Details of the Kitchener exhibition at the Wiener Holocaust Library are now available at the link below.
The Wiener Holocaust Library has now started the final part of the IT process to take this Kitchener website into their care.
And so it is time to say my thanks and my goodbyes.
First, the practicalities: if you have contacted me with information for the website this year (2020), please can I ask you to forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Give her a couple of weeks to complete the transfer of the website first, but this is the address to which recent and future materials should be sent.
I am so very sorry that I have not been able to keep up the work on the website this year. I have been ill, requiring surgery and a biopsy: I’ve had to focus on my health and my family. Thank you so much for all your kind enquiries – things are looking up and I am recovering well.
Of course, I will see many of you at events as the Kitchener history is taken forwards. But this day had to come. If the project had stayed with me, eventually, it would have been lost to families and to historians. And that isn’t what any of us would have wanted. Sadly, but inevitably, I can’t afford more time away from work, nor the ongoing resources needed to run the website, the correspondence, and the accompanying research.
The two years through which I created and ran the Kitchener Project have been a truly extraordinary experience, however. And I will be speaking about these processes at the Wiener Holocaust Library on the evening of 23 April 2020, if you’d like to join me.
Information about my talk will be available through the usual Wiener Library channels (https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk). I know many of you are members of the library, or are registered to receive their email newsletters that contain information about exhibitions and events. They also put information on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wienerlibrary) and their Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/wienerlibrary).
Over time, the library will automatically send their newsletter to email addresses on our Kitchener list. If you do not wish to continue to receive these, you may opt out in the usual way. We figured this was the simplest way of working out who wants to stay in touch.
As for me, I had to re-start my ‘day job’ at some point, but if you want to keep up with what I’m doing next – and whatever spin-offs may arise – you are most welcome to visit my family history website at www.fromnumberstonames.com.
‘From Numbers to Names’ is where my family history work began.
I gather that a number of folk have assumed that my focus on Kitchener history spoke mainly to my relationship with my dad. And of course in some ways it does, as it does with all of us, for all sorts of complex reasons.
But my family history work began with – and continues to be driven by – a deep need to know something about our missing family members – and the deepest emotional driver for this is my grandmother Else Weissenberg (pictured below) who was killed at Auschwitz in 1942.
Those of you who have seen the digital section of Leave to Land may recall that my Kitchener work is in fact dedicated to Else.
From Numbers to Names
When my mother died in 2014 I decided, finally, to look into my dad’s family history.
I began with two items: my father’s ‘German suitcase’ of documents and letters, which I ‘inherited’ when my mother died, and a slip of paper on which in a young child’s script I had written our family tree – on a rare occasion when my dad felt like discussing his pre-war life. I have no memory of what prompted this exchange.
All I know is that many decades later it was to prove invaluable to what happened next.
Anyway, this story is told on From Numbers to Names, which I created so that I could keep far-flung family and close friends in touch with what I was getting translated and what I was discovering.
The originals of all the documents and letters that are on that website will eventually be housed for safe-keeping with the Wiener Holocaust Library, London – in the heart of a city my dad loved, in the country that gave him safe refuge at his time of greatest need.
I know many of you have been on similar family history ‘journeys’.
As most of you know by now, when I was working through my dad’s materials in chronological order, I soon found his documents and pictures of Kitchener camp. And I wondered, ‘What was all that about then?’ I tried Google, and found very little. And the rest, dear friends, turned into this Kitchener Camp Project!
Just for the moment, From Numbers to Names is closed. When we were getting a lot of media interest ahead of the exhibition and the Kitchener memorial plaque last year, I didn’t want my family website trawled for information.
I still have some work to do before making the site ‘go live’ again, but if you’d like to stay in touch that way, please check From Numbers to Names in a few weeks’ time, and I’ll look forward to seeing some of you there.
Archival research: Some future work?
There’s something else hopefully coming up that you might want to keep in touch about.
A number of times I have been on the receiving end of friendly remonstrance for not telling the story of other – especially women – refugees to Britain, many thousands of whom arrived on what are generally referred to as Domestic Service visas.
There were also the Kindertransport rescues, and many smaller rescues – around 65,000 of which were carried out with the assistance and organisational capacity of the Council for German Jewry. The largest section of the Council was the Central British Fund – today, World Jewish Relief.
The World Jewish Relief records are the last significant unexplored archive about Jewish refugees to Britain in the 1930s. And I am in the process of applying, alongside a historian, for funding to access this archive. If we succeed in securing the funding, we intend to run workshops on our findings, write blogs and articles, and of course, we will be asking for individual histories to be shared about the tens of thousands who were rescued over these crucial years.
At least in the early days, I will probably use ‘From Numbers to Names’ for my updates on this work, rather than trying to run a separate site. There isn’t any funding for that side of things, so we’ll just have to see how things progress.
Do listen out for this next stage of research getting going (…fingers crossed!). The funding decision will be made mid-Spring 2020.
So, this just leaves the thank yous and the goodbyes…
I don’t really know where to start – or where to end! And as I hope most of us will stay in touch, I hope the goodbyes aren’t really necessary.
I suppose my deepest thanks must go to the families who put their trust in the project and supported it with materials and with suggestions of avenues to explore – many of which I’d never heard about before. You have shared photographs and documents, as well as corrections and ideas – and we needed all this to get to where we have reached today.
In relation to the many suggestions of events and people to be followed up: I soon came to refer to these as my ‘rabbit holes’ – so many of which I would love to have had time to go down in depth.
But the extraordinary response from so many families, historians, and institutions meant that my initial intention – that I would spend months carrying out research in archives – was just not achievable. To keep up with the correspondence and the materials that came pouring in was the best I could hope do. To undertake serious archival research as well would have taken a small team of people, as things transpired. And of course, there have not been the resources to make that possible.
The World Jewish Relief archive aside, I’m not yet sure which part of our history I will follow next. All I do know is that something in me – a ‘need to know’ what happened to my family – will keep taking me down one rabbit hole or another.
I genuinely hope and trust that I will continue to encounter Kitchener families and our diverse histories along the way. And one thing I am certain of – is that there is much more to be learned from the many Kitchener descendants who have yet to find us.
The things I’ve learned and the people I’ve encountered here will remain with me always. Importantly, your generous support and your personal warmth will travel with me wherever I go next.
And for all who have asked what my father would have thought of this work – I genuinely believe that our fathers and our grandfathers, our uncles and our cousins would be proud and pleased with what we achieved together over the few months that led up to the 80th anniversary of their Kitchener camp rescue to Britain in 1939.
In collating the many small pieces of our family histories, we have brought an important and meaningful piece of research together. And in so doing we have focussed light on another corner of our shared Holocaust history.
Finally, I know many are taking up the baton to share this history further – in the form of articles, and talks, and events.
Please keep up this vital work. The sharing and future understanding of our Shoah and refugee history depends on us all.
With my warmest wishes – and my heartfelt thanks –
Designer and Editor, The Kitchener Camp Project
The Kitchener camp touring exhibition
at its new permanent home at
The Wiener Holocaust Library, London
On Wednesday, 25 March 2020
From 6.30pm to 8pm
A fantastic opportunity to see our exhibition in its beautiful new home in Russell Square, Bloomsbury.
We understand that the library will hold some events to accompany the exhibition, so watch this space!
Another date for your diary
On Thursday 23 April at the Wiener library, I will be giving a talk about the Kitchener project and the exhibition.
Further details available here soon.
All welcome – and I look forward to seeing you at the launch event!
Designer and Editor, The Kitchener Camp Project
The Kitchener exhibition
‘Leave to Land: The Kitchener Camp Rescue, 1939’
was part-funded by the Association of Jewish Refugees (https://ajr.org.uk/join-ajr/)
The other half of our funding was generously donated by friends and families of the Kitchener Camp Project.
