May 1939: new light on the Kindertransport story

Recap: exactly six years ago, I wrote my first entry in this blog, on the 75th anniversary of the journey in England of my mother, Ruth Neuymeyer, and her brother Raimund on a Kindertransport from Munich, prompted by the discovery of her ferry ticket on the SS Amsterdam, 10 May 1939, a recorded interview with the Imperial War Museum about her experience, and the teddy bear and dressing gown that accompanied her on that trip.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve found out what happened to some of the others who were on that Kindertransport and the route it took.

I later spotted that some festering old bits of luggage in our loft were the very suitcases she and her brother brought with them:

We’d been using these tatty old suitcases for years -one I even took with me for a year in Japan when teaching English there – but only when I took them out of the loft for a production of the opera Mignon did I realise their significance. The director asked us in the chorus to source luggage for the set – old suitcases to evoke the Weimar Republic era. I noticed, dusting them down, that they had remnants of luggage labels with ‘Stück’ [item of luggage in German] ‘…Holland’ ‘Harw..’ ‘..pool Street’: the journey from Munich to London Liverpool Street via Hook of Holland to Harwich. Each child was allowed only one suitcase, but other luggage – presumably in the larger case at the bottom of this pile – was sent on a few days later.

Unlocking the puzzle

A few days ago I found out a few more things about her journey, partly thanks to this scrap of paper bearing her handwriting, which has been puzzling me for years.

The cryptic text has at last been deciphered, by a 92-year-old man who can read the old German handwriting.

We know now that was written on the Kindertransport journey. It’s only a fragment, as she is only recording the stage after they have left Germany. We presume that as she left at midnight she would have not begun writing straight away. Maybe when things relaxed after the Dutch border she felt able to start writing her impressions.

In German it seems to read:

…mit der Tram zum anderen Bahnhof. Mit schönen Ledersesseln nach Hook. Auf dem Weg Windmühlen zuleigen. In Hook in den Wartesall. Tee, Brot Nette. Unterhaltung 8.00 Uhr ins Schiff Kabine 304 mit Klarissa, Grete, Gündi. Stuard mit Keks. Lüftung Guoche[?] and der Wand bei Grack u. Ruth. Besuch bei Walter und Raimund eingetusselt am Bett. Abend mit Ruth. 5 3/4 (= 5.45) geweckt an Deck. Schiff besichtigen Einteilung langes Gewarte im Smoking, Hundemarke 46, Untersuchung nochmal gut. Essen Eierbrot zum Apfel wo Klaus…