For those who wished to attend, Jewish holidays and festivals were observed in Kitchener camp. In its archives, USHMM has a photograph of a huge tent used as a synagogue:
The 1939 Rosh Hashanah service was held under blackout conditions because of the war, which had been declared ten days earlier.
In the journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees, Anthony Grenville writes about Herbert Freedan’s recollections of that service, led by Rabbi Werner van der Zyl, who “struggled to bring dignity to the improvised setting of a huge tent dimly lit in the blackout. Almost 3,00 people attended the service; Freedan imagined their prayers rising and travelling across the sea and the closed borders to meet with the thoughts and hopes of their dear ones trapped in Germany” (May 2009).
According to Astrid Zajdband, separate services were held “for the orthodox and liberal camp population … Each was attended by three to four hundred … with a large number of additional services taking place in the huts in order to accommodate all who wanted to attend” (German Rabbis in British Exile, 2016).
Whatever the difficulties and privations may have been in Kitchener – perhaps especially once war was underway – it seems timely to remember that for families still stuck in Germany and Austria such large congregations would have been difficult to find, with over 260 synagogues completely destroyed and around 1200 damaged and desecrated during the events of November 1938 – which triggered the movement of our fathers and grandfathers to Britain from Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Source: Image above from website of the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust
With so many currently preparing to observe festivals and holidays across the Jewish diaspora, it seems fitting to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that today the simple greeting “Shanah Tovah” can be shared openly among us.
Taking this as an opportunity to look back on the past year – what follows is a sketch of some of the many ways in which Kitchener descendants and friends have been helping this project along on its way. If you can think of somewhere you could offer something similar, please do get in touch!
A special thanks here for the first and most recent of these examples – to B’Nai B’rith International – for not only giving us some space, but for giving us space on the same page as the President’s editorial!
There are still a few tickets left for Helen Fry’s talk, Digging for Victory: Refugees in the Pioneer Corps in WW2 – which is being held as part of a series of events led by the Kitchener Descendants Group.
Tickets must be booked in advance and are available at: