The Kindertransport - 3 Austrians recall their time in England
AT the end of July 1938, at the age of 18, my brother fled
illegally to Switzerland. He wasn’t alone. An SS officer helped him escape and said “run now” when it wasn’t dangerous. His escape was successful. Later it was very difficult to get into to Switzerland. That’s when Grüninger helped.
Until 1939 the Nazis made it easy for the Jews that wanted to emigrate. They took money from them. We may have stunk, but the money and jewelry didn’t. You were allowed to take 10 marks with you. It wasn’t about extermination, but about personal gain. They wanted to be rid of the Jews.
The “Central Agency for Jewish Emigration,” which Eichmann directed, was responsible for the emigration of the Jews. I joined Maccabi in 1938. My friend Ilse and I were at Maccabi tournaments once a week. My mother had said: In the current situation it’s right to join a Jewish organization. I had heard something about Tchelet-Lavan and my friend Ilse and I went together. Ilse has been living in America for a long time. She immigrated with me to England and then went to America.
Ilse’s father, Mr. Maurer, was a Polish Jew and her mother was from Vienna. In 1935 Ilse got a brother, a latecomer. Heinzi was four years old when we immigrated to England. Mr. Maurer always said, “If Hitler comes, they will kill us.” To which my mother said, “Mr. Maurer is a meshuggene, he should relax.” But he knew, unfortunately! He knew from Poland what pogroms meant.
When my brother was in Switzerland my mother said to me, “You must also go, it doesn’t matter how.” My mother thought that nothing would happen to her because my father had never done anything to anyone, was very well liked, and besides, was an officer in the 1st World War. That was a fatal delusion, of course.
Ilse and I wanted to go to Palestine at first. We went to the Palestine Office [The Palestine Office operated entry into Palestine] on Marc Aurel Strasse [1st district], at the corner of Vorlauf-Strasse, and submitted everything. It cost money, unfortunately, and my mother didn’t have much more. The pension was getting smaller and smaller. I also didn’t have any money. My mother complained because it cost so much money. The people at the Palestine Office said that outside of Tel Aviv there was an agricultural school you could register with. My friend and I then walked through the small park along the canal. Mrs. Maurer and Heinzi came our way and said, “Get to the Jewish Community right away; there is a Kindertransport to England there.” That was after November 10, 1938. I said, “But I don’t have my papers on me.” But Mrs. Maurer had already been to my mothers and had my papers. My mother didn’t come since she had poor eyesight; she had glaucoma. They couldn’t operate on that back then. Mrs. Maurer went with us to the Jewish Community and signed us up for the Kindertransport to England. We had to have a medical examination; that was to separate us out.
There were 1,000 of us back then; it was already the second Kindertransport to England. My mother said, “Don’t go to England, go to Holland! You can walk back from there. Take a handcart and a farmer will give you a ride for part of the way or you can walk home. You won’t be able to get across the water.”
My mother, Mrs. Maurer, Mr. Maurer, and little Heinz said goodbye to us in Hütteldorf [14th district] at 11:30PM. There were small children there, but also nurses from the Rothschild Hospital. They youngest child was six weeks old. This was about life and death! Some parents were able to come after, but many weren’t.
You weren’t allowed to give anything to the children so that the Transport, god forbid, wasn’t jeopardized. That was strictly forbidden. But Ilse had jewelry and some money. She had hidden it. I learned that after we’d arrived in England. Back then you got two pennies for one mark. The mark wasn’t worth anything. You could officially take ten marks, so we had very little money.
My mother was supposed to follow, but then it was 14 days too late. In the last weeks before the war the English weren’t letting any more in. She could have worked for a German chef with an English family in Liverpool. The English family even had contact with the Home Office, but that was already in 1939, right before the start of the Second World War. It was too late!
First we lived on the coast in Dovercourt, in a summer camp in wooden cabins with bunk beds on each side. That’s where they accommodated us in winter. It was a cold winter. There was snow for the first time in 20 years. During that winter, of all things. Even the doors were frozen; we could barely force them open. There was a large restaurant that was empty during the winter where people were also given accommodations. They didn’t know where to put them.
