Following the occupation of Poland, the Nazis introduced anti-Semitic laws against the country’s Jewish population. Jewish people were segregated, forced from their homes to live in squalid crowded ghettos and had to wear a Star of David to identify themselves.
In 1942 the Nazis began what they called ‘the Final Solution’ – a plan to exterminate all Jewish people across Europe. Roma gypsies, gay and disabled people, as well as black and mixed-race people were also persecuted and killed. Many Jewish people were taken straight from the ghettos and packed into trucks and trains to be transported to the death camps.
As persecution of Jewish people had become more extreme, the Anglo-Jewish founder of the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief (CBF), Leonard Montefiore, had set up a mission known as the Kindertransport (children’s transport). The CBF provided refuge to 10,000 children before the war, with the first Kindertransport children arriving by ferry at Harwich, Essex, on 2 December 1938. Nearly 2,000 of these children spent their 1st weeks in Britain at the Dovercourt holiday camp close to the Harwich docks, whilst others were taken directly by train through Essex to London’s Liverpool Street Station to meet their new foster parents.
After the war, Montefiore appealed for funds to transport 300 surviving orphans from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, who became known as the “Windermere Children” to the Lake District in Cumbria, a plan which was put into action in the summer of 1945.
They were the first intake of a pioneering rehabilitation scheme, which aimed to use the tranquillity of the English countryside to provide a restorative environment for the children after the horrors they had endured. Heavily traumatised and with none of their own clothes, toys or possessions, and with many of them under 5 years old, it must have been terrifying for them. The children grouped together and formed their own self-sufficient family unit. Their behaviour was analysed by child psychologists, such as Anna Freud, who later published a study centred around them in 1951.
The CBF continued its work after the war, with another 432 child survivors brought to Britain. They continued to fund raise, finding the children new homes, schools and apprenticeships.
By January 1946, all the children had left Windermere. Settling into their adult lives during the 1950s and 60s, they put down roots and started families, businesses and careers.
Recounting the stories of the Windermere children and others is essential to ensure that what happened during the Holocaust is not forgotten, or ever repeated.
(BBC documentary, The Windermere Children, 1st aired 2020)
It is estimated that six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.
The Red Cross traced the Nazis’ victims, piecing together the extent of the Holocaust and tried to reunite survivors with their families.
A few Saffron Walden connections…..
The Harwich Kindertransport Memorial Appeal
The appeal is currently fundraising for a statue to go on public display at Harwich quayside to commemorate the kindertransport. The artist commissioned for this project is Ian Wolter who has his studio in Saffron Walden. It will be a life size bronze of five children arriving in Harwich just before the outbreak of the Second World War. His work has received numerous prizes including the Arte Laguna Prize (Venice, 2016) and the RomArt Sculpture Prize (Rome, 2017). One of his bronze life-size sculptures can already be seen on display in the town, it’s called The Children of Calais, which echoes The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, but in Wolter’s version the children are dressed in contemporary clothing , with one of them holding a lifejacket instead of a key to the city, to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children caught up in the ongoing refugee crises.
The Association of Jewish Refugees Journal, Volume 14 No.1 January 2014:
Herta Oschinski (b. 1901?) arrived in England from Berlin in June 1939 as a domestic worker at the home of Stanley Thorne, who was connected with the Quaker school in Saffron Walden. Herta’s daughter Lore arrived in England in August 1939 aged 15 and was interned in Rushen Camp, Port Erin, until April 1941, when she joined her mother in Saffron Walden.
SW Reporter, February 4, 2010:
A survivor of the Kindertransport scheme who lived in Saffron Walden, spoke of leaving his family in Vienna and his gratitude to the English couple who had taken him in and brought him up.
SW Reporter, February 7, 2008
13-year-old Francis Deutsch waved goodbye to his mother in Vienna in 1939 with no idea that he would never see her again. The plan had been for her to join him 3 months later in England and for them to then head to America to start a new life together. But they didn’t realise how close to the outbreak of war it was.
In July 1939, Francis got on a train bound for the Hook of Holland, before getting a ferry to Harwich as part of the Kindertransport and met his foster carers in London. He received half a postcard every 6 months from his mother once the war began, until one day the postcards stopped, and she was deemed missing, presumed dead.
He went on to study at University, became a lawyer, had a family of his own and later retired to Saffron Walden. For the 2008 Holocaust Memorial Day, at the age of 82, Francis had an exhibition at the Friend’s Meeting House in the town, telling local school children about the Kindertransport operation and his experiences.
“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:
“Out of Nazi Germany and Trying to Find My Way” (book) Irene David, Minerva Press (2000)
Irene’s Jewish parents went into hiding in Germany and sent her to safety in England with her non-Jewish step-grandmother, Tanta Julia. On the way over, at the Belgian border they were beaten, interrogated and strip searched by troops. Irene arrived in Saffron Walden in 1942 and stayed for two years. She did not find it easy. She found that some youngsters did not accept her strong German accent and in her words, she had to fight for her place in society. However, the Friends School must have made a positive impression on her. She later sent her son to the Junior House, run by Jeanne Barrie, and he stayed on, through the main School, to become Head Boy.
“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:
“I came to England with my brother, Martin, three years older than me, in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport. At the time of my coming to England my only thoughts were about how to survive after my parents, home, language and everything familiar had disappeared – except my brother upon whom I relied as a substitute mother. The world had suddenly gone mad. Nothing made sense anymore.”
Ruth goes on to tell how she and her brother were fostered by 3 families. She tells of the first family she lived with, that she wet the bed and was beaten by her foster mother. She chose to believe that as they had had no children of their own they were ignorant rather than cruel. She later went to the Friends’ School and found comfort from the staff there. She went on to become a teacher in her own right and gained a GCSE in Child Development, wrote a text book and became a chief examiner for the SW CSE Board. Before later switching to a new career as a psychotherapist. She speaks about attending her first Kindertransport Reunion in 1989 and having to come to terms with survivor’s guilt as well as her work counselling and educating people about the holocaust. She believed it was probably the Quakers who originally sponsored her and her brother coming to England with the Kindertransport and that’s how she ended up going to the Friend’s School. In 1995 there was a reunion of all the Friends’ Schools pupils from the war years.