We are immensely grateful to everyone who helped raise the funds to make this exhibition possible
I have recently been sent a link to a website exploring the German synagogues attacked in November 1938
Their archive contains over 1,400 histories of destroyed synagogues, prayer halls, and their communities.
From the website:
“… a memorial to the former synagogues of German Jewry that had been attacked during the pogroms in November 1938. The Nazi-orchestrated pogrom of the night of November 9-10, 1938 was dubbed “Kristallnacht” (“Crystal Night”) by the German authorities and press. In coining this term, Nazi propagandists – whose intention was to beautify a night of inhuman cruelty, theft, violence, and destruction – drew inspiration from the sight of glittering mounds of broken glass; all that remained after thousands of windows were smashed as rioters wrecked, and in many places burned synagogues and prayer halls, and vandalized and looted Jewish homes and businesses. In this night German Jewry came after around 1500 years to an abrupt halt.
This website contains 1400 histories of each community and its synagogue that had been attacked during Pogrom Night. On the one hand each story summarizes stories of foundation, enriching cultural exchange and coexistence, and on the other hand each single community history documents phases of banishment, violence, anti-Semitism, and prejudice.
Not included are around 600 synagogues or prayer halls, defunct or operating, that were not damaged on Pogrom Night itself, unless they were attacked at an earlier or later date. After the pogrom almost all of these synagogues had been closed by order of the German authority, too. Nonetheless, the project team wishes to acknowledge the importance of these synagogues and the Jews who built them, and the project team pays tribute to them.”
Some of you might have met Kathrin Pieran at our Leave to Land exhibition event. She was our contact for the event at the Jewish Museum, London – and was fantastically helpful.
I thought you might be interested to know that Kathrin is giving a talk at the end of the month at Finchley Church End Library.
Do pop along if its an area of interest for you in relation to the Kitchener camp history.
An evening with Kathrin Pieren from the Jewish Museum, London
Jewish contributions to the British Armed Forces
Finchley Church End Library proudly presents: An evening with Kathrin Pieren talking about the Jewish contribution to the Armed Forces.
Since Oliver Cromwell re-admitted Jews to Britain in the mid-1600s, Jewish men have fought in the British Armed Forces. First limited to the role as nurses like all women, Jewish women have taken on an increasingly broad range of roles in the 20th century as well, some serving in the Second World War as drivers, mechanics and spies.
This illustrated talk will draw on the highlights of the collection of the Jewish Military Museum, formerly based in Hendon, to tell some of the fascinating stories of courage, resilience and sacrifice of Jewish men and women who fought for Britain in various armed conflicts.
Kathrin Pieren is the Collections manager and curator (social and military history) at the Jewish Museum London. Before joining the Jewish Museum, she managed Petersfield Museum and the Flora Twort Gallery in East Hampshire.
The talk will last around 45mins, followed by a ten-minute Q&A session, with a mystery prize for the best question.
Finchley Church End Library
Monday 24th February 2020
From 6.30 – 8pm
Free tickets at the link below
Just a note to let you know that our exhibition –
‘Leave to Land: the Kitchener Camp Rescue, 1939’
will be on display as follows for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020:
Wednesday 22nd January – from 3.00 – 5.00pm
The East Manchester Academy
60, Grey Mare Lane, Manchester M11 3DS
It will also be shown at other Manchester venues in school time, but these are not open to the general public.
For details and further information about both locations, please contact Anthony Lishak at the following email address: email@example.com
From Monday 27th – Friday 31st January.
Barking Town Hall, Town Hall Square, Barking IG11 7LU
This year’s HMD theme is: Stand Together.
More information about this year’s theme is available at the HMD website, here:
I’ve heard despondency from a great number of Kitchener descendants about lack of Holocaust awareness generally, and lack of teaching about the Shoah in schools specifically.
I’ve recently been sent some information from a British school attempting to tackle ignorance about genocide, and I know from their Twitter account that there is a special focus on the Holocaust.
The students have produced a short film, linked to below, and a professional website to explain and disseminate their project.