In the camp they said it wasn’t good to have girls and boys together. That’s why they sent us to Lowestoft – but there were also boys there.
Everyday people came that wanted to take children. They wanted to adopt small, blonde boys, up to two years old. Most of the small children had older siblings that they didn’t want to take. Some then took an older child anyway.
One day Mrs. Jacobs came from Manchester looking for ten girls from 14 years of age. I said to Ilse, “Come, let’s go to the dog selection. Maybe they’ll take us.” Even back then I found that outrageous. They all wanted younger children or else ones who could work. But at 14 years old you weren’t ready to work. They wanted us as housemaids and at 14 we were too young for this job.
Mrs. Jacobs took us with her to Manchester. They brought us to a pub. People came and took a look at us. We had numbers over us that also had our name, age, and other information. A Mrs. Burns from Southport, a doctor’s wife, indicated she wanted to take me because my father was a doctor. I felt very honored! My friend Ilse went with a Mrs. Kaplan who had four children of her own. They were very nice. Unfortunately my Mrs. Burns didn’t have any children. She couldn’t have any and was so jealous of me that I needed to go to another family. Then I was with Mrs. Royce, a tall, energetic woman, who also didn’t have any children but who was very nice. Her husband was a furniture salesman. We lived privately for six weeks.
Then the Jewish Committee set up a house for us in Southport. We were nine girls in the house; one girl was adopted. Other girls from Germany also joined.
We met the old Mrs. Marks of “Marks & Spencer” [A large British retailer]. She was already 90 years old in 1939. She was very nice, looked like an old Queen Mary, and spoke English and also a little Yiddish. I said that I couldn’t speak Yiddish and that my English also wasn’t very good. Astonished, she asked me, “Didn’t you speak Yiddish at home?” She looked after us. We were invited round to her place and fed. Mrs. Marks was also there for the founding of the committee. “Marks & Spencer” spent a lot of money on us: we received linens and comforters, pads and clothes. Mrs. Marks always made sure we got new things. If something didn’t fit, it was exchanged. Some of the children were very poor; they had next to nothing. We had doctors that cared for us free of charge. There was a certain Dr. Adler who had already emigrated from Germany in 1933. He had treated important people in Berlin. They stopped coming to him after Hitler’s take-over in 1933.
In the home we received one shilling for pocket money; that’s what we had to pay for toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soap were all paid for with the one shilling. We were four to a room and often went in on a piece of soap together. We also got jobs, but they were poorly paid because, officially, as refugees we weren’t allowed to work. They only gave us an eighth of a pound. That was very little.
After they had to start keeping kosher in the home, the cutlery for meat was painted red and the cutlery for milk products was painted blue. Most of us weren’t religious, but the religious ones always looked at everything very carefully and re-painted the cutlery if it got faded from washing. We also had to go to temple every Saturday. I spoke with the shames [an official in the synagogue] once. I told him that my mother would really like to come to England. He promised he would try to do something. It didn’t work of course, because the English weren’t letting anyone in anymore. It would have cost 50 pounds, which was a lot of money back then. If you convert it to today’s value that would be about 100,000 shillings.
We were in the home in Southport until March 1940. Then we relocated to Manchester.
I saw my brother again in 1940. I didn’t miss him when he fled to Switzerland. The first thing I said when I saw him again was, “If you hit me again then don’t bother visiting.” To which he gave me a funny look; he was already 18, after all. He had worked for a farmer and then after the war studied at the University for Natural Resources and Applied Sciences in Vienna and became an agricultural engineer.
Every month I wrote my mother two to three letters as long . At first the letters went through Switzerland, then, until America joined the war, through America, and from 1942 through the Red Cross. You could only write 20 words in every letter. One day a letter came back: undeliverable.
In her letters my mother had asked my brother and me to make sure she got out, otherwise she would end up in the place where Josef and Walter Fischkus – those were relatives of ours – had landed. They were deported to Nisko in Poland. She had stopped writing, “Dear child or Dear Putzi.” My mother had called me Putzi and my brother Punti. If my mother called Kitty I would come very slowly, because I knew I had been up to something. She had written the letters as though they were directed to a friend.
