Which cases my mother Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in 1939 was for years a matter of conjecture. My parents had quite an assemblage of tatty pre-war suitcases and trunks. Only last month I dragged them out of my loft for a theatrical production that required a lot of old cases as part of the set – New Sussex Opera’s staging of the opera Mignon, written in 1866 but transplanted to the 1920s (I’m performing in the chorus).
The piece I write about was on a large, unlovely suitcase that I was very familiar with. I’d taken it to Japan for my year’s teaching there back in 1981-82 and carted it around Thailand and Sri Lanka. It was cumbersome and one of the locks was missing. Not a very cherished object.
Then a few weeks ago I noticed something that confirmed this was one of the cases. A torn-off, yellowed luggage label: ‘Stück’ [item of luggage in German] ‘…Holland’ ‘Harw..’ ‘..pool Street’. Ruth’s and her brother Raimund’s journey of May 10-11 1939 from Munich went by way of Hook of Holland-Harwich-Liverpool Street. There was also a German maker’s label on the case; and another on a similar, smaller case. Each child was allowed one suitcase and one trunk: these, without question, are definitely those.
I know some of the contents Ruth brought in them. The famous teddy bear. Two knives, two forks and two spoons (as was the allowance; she brought ornate silverware with the initials HME on them – Hildegard & Martin Ephraim, her maternal grandmother and grandfather. Raimund may have brought over some more. Then she had the dressing gown that I’ve described in an earlier post – red, spotted with cream – brand-new, and thus contravening Nazi regulations, so her mother had dunked it in the bathwater explaining to the Nazi official who inspected the luggage that it was being washed. I presume she also brought over the family photo albums at that time. Maybe the pile of school exercise books too,
Sharp-eyed operagoers might spot the very cases on stage at the two remaining performances of Ambroise Thomas’s delectable Mignon in Eastbourne and London’s Cadogan Hall this month, 22 and 24 November.