The written word is a powerful tool, allowing us to express thoughts and opinions, and to record our own testimony of events. Importantly, it has been possible through letters, diaries and memoirs for the written experience of survivors of the Holocaust to be preserved as evidence for the future. Some survivors have chosen to publish their own stories, while others have shared their experiences with researchers. The local studies library at Surrey History Centre holds the published testimonies of some of these Holocaust survivors, a few of whom came to live in Surrey.
After a reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kindertransport, Bertha Leverton and Shmuel Lowensohn decided to collect and publish their own stories and those of their fellow survivors who came to Britain. In I came alone. The Stories of the Kindertransports (1990), one survivor, Joseph Eisinger recalls, aged 14, being sent to “an agricultural school in Haslemere, Surrey. There I was put to work peeling large quantities of potatoes and excavating a swimming pool with pick and shovel.” Vera Reichman tells of arriving at a hostel for evacuees in Rowledge, Surrey, in January 1943: “So began two and a half of the happiest years I spent in England. The hostel was run by a dedicated staff of young people – all under thirty – headed by a Rabbi and his wife, members of the Jewish orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva”.
Paul Cohn’s parents arranged for him to join the Kindertransport in 1939 and relatives in England were able to find him farm work through the Dorking Refugee Committee. On arrival in England, Cohn recalls being “put on the train to Dorking. I was met by a lady from the Refugee Committee who drove me to my destination, the farm in Newdigate. Here was my first chance to practise my English; after six years’ study at school I was pleased to find that I could keep up a conversation without too much difficulty”. Self-confessed ‘town child’ Cohn seemed to have enjoyed his two and a half years at Mr Panning’s poultry farm and picked up essential farming skills, including learning to milk cows which “more than anything gave me the feeling of being a real countryman”.
Michele M Gold is the daughter of a Kindertransport survivor and her passion lies in educating people about the experiences of Jewish children who escaped Nazi persecution. Her book, Memories that won’t go away (2014), documents the individual stories of Kindertransportees, including Kate Lesser who was sent to Stoatley Rough School in Haslemere, Sabine Landau (née Strang) who helped look after children at Rowledge Hostel, and Bronia Snow who came to England in June 1939.
Born Bronislava Ringlerova, Bronia grew up in Prague with her younger brother where her parents ran a small film distribution business. In 1939, Bronia was sent to live with relatives of her mother in London. She later learned that her parents and younger brother had been killed on their arrival at Auschwitz. A member of Kingston Liberal Synagogue, Bronia speaks of her experiences to schoolchildren at Holocaust Memorial Day workshops organised by Kingston Synagogues. In January 2015, a foyer exhibition here to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day was created from Bronia’s personal photographs and recollections. A DVD of Bronia’s talk and digital images of the exhibition panels are held at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref 9317/1/2 and 9317/3/6).
The wartime notebooks of Polish-Jewish architect, Edward Hartry (né Herzbaum) were discovered some years after his death by his daughter, and were translated and published as Lost Between Worlds (2010). In 1939 Edward had joined the Polish Auxiliary Forces and managed to escape German capture, travelling to eastern Poland to stay with relatives. It was here that Edward was arrested by the Soviet secret police and sent to a Gulag. Following the Nazi invasion of Russia, Edward was released and travelled south to join the Polish Army to fight in Italy. In 1946, Edward came to England to continue his architectural studies; his mother had perished in the Łodz ghetto. In the early 1960s, Edward and his wife, a fellow architect, designed and built their family home – ‘Pipidowek’ in Maybury, near Woking. Krystyna Mew has created a detailed website of her father’s extraordinary life and work at http://www.lostbetweenworlds-herzbaum.com/.
Hans Loeser, whose family had owned a large department store in Kassel, Germany, was sent to England in 1937. He was accepted at Stoatley Rough School in Haslemere, established by Dr Hilde Lion, a Jewish academic who had left Germany following Hitler’s rise to power. His memoir, Hans’s Story (2007), traces his life as a young Jew in interwar Germany, his time in England where he met his future wife at Stoatley Rough School, and subsequent emigration to the United States where he served in the US Army before establishing himself as a lawyer and civil rights activist.
Barbara Wolfenden, the wife of another Stoatley Rough pupil, Martin Owens, has written about the experiences of the school’s Jewish pupils, many of whom were sent to England from mainland Europe in the 1930s. Her book, Little Holocaust Survivors and the English school that saved them (2008), relates the experiences of the ‘Hut Boys’ (so-named because they stayed in a hut in the school’s premises). The papers of another ‘Stoatley Roughian’, John (Hans) Goldmeier, are held at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum who have kindly donated a CD of digital images of the collection to Surrey History Centre (SHC ref Z/635).
Marriage, family and child therapist, Sara Moskovitz, set out to discover what had become of the young Holocaust survivors who came to live at Weir Courtney Hostel in Lingfield after the war, and what their stories could teach us. Her book, Love despite hate, child survivors of the Holocaust and their adult lives (1983), records fascinating interviews with 24 of these survivors. As Moskovitz remarks, “Their voices stir us to expand our understanding of human resourcefulness. These child survivors speak to us of the indestructibility of the yearning for love, of the tenacity of hope, and above all – through their inspiring strength and humanity – of human resilience.”
GOLD, Michele M. Memories that won’t go away : a tribute to the children of the Kindertransport. Kotrim, 2014.
HERZBAUM, Edward H. Lost between worlds. Matador, 2010.
LEVERTON, Bertha and LOWENSOHN, Shmuel. I came alone : the stories of the Kindertransports. Book Guild,1990.
LOESER, Hans F. Hans’s story. iUniverse, 2007.
MOSKOVITZ, Sarah. Love despite hate : child survivors of the Holocaust and their adult lives. Schocken Books, 1983.
WOLFENDEN, Barbara. Little Holocaust survivors and the English school that saved them. Greenwood World, 2008.