If you’d like to support a fellow Kitchener descendant on his amazing 600-mile Kindertransporte commemoration bike ride – Paul Alexander was both a baby on the Kindertransporte, and (like many of us, he has only recently found out) he is also a Kitchener descendant!
So, generally, we keep to a no-advertising policy, except to let families know about events they might be interested in attending.
However … while I doubt that many of us will want to don lycra to join in with this one, it is such an iconic event in relation to one of our sister rescues, the Kindertransporte, I hope you will forgive us this one.
Update: We have received some lovely messages of support for this cycle ride, including the following:
“Subject: The Kitchener Camp
My thanks to the British people who made this possible.”
In commemoration of the start of the Kindertransporte in 1938, some World Jewish Relief staff, friends, and some of those who were around in the 1930s (!) – are staging a 600-mile bike ride from Berlin to London Liverpool Street station.
The riders are setting off from Berlin on Sunday morning, on the 17th June, and are due to arrive in London during the afternoon of Friday, 22nd June.
And it seemed to me that many Kitchener folk would want to know this is going on.
You may be relieved to hear that there are various ways we can participate without actually getting out our bicycles and shorts …
And you can post good luck notices there too. You can bet they will be reading them during lunch breaks and supper time, as will their families.
The fund-raising the riders are looking for provides what feels like an appropriate opportunity for some of the Kitchener families who have asked me how they can contribute to some of the organizations who helped their families survive.
An amazing expedition – a good cause, close to most of our hearts.
The Kitchener connection
It’s also worth knowing that there is a very direct connection to our Kitchener history, in the figure of Paul Alexander, the gentleman who appears in the video below.
(If you click to enlarge the video, the sound comes through fine)
Paul Alexander was on the Kindertransporte, and he is one of the cyclists undertaking this 600-mile journey. His father Alfons Minikes got out of Buchenwald thanks to a permit to come to Kitchener camp, where he worked as the Spanish teacher for his fellow men.
Für das Kind
Worth remembering: the predecessors of World Jewish Relief helped to save around 65,000 German Jews through the 1930s, and you can ask them if they still have your family records.
About half of these records still exist. Tragically, the vast majority are for people who did not make it to safety in time.
This is a chance to support an amazing endeavour, as WJR people once supported us.
As our US friends say – it’s an opportunity to ‘pay it forwards’.
“Look what I just found!” should be a new section heading for the website … I’ve been receiving a few of these recently – and some of them are real ‘finds’.
This one in particular is a good example of how the most unlikely scraps of paper left by our fathers and grandfathers, uncles and cousins, can sometimes reveal or substantiate another part of our Kitchener history.
Please don’t ever assume the ‘scraps’ are too trivial – all scraps welcomed!
"Clare, I just happened to be going through some old books of family photos and came across a piece of newspaper.
No clue what the newspaper is or the date.
The other side has an article about an amusement stall worker who was arrested for stealing cigarettes and concealing them in his socks.
By the way, the paper was quite brown, so this is fixed up a bit.
It is worth noting that the gentleman who sent this in is none other than the “English-born son” mentioned in the article below.
Me, I quite fancy reading the other side too … I call that a pretty enterprising use of socks!
It is usually evening when the refugees arrive, struggling with their heavy trunks, sacks, rugs and coats over the churned up roadways which lead between the long, low huts …
It may from the outside present a rather bleak aspect: but directly the men come into the temporary dining room, they are greeted by the refugees already here as long lost brothers, and it is very touching to see the warmth and gladness of the welcome…
It is up to everybody fortunate enough to be here to work hard so as to enable this Camp to be got ready for those who are still unfortunate enough to be in Germany.
The recreational side of the camp has already got going, and every evening in the Common Room the refugees will be seen playing ping-pong, chess, draughts, or billiards, or investigating the intricacies of darts, which they did not know prior to their arrival here; there is also a punch ball and boxing gloves for those so inclined …
During the weekend we had our first outing, when the large family, dividing into different parties, visited the village and strolled over the Golf Course to the sea, some even being fortunate enough to be taken out for car drives.
A further evidence of great kindness and friendship towards the refugees comes from the manager of the New Empire cinema, in Sandwich, who has extended an invitation to them to visit his Cinema in any evening they wish.