You might want to take a look – and perhaps get in touch with some words of support. Perhaps you could suggest to your local school that they might want to join the campaign – Genocide: Know More.
The school’s Genocide 80/20 campaign website is here:
To the students and staff of Hampton School: it’s never easy to stick your head above the parapet.
Well done – for being prepared to stand up and be counted.
And thank you – for caring enough to put in the work.
Young Jewish refugees in Britain: Research help needed
Dear Kitchener Descendants,
I am a PhD student at Royal Holloway’s Holocaust Research Institute, exploring the history of the Central British Fund (CBF) (which you may know as the Jewish Refugees Committee at Bloomsbury House). Today the organisation is known as World Jewish Relief. They provided financial support for the Kindertransport and Kitchener camp.
My focus is the CBF’s work with adolescent refugees, some of whom arrived on the Kindertransport; others arrived on work visas or training schemes. I am interested in the experiences of young (mid to late teens) refugees and how the CBF interacted with this group. Many were seen as “too old” to adapt to British homes, yet too young to support themselves or enter full-time employment.
The experiences of these young refugees tended to take place in agricultural training, vocational schools, and (for girls) in nursing or domestic service. They were housed in hostels or residential homes for training to become self-supporting, or to prepare them for re-emigration. I have been exploring nursing and domestic service training, schools for Jewish refugees (such as Bunce Court), and agricultural training centres (usually managed by Zionist youth programmes with the support of the CBF).
I am interested to hear more about how and in what ways these experiences had an impact on young refugees. How did the presence, influence, and relationship with the CBF (however indirect or infrequent) affect the lives and identities of a younger generation of Jewish refugees in Britain?
In many ways, Kitchener was an early experiment in how to “deal” with refugees, and in responses to refugees arriving from Europe. The experiences of Kitchener refugees may help answer some of my research questions.
Although many Kitchener refugees were older than the adolescents in my other case studies, I am interested in learning more about the following:
- The experiences of younger men at Kitchener (in their late teens and twenties).
- Interactions with workers/volunteers of the CBF/JRC, and Bloomsbury House.
- Reflections/memories of the support received from the CBF (or other British-Jewish refugee agencies).
- Reflections/memories of what was “expected” of them as so-called aliens. How were they treated? Were they expected to participate in particular duties or work? Did they feel pressure to assimilate? Or to do what was ‘expected’ of them?
- Indications of how they thought their time at Kitchener, or their treatment by refugee agencies in Britain, had an impact on later life and aspects of identity.
I would love to hear from anyone who is willing to assist me in my research and/or is interested in finding out more about my project. Please do get in touch if any of the above information has resonated with you or your family’s story.
My contact details are:
Trustee applications sought
A gentleman recently sent me a photocopy of a chapter of a book written by his grandfather, Sir Gerald Hurst, QC: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Hurst_(politician).
The book is called Closed Chapters. And apparently Hurst led one of the Alien Tribunals in Kent in autumn 1939.
Some extracts follow that I thought you might be interested in reading.
I’m particularly interested in the penultimate extract, below, because I am curious about the extent to which the refugees’ careers prior to the so-called Nuremberg laws had been forced to change by the time they became refugees in Britain.
Anyway – I hope you find this an interesting perspective – from very close to the time at which these events took place.
(And yes – I’m trying to track down the references to the Government White Paper of October 1939, and the reference to The Times newspaper article dated 1 November 1939.)
I just received an email that those of you who are signed up for Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL) newsletters will probably already have seen.
I’m posting it here in support of the WHL, which has shown – and continues to show – such steadfast support for the Kitchener project.
It’s taken a not-insignificant level of resource in terms of their people and costs to maintain this support. So if you can, please consider donating a contribution to help support the WHL in return for the vital work they do for us all.
Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving. A day when everyone, everywhere can do something to support the good causes and communities that mean so much to them. It is a day to celebrate and encourage giving in all its forms.
The Library depends on your support to grow as an institution and to protect our valuable collections. Please visit our website to make a donation today.
