather – who was also imprisoned in Dachau.
Numbers vary, but it is estimated that at least two thousand died or were killed in the weeks following November 1938.
Werner wrote to a friend: “Those of us who escaped with our lives can be said to be the lucky ones.”
One condition for release from the camps was that the men had to leave Germany immediately. Until they left, they remained at risk of re-arrest.
And so the men were to emigrate first, establish jobs, somewhere to live, and then their families would join them to live in safety.
But, the declaration of war in September 1939 meant that many Kitchener refugees were never to see their families again.
The Wiener Holocaust Library has a list of over 600 Kitchener wives and children – a majority of whom did not survive the Shoah. Included among these are Lydia and Alfred – the wife and young son of refugee Hans Friedmann. Lydia secured Hans’s place at Kitchener, but tragically, despite his efforts, Hans was unable to rescue his wife and son in time. They were deported from Frankfurt to Minsk and killed in the Shoah.
In reality, no-one wanted these would-be refugees. And so these desperate, starved, tortured men – from Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen – had nowhere to turn.
Note: The Evian conference, 6th July 1938
Over a period of nine days, country after country expresses sympathy for the plight of German Jews, but only the Dominican Republic agrees to accept additional refugees. There is little criticism of German anti-Jewish policy and no willingness to accept more refugees; indeed, the conference sparks further border closures (Source - F. Caestecker and B. Moore, Refugees from Nazi Germany and the Liberal European States, 2010, p. 34)
Meanwhile, in Britain …
A philanthropic group – the Central British Fund – had been organising the rescue of German Jews for some years. (Today, we know them as World Jewish Relief.)
Following the mass arrests, the CBF increased their efforts, observing that very soon, “the German government would take such steps as would lead to the practical extinction of Jews in Germany” (Minutes, Council for German Jewry, 1st December 1938).
Their Kindertransport rescue began first, and there was a ‘domestic service’ scheme to bring out thousands of women.
What is less well remembered is the Kitchener camp rescue, which began in February 1939 – which saved my father, and thousands of other German-speaking Jewish men.
Given the urgency and the great need, and the British government’s reluctance to admit more permanent residents, the CBF suggested a transmigrant refugee camp.
The aim was to bring out 3,000 men in a first tranche. All of whom had to be able to show a good chance of emigration to a third country.
As the first refugees transmigrated, another 3,000 would be brought out to safety (Minutes, Council for German Jewry).
Kitchener refugee Viktor Sonnenfeld left Kitchener for Australia, with his wife Gertrude in July 1939. En route, they learned that Gertrude’s father had been beaten to death in Vienna. However, their daughter was born in freedom in Australia in November 1939, and I recently had the great honour to meet this now-80-year old woman – who flew halfway round the world to be at the opening of our Kitchener exhibition just a few weeks ago.
Kitchener was a long-abandoned World War I army training base, near Sandwich, on the Kent coast. The refugees’ first task was to make it habitable.
An extraordinary undertaking – to construct a small town for thousands in a little over a month. The chief carpenter, refugee Walter Brill, said they were willing to work all hours, because “for every hut we finished, we knew another 72 lives could be saved.”
The refugees worked hard, restoring around 50 residential huts. Over time they built a post office, in which refugee Otto Neufeld worked. Otto’s young daughter Lili survived the war in hiding, with a French family. Afterwards, they were reunited, but found communication difficult because Lili now only spoke French, while Otto spoke German and English.
Kitchener camp had a store, recreation rooms, and two dining halls – including kosher provision for those who wanted it – such as Kitchener refugee Josef Frank, who through all the intervening years kept his Kosher dining slip and Orthodox ‘work shift’ ticket.
There was a barbers, a dentist, and a hospital. Two rabbis served religious needs – one of whom was Dr Werner van der Zyl – student of Leo Baeck.
