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Jan 2009 Journal

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Miraculous intervention

I remember, as though it were yesterday, my mother saying ‘You’re going to go to England.’ What did I, a nine-year-old, know of England? That there was a picture in the newspaper of a man called a king with a crown on his head and that my pencil bore the legend ‘Made in England’. As an only child who had never been away from home, the prospect of going there left me in a flood of tears.

I knew by then that my parents, like all the Jews of our acquaintance, were desperate to get away from Austria after the Anschluss. The reason was obvious: the poisonous copies of Der Stürmer with its obscene caricatures of Jews on sale at every street corner; the ranting voice of Hitler spewing out hate; the swastika banners on every building; the lorry loads of aggressive Brownshirts sweeping by as you walked along; and the final outrage – the burning of our synagogue on Kristallnacht and the abduction of my father by the SS.

There had been talk of a possible emigration to Palestine or of my mother coming to England as a domestic but neither scheme materialised so, as a last resort, my parents took the decision which saved my life. I gather that our GP, Dr Singer, knew of a couple in England who were willing to foster a child and he gave their address to my parents. Soon letters began to arrive from a well-set couple (they sent photographs of themselves) who assured my parents they would take good care of me. That must have been some comfort to them – but not to me.

Then came an appointment for a rather cursory medical examination, which I presume I passed, and my departure, late one June evening in 1939, from a Vienna railway station. The departure, with our strict instructions not to be emotional, I have described in my book A Child Alone. I know what it felt like for me but I do wonder, looking back on the experience, what it felt like for my mother after she left me on the train and for all the mothers who had to make their way home after that fateful parting.

It was many years later that a phone call from a colleague at the school where I was then teaching helped me to discover that I had come to England through an organisation known as the Kindertransport and that there was to be a reunion of the Kinder, now in their sixties, organised by someone called Bertha Leverton. I recognise now the full extent of the miraculous intervention which saved 10,000 children and how lucky I was to have been one of them, and I grieve for my young cousins and the other children who were not so lucky.
 

Martha Blend

previous article:One of the original Righteous Gentiles
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