... And the Policeman Smiled

BOOK: ... And the Policeman Smiled
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For ten months before the Second World War, there was an organised movement of mainly Jewish children out of Nazi Europe.

The children were bundled onto trains, waved goodbye to their parents and set off across Germany and Holland to the ferries which took them to England.

Only a few spoke English, most had no family or friends here. Almost none ever saw their families again.

The first memory of the children arriving at dawn in Harwich after their long trek was ‘the policeman smiled', a telling witness to the authoritarian regime they were escaping from.

Based on previously unpublished records and extensive interviews, …
And the Policeman Smiled
traces the poignant story of the
, those who helped organise the transports, the families who took them in, but above all the often painful adjustments of the young refugees to a strange country and often lonely life of billeting, fostering, evacuation and even deportation.

By turns moving and amusing, the book captures the lives of both those who came to terms with their new existence and those who were unable to.

It is not a small thing, in these years of suffering
without parallel, to have given to ten thousand children
the opportunity to grow up in an atmosphere of
decency and normality, to work, to play, to laugh and
be happy and to assume their rightful heritage as free
men and women

Dorothy Hardisty,
General Secretary of the Refugee Children's Movement.


1 Beginnings

2 Kristallnacht

3 The First Transports

4 Essex by the Sea

5 The Price of Humanity

6 Boat Train

7 Home from Home

8 Evacuation and Internment

9 Board and Lodging

10 Willingly to School

11 War Effort

12 Short Straws

13 Divided Loyalties

14 After the War



Plate Section



At school the class no longer stood up and chorused: “Good
morning, Fräulein Ratchen!” when the teacher came in;
instead we had to stand up, thrust out our arms and shout,
“Heil Hitler!” I never quite knew whether to join in or not.
I knew Hitler was evil and the cause of all our troubles, but
felt afraid not to raise my hand

First memories are of the railway station. Few of the children can immediately recall what happened in the days and weeks before the journey. It is as if their parents deliberately made life as ordinary as possible in a vain attempt to ease the inevitable trauma, or simply as a way of holding off reality.

They gathered in small groups, usually in the early morning when there were few other travellers about, the boys fidgeting in thick tweed suits, the girls more comfortable in woolly dresses and long coats buttoned up to the neck. Each child had a suitcase.

Little was said. The parents were tongue-tied by emotion, the children bewildered into silence. Only the teenagers had any clear idea as to why they were going away. The youngest were mostly consoled by fantasy – that they were off on holiday, or to stay with relatives for just a few weeks. Some were not told anything. It was worst for them. They were angry with their parents for packing them off and refused the final hug as they clambered aboard the train. The hurt was to stay with them always.

The jostle for a seat by the window took up the last few minutes. Those left on the platform waved and shouted through the billows of steam and, as the engine pulled forward, craned their necks for a last glimpse.

In the crowded compartments, the bitter sickness of loneliness took hold and there were many tears. ‘Never mind,' said the older ones. ‘It won't be long. You'll soon see your families again!' But few of them ever did.

This scene, repeated at least a hundred times in the year up to the beginning of the war, was of a
– a random selection of young people, from infants to early teenagers, who were sent away to Britain by their parents as a last resort against Nazi persecution.

Some ten thousand children were saved in this way. They came from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Vienna and Prague. A few had relatives in Britain ready to take them in but the rest went to hostels, or were farmed out to foster parents or boarding schools. It was a new beginning with a new language; the start of a mounting succession of powerful and often bewildering demands on their capacity to adapt and survive.

The first transports arrived in the early days of December 1938. The
De Praag
docked at Harwich on 2 December with over two hundred children, mostly survivors of a Berlin orphanage burnt down by stormtroopers. Ten days later a transport arrived from Vienna with another two hundred children. Thereafter there were at least two children's transports a week until the movement reached its peak in June and July 1939, with transports arriving daily and all but overwhelming the organisers. Bea Green, from Munich, remembers her escape:

I am fourteen years old and I am wearing a suit, a raincoat, a hat on the back of my head and gloves. I feel quite grown-up and excited. I have already made friends with two girls in my compartment, one older than I and one little orphan, a pretty girl. There is some shouting and waving and slowly the train moves forward. I see my mother stepping behind my father so I shouldn't see her take out her handkerchief and put it to her face. I see the gesture and suddenly feel hollow in my stomach and my knees. But I cannot cry and we are off. Goodbye, Munich.

