The Diary of Phineas May


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:

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.


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:

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:

These pages in particular, on life stories, look interesting:

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.


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.



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.”



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.







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:

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:


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:

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:

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:

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.


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:

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:


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:

And on teachers:

And about Jewish rescuers:

The Wiener library holds information on this topic as well, for example, at

Finally here, a mention of another British man who did so much in such a dreadful time:


Some Kitchener names

I have spent a bit of time today updating the ‘List of Names’, which you can view here:

If you can add anything about any of the men you see listed, please do let us know. We’re still a very long way from 4,000, but – we’re getting there – one name at a time!

I have also uploaded some more of Hans Jackson’s extraordinary images on the research pages where they seem most relevant, for example here:

And here:

And I will continue to add further images from the collection that Hans Jackson’s nephew, Allen Sternstein, so very kindly gave the project permission to use.

We have been adding some more wonderful materials as they arrive from families all over the world. I will try to remember to add any group photographs received to the post I highlighted the other day. Another new one went in to the collection this morning. We have had some successes already with families being able to name people in these pictures – so please let us know if you see anyone you recognise. Families love to hear about this.

That’s it for now – except, importantly, to say thank you for your participation in and enthusiasm for this project. I don’t think I’ve told you this yet, but for a niche project we’re doing pretty well in terms of being ‘found’, and that’s down to you good Kitchener Descendants – spreading the word.

The more people who see the site, the more descendants we can hope to reach. So please do keep letting folk know we’re doing this, so we can keep extending our Kitchener family. It feels ‘right’, I hope, to both commemorate our families, while also making this serious attempt to fill a major historical gap.



The art of Hans Hermann Josephy

Hans Jackson: 17 February 1921 – 6 May 2012

Hans Hermann Josephy, or Hans Jackson as he was later known in Britain, was born in Berlin in 1921 to Richard Josephy and Klara (geboren Lachmann). His father owned two clothing shops (both called ‘Max Shöneberg’), running a successful business here until the National Socialists took power. On the day of the boycott of Jewish shops in April 1933, Hans returned home from school to find Brown Shirts shouting and displaying placards outside one of the family shops. They demanded protection payments over the next few years.

From 'Prelude to the Holocaust', by Hans Jackson resident of Kitchener camp
From ‘Prelude to the Holocaust’, by Hans Jackson, resident of Kitchener camp
With the kind permission of Allen Sternstein

Then, in an all-too familiar pattern, in 1935, Hans was expelled from the Friedrichs Real Gymnasium under the anti-Jewish legislation of the 1930s. He began an apprenticeship in carpentry at a Jewish trade school run by the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden. Many of these trade schools were in operation across Germany at this time, as we have discussed elsewhere; the aim was to help young Jews find a job abroad, so that they would be able to emigrate.

For Hans, the scheme was successful: Poldi Kuh, director of the trade school, helped Hans to obtain a place at Kitchener camp in England in March 1939.

Hans was never to see his parents again, however; they were deported and killed in Riga.

In Britain, Hans initially helped with a BBC monitoring centre in Haig camp (adjacent to Kitchener), translating German short-wave radio signals for the War Office. He was working at this on the day German troops invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.

From ‘Kitchener Camp’ by Hans Jackson
With the kind permission of Allen Sternstein

Nevertheless, despite his contribution, Hans was deemed an Enemy Alien and was interned, initially on the Isle of Man. His situation was soon to become very much worse, however, as he took what sounded like a better opportunity and volunteered to board a ship, with many others in a similar situation, bound for Australia.

That ship, however, was HMT Dunera.

From ‘Dunera’ by Hans Jackson
With the kind permission of Allen Sternstein

Despite his treatment thus far, including further internment in Hay camp in Australia, along with many other Jewish refugees when given the chance, Hans volunteered to join the Pioneer Corps in October 1941. He was posted back to the UK, to Scotland, where he built stage sets for the Entertainment Corps, and around this time he also took courses in commercial art.

After the war, Hans gained British citizenship, married, and set up a successful graphic design business in Glasgow. By 1980, he was also studying fine art and painting.

Familiar to many Kitchener families, Hans did not really talk about the war years – in his case, until after his wife’s death in 1984. He then began to produce paintings of Glasgow, but also of his experiences before and during the war. He was commissioned for this work over time, and in 1987 moved to Golders Green, forming close ties with survivor communities and organisations such as the AJR.

On the 60th anniversary of the events of November 1938, the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre established the Hans Jackson room, which exhibited his collection of work ‘Prelude to the Holocaust’.

