The Kindertransport - 3 Austrians recall their time in England
WE were five Jewish girls at primary school, and there
were only two of us left at grammar school.
Religious classes took place in another school, and the father of our teacher was one of my mother’s cousins. I don’t remember his name. My mother always took me to our religious classes because they took place in the afternoon. She spent the first half an hour of our lesson chatting with our teacher, which we, students, were quite happy about of course. During my school years I had two Jewish friends: Trude Gerstl and Susi Bauer. Trude Gerstl lives in Israel today.
Ten days after I got my permit to emigrate to England [in 1938] I received a second permit. My father took it to the British Council and asked them to transfer it to my friend, Susi. They refused to do so, and she was murdered. [Susanne Bauer, born 14th July 1927, was deported to Wlodowa ghetto on 27th April 1942.]
I didn’t experience any anti-Semitism until 12th March 1938 [Anschluss] . I was 11 years old and studied at grammar school. Andrea, the daughter of a non-Jewish doctor, picked me up at my parents’ place every morning, and we went to school together. Back then everyone went on foot; it wasn’t a long walk anyway. We were good friends but after 12th March she stopped hanging out with me from one day to the next. It was horrible for me; I was just a child and didn’t understand why. As it turned out later she had brothers who had been Nazis illegaly a long time before the Anschluss.
Everything changed. Our shop was Aryanized, and my father was advised to sell our house. He did so, but we were allowed to stay until he found a new home for us.
Sometimes there were people who tried to help us. The priest’s cook, for instance, brought my grandmother fresh vegetables. However, there were also people who spit at my grandmother’s feet; they were customers who had debts in my grandfather’s shop.
This happened during the summer holidays. I was supposed to go back to school in September but I wasn’t allowed to go to the regular grammar school any more. The Jewish community in Wiener Neustadt continued to exist a bit longer, and a school was set up in the praying house, which was close to the big, beautiful synagogue. When I still went to grammar school our religious classes took place in the praying house, which could be heated in winter.
We had a Jewish teacher and about 20 to 30 children from Wiener Neustadt and surroundings came to the praying house and studied in the same classroom. It wasn’t a regular school but at least we had the opportunity to study. I remember 10th November 1938 very vell. [Kristallnacht: On 7th November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish-German Jew, attempted to assassinate Ernst vom Rath, Secretary of the German Legation in Paris, in the German Embassy. Two days later, vom Rath succumbed to the two gunshot wounds. This assassination was a (welcome) trigger for Joseph Goebbels to commence an arbitrarily-directed propaganda campaign against the Jewish population. The pogrom which developed from this has been dubbed in human history “Kristallnacht” - an allusion to the numerous shattered glass shop windows. The night of 9th to 10th November 1938 can be considered as the real beginning of the Holocaust]. It was a Thursday, the sky was cloudy and it was about 10am when someone came into the classroom and started whispering into our teacher’s ear. Afterwards the teacher told us to go home, saying that something was going on. My parents were surprised that I returned from school so early. At about 11am the doorbell rang and the Gestapo arrested my father. They took him along with them.
Other Jewish families lived in our neighborhood, inlcuding the Schurany and the Gerstl family, who were friends of ours. My mother, who was devastated after my father’s arrest, said, ‘Lets go over there and try to find out what’s going on.’ They told us that they had heard that all Jewish men would be arrested. When we were on our way home we saw two cars parked close to our house. The wooden gate to our place had been smashed, the SA had also broken into the house, and we saw them ransacking the veranda and the rooms.
We had one of those tills that don’t exist any more today, and they asked my mother for the key. Afterwards we had to follow them. They took us to the synagogue. All Jewish women and children from Wiener Neustadt had been brought there and were searched for money and jewelry. They had to hand in everything; the SA deprived them of all their belongings.
Mrs. Gerstl, my friend Trude’s mother, didn’t want to sign a paper saying that she would hand over her house, so they beat her until she did sign it. I witnessed all of this. When night was falling they led us into the synagogue. The floors were covered with hay, and they gave us Torah blankets to cover ourselves up. We were locked in for three days. The synagogue had a yard with an iron gate facing the street. There were people outside the gate watching, and people from Wiener Neustadt looked on with amusement as we, Jewish children, had to go round in circles.
All of a sudden I had a soar throat and came down with a fever. A young SA man was sent to accompany me and my mother to the hospital in Wiener Neustadt and make sure we wouldn’t escape. While we were waiting for the doctor there, nuns that worked at the hospital secretly gave us food. Then the doctor came and examined my throat. The next day, when three more children turned up with soar throats and fever, it turned out that scarlet fever was going around. The four of us had to stay in hospital in Wiener Neustadt. The women and the other kids were put onto a bus and taken to Vienna, dropped of in Taborstrasse [in Vienna’s second district, where many orthodox Jews used to live and still live today] and allowed to go wherever they wanted to.
We never returned to our house; all our possessions had been stolen.
My mother went to her sister-in-law, Aunt Paula. Nobody knew where my father was.
My father turned out to be in the police prison on Elisabeth promenade, where they had crammed all Jewish men that had been arrested. He later told us that it was horrible, and that there wasn’t even enough room to sit down. Then they made their choice about who would be brought to Dachau, and who would be allowed to go home. My father and Uncle Adolf stood next to each other. My father was told that he could go home, my uncle was deported to Dachau concentration camp.
I was in hospital at the time, and the nuns and doctors were fantastic. They made absolutely no difference between Jewish and non-Jewish people. My father picked me up after six weeks and we stayed with Aunt Paula and Uncle Gottfried in Vienna. That was at the end of December 1938. There was only one subject of conversation among Jews at the time: ‘How do we get away from here?’
My brother fled to Palestine with an illegal transport in October 1938. After that I never saw him again. Traveling was expensive and we both didn’t have enough money to travel after the war.
No one cared about school any more. Uncle Gottfried had connections with the Bnei Brit lodge, a Jewish social organisation. Bnei Brit means ‘Children of the Covenant’, and those lodges exit all across the globe. Back then they helped to save the lives of Jewish children.
The proceeding was such that someone had to guarantee that the child wouldn’t be a burden to the British state. Children who had such a guarantee received a permit and were allowed to emigrate to England with a Kindertransport but without their parents. There were girls, boys and even babies in these Kindertransports – it’s hard to imagine what it was like today.
No one ever told me that my parents would follow me to England, but I never gave up hope they would.
I only realized how courageous my parents were later, when I already had children of my own. It must have been terrible for them to bring me to the railway station. I was excited back then and understood that it was better for me to go away. I wasn’t angry with them for sending me away. At the time I didn’t even think of the possibility that I may not see my parents again.
Each child had a red plate with a number put around the neck. A plate with the same number was put onto each child’s suitcase. That’s how I arrived in England. I didn’t speak a single word of English.
I wrote many letters to my parents and still have all these letters. My brother was in Palestine and I wanted to go there, too – much to my parents’ dismay. In a letter I wrote to them from England on 21st August 1939 I said, ‘Although I’m happy to be in England, it’s my greatest wish to go to Israel. Dear Papa, please try your best to make my dream come true.’ My father, who got very scared, replied, ‘Why do you want to go to Palestine? Who has put that crazy idea into your head? You always write that you are doing fine. Don’t make us even more desperate with such foolish ideas.
In August school started in England, or rather, one day we were just told that we had to go to school. It was a regular school and children were submitted to classes appropriate to their age. I was the only emigré in my class and didn’t know a single word of English. It was horrible. First, everyone looked at me as if I was somehow spectacular. The teacher had probably explained to the other students who I was, but as I said, I didn’t understand English. The teacher did her very best to teach me a little bit of English.
One or two weeks later the war began [1st September 1939]. We were sent to live in the country, in Cockley Cley, with a certain Lady Roberts. She belonged to the English landed aristocracy and wasn’t Jewish. She was about 50 or 60 years old, very nice and concerned for our well-being. She knew what was happening to Jews and had enough money to help a lot of them. English children lived with the farm workers, and emigrant children stayed with Lady Roberts.
Lady Roberts received a certain amount of money for each child that she took on. She gave what remained from that amount to us, children, and we could use that money to go to the cinema.
Mr. Harry Watts was Jewish and the owner of a barber shop in London. We all called him Uncle Harry.
I was 15 years old in 1942 and returned to London. I wanted to learn a profession. I served an apprenticeship in a tailor’s shop and became a dressmaker. I worked as a dressmaker in London until I returned to Austria.
I wasn’t officially informed that my parents had been killed and always hoped that they would still live somewhere.
I first learned about places like Auschwitz in 1944, at the time of Rosh Hashanah, when they spoke about it in the British Parliament. It crossed my mind back then that my parents might not be alive any more.
My parents’s life gradually became harder: As a qualified tailor, my father managed to earn some money in the beginning. He worked for the ‘Damen und Herrenkleiderfabrik Richard Kassin’ in Vienna’s 1st district from 4th September 1940 to 21st February 1941. My parents were deported on 26th February 1941. I don’t know where they were murdered. I just know that they were brought to Opole ghetto in Poland from Vienna on 26th February.
There was a communist organization called Young Austria in London, and all over England, for that matter. Young Austria had been founded by Austrian patriots, who told us that we had to return to Austria after the war and help build a democratic state. I was young, and when you’re young you easily get enthusiastic about things, and that’s why I returned to Austria. Most of the children who came to England stayed after the war or moved on to America, but I returned to Austria in 1946. However, I wasn’t politically involved anymore in Austria.
I worked as a shop assistant with Aunt Berta and was known as ‘Miss Lilli’ among the customers. I also wrote business letters. I liked my work.
My husband was born in Vienna on 11th June 1920. His father’s name was Moritz Tauber, and his mother’s Sophie Tauber, nee Lerch. In 1934 my husband’s father emigrated to Palestine for political and economic reasons, and a year later his mother and the children, Grete Taylor [nee Tauber, born 14th August 1921], Berta Feder [nee Tauber, born 24th October 1923] and my husband followed him. The family mainly lived in Jerusalem.
Our son Willi was born on 3rd December 1954, and Heinzi followed two and a half years later, on 11th August 1957.
Looking back, and not taking my husband and sons into account, I don’t think I would have returned from England because Austria never became a home to me again. Even after all these years that I’ve spent here, I feel homeless. If someone asked me where I felt at home, the answer would be England.
I wouldn’t dream of denying that I’m Jewish. As a child in England, I asked God for help. In emergencies He is the last authority to turn to.