And now the excitement of travel and the anticipation of arrival. My tall travelling companion says she will be met by a couple who have already suggested she should call them Mummy and Daddy. I am puzzled by this. She has her own parents. I don't know who will collect me. I do know that I am going to a lady who already has Margot Alsberg from Hamburg.

We spend what is left of the night in some big hall in Frankfurt where a lot more children join us and then we're off to the Hoek van Holland. We come to the border of Holland and before leaving Germany we have to show our passports with the letter ‘J' stamped on the front page in red. Also I have been given another name. I am now Maria Beate Sarah Siegel. I rather like it. I think it's nice that all the other girls are also called Sarah. The border guards look at our passports. I am a bit nervous because my mother has hidden a couple of extra ten mark notes wrapped up in one of my sandwiches. It's all right. The border guard is not interested in my sandwiches. More puffing and hissing of the engine and we are in Holland.

At our first stop there a team of big and very kind ladies comes on to the train with fresh orange juice and very white bread and butter. The bread is soft and delicious. I am surprised that the ladies are so very kind. I don't know any of them. The train moves on and I see my first windmill. I am pleased that they are real and not just in story books. I must tell my mother, I think. And then it hits me – I won't be seeing her to tell her these things.

It's night time when we get to the ship. We sleep in bunks and arrive in Harwich at dawn. I cannot find all my luggage. I have more cases than originally stipulated. I don't know why the Munich authorities let me take more. I have to use my English now to ask an official about these cases. I wish I didn't have to. But I find them in another hall and feel triumphant and – and tired, both. A little girl cries and keeps repeating ‘Mutti, Mutti'. I put my arm round her and tell her she'll see her soon. Then we have to get on to our train bound for London, Liverpool Street. Funny name, I think:

The exodus from Germany started within weeks of Hitler coming to power in January 1933. At first it was no more than a blip in the demand for extended holidays abroad. Most Germans, including most Jews, discounted Nazi racism as part of the overblown rhetoric of reawakening nationalism. Even after the April boycott of Jewish shops and businesses and numerous well-reported acts of unprovoked violence, a mood of hope prevailed in some Jewish circles:

Listening to his parents and their friends, young Philip Urbach, not then dreaming that within four years he would be on his way
to England, leaving his home near Leipzig for ever, recalls a general conviction that ‘the old shame of defeat had been erased and that a bright future of economic and political improvement was beckoning the Germans'. This view was echoed abroad where Jewish leaders urged patience and restraint. Speaking at a London rally in October 1933, Leonard Montefiore, one of the aristocrats of Anglo-Jewry and soon to be a prime force in the Refugee Children's Movement, refused to believe that Nazism was ‘only composed of hatred and prejudice'. He identified some worthy elements in National Socialism such as ‘a certain austerity and readiness for self-sacrifice, a spirit of patriotism', and concluded: ‘… were it not for the anti-semitic plank in the Nazi programme there is no doubt that a large proportion of young German Jews would be enthusiastic followers of the movement.' (Naomi Shepherd:
Wilfrid Israel
, 1984.)

The popular feeling among German Jews that they could somehow contain the wilder side of Nazism was rooted in a strong sense of national identity with national aspirations. There was no way in which they could be judged as essentially different from other Germans. After all, they shared a history going back a thousand years. German industry, law, medicine, science, literature and art drew heavily on Jewish talent. Defeat in the Great War led to a predictable hunt for scapegoats, but meanwhile, the Weimar Republic removed the last barriers against Jews entering the highest ranks of the civil service. Surely, it was argued, the Nazis would not sacrifice so much proven achievement.

But the dogma of National Socialism dictated otherwise.

In March 1933, Sir Horace Rumbold, British ambassador to Berlin, reported on the mounting hostility to leading Jewish citizens.

Thus, today's papers state that Professor Einstein's house has been searched for explosives by SS and SA troops. Herr Bruno Walter, the celebrated conductor, was recently prevented from conducting a concert at Leipzig, and then one at Berlin, on the now classical excuse that such a proceeding on his part would result in the disturbance of public order. The house of Herr Feuchtwanger, the author of
Jew Süss
, was searched by S A troops, who carried away the manuscript of a novel. One of the most eminent physicians in
the country, of Jewish persuasion, who is head of a well-known clinic, was forced to sign a paper agreeing to leave Germany. His assistants who were of the same persuasion were likewise dismissed.

There are many instances of musicians and officials of Jewish race having been dismissed from orchestras and theatres, and in one town in Silesia the Nazis invaded the law courts and summarily forced judges and lawyers of Jewish race to cease their activities.

BOOK: ... And the Policeman Smiled
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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