There was a concert hall – with classical music played by refugees such as Franz Schanzer – a cellist. He transmigrated to New York in April 1940. There were musicians from the Philharmonic orchestras of Vienna and Berlin, as well as jazz, and popular music-hall tunes. Hundreds of local people came to social events at Kitchener camp.
Others took part in sports matches, or games of chess; they took the refugees on days out to Dover, Canterbury, and local beaches. The people of Sandwich brought our refugees into their homes, such as Werner Gembicki and Herbert Mosheim, who were befriended by Maude Peabody and her family. Some remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Some of the refugees remembered Kitchener as little more than a labour camp; others recalled it as a place of refuge and safe haven. How it was regarded by thousands will have differed according to life experience, character, age, and class; whether families were safe or not, and what happened subsequently.
Every week brings new Kitchener descendants to our group, with family photographs, letters, and documents.
I always encourage families to add a photograph – because a face humanises the history – from ‘thousands of men’ towards the personal and the individual, which seems especially important in this context.
Many families say – ‘My father never spoke about this time’ – ‘We knew we couldn’t ask’.
Years of silence: of not being able to ‘ask’. Years of absence: of a hole where understanding should have been. Decades of guilt, because Kitchener children didn’t know ‘enough’. …
Today, when Kitchener families are in a room together, what is noticeable is the noise. It’s like someone took a cork out of a bottle as everyone starts to talk and to exchange their histories! We sometimes sign off our emails – in recognition of our shared history – “From one ‘Kitchener Kid’ to another.”
The Kitchener Descendant Group is a life-affirming and meaningful practice – which brings among us a better understanding of our recent history: it brings people and families together.
An American descendant wrote to me recently – her sister was a young child when her parents left Britain in summer 1947, after her father was rescued at Kitchener in 1939.
She wrote, “This is such a wonderful moment for me. May G-d bless the rescue you are memorializing – for all the men who passed through the camp. My father is now shown as a brave survivor and no longer just a number in the Dachau log book.”
In closing, Rabbi Wittenberg – I want to acknowledge your grandfather, who was rabbi at Frankfurt in November 1938, when Kitchener refugees were being arrested off the streets and from their homes – having broken no laws, and having done nothing wrong.
In our fathers’ darkest days, your grandfather provided comfort and spiritual sustenance – especially in Dachau, where hundreds died, and where all were brutalised and starved from the day they arrived.
To know your grandfather was in that dark place where our fathers were, lifts the burden. And means a lot.
Thank you – all – for bearing witness to this often forgotten chapter in German Jewish refugee history. And for listening to the story of the rescue of my father – especially on this date – November 7th, which was his birthday.
With sincere thanks to Professor Clare Ungerson for her work to bring this history to light in Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939 (History Press)
One of those amazing finds this morning that most of us dabblers in Jewish genealogy know happen all too seldom.
However – a wonderful discovery in the online Centre for Jewish History (CJH) records today – and especially so if your father or grandfather was a youngster with the BerlinORT that came to Kitchener at the end of August/start of September 1939.
The ORT was one of many German Jewish technical and trade schools that sent young men to Kitchener and elsewhere as skilled refugee emigrants.
It’s tricky to point you to the photographs directly, because the searches here time-out (if anyone knows a way of stopping this, please let me know!)
However, follow these steps, and hopefully you’ll get there!
Control F to bring up a search box (or just scroll down the page) – and type in: ‘identification photographs’, which should bring you to a heading as follows: ‘Identification photographs of teenage boys, probably refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe‘
Click on the link – and then go down the numbered links on the left-hand side of the page to view the images.
These are incredible – some really lovely photographs here – the recto carries the face, the verso has identifying information from the back.
I understand that Kitchener / ORT families have not seen these images before – and there is other ORT info on that ‘results’ page at CJH, so I hope you get much pleasure out of this morning’s ‘find’!
On the website is a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. There are instructions here on how to ascertain whether the name of a relative or other relevant person is included among over 65,000 names that will be engraved on the walls of the memorial.