From ‘Prelude to the Holocaust’ by Hans Jackson
With the kind permission of Allen Sternstein

A few weeks ago, Professor Clare Ungerson, whom many of you know as author of ‘the book’ on Kitchener camp (Four thousand lives: The rescue of German Jewish men to Britain in 1939), suggested that we should get in touch with Allen Sternstein. Allen is a nephew of Hans Jackson, and works hard with Holocaust education projects, loaning his uncle’s work out in order that a fuller understanding of the terrible events of the 1930s and 1940s might be gained.

On this weekend of Holocaust Remembrance, we are deeply honoured to announce that Allen has given permission for us to add his uncle’s work to this Kitchener camp collection.

Over the next few days and weeks, I will gradually add these images to this project, and I will also be carrying out further research on the life and work of Hans Jackson at the various archives where relevant materials are now held.

In remembrance of our families – the work of Hans Jackson


References for this article:

The Jewish Chronicle, Harold Hans Jackson, 10 August 2012, by Allen Sternstein; Harold Jackson, Personal Papers, EHRI portal, for the Wiener Library; Obituary – In Memory, The Dunera Association, by Allen Sternstein (



Kitchener camp group photographs

In terms of pictures of groups of Kitchener men, to date, we have been sent the following (mainly) Kitchener camp photographs – plus a couple of Pioneer Corps pictures

If I’ve missed one, please let me know in the usual way …

We hope you enjoy having a look through these – and don’t forget to contact us if you see anyone you recognise! Families would love to know who is in the pictures with their relatives. Some have already been lucky with this, so  do please keep looking.

Did you know? … The chances are that if you can see your relative – and a hut number – then you now know which hut he was in, and some of the people he shared a hut with. These groups tended to be taken among hut-mates.

If you’d like to see larger versions, please just click on the photographs

News from New York

In New York, Ann Rollett has from the start been working hard to ‘get out the word’ there about this Kitchener camp project. She has also been carrying out research into specific aspects of it, which we will be sharing over the next few months.

For now, she has sent us a more personal piece about how she first became interested in and involved with this work, which we wanted to share with you, below.


Back in the late 1970s, my boyfriend (now husband) and I visited Victor and Kitty Cohn in their new home in Leisure World, an over-55s community in Southern California. After a tour of the various clubhouses, over lunch in the restaurant by the golf course, Victor told us about coming to Berlin in 1945 with the British occupying force and finding my grandmother, mother (age 10), and uncle (age 8), who had survived the war in hiding. My grandfather had been killed just a few months earlier by the Russians when they liberated Berlin. Victor told us how he would take an army truck and fill a bag with as much food as he could find and bring it to my mother and her family. We were so touched by his story that, years later, we named our daughter, Victoria, after him.

Not long after, my boyfriend and I moved to the east coast. The next and only other time we saw Victor was at our wedding in 1983, one year before his death.

Back then, no one in my family talked much about what had happened during the war, so Victor’s openness had surprised me.

By the early 1990s, however, my mother had become more willing to talk. By this point, my grandmother was dying, and unfortunately, my mother was unable to answer many of my questions about the family that had been lost because she had been a young child, only 7 years old in 1942, when her grandparents and other relatives were deported and her family went into hiding.

My mother suggested that we interview Kitty, her only surviving first cousin. She was 17 years old when she left Germany, and would remember more. Plus, Kitty had family pictures. I audiotaped my conversation, with Kitty and my mother, the first time they discussed their family, the war, and the Holocaust. Kitty died in 2009, and my mother now has her photo albums.

I was busy in the 1990s working and raising children, so I didn’t listen to the tapes again until 2107. The audio quality is not great and I especially had difficulty in deciphering names. Kitty died in 2009, so I began researching online, trying to fill in some of the details.

During the interview, Kitty mentioned that she and Victor came to England in 1939 because Victor was accepted by a camp, which I eventually figured out was Kitchener camp. After Victor arrived at the end of April 1939, he found Kitty a job, so she was able to get a domestic worker visa. She followed him to Sandwich about three months later.

Through my searches about Kitchener, I came across Dr Clare Weissenberg’s blog, From Number to Names. On her site, she recommended Clare Ungerson’s book on Kitchener. She also listed web resources that I have found invaluable.

As Clare Ungerson describes, when England declared war on Germany, a large proportion of Kitchener men joined the British Pioneer force –a support organization made up of foreign-born men. At the end of the war, many Kitchener men were sent back to their native countries with the occupying forces.

My mother, who was 10 in 1945, told me how much it meant to them to see Victor – to see any family member – after two and a half years in hiding. On the audiotape, I can hear her enthusiasm as she talked about Victor’s visits, remembering him as charming and handsome, like the actor Victor Mature. My grandmother became quite ill when the war ended and my mother had to take responsibility for obtaining and preparing food for the family. She remembers how much Victor did for them, visiting and bringing food frequently. She said all the British soldiers collected food.

According to Kitty, when Victor returned to Berlin, he went searching for his family and hers. Victor had left behind his parents and two younger sisters, whom he had hoped to bring to England on domestic worker visas; according to Kitty, however, they had not wanted to work as maids. Kitty had left behind her parents and two older brothers, both of whom had applied to Kitchener, but had not been accepted.

Victor found only five survivors, all from Kitty’s family – my mother, uncle, and grandmother; Hardy Kupferberg (Putti), Kitty’s first cousin from her father’s family, who had managed to hide until 1944 when she was caught and put into Ravensbrück, the women’s work camp near Berlin; and one other distant cousin, Berthold Rahfeld. According to Kitty, “Victor did not have a soul left in the world.” My mother remembers that, as the British and American soldiers came to Berlin, word got out about what they had found and they began to realize that “nobody could have survived.”

I don’t know much about the Kitchener men who returned to Europe with the occupying forces and whether any of the others found family. It must have been heartbreaking to realize that virtually everyone they loved was gone. For the few who survived, the Kitchener men and the British and American troops brought hope and help. My mother says about British and American occupying forces that “they were human.”

How much that must have meant – after the cruelty, suffering, and deprivation of the war.




Letters such as the one shown below will have been written in their tens of thousands among our family members who were trying to find a safe country to which they could emigrate from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Else Weissenberg, letter 1939, Shanghai
February 1939: Letter – Else Weissenberg to her son Werner, who later obtained a place in Kitchener camp, page 1
Letter to Kitchener camp, 1939
February 1939: Letter – Else Weissenberg to her son Werner, who later obtained a place in Kitchener camp, page 2

Translation below, by Helga Brown, BA Dip. Ed., née Steinhardt

The addresses you want, my dear son, you will find amongst the enclosed papers; one address will be sent to you by Aunt Hedel. I don’t have your cousin’s address, as sister Recha didn’t reply to my letter. I asked your cousin Recha to let you have the address of her sister by writing; she has another sister, the eldest one – Edith – there in New York. I hope she will do this. I expect you will write to her direct quite soon and thank her for her previous correspondence. You will find in one of the letters that she went in your interest from Pontius to Pilate and that came about because your father wanted to load you on a ship to Shanghai, but I didn’t want that. When I mentioned this to Dr Honegbaum – a rep. of the Aid Association – she advised me to write to London to the Chinese authorities about a visa. But I wrote to Reha in Berlin about this request and begged her to fetch the visa personally to speed up this arrangement, but Dr Honegbaum advised me to contact London because the visa there is free of charge. You will see the result from your letter. He should have said that in the first place. Too many people are waiting, as a result of this advice, in queues for hours. I also asked Myst in a letter to give you the address of Frieda’s relations, who if they didn’t want to sponsor you themselves could, perhaps, inform their friends about your predicament and ask them for advice.



While Kitchener camp eventually provided a route out for around 4,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and ‘the Sudetenland’ (now part of the Czech Republic), in order to more fully understand the context in which this rescue took place, we have started to look at what other options were available to people trying to escape in the late 1930s.

A Kitchener descendant got in touch recently to discuss the Shanghai option, in part because he has found the name of a relative in a Shanghai address book from November 1939.

Richborough transit camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, front cover
Kitchener camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, front cover

For anyone interested in pre-War family history who has not yet discovered the ‘institution’ of the Adressbuch, I would strongly recommend them as a source of much useful information.

Shanghai Adresbuch
Kitchener camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, foreword
The history of Jews in Shanghai

While the favoured options for those seeking refuge tended to be Palestine, the USA, and the UK, the numbers of people being accepted by those countries were extremely limited by quotas. Many did find refuge in other areas of the world, and in particular in other parts of the British empire. However, it tends to be little known that many Jewish refugees saw out the war in Japan and China, where thousands survived the Holocaust years.

There had long been a small Jewish community in Shanghai, which had settled here for business and trade purposes during the nineteenth century. They were often referred to as Baghdadi Jews, who “made a notable contribution to the development of Shanghai as an international trading city” (Brinson and Kaczynski, p. 88). As part of an “International Settlement” area, this Jewish community was not subject to Chinese law.

In the early twentieth century the Baghdadi Jews were joined by another wave of Jewish settlers, this time fleeing first Russian pogroms and then the 1917 Russian Revolution. Many settled in the north, but others joined the Shanghai community, particularly following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

Thus, by the time we are concerned with here, Shanghai had three synagogues, two cemeteries, a school, shops, and a hospital, for example – in other words, it was a settled and established Jewish community.

Because it was a Treaty Port, Shanghai was one of the few places in the world that did not require paperwork from immigrants to the country. However, the Japanese held the real power in Shanghai from 1937, and when they entered the World War in 1941 on the side of the Axis powers, Japanese forces finally entered the International Settlement Zone and confined the Jewish population to a ghetto.

Arrival in Shanghai

Because Shanghai did not require the same reams of paperwork as other countries, large numbers of Jewish refugees made their way here, often by boat from Trieste or Genoa; some travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Those who initially travelled to Japan – mainly to Kobe, where they were well looked after – were soon to be moved again, just prior to Pearl Harbor, when Japanese forces moved any remaining Jewish refugees from Kobe to Shanghai. Once there, they were placed with the approximately 18,000 refugees who had already moved here from 1938 onwards.

Many were housed in a refugee camp, with provisions paid for by ‘the Joint’ (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). Some established small businesses, including Viennese coffee houses, and the various Adreßbuch editions from these years (see example below) give the addresses, names, towns, and professions of the many thousands of Austrian and German refugees who were now living here, with their business information, where applicable.

Kitchener camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, page 100-101
Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, page 100-101

Before Pearl Harbor, Jewish life flourished in Shanghai, despite often poor conditions and inadequate food supplies. There were three German-language newspapers, as well as journals; there were concerts, plays, and exhibitions, decent healthcare, and good educational opportunities.

After Pearl Harbor, conditions deteriorated quickly, not least because the community was now cut off from US assistance. The original Baghdadi Jews were mostly interned, because they were British subjects, and although the refugees were not interned, at least to start with, because they were stateless, by May 1943 they were placed in a ‘Designated Area for Stateless Refugees,’ or ghetto, which extended for around one square mile. This area included a large Chinese population, and the residents were allowed to move in and out of the area by means of passes. Conditions were very poor indeed, but this was not a European Jewish ghetto: religious, cultural, and educational activities continued, although disease was rife and food extremely scarce. The German government exerted pressure on the Japanese to create a ‘Final Solution’ in this context, but this did not succeed: most of the refugees survived the war years, although around 31 were killed in a US air raid in July 1945.

According to UN Relief and Rehabilitation records, when the war in the Pacific ended in August 1945, 13,496 Jewish refugees were accounted for in Shanghai. Because local conditions remained poor, most left fairly soon afterwards. A few returned to Germany and Austria, but most headed for the USA, Australia, Canada, and Palestine.

Kitchener camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, Introduction, page 4-5
Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, Introduction, page 4-5
Kitchener camp, Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, Introduction, page 6
Moriz Reissner, Shanghai address book, Introduction, page 6

Source: The material for this post has been drawn from Charmian Brinson and William Kaczynski, Fleeing from the Führer: A postal history of refugees from the Nazis, The History Press, 2011.


Next year, we will be carrying out research into other options that were available to Jewish refugee families during the 1930s, but for now I am signing off until January 2018.

May I take this opportunity to thank all the families who have placed their trust in this project and who have got in touch with their family materials and information. It has been humbling and an honour to be entrusted with these family stories and histories, and to help gather together these early weeks of Kitchener materials.

We are looking forward to working with many more families in the new year, when we will begin the second phase of our ‘get the word out’ campaign to reach as many Kitchener camp descendants as we can.

If over these holiday weeks you meet up with anyone who had a relative in Kitchener transit camp, please do encourage them to get in touch. They are welcome to share as much or as little information as they feel comfortable with: for some, it might just be a name and a date of birth; others may wish to share much more with the project. Both are valuable, and we are always happy to hear from anyone with a connection to Kitchener camp in Kent.


And as we gather with our families to light the candles, or to decorate the tree, we remember our fathers and our grandfathers, our uncles and our cousins – and many of us will reflect on what this extraordinary rescue has meant, perhaps especially as we engage with the children in our families today.

For those still lighting the evening candles, Chag Sameach!

And for those with Christmas approaching, Happy Christmas!

See you all in 2018.

And I hope you have a happy and prosperous new year.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

Many of you, like me, are probably starting to receive emails and letters about events connected to Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2018 – either requests to volunteer, or invitations to attend.

This year’s theme is ‘The power of words’: Words can make a difference – both for good and evil.

HMD began in the UK in 2001, and over 7,000 activities now take place across the country on or around 27 January each year in commemoration of the Shoah.

Many of these events are connected to Holocaust educational projects in schools, but they also include events in workplaces, prisons, museums, and of course, a large state event in London to which survivors and dignitaries are invited each year.

This Kitchener project has been asked to provide materials to two HMD events on the south coast of England, in Dover and Deal, which feels very appropriate to our Kitchener context.

To anyone who has offered materials to the website project: if you would be happy to have copies of your documents and / or photographs considered for inclusion in these exhibitions for Holocaust Memorial Day, please would you sign the letter linked to below and email it to us as soon as possible.

We are also being given opportunities to exhibit materials and information about Kitchener by a number of other museums and events, which I will write about further as soon as we have received fuller details, but they include – a nationwide commemoration of the contribution of Jewish refugees to the UK, a temporary exhibition in a national holocaust museum, and, of course, the exhibition we intend to hold for the handover of this archive to an established holocaust educational institution in 2019.

The permission letter below will enable us to put together writing and images that explain the events surrounding Kitchener camp – in the kinds of terms we put forward on this website.

No family should feel under any obligation whatsoever to agree to have their materials in exhibitions if they are not comfortable with the idea.

For those who do like the idea – please could you let me have the permission letter back by 28 December 2017.

Many thanks!

Permission letter for exhibitions


The Association of Jewish Refugees

I had a very good meeting on behalf of the Kitchener project this week with the Chief Executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, which took place in their bright, busy offices in North London.

I have long turned to the journal archives of the AJR when I have needed some information on Holocaust-related subjects – and it is perhaps especially fascinating to look through the early copies of the journal from the postwar period (they are all available online). Intriguingly, I once found a search notice for my dad from this time, although sadly, it didn’t say who had posted it!

Michael Newman, who is the Association’s current CE, recently highlighted that membership of the AJR is open to all Jewish victims of Nazi oppression, but also to the spouses, children, and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and refugees to the UK.

The main purpose of the AJR is the provision of social welfare and care services to Jewish victims of Nazi oppression in the UK, but it also plays a significant role in Holocaust educational projects.

Thus, the AJR supports research and commemorative projects, as well as educational events.

A further significant contribution of the AJR is the archive Refugee Voices, launched at the Wiener Library in 2009, which constitutes a collection of over 150 interviews with refugees from Nazism who now live in the UK.

Apparently a new website format is imminent, but for now, they may be found here:


And for those currently celebrating Hanukkah – Chag sameach!


Warth Mills, Manchester

“I don’t know if you can help me. We are delivering an HLF-supported project about Warth Mills internment camp in Bury, Greater Manchester. Many notable Jewish refugees were interned here in atrocious conditions. I wondered if you’d discovered any connections in your research into the Kitchener Camp.”

If anyone knows anything about Warth Mills, and especially if their relative was interned here, please do get in touch – either here in the usual way, or directly, by contacting Richard Shaw, Director at Unity House | Edwin St Creative Hub, The Met, Market St, Bury, Greater Manchester, BL9 0BW, or at


Warth Mills was a disused cotton factory near Manchester. I gather that over the course of the Second World War over 100,000 internees and POWs passed through here.

Interestingly, the Manchester Evening News has just run an article about the project to gather information on the camp at Warth Mill:

The Imperial War Museum also holds some records about the camp, if you are interested in following this up and think your family might have some connection here:

The Association of Jewish Refugees has also published articles over a number of years on Warth Mills, if you would like to check their online archive:


While we’re helping our friends running projects on related matters, a quick reminder here that we have also been asked to assist as follows, below.

One of our descendant families in Australia is also interested in the research into the Niederschoenhausen, because he has a family link there, as well as to Kitchener camp

As part of a research project, Dr Verena Buser is searching for witnesses or relatives of those who lived and worked in the Hachshara and retraining schemes in Berlin-Niederschoenhausen (Berufsumschichtung und Tagesschule für Berufsvorlehre) in the 1930s

Young Jews were trained in carpentry, as locksmiths, in gardening and in other practical skills. Some managed to escape via Kitchener camp to Australia and other destinations

Verena is also interested in similar training sites in Nazi Germany, such as the groups in Neuendorf, Schiebinchen, and Groß Breesen

Any contact or information is welcome. Please email Dr Verena Buser directly: