Today, 9 May 2014, is the 75th anniversary to the day when my mother Ruth last saw her parents Hans and Vera Neumeyer at Munich railway station before departing for England on the Kindertransport at the age of 15. Click here for her recollections as recounted to the Imperial War Museum. – it comprises two 15-minute interviews.
The 1939 diary in which Ruth records her journey dates to England. Can anyone decipher the writing? Her entry for Tuesday 9 May 1939 records a departure ‘Hauptbahnhof [Munich main railway station] 19.05 [? may be 12.05] nach England’. Then 10 May, two words, the second of which is ‘Schiff’ (ship), and 11 May ‘Ankunft in Weybridge’ [arrival in Weybridge]. I can’t make out the remaining words for those entries except for the first line on 12 May, ‘Corn Flakes’ – quite possibly the first time she’d ever eaten cornflakes in her life.
She had learnt some English from her mother before departing (and we know from letters sent to England that her mother’s English was excellent), and she told me she picked up the language very quickly without really realising it. When she arrived at Liverpool Street from the Kindertransport and met her guarantors Frank and Bea Paish, the phrase she came out with from some misguided phrase book was ‘And how are you, old horse?’
The departure from Munich: 9 May 1939
In her interview with the Imperial War Museum, she recalls:
‘How the Kindertransport was arranged for us I don’t know. All I know was that we got our different papers which took ages to get, lots of queuing up in offices, then your passport and a photograph with one of your ears showing. Everything we wanted to take out of the country we had to have displayed so that the official could see we weren’t taking too much.
We were allowed to take a trunk and a case each. We were told we were going on a train to Holland and then to England, and your new people will be collecting you at Liverpool Street, which of course happened. The night we were leaving we were feeling very mixed of course and sad, and in the middle of the night it’s always worse, and our parents were allowed to come with the station.
We were fortunate that we were travelling with two friends my mother managed to introduce us to – two young children who were with us for the entire trip, so we didn’t notice much else. We were woken up by some SS officials who wanted to look at our papers, and we thought something awful was going to happen, but nothing did.
In the morning we arrived in Holland and were greeted with cocoa and white bread, which was most unusual. I can’t remember the ship at all. We arrived in Harwich in the afternoon, arrived in Liverpool Street and waited in a hall to be collected. ’
We found a huge amount of papers from her house in London when we cleared it out last year following her death in 2012. She had kept all her diaries, a large quantity of family photos (which I assume was sent over later) and seemingly all her correspondence. On 11 May 1939 her mother wrote the first of many letters to her daughter and son, Ruth and Raimund, in their new homes in England. I’ll be posting some of these later once I’ve worked out what they’re about. Then there was this scrap of paper (above), possibly from a diary, in which I can make out the words ‘Hook’ (ie Hook of Holland) and ‘Schiff’ (ship). It does tend to look like it’s a description of her journey.
We still have some possessions she brought on the Kindertransport. Each child was allowed two spoons, two teaspoons, two knives and two forks: she took the elaborately monogrammed silverware of her grandparents Martin and Hildegard Ephraim – each item with the initals MHE. Last Thursday, visiting Peter Müller just outside Berlin I was pleasantly surprised to find that this German branch of the family had other pieces from the same set. I had no idea any of the rest had survived.
Words and photos © Tim Locke