To mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch is co-producing Diane Samuels’ extraordinary heart-felt play with with Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg in association with Selladoor Productions.
The Kindertransport ferried 10,000 Jewish children from Austria and Germany to safety in Britain before the outbreak of the Second World War. Children travelled through Harwich and London Liverpool Street and were placed into British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.
The Queen’s Theatre has spoken to a number of Kinder children and their families in the run up to the production, here are some of their stories and memories.
‘Sitting in our lounge, I was told I was being sent to England for safety, with the parental promise that they would hopefully join me. Tragically they never did as they were deported to Izbica Camp in Litvia and died there in 1942. How did my parents feel at having to send their 8 year old son away, perhaps never to see him again? How was I to face the future? I knew no English, except for a sentence my parents taught me: ‘I am hungry, may I have a piece of bread?’ In March 1939 my mother accompanied me to Hamburg, from where I sailed with other youngsters to Southampton. The travel was part of the Kindertransport, as one of the 10 000 children that came to the UK as an outcome of Crystal Night. My sister came a couple of months later; she is some 7 years older than me. From Southampton I went to a Jewish hostel for boys, where I was the youngest. Now I had to start anew life, alone as yet. I started to lean English, adjust to living with others and take on board English life. The latter included collecting cigarette cards, playing hopscotch and seeing The Wizard of Oz; cinemas, theatres, etc. were forbidden to Jews in Germany. Pocket money was 2 old pennies which I used for sweets or stamps to write home. My parents did write to me and stupid as I was to listen to an older boy, who after the war broke out, advised me to destroy those letters in case the Germans come!’ Bernd Koschland MBE
‘I was only four when I came to England on the Kindertransport with my seven year old brother. Because our non-Jewish mother was able to come on the train and bring us to England, right to our first foster home, I just thought it was a family outing – that is until Mutti was no longer there. I thought I must have been so naughty that she didn’t want me anymore, as she did not come back. And then I thought she must be dead, when the war started and she still didn’t come back. Our foster-mother was very cruel to us once war started. My brother said she blamed the Jews for the war, including us. Luckily we were sent to a lovely Quaker boarding school we both enjoyed, and after that two more very nice foster families. I had really come to terms with having no parents other than our third foster-parents, when in 1949 my mother appeared in England and wanted to take me back to Germany. I flatly refused because I was very scared of Germany from all the British propaganda against Germany in the war. My father served a court order on my foster-parents and they had to bring me to Germany and leave me in a terrifying place and my parents were complete strangers. I felt completely betrayed by everyone and it was the worst year of my life, until I got back to England.’ Ruth Barnett
‘On the 3rd September 1939 I sat on a chair in the large hall, which served as a dining room in the hostel in Margate-Cliftonville, clutching the square cardboard box firmly to my chest, as it contained my gas mask. I had only been evacuated here yesterday from London with 5 other boys. Some 60 children sat in a circle round a table, on which stood a wireless. I had only arrived in England 9 days earlier, on the 25th August, as a Jewish Refugee from Germany with a group of children. For nine days I had experienced an unknown freedom. I was not suppressed any more. I was suddenly an equal. I could walk down the road freely without being afraid that I might be beaten up by a group of Hitler Youth. My English was still poor, but I had understood every word of Neville Chamberlain’s speech. We were at war with Germany. We were at war. My parents were still there. How could I now help them to get out of Germany? How could I communicate with them? In spite of being in a hostel with other refugee boys, I felt very alone. But my mother would find a way. Somehow or other she would manage to write to me and make contact. She knew I was safe in England; I would have to be patient and wait.’
‘I had a guarantor in Middlesbrough but, having missed one transport date because I had to have my tonsils out, there seemed little prospect of any early escape from Vienna. My mother was getting desperate. So every day, she packed my case and we haunted the station. I was getting quite used to these trips, me in my best clothes with a little label saying who I was and where I was going. Then, on 13th June, we were standing by a crowded train when we saw a mother who was in a dreadful state. She just couldn’t bear to part with her child and at the last moment held her back. My mother took her chance and literally threw me on to the train. The doors slammed shut and off I went – no kiss goodbye, no time for hugs or soft words. I remember holding my doll and crying all the time. I wanted my mother but of course she wasn’t there anymore. We arrived at Harwich and then went onto Liverpool Street Station where we were met by members of the Refugee Children’s Movement (RCM), shortly after that another journey up to Middlesbrough to meet the family I would be living with.’ Sonja Altman born Fleischer
Fred Rosner and Edith Rosner share their experiences about travelling on the Kindertransport. The video has been produced by Anthony Rosner and has been shared with the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch by Martin Rosner.
Kindertransport runs at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch from 8 – 24 March. For more information about the production and tickets visit http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/whats-on/show/kindertransport/