When my brother and I were still in Vienna we gave up an apartment in the building. We then lived together with our mother in the larger apartment. My mother had to move out. At the end she was in the 1st district, in the Lazenhof. There were four women to a room. That was her last address: Lazenhof 2/Door 13. These buildings were owned by the Jewish Community. That’s where they housed the Jews before they were deported. My mother was deported to Minsk on May 22nd, 1942 [Malwine Pistol was deported to Maly Trostinec near Minsk on May 20th, 1942 and murdered on May 26th, 1942. Source: DÖW Database].
In Manchester we lived in a Bed & Breakfast that was rented to the Jewish Committee. The owner was Mr. Ackermann, also Jewish. It was a two-story house. Beneath it was an air-raid shelter with bunk beds. My friend Ilse and I signed up for the Air Raid wardens. We had helmets and dark blue uniforms with gold buttons. When the sirens went off we went to the outpost. During Christmas 1940 the Germans began to bomb Manchester – the harbors, the churches, even the horse racetracks where dog races also took place. Bombs even fell on our street. There was a sort of vacant field there where the children always played soccer. The next day there was suddenly a large hole. There were rockets that bounced along the entire street, destroying all the houses. The people ran below the stairs in their houses because there weren’t that many air-raid shelters. Many survived there. Then the German airplanes stopped flying to Manchester; it was too far for them. At first I worked in a factory that manufactured uniforms. I earned 2.10 pounds a week there.
The collapse of France was in June 1940. That’s when the English began to detain people. They said that Austrians were also Germans, because there was no more Austria after Hitler’s invasion. But the majority didn’t know that. There were also non-Jews that fled for political reasons. They were also interned. I was only 15; they interned women starting at 16. My brother was detained for nine months. First in an old factory in Manchester, then he was brought to the Isle of Man. Refugees were also sent to Australia and Canada and interned there. They just wanted to cast them away; they simply weren’t needed. My cousin was also on one of these ships and stayed in Australia. They robbed the whole crew. They even took the wedding rings from their fingers. There was a trial after the war, but they claimed they had been drunk. They said they were sorry, but of course couldn’t say where the things had ended up.
In Canada, the English said to the Germans from the merchant fleet captured at sea, “You can be pleased, a couple more Germans are coming.” They then wrote on banners: “Welcome, German brothers!” But then a lot of Jews with beards, hats, and with long caftans stepped out. The Germans ran away because they were afraid of them. The Jews assimilated very quickly and worked with the Germans. At the end they all laughed about it.
My brother was released from internment after nine months. He then worked in the countryside and could sign up with the English military. To start with, the people in the Pioneer Corps only had shovels and brooms. My brother said he wouldn’t let himself get shot. Then they were allowed to carry weapons. My brother was sent relatively quickly to the second front. He arrived on an American ship where everyone from the captain to the runners were Jewish. They went to France and eventually my brother landed at the Lüneburg Heath. He experienced a lot of horrible things; there was still much fighting.
I came back to Austria in October 1946. My brother arrived in December. I went immediately to Vienna. My father’s eldest brother went to the Jewish Community and said, “My niece is coming to Vienna. I would like to rent a room for her.” They said, “When is your niece coming?” He said, “On October 2nd.” They said, “Your niece must not be a Jew.” He asked, “What is that supposed to mean?” “October 2nd is Yom Kippur.” I had no idea that it was Yom Kippur – this was six weeks before, mind you. My Uncle then angrily left the Jewish Community.
I then lived with a friend of my mother’s and worked for some time in an office for the English in Vienna. Later I got a room from the Jewish Community in the 1st district on Maria-Theresien-Strasse, right behind the Community. I lived there for a few months. That’s where I met my future husband. The parents of my husband, Dr. Otto Suschny, who was born in Vienna on August 28th, 1924, were deported to Minsk in 1942 and murdered. His father, Siegfried, was a sales representative and his mother, Adele, was a seamstress. He was an only child and spent his childhood in Vienna. In 1939 he escaped to Palestine by legal means.
About three years later, in 1957, we had out first daughter, Eva-Ruth, who will be 45 this summer. After three years, in 1960, I was pregnant again and we had our second daughter, Dinah. Our son was born in 1962. In 1972 we moved into the house where we are still living.