The Wiener Holocaust Library
29 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DP
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7636 7247
Registered charity number 313015. Registered in England
A quick post to ask whether you could please check your letters and documents to see whether any of your materials mention Thomas Frame.
We believe that Frame was Vice Consul in the British Embassy in Berlin. It is possible that he helped some of the Kitchener men get their visa out of Germany. Sometimes the official signatures on documents are difficult to read, but as you know what you’re looking for in this instance, it might make it a bit easier.
We have seen the articles about him in the Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees, so we are hoping for information beyond this.
This request aside, I’m meanwhile continuing to add new names and information to the Kitchener project all the time. Our digital archive here is growing by the week.
In the next few days I should have a fuller update for you.
It was an honour yesterday to witness the formal remembrance ceremony that included a wreath for the refugees of Kitchener camp. This took place at the Cenotaph in London, during the AJEX (https://www.ajex.org.uk) commemoration in Whitehall.
For families not resident in the UK, particularly, I should stress that this is no small, local affair but the state monument in London. This is a recognition of the history of our fathers, grandfathers and extended families on a national scale – and it was an incredible moment to witness.
As well as a commemoration to the armed forces and associated forms of service, a prayer was also said for the six million – among whom all of us will count some family members.
Our Kitchener wreath was laid by Michael Ziff, who had a family member who was a Dovercourt boy, I believe. That is, he was a Kindertransport teenager who for a time was resident in Kitchener camp until more suitable accommodation could be found. I had a brief chance to tell Michael about the project after the ceremony, and hope the family get in touch to tell us a little bit more.
Below, I have added some of the photographs I took, and I sent out quite a few tweets on the day – all of which get uploaded in real time on the right-hand side of the website (best accessed on a desktop).
I’ve been so pleased to hear that a number of Kitchener descendants were able to attend the commemoration, although somehow most of us managed to miss each other in the crowds!
But whoever you were standing alongside, I think you’ll know what I mean in what I say next – whatever religion (or none) that you follow.
In this context especially, there seems something very special about Hebrew prayers rising on the air from a crowd of people gathered together in the heart of London.
A wonderful event – and thank you so very much to AJEX for thinking of us, and for remembering our fathers and grandfathers at Kitchener camp.
Monica Lowenberg has very kindly uploaded her photographs of the day, including images from the memorial booklet.
These can be accessed from her email, which was sent out earlier today.
Information in brief
For tickets for Kitchener families, please contact: paradetickets@AJEX.org.uk
Spectators can also watch without a ticket, standing between the Cenotaph and Banqueting House, assembling from 1.30pm.
Ceremony starts at 2pm
Some further information
887 Kitchener refugees joined the Pioneer Corps in Autumn and Winter 1939.
More refugees joined later in the war.
By war’s end their service had ranged through all the forces, including vital translation and Intelligence work.
Not all the Kitchener refugees survived this service: all deserve our thanks and our honour.
This year, on Sunday, 17th November 2019, a wreath will be laid specifically for the Kitchener camp soldiers at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.
Welfare, Remembrance and Education
The ceremony is run by AJEX – the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and women.
I went last year: it was moving and very worthwhile. I will be going again this Sunday, as will Stephen Nelken. And we hope you can join us!
Ticket information is here: https://www.ajex.org.uk/85th-annual-ceremony-parade
Spectators can also watch without a ticket, standing between the Cenotaph and Banqueting House, assembling from 1.30pm.
Everyone is welcome to attend. It would be lovely if as many Kitchener families as possible could be there – whether or not your father or grandfather was in the armed forces.
We are unlikely to run another Kitchener event this year, so it’s a last chance to gather in our 80th year. And for such a worthwhile occasion.
AJEX, The Jewish Military Association UK, is unique. Established as the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Legion after the Great War, it exists to celebrate and support the contribution of those members of the Anglo-Jewish community who have served and continue to serve Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The Charity is organised across three pillars: Welfare, Remembrance and Education
For a copy of my recent talk at Belsize synagogue to commemorate the Kitchener camp rescue in the context of the events of November 1938, please see the end of this post.