There are also instructions for what to do if a name is not included.
There is a definition used by the DÖW for deciding which names are to be included.
Attention is also drawn to the website page headed “The Names”.
The names were gathered as part of an assignment by the Austrian Government in 1995 – by the Dokumentationsarchiv des Österreichischen Widerstandes, also known as the DÖW (Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance). This is an institute for historical research. It took the DÖW twelve years to complete the task. The names are held in a DÖW database.
The preparatory work – which is required at the Ostarrichi Park site before construction can begin – has been underway for several months. It is hoped that the memorial will be completed by September 2020. The public inauguration should take place in October 2020. Further news will be posted on the memorial website.
With best regards,
Initiator of the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna
Ramsgate Montefiore Heritage (RMH) www.ramsgatemontefioreheritage.co.uk is hosting a talk about Kitchener camp by Professor Clare Ungerson, author of Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939.
This is part of a regular programme of talks relating to Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore, their synagogue, and the town of Ramsgate, which is situated just a few miles east of Kitchener camp.
You may recall that the KDG hosted a visit last year to the tiny but very beautiful Montefiore synagogue.
The RMH notes that members of the camp not only visited Ramsgate but also attended services at the synagogue. Some were married there by the minister of the time – the Rev. Pereira.
The Heritage society says: We are seeking photos of members of the camp visiting Ramsgate and of Kitchener men at the synagogue.
I am starting to put together a page about the recent Kitchener exhibition and the plaque unveiling. I’m so sorry for the delay in doing this, but as many of you know, I haven’t been too well recently. I also have lots of new contacts that we’ve been receiving over the last few weeks, which I need to catch up with. Anyway – we’ll get there!
In the meantime, one of the emails I received gave some information about Rabbi Broch, whom I have written about previously: he was one of the two Kitchener camp rabbis.
The email reads: “Rabbi Broch later became rabbi in bournemouth; his son lived in Hendon and died about 15 years ago. Perhaps Bournemouth shul would have information. I know he authored a few books and remember seeing on the flyleaf a biographical excerpt about him”.
If anyone is willing / able to follow any of this up either with Bournemouth shul, or in the records, or if anyone has one of the books referred to here, I would be very pleased to receive anything you might be able to find out.
So sorry to be absent for a few days, but I am taking some much-needed time to rest.
I will be back on form and answering email queries as soon as I can.
In the meantime, if you can access the BBC, you might want to tune into tonight’s Antiques Roadshow at 8pm to see Dan Herman – who was a very young child in Kitchener camp with his father, Siegfried Hermann.
A very kind and helpful chap called Matt, from the BBC, first contacted me some months ago about this, and asked whether we had had a contact from anyone who had actually been in Kitchener – who might work with them towards tonight’s programme, which is all about the outbreak of war.
Many of you who have been at the various Kitchener events will have met Dan – and I know you will be looking forward to hearing what he has to say tonight as much as I am.
To add to the interest, tonight’s programme is at least partly filmed in the tunnels at Dover Castle where the Dunkirk evacuation was organised, which is, of course, another part of our shared Kitchener history.
Below – a quick update before I get on the road for our rather circuitous route to end up in London for the exhibition.
And a very small ‘sneak-peak’ of the title section of our first exhibition banner! 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻
As many of you will have seen, we had a wonderful piece of media coverage for the Kitchener history this weekend following a recent contact by Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian and Observer newspapers. It was all thanks to the hard work of Rebecca Singer at World Jewish Relief, who contacted Harriet on our behalf.
Harriet emailed and asked if she could also speak with some descendants. We put her in touch with Stephen and Paul who work so hard on our committee. They have put in countless hours to help bring the KDG events together, and I hope this helped make all their hard work feel worthwhile.
Anyway, I was delighted to see their fathers’ histories made it into the article, as did some fabulous images from Kitchener families who had given consent for their images to be shared.
