As noted by many of the descendant families, my dad did not really talk about these years with his postwar family.
I did hear versions from my mother of narratives about his ‘escape’: most turned out to be good stories but not based in the facts we have subsequently managed to document, so I will avoid repeating those here.
My father never mentioned Kitchener, as far as I can recall. The only narrative he did mention was that he had been ‘somewhere’ in the UK when he arrived (and I can’t remember now whether he referred to it as a camp) and that they had had to leave their luggage there when they went to fight in the war.
The luggage was subsequently ransacked, he said, by other members of the British Army, so that many carefully packed family items were stolen or otherwise lost forever.
In this, it seems reminiscent of what happened on HMT Dunera, when the British forces in charge of the ship and its refugees ransacked their luggage and threw overboard many precious items that had no value to them.
Shocking, with so little left to remind them of families back home – many of whom were subsequently murdered in the Shoah – that this should have been done by the British Army.
Not one of their finer moments.
My father spoke of this with some pain, but mostly, with a huge amount of disdain for such people.
Werner did talk occasionally about some of his time in the army: whenever a war film was on and ‘soldiers’ were marching, he’d express amused annoyance that they didn’t swing their arms high enough: “Get ’em up!”, he’d call at the television. He would also mock-ask for volunteers for time to time, adding: “You, you and you!”
We have an image of Werner’s ‘Male Enemy Alien – Exemption from Internment – Refugee’ card, but are not able to post it because of costs imposed by the National Archives, which supplied it. However, we are allowed to transcribe the information on it, which is as follows:
Surname: Weissenberg Forenames: Werner, Israel Alias: --- Nationality: German Police Regn. Cert. No. 711651 Home Office ref no: C 50 Address: Kitchener Camp, Richborough, Sandwich, Kent Normal occupation: Teacher Present occupation: --- Name and address of employer: --- Decision of tribunal: Exempted "C" & 9a Date: 13.10.1939 Whether exempted from Article 6(A): Yes Whether desires to be repatriated: No
One story I recall was that my dad spoke rather scathingly of the fact that the men in his unit were not allowed to have rifles to start with, because they were German.
And when they were finally allowed guns, they were initially given Boer War rifles.
My mother, I think it was, mentioned once or twice that Werner had been in France during the war, but I don’t recall anything my dad said about his combat years, nor about his years as a radiographer in the RAMC, for which he retrained at the University of London and the University of Oxford, from around 1942.
I don’t really know how my father came to be retrained as a radiographer: Werner was a physicist – and had been within a term of gaining his doctorate when the University of Breslau refused to allow him to complete. We suspect that it was another of the British Army’s ‘finer’ moments, in a slightly different mode, in that Werner had been researching the refraction of x-rays in physics … He was part of that group of extraordinary, mainly German Jewish, physicists of the 1920s and 1930s.
One can see how in Army terms, research in this (utterly different) area became – ‘Well, he knows about x-rays …’
I remember cleaning out the garage at home in Yorkshire one day – it must have been during the 1970s – and finding his army uniform in a trunk there.
Was it pride in service, a sense that it ought to be kept in case of need again, a simple failure to get rid of things, a reluctance to waste materials?
Probably a bit of all these things. But it’s notable that my father didn’t marry until 1960, so he must have carried his uniform with him, in the meantime, around many places of impermanent residence.