The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) commemorates the events of November 1938. "Following on from the 80th anniversary and the United Synagogue’s ‘Leave a Light On’ initiative last year, the AJR again encourages the illumination of synagogues and households on the night of the 9th November to remember the Kristallnacht." https://ajr.org.uk/latest-news/remembering-the-kristallnacht-by-keeping-a-light-on/
‘Kristallnacht’ commemoration, Belsize synagogue
In commemoration of the dreadful events that were to be the trigger for the Kitchener camp rescue, the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) held a service at Belsize synagogue, London, on 7 November 2019 (http://www.synagogue.org.uk).
Belsize was founded by German Jewish refugees in 1939. It was a special place to be – especially on this date.
That November 7th is a meaningful date for my family can be understood from the copy of my speech, uploaded below. The service was led by Rabbi Wittenberg, whose grandfather would have been my father’s rabbi in Frankfurt. He was rounded up and imprisoned in Dachau, as my dad was.
I was therefore deeply honoured to be asked to say a few words at the service about these events and about the experiences of our fathers and grandfathers – especially on this particular date and in this moving context.
I was also honoured to speak in company with Eli Abt, a Kindertransport survivor from Breslau, who spoke movingly for the first time about his family’s harrowing experiences over these months and years.
And with the new Director of the Wiener Holocaust Library, Dr Toby Simpson, who read from some of the 356 direct testimonies of November 1938, which were brought out by Alfred Wiener to safety in Britain in August 1939: https://www.pogromnovember1938.co.uk/viewer/about/gathering-and-preserving-testimonies/
You will be pleased to hear that the congregation was very interested in the Kitchener history, and that I also met new ‘Kitchener descendants’ whom we hope to see at some of our events in the near future.
I’ve been asked to upload a copy of my talk, which can be found below.
‘Kristallnacht’ commemoration, Belsize synagogue
A talk given by Dr Clare Weissenberg, a Kitchener descendant, and Editor and Designer of the online Kitchener camp project
Thank you for inviting me to speak about Kitchener camp – at this service to commemorate ‘Kristallnacht’.
What do we know about the 30,000 men imprisoned in November 1938? Who were they – these husbands, sons, and brothers … ?
Why were they selected for arrest? How many subsequently emigrated? How many were killed in the Holocaust?
While we seem to know little about the tens of thousands caught up in ‘Kristallnacht’, descendants of those rescued through Kitchener camp are interweaving the wider history of the November arrests with individual accounts of 4,000 of these men who were rescued to Britain.
Kitchener refugee Lothar Nelken was a judge before his profession was forbidden to Jews, and in British wartime documents he is recorded as being ‘a weaver’. What did other Kitchener refugees do before anti-Jewish legislation changed forever so many thousands of lives, so many tens of thousands of life chances, and so many hundreds of thousands of chances at life?
Who were these men?
In the 1930s, my dad was a physicist at the University of Breslau – until he was forced out in 1936.
Drawing on his Jewish fraternity network, Werner obtained a rare teaching post in mathematics at Philanthropin – a Jewish school in Frankfurt am Main.
He supplemented his small income by teaching private English lessons, which were taken to increase his pupils’ chances of successful emigration.
And so my father was teaching children in Frankfurt when the November Terror was unleashed and four synagogues were set alight. He was arrested with thousands of others, including Rabbi Wittenberg’s grandfather – who was also imprisoned in Dachau.
Numbers vary, but it is estimated that at least two thousand died or were killed in the weeks following November 1938.
Werner wrote to a friend: “Those of us who escaped with our lives can be said to be the lucky ones.”
One condition for release from the camps was that the men had to leave Germany immediately. Until they left, they remained at risk of re-arrest.
And so the men were to emigrate first, establish jobs, somewhere to live, and then their families would join them to live in safety.
But, the declaration of war in September 1939 meant that many Kitchener refugees were never to see their families again.
The Wiener Holocaust Library has a list of over 600 Kitchener wives and children – a majority of whom did not survive the Shoah. Included among these are Lydia and Alfred – the wife and young son of refugee Hans Friedmann. Lydia secured Hans’s place at Kitchener, but tragically, despite his efforts, Hans was unable to rescue his wife and son in time. They were deported from Frankfurt to Minsk and killed in the Shoah.
In reality, no-one wanted these would-be refugees. And so these desperate, starved, tortured men – from Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen – had nowhere to turn.
Editors note: The Evian conference, 6th July 1938 Over a period of nine days, country after country expresses sympathy for the plight of German Jews, but only the Dominican Republic agrees to accept additional refugees. There is little criticism of German anti-Jewish policy and no willingness to accept more refugees; indeed, the conference sparks further border closures (Source - F. Caestecker and B. Moore, Refugees from Nazi Germany and the Liberal European States, 2010, p. 34)
Meanwhile, in Britain …
Following the mass arrests, the CBF increased their efforts, observing that very soon, “the German government would take such steps as would lead to the practical extinction of Jews in Germany” (Minutes, Council for German Jewry, 1st December 1938).
Their Kindertransport rescue began first, and there was a ‘domestic service’ scheme to bring out thousands of women.
What is less well remembered is the Kitchener camp rescue, which began in February 1939 – which saved my father, and thousands of other German-speaking Jewish men.
Given the urgency and the great need, and the British government’s reluctance to admit more permanent residents, the CBF suggested a transmigrant refugee camp.
The aim was to bring out 3,000 men in a first tranche. All of whom had to be able to show a good chance of emigration to a third country.
As the first refugees transmigrated, another 3,000 would be brought out to safety (Minutes, Council for German Jewry).
Kitchener refugee Viktor Sonnenfeld left Kitchener for Australia, with his wife Gertrude in July 1939. En route, they learned that Gertrude’s father had been beaten to death in Vienna. However, their daughter was born in freedom in Australia in November 1939, and I recently had the great honour to meet this now-80-year old woman – who flew halfway round the world to be at the opening of our Kitchener exhibition just a few weeks ago.
Kitchener was a long-abandoned World War I army training base, near Sandwich, on the Kent coast. The refugees’ first task was to make it habitable.
An extraordinary undertaking – to construct a small town for thousands in a little over a month. The chief carpenter, refugee Walter Brill, said they were willing to work all hours, because “for every hut we finished, we knew another 72 lives could be saved.”
The refugees worked hard, restoring around 50 residential huts. Over time they built a post office, in which refugee Otto Neufeld worked. Otto’s young daughter Lili survived the war in hiding, with a French family. Afterwards, they were reunited, but found communication difficult because Lili now only spoke French, while Otto spoke German and English.
Kitchener camp had a store, recreation rooms, and two dining halls – including kosher provision for those who wanted it – such as Kitchener refugee Josef Frank, who through all the intervening years kept his Kosher dining slip and Orthodox ‘work shift’ ticket.
There was a barbers, a dentist, and a hospital. Two rabbis served religious needs – one of whom was Dr Werner van der Zyl – student of Leo Baeck.
There was a concert hall – with classical music played by refugees such as Franz Schanzer – a cellist. He transmigrated to New York in April 1940. There were musicians from the Philharmonic orchestras of Vienna and Berlin, as well as jazz, and popular music-hall tunes. Hundreds of local people came to social events at Kitchener camp.
Others took part in sports matches, or games of chess; they took the refugees on days out to Dover, Canterbury, and local beaches. The people of Sandwich brought our refugees into their homes, such as Werner Gembicki and Herbert Mosheim, who were befriended by Maude Peabody and her family. Some remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Some of the refugees remembered Kitchener as little more than a labour camp; others recalled it as a place of refuge and safe haven. How it was regarded by thousands will have differed according to life experience, character, age, and class; whether families were safe or not, and what happened subsequently.
Kitchener was not an internment camp: those came later, in summer 1940. Kitchener was watched over by the refugees themselves, such as Ignatz Salamon, from Poland, or Wolfgang Priester from Berlin – both of whom were day guards.
The camp was run by two British Jewish brothers – Jonas and Phineas May, who gave many months of their lives to what must have been a traumatic and demanding task.
Phineas May’s diaries of these months are housed with the Wiener Holocaust Library. Other diaries and materials on the Kitchener website describe: the journeys to Britain, the refugee experience in the camp; weddings, births, and deaths. They describe the enlistment of 887 Kitchener refugees in the British Army, or later internment – in Britain, Canada, or in Australia. Diaries and letters discuss the emigration to America of over 600 Kitchener men – some as late as summer 1940.
Every week brings new Kitchener descendants to our group, with family photographs, letters, and documents.
I always encourage families to add a photograph – because a face humanises the history – from ‘thousands of men’ towards the personal and the individual, which seems especially important in this context.
Many families say – ‘My father never spoke about this time’ – ‘We knew we couldn’t ask’.
Years of silence: of not being able to ‘ask’. Years of absence: of a hole where understanding should have been. Decades of guilt, because Kitchener children didn’t know ‘enough’. …
Today, when Kitchener families are in a room together, what is noticeable is the noise. It’s like someone took a cork out of a bottle as everyone starts to talk and to exchange their histories! We sometimes sign off our emails – in recognition of our shared history – “From one ‘Kitchener Kid’ to another.”
The Kitchener Descendant Group is a life-affirming and meaningful practice – which brings among us a better understanding of our recent history: it brings people and families together.
An American descendant wrote to me recently – her sister was a young child when her parents left Britain in summer 1947, after her father was rescued at Kitchener in 1939.
She wrote, “This is such a wonderful moment for me. May G-d bless the rescue you are memorializing – for all the men who passed through the camp. My father is now shown as a brave survivor and no longer just a number in the Dachau log book.”
In closing, Rabbi Wittenberg – I want to acknowledge your grandfather, who was rabbi at Frankfurt in November 1938, when Kitchener refugees were being arrested off the streets and from their homes – having broken no laws, and having done nothing wrong.
In our fathers’ darkest days, your grandfather provided comfort and spiritual sustenance – especially in Dachau, where hundreds died, and where all were brutalised and starved from the day they arrived.
To know your grandfather was in that dark place where our fathers were, lifts the burden. And means a lot.
Thank you – all – for bearing witness to this often forgotten chapter in German Jewish refugee history. And for listening to the story of the rescue of my father – especially on this date – November 7th, which was his birthday.
With sincere thanks to Professor Clare Ungerson for her work to bring this history to light in Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939 (History Press)
One of those amazing finds this morning that us dabblers in Jewish genealogy know happen all too seldom.
However – a wonderful discovery in the online Centre for Jewish History (CJH) records today – and especially so if your father or grandfather was a youngster with the Berlin ORT that came to Kitchener at the end of August/start of September 1939.
The ORT was one of many German Jewish technical and trade schools that sent young men to Kitchener and elsewhere as skilled refugee emigrants.
It’s tricky to point you to the photographs directly, because the searches here time-out (if anyone knows a way of stopping this, please let me know!)
However, follow these steps, and hopefully you’ll get there!
First – go to the following link:
In the search box at the top of page – type in ‘ORT photographic collection’
You should see: ORT Photographic Collection, 1922-1960
Click on this link.
Control F to bring up a search box (or just scroll down the page) – and type in: ‘identification photographs’, which should bring you to a heading as follows: ‘Identification photographs of teenage boys, probably refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe‘
Click on the link – and then go down the numbered links on the left-hand side of the page to view the images.
These are incredible – some really lovely photographs here – the recto carries the face, the verso has identifying information from the back.
I understand that Kitchener / ORT families have not seen these images before – and there is other ORT info on that ‘results’ page at CJH, so I hope you get much pleasure out of this morning’s ‘find’!