This all happened very suddenly over the last week, and rather caught me on the hop in the middle of trying to ensure everything is ready for our exhibition opening, but what an incredible thing to happen.
I’m so sorry that the website is probably running very slowly at the moment: it was never set up for national news coverage. Over the last 24 hours we’ve had approaching 5,000 views, so it’s a little crazy here.
Rather wonderfully, we’ve also heard from four new Kitchener families already, one of whom has just arranged in lightning-fast time to join us in Sandwich, which is fantastic.
If you have nipped out to buy the newspaper version of the Observer as a keepsake, you will have seen already that our little history has been drawn on as the lead-in to their coverage next week to commemorate 80 years since the declaration of war.
So next weekend will probably bring another batch of new readers to the project, because it is likely that the Kitchener article will be linked to again.
You’ll have to forgive me for a short while if I can’t do much to reply to individual emails, but I do look forward to saying hello to as many people as possible on Sunday.
As you all know, the exhibition is intended as both a tool for education, and as a commemoration of the rescue of our fathers and grandfathers who were at Kitchener camp. I sincerely hope you will feel in the end that what I have pulled together over the last few months from our materials will do justice to our history and to our families.
I have never been so nervous in my life…
For people attending the exhibition opening, a programme should come out to you in the next 24-36 hours.
Many Kitchener descendants have written to me recently to say thank you for my work on the Kitchener project.
It is of course always lovely to receive thanks – and this is very much appreciated.
However, I think it’s important to add that from the start the Kitchener camp project has always been about all of us Kitchener families.
If I’d sat here at my desk and simply written about whatever I could find in archives, this website would not be the extraordinary resource that it is today.
The success of what we are producing together has never been about one person, one family, or one history. Its strength lies in myriad details and the minutiae of individual records. It lies in the expressions on faces in the many incredible Kitchener photographs, and in the small pieces of crucial information – and how they are expressed – in documents and in letters.
These faces and these turns of phrase still speak to descendant families across 80 years of history – and our collective response to this simple fact is what has made this project what it is today.
I am also immensely grateful to everyone who has been in contact and shared difficult and sometimes very painful narratives – often for the first time.
I also want to say a particular thank you to those first families who got us going – who put their trust in the project and its endeavours when few had even heard of it. You know who you are – who have been through all these months with me – every so often emailing a suggestion, or offering some help, or just lifting my spirits when I’ve been tired.
It’s been a tough couple of years in some respects, but I have to say that when people thank me, I feel a bit of a fraud.
Because it has been the most wonderful two years working on the Kitchener camp project. I’ve met incredible people and encountered so much fascinating information. Simply put, I have learned so much.
I’m both touched and incredibly proud of what we’ve all achieved here, and while ‘thank you’ seems inadequate, it’s all I have – and I think you know how much I mean it.
I’ll see many of you on Sunday and Monday – and I will hold in my heart every one whom I know would like to be with us but just can’t make it at the moment.
We will be thinking of you all – and we will remember your Kitchener forebears as we each will remember our own that day.
The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Association of Jewish Refugees
Just a quick note to say that all is OK with the Bell Hotel for the Kitchener AJR plaque unveiling organised by Clare Ungerson in Sandwich for 2nd September 2019.
I know some of you have heard about the recent fire. But despite the news report below, the manager is confident they will be absolutely fine to put on a splendid kosher-friendly buffet for our group.
Clare Ungerson has paid a visit today, and assures us that all seems to be in good order.
We send our very best wishes to the Bell Hotel management and staff over what will no doubt be some very trying and tiring days while they get everything cleared up – and in the middle of the summer wedding season! You really do have our sympathies.
A couple of families who have only recently joined the Kitchener project have asked what form the exhibition will take, so I’ll do my best to outline things here. If you’ve read previous posts on this (like this one, for example: http://www.kitchenercamp.co.uk/exhibition-permissions/) there’ll be something else along soon, but I wanted to give new families a chance to catch up with where we’ve got to.