Numbers are as yet small: at the time of going to press there are eighty in Camp.
Editor: The following article was written by the camp doctor, “the only Italian refugee so far in Camp.”
Our hospital is comparatively big: we have 25 beds, which is a good proportion for a proposed population of 3,500. But we have to consider that whereas in the normal conditions some people are able to stay in their own homes in bed when they have even a small temperature, it is not advisable that he should remain in one of our huts … [The] hospital is better arranged than the usual public hospital. Instead of one big ward, we have cubicles for single beds.
A temporary menu
Breakfast is porridge, bread and butter, and tea or coffee
No. 1 (lunches)
Above, some of the kitchen helpers – residents of the camp
No. 2 (suppers)
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
Bread and butter
April 1939 – extracts
Everybody here is very grateful to Mr Goodman of the Empire Cinema, Sandwich, who has been receiving as guest parties of 35 refugees four evenings every week, and has made each Refugee feel he is an honoured guest.
Through the good offices of Mr E Guy, Principal of the Thanet Technical Institute (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Kent_College), some eighty Professional teachers have formed themselves into a rota … I am sure I will be seconded by every Refugee here when I propose a Vote of Thanks to these good folk, who, after a tiring day teaching children, give up their precious spare time to make a long journey – for they come from all over Kent – to give these lessons.
I wish I had the space to mention by name all the good people who in one way or another have tried to make the lot of those here a little happier. Extraordinarily handsome gifts have been sent, while a list of those who have given unstinted time and service would fill a number of volumes of this journal.
Saturday 19th March, was notable for the first assembly of our Parliament. The Visitors room had been turned into a very good resemblance of the House of Commons. Mr D. S. Woolf acted as “Mr Speaker”, and opened the evening with an explanation of the usual procedure of debate … “Members”, of course, spoke, with but few exceptions, in German, but used the English terms such as “Mr Speaker”, “Right Hon. Member”, and when they wished to show their approval said “Hear! … Hear!!”
The Speaker said that the Prime Minister might be some minutes late, and that he would have a momentous statement to make to the House … [a] door opened and in walked … did our eyes deceive us … Mr Chamberlain … no – but Mr K…y dressed up to look the very image of him. He entered, amid tumultuous cheers.
Opening of canteen
Early in March a small Canteen was opened which was an immediate success. It is run on real co-operative lines, for those who can afford to buy from it are helping to pay for the free issue of chocolates and cigarettes given to each refugee every evening.
Sandwich String orchestra
At the invitation of Mr Max Burwood, the enthusiastic Conductor of the Sandwich String Orchestra, a number of talented Refugees, who have been deprived of their musical instruments, were invited to join the orchestra, and now go every Thursday to rehearsals. When we have sufficient musicians in Camp, Mr Burwood has offered to come here and train a KC Orchestra.
Get to know the English mentality
Secret no. 1 When I came to England, I started conversing with whatever Englishman I could get in touch …
Secret no. 2 Try hard! Very hard!! To THINK English!!!
Secret no. 3 Get acquainted with the English mentality.
We all here experience the English hospitality and generosity, and they are giving us this anonymously.
There are school children who sent pennies they had saved to help us, there are rich people who give thousands of pounds for we Refugees, and nobody expects anything in return.
Every Sunday there is an appeal for charity by some famous Englishman, and already on Monday morning money starts pouring into the BBC offices.
My experience as the first Male Nurse
There is a new profession for me – that of a male nurse! And I was appointed the first Male Nurse of the Camp.
I know that the patients would prefer a Female one, nevertheless a man is better than nothing.
The are two sorts of sick people. First, those who are still able to quarrel, and second, those who are too weak, even to do that. The first sort wants water, milk, etc., only when it is impossible to get it, and when it is obtained, they are too sleepy to drink it. The second sort speak with such a soft voice that you cannot understand them. It’s better so, otherwise you would have the same bother with them as with the first kind.
Each male nurse should be forced, by order, to join the harriers Club of the camp, because it is a fact that only those people, which live far away from the kitchen, become ill.
October 1939 – extracts
Amongst the good that has resulted from so much bad is the pleasure that the number of little children, who now live in the precincts of the camp, give to those who are fortunate enough to look after them. A kindergarten and school have been started, and the lessons given by fully qualified teachers are eagerly looked forward to by diligent pupils.
One is reminded of the famous song from The Mikado – A Wandering MINSTREL’ – in connection with the small groups of entertainers that we have arranged to go round from hut to hut to give entertainments in the evenings. A little music from small accordion bands, songs, some jokes, and some conjuring tricks all help to while away the long evenings which now have to spent by the campmen in their dimly lit huts. It can, therefore, be imagined how much the visit of our strolling players is looked forward to.
To brighten our darkness, our electricians have made many forms of lamp shades and other devices so as to give the maximum light with the minimum chance of any being seen outside the huts. Empty beef tins, round cardboard containers, bulbs painted blue and black have all been tried.
Lucky are the huts that now have wireless sets, as news is most eagerly awaited for, and as no German newspapers are available, those who are still not familiar with the English language are only able to get first-hand information of what is going on by means of the radio stations.
High Holy Days
On the new year a number of small Orthodox and Liberal services were held for congregations consisting of 300 to 400 people, at which representatives from each hut attended. Numerous services were held in the different huts, and on the day of atonement similar services were held as on the new year.
Heavy rains recently resulted in the formation of large lakes in various parts of the camp, and in connection with them various good stories went round the camp, and one was to the effect that a U Boat had been sighted in the lake between huts 25 and 26.
Looking up to to the sky
It is hauntingly dark now in our camp when the sun has set. Only a few weeks ago hundreds of lights still glittered and flared comfortingly from one hunt to the other – now, however, the gloomy state of our Camp at night has become a true image of the outer world’s state. Strife has come unto that world with all its miseries and tragedies – and a bitter resignation is the only feeling which fills an honest man’s heart …
There are some fifty huts scattered over the field, and in those huts there are living more than three thousand people, refugees, the majority of them men, but a number of women and children as well – celebrating in a rather modest, rather discreet way our Jewish New Year… [V]ictims of peace, we have left slavery and humiliation of liberty, for the chance of taking breath in freedom again. But now the anxiety for our beloved ones, our friends still living in the areas of war eclipses that feeling … who can help asking again and again … “What will become of us?” that deeper, more depressing question: “What will become of them?”
There will be ordinary work-day tomorrow again, with its toil and recreation; part of our people will leave for the National Service, whilst the others will continue developing the Camp, doing office work or learning English.
The agriculturalists are quickly developing the new acres we acquired surrounding the Camp, and they tell us that the turf is extremely hard and difficult to plough, and that this would be a hard job for experts with proper equipment … The first crops of vegetables have been well up to the expectations of our experts, and are far beyond the wildest dreams of those farmers in the neighbourhood who have said that the ground was unsuitable for the purpose for which it is now being used.
More extracts to follow ...
Source: The Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust, Doc 644, P03297, Reference only
I am finally starting to get to grips with what Woburn House and Bloomsbury House were, and what part they played in our Kitchener history. It has taken a while, in part because many of the existing sources assume a level of knowledge that I don’t have, and unpacking it all has taken a bit of time.
Anyway, there’s now a first draft of information at the following link, and there will also be about 4 minutes of film footage added, hopefully, in the next few days, as the owner is very kindly going to allow us to upload it to the project.
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!
It is disjointed because the lovely folk at ‘The Joint’, as it is familiarly known, are looking out their archival records for consultation for the project.
I thought it better to get something rather than nothing onto the project pages for now, but the page linked to above will be expanded in due course when I have the first-hand archival records to consult. I’m very much looking forward to getting into their records on this and we very much appreciate their kind help.
Kindertransporte Commemorative Cycle: Berlin to London 17-22 June 2018
Dan Newton is about to begin his epic cycle ride to fund raise for World Jewish Relief, which rescued his grandfather Hans Nebel and his sister. He will be cycling over 600 miles in six days, recreating the Kindertransporte route that saved two members of his family:
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."
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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,
All letters translated from the German originals by Helga Brown, geb. Steinhardt, BA, Dip. Ed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.