Kindertransport: the journey to England

Henry Lowenstein

Henry Lowenstein

Four days after the letter confirming his acceptance, the Loewensteins receive instructions for Henry’s departure, which is scheduled less than a week away. He is to report to the railroad station at 7 a.m. on Monday, June 5. At the station, Henry finds that a younger, distant cousin of his is also leaving on the same transport, and they resolve to travel together as long as they can. Since they are sponsored by different organizations, they will be separated in England, but for the time being they are glad to have each other’s company.

Kindertransport travel instructions from the Jewish Welfare and Children’s Care Office (Juedische Wohlfahrts- und Jugendpflegestelle) in Berlin notifying the Loewensteins of the date, time, and place of Henry’s departure.

Courtesy of Beck Archives, University Libraries, University of Denver

Translation (Henry Lowenstein)

Berlin to Rotterdam

The first leg of their journey takes them by train from Berlin to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the reality of their situation begins to sink in. When they arrive in Rotterdam they are greeted by a welcoming Dutch crowd, but their relief at having managed to get out of Nazi Germany is tempered by the fact that their families are still in Berlin.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: In May we got notification that I was accepted to go to England. And that it would be okay, but we didn’t know when. And we got just a few days’ notice that a transport would be leaving for England in June. So on June 6 [sic] of 1939 we reported to a railroad station in Berlin. And I was allowed to carry 10 kilos, which is like 20 pounds. And no money. And that was it.

We—I got on the train. And there, another interesting thing, because, at the station—not knowing this—a fairly—like a second or third cousin turned up, with her daughter. And the daughter was—now I was thirteen, the daughter was six or seven years old, or something like that, just a child. And was going on the same transport. And so obviously we traveled together. We had taken sandwiches with us—my mother had made sandwiches, and she had sandwiches—and we got on the train. And we got on the train.

It took about—I’m just guessing three-four-five hours, maybe longer. It was mid-afternoon. We crossed the border into Holland. And up to this point, we’d been absolutely scared to death about—that something might still go wrong. And wouldn’t dare say a word, because it would just take one flick from the Nazis and we’d all be back, or God knows what would happen. And nobody dared—we thought we’d crossed the border, but we didn’t dare say anything because we weren’t sure if we were still in Germany. So when we were finally in Holland and got to a station and there were a bunch of wonderful Dutch people greeting us with chocolate and food. And that was—it was just a great joy, and everybody cheered, and was delighted to get out of there.

“We had taken sandwiches with us—my mother had made sandwiches, and she had sandwiches—and we got on the train.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Rotterdam to Harwich

In Rotterdam, the children are transferred to a ship for the crossing to Harwich, a city on the southern coast of England. Henry describes a group of children of all ages, with little or no adult supervision. They are on their own.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: We arrived in Rotterdam, it must have been in the evening, it was getting dark. We had to go through customs with our 10 pound- kilos of stuff. And then they put us on a boat. On a ship. The ship was the New—the Niew Amsterdam. And we got into our cabin and were absolutely exhausted. It must have been about 11 or so at night when we finally got in there. And I don’t remember anything, we slept in the cabin and we woke up the next morning and were already in the harbor in England, in Harwich.

And we didn’t know what, you know, we were just there being processed. And one of my—one of the more interesting memories was that—it was early in the morning, it must have been about seven or eight in the morning, the sun was up and they were unloading cargo out of the ship—or maybe they were loading, I don’t know, something was going on. And I went up on deck with Thea, and there was a circle of these kids. And by the way, I should tell you that this children’s transport was all ages. I would say the youngest were about three; the oldest were about 16. And obviously the older ones tried to take care of the younger ones, and so on, but it was a pretty motley crew of kids.

“I would say the youngest were about three; the oldest were about 16. And obviously the older ones tried to take care of the younger ones, but it was a pretty motley crew of kids.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Harwich to London

Upon arrival in England, the children continue their journey by train to London. Henry is met by a family friend who immigrated a year earlier. After two comfortable days in London, he is transferred to a refugee camp for children in Westgate, on the English coast.
Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: Well soon thereafter we were then assembled again and we got on a train. And it showed my ignorance of the geography of England, because I somehow thought that Harwich was pretty much around the corner from London. Which it wasn’t. And we got on this train and it was early afternoon when we got to London. Now once we got to London they – everybody got off the train and they were sorted out by groups as to where people went. Some were immediately sent off to refugee camps, others had some people meeting them, and so on.

 “I somehow thought that Harwich was pretty much around the corner from London. Which it wasn’t.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Westgate

Henry spends two days in London with friends of his parents, before moving on to a children’s refugee camp in Westgate. Here, children of all ages are mostly left to fend for themselves. A natural hierarchy takes shape with the older children distributing tasks to the others. The children must take care of themselves, and despite their efforts to maintain order, conditions at the camp are rough. Many children are ill and there is no medical care to speak of.

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: I stayed in London like two days, and then they sent me off to this refugee camp. And this was in Westgate, which is near Margate. It’s like a resort area on the coast of Britain, on the southeast coast. And this was like a resort area and the camp was what might be considered a fairly run-down summer resort. And there were hundreds of children there, hundreds of kids. And we were all ages, from about six to possibly 16 or 18, I’m not sure how old [coughs] the oldest were but it was about 17 perhaps. Now I want to be really clear, we were all incredibly grateful to the people who had gotten us there, and any complaint about this camp is no reflection on the people who had arranged it, who had made it possible. We were grateful, that’s all one can say. But the conditions were pretty grim. They had hired some guy who had been a cook on board a ship somewhere to do the cooking. And obviously, the food was, at best, grim. All of the organization within the camp was done by the kids themselves. The older kids organizing it. Everybody was assigned a task, because we had to do our own cleaning, our own everything. It was just like being in the Army, you’d do KP, you’d do this, you know, you’d clean up.

“All of the organization within the camp was done by the kids themselves.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

Transcript

Henry Lowenstein: It was not a particularly great situation. And there was a lot of illness. There was every kid’s illness you can think of, from whooping cough to measles and mumps and polio going rampant, and no medical help.

Interviewer: No medical help?

Henry Lowenstein: No medical help. There was one young man who was a med student – a Jewish British med student who was a med student, who tried to deal with all of this, but obviously was in way over his head. And the only thing they could do, if you came down with something, they quarantined you. You were stuck in your room, then you had to wait for someone to bring you food, you weren’t allowed to leave until they figured that whatever ailed you was better. Well, what happened to me was that I fainted while I was bringing the food to the table. Next thing I woke up I was in the room quarantined. No idea what was wrong, but because I’d fainted they figured something was wrong. I think the reason I’d fainted was because I hadn’t eaten. And I was there for like two weeks, in solitary. You know, they would just shove the food under the door and that was it. And the whole thing was pretty rough. But again, I want to make it clear, the conditions might have been rough, but no matter what happened, it was still better and we were all grateful to the people who had arranged for us to come.

Interviewer: How many were at that refugee camp?

Henry Lowenstein: Hundreds, but I couldn’t tell you how many. Anyway, suddenly one day – this was, you see I’d gotten there in the middle of June, about the middle of July, towards the end of July, the people from the committee that had brought me, they had only sponsored about eight or ten kids because that’s all they could do. You see, there were different committees that sponsored different groups of kids. My committee came and looked at the conditions at the camp and they said, this is terrible, we can’t have our children there, and so they arranged for us – for the ones who had come through this group to travel to London and live in a boarding house.

“There was every kid’s illness you can think of, from whooping cough to measles and mumps and polio going rampant, and no medical help.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470

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