We have commissioned a professional designer who works with museums and institutions – who will draw on some of the materials we have been given permission to use for these purposes by our contributing families.
They will select examples from among our many letters, documents, and photographs to tell the broad history of the Kitchener camp rescue.
Some examples of ‘traveling exhibitions’ were posted up here a little while ago, such as the ones shown in the links below, but I know not everyone will have seen those earlier posts.
The aim is to tell the wider history of the rescue – rather than individual histories, as the website does – although people who see the exhibition will hopefully come to the website for more information about the individuals involved – our fathers and grandfathers.
This is a ‘traveling exhibition’ being created among families on a small budget – so please don’t expect to see a stand that focuses on ‘your father’s history’ specifically. There are well over 300 pages on the website, covering many, many Kitchener men. Even USHMM couldn’t mount an exhibition of that scope – and we are obviously not in the same league as USHMM! 😄
A key part of the opening event day on 1st September is as much the opportunity to gather together and to participate in talks and workshops as it is about the exhibition itself.
The history of this remarkable rescue, which was organised and funded by remarkable and generous people, is now being told in more places and to more people.
Together, we have achieved something extraordinary with this project, in a very short period of time. And of course, it continues to grow.
The Kitchener history is becoming better known and better understood – among educators, researchers, and most importantly, among families. And our ‘small but perfectly formed’ (!) traveling exhibition will be one part of this process.
Our 300 pages of collective, collaborative research on this website form the main historical material – and this will remain the case wherever the exhibition may travel and whoever may see it. In addition – literally week by week, at a rate that I sometimes struggle to keep up with – the historical information collected here is increasing. There has probably never been anything quite like this before.
We’ve achieved something amazing here among us – and I hope those who can make it to see the exhibition on its opening day will enjoy event, the company, and the experience of being part of this incredible experience of ‘making history’ together.
One of the Kitchener descendants lent us an incredible document for the project a little while ago. It’s an article on Kitchener camp in what was basically the Le Soir ‘colour supplement’ of its day. It was published in Belgium.
The article is titled (in translation) ‘Kitchener Camp is not a Ghetto’, and was published in February 1940.
The caption for the photograph above, which is from the article, states that it shows the Kitchener camp rabbi. He also appears in a number of Kitchener photographs sent in and in archival photographs I have seen.
However, it doesn’t look like Dr Werner van der Zyl, as far as I can tell from photographs findable on Google images, which tend to be of him in later years. And van der Zyl’s materials are archived at Southampton, which I can’t get to for the time being.
The other Kitchener rabbi we know about was the Orthodox Isidor Broch, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about him – let alone what he looked like in 1939/1940.
If anyone can help – or if you could spread the image around relevant Facebook sites, etc – please do let me know if you find anything out.
You can see his image again (front row, seated) in the photograph below. This photograph is held by a number of families. If you have a copy, could you possibly check the reverse, just in case anything helpful has been written there.
Our friends and colleagues at World Jewish Relief have very kindly included our exhibition information in this month’s WJR newsletter, and on their website.
And World Jewish Relief will be leading one of the workshops on the opening day –
1 September 2919 at the Jewish Museum in London.
I had the great pleasure to present a paper on Kitchener camp alongside WJR at a recent workshop. There is of course something very special about working alongside the organisation that rescued our fathers and grandfathers.
As ever, WJR – thank you so much for your help and support!
If you have a green World Jewish Relief / German Jewish Aid form for your relative, even if you don’t wish to share the whole record, it would be really useful if we could please have a copy of the top part of it.
We have only recently realised that these give arrival date, place of origin and – crucially – camp number!
I can’t tell you how ridiculously excited we get about such things …
We have very few sources for the men’s camp number, so please do think about whether you feel able to share this information with the project.
It would be very gratefully received!
There are only four tickets remaining for the exhibition, so if you’d like to join us for the afternoon events, please do sign up quickly: