Kenneth R. Ward
The final decision for me to leave Germany on my own for good was made after I had left home quietly on the afternoon of the 10th November 1938, aged 15 and had stood aghast in front of our Synagogue, which had been burned down during the Kristallnacht. My father, who was blind, had been the organist and his beautiful organ had been destroyed. The catholic caretaker, who had tried to prevent the Nazi's from entering the building had been knifed and was critically ill in hospital. There were only two options. To emigrate to Palestine or go by Kindertransport to England.
On 24th August 1939, at 7.30 in the morning, I was leaning out of the window of the train at the main station in Frankfurt with an address label hanging round my neck. The platform was empty apart from a few policemen and 3 SS men strutting about importantly in their black uniforms and black jackboots. Only Mamma had been allowed to bring me to the station and she was not allowed on the platform. I saw her standing lonely and forlorn at the main pillar to the station roof, at the barrier. Even from this distance I could see that she was crying. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I tried to control them, after all I was the oldest child in the compartment holding eight children, some of them crying, holding Teddy Bears, and the youngest not even understanding why they were on the train without their Mummy or Daddy. There were three coach loads of children aged 3 to 16, with only two adults accompanying us.
On the day before, my last day at home, my father said to me "Come on Bubie (meaning little boy), sing for me your favourite aria from Tosca" He played the opening bars on the grand piano and I sang it in my tenor voice, the way I had never sung it before, rising effortless to the high C. As I turned to look at Pappa for approval, I saw that tears were streaming down his face. I had never seen him cry before. I rushed and embraced him to comfort him, only just then realising the lyrics of the last line I had sung in German: - "My hour is passing and I must die despairing. How cruel is death. Life was never sweeter." I hugged him tight and said "Pappa, it is only a song, please don't cry. I am only going to England. I will be alright there and safe from the Nazis. As soon as I get there I will do everything I can for you and Mamma to come to England as well. Anyway, as soon as the Nazis have gone, I will come back" Pappa said: - " Yes, I know, how silly of me, but whatever you do, when you get to England, try and continue with your singing and voice training."
I leant out even further to see Mamma for the last time, as the steam engine started puffing away noisily and pulled the train gently out of the station with a last hoot. I comforted some of the crying children, we started playing games and the crying soon stopped. We were all afraid of coming to a new country, whose language we did not speak, not knowing where we would be staying, who would be looking after us. At the same time I was very excited about getting out of Germany, not having to be afraid any more of walking down the streets, avoiding groups of Hitler Youths, who would set about me and beat me up.
We settled down on our journey, ate our sandwiches and I became very apprehensive as we approached the Dutch boarder. The train came to a sudden halt at a German station and SS guards in their black uniforms joined the train. One entered our compartment, checked our papers and picked on my suit case saying "open it up". He searched through my neatly and tightly packed case, emptied it onto the seat, looked at some of the items and said "ok, you can pack that up again" leaving me struggling to get everything back into the case. I looked out of the window and saw a girl of about 15, who had been taken off the train with her luggage, her address label swinging round her neck, being marched into an office, as the train started moving off again.
We crossed the Dutch border and pulled into a station. The doors had been locked so that we could not leave the train, but we opened the windows and talked to the crowd of Dutch people who were standing on the platforms, and who knew that we were in a Kindertransport (children's transport) escaping from Nazi Germany and going to England. They were very kind and friendly, asking many questions about Germany, giving us drinks of hot chocolate and biscuits.
The train went on to Hook van Holland, where we boarded the night ferry. In the morning I went on deck and saw ahead of me the White Cliffs of Dover. Now I felt as free as the sea gulls noisily flying round the ferry as we docked. I could not wait to land, and soon we were on an English train, where I could not understand the conductor properly, although I had learned English at school for a year.
We arrived at Liverpool Street station on the 25th August 39, exactly 9 days before the outbreak of the second world war. The whole group of children were met by members of a Jewish committee, who called out our names from lists they carried. One woman shouted "where is Karl Robert Würzburger". I jumped forward and she took me and my luggage to a waiting taxi, which drove us, to my great excitement, right through London, to 9 Brondesbury Road in Kilburn. Mrs. Hyams looked after 6 refugee boys like myself in a basement flat. The others had been there for several months, showed me round Kilburn, walked with me to Marble Arch. A new world had opened up for me, where I was an equal, could walk about freely and eat white bread with butter, an unknown delicacy.
On the 1st September we were evacuated to a large hostel for refugee children in Harold Road, Margate Cliftonville, and I listened to Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany at 11 am on the 3rd September 1939. At 16 I was one of the oldest boys in the hostel. There were 3 or 4 children to each room. It was all a bit cramped and food was short, so we were hungry most of the time. We got 4 old pence pocket money per week. For 3 pence we could go to the cinema, at a special price for refugees. We walked along the sea front and bought a pound of broken biscuits for 1 penny from Woolworth, to supplement our food. People were very friendly to us, in spite of the fact that we were Germans and that there was now a war on. I was occasionally invited to peoples home for tea, which was a special treat for us. By speaking to English people and reading children's books my English improved rapidly. I could now only communicate with my parents via friends in Holland, who forwarded my mail to them. On the 20th October was Mama's 50th birthday, and I managed to get a special birthday letter off to her in time.
Early in October I was told by the hostel father "Würzburger, you have to report to the Margate Town Hall at 3 p.m. to have your status checked. Take all your papers with you" I only had a German children's identity card with my name, German address, date of birth and a great red "J" stamped across it. I arrived at the town hall on time and was ushered into a huge chamber in which 12 good citizen's sat round a horseshoe table and was told to sit on a chair in the centre of the horseshoe, facing the investigators. Although I was 16 years old, I only looked about 14 and felt very frightened and intimidated. They tried to put me at my ease: "Do you speak English? When did you arrive in England? Where are your parents? Do you like it here? and then came the killer question: - Do you want us to send you back to Germany? - I just cried out: "Please don't send me back, I only just arrived here, if you send me back, although I am a German and was born in Germany, the Nazi's hate all Jews and they will just kill me. Since I have been in England I have been able to walk about for the first time without being afraid." There was silence, the chairman spoke quietly to the others and then told me: - "You have nothing to be afraid of, but report to Margate police station tomorrow morning."
When calling at the police station I was promptly issued with an alien registration book and classified as a friendly enemy alien. This meant that I would not be interned, but that my only restrictions would be to register with the police where ever I lived, that I would not be allowed out in the streets between midnight and 6 am, and that I would need a permit if I wanted a bicycle and if I wanted to work.
How I eventually started work in London, first as a House boy in a boarding House, an apprentice cutter in a uniform factory, a fire fighter in the ARP in London, a soldier, first in the Pioneer Corps and then a member of a tank crew in the 1st. RTR of the 7th Armoured Division, landing in Normandy on D+1, fighting all the way to Hamburg until the war finished, never seeing my parents or brother again, as they had been killed in the holocaust, is another story. But what has not changed is the fact that when I see the white cliffs of Dover, I know I am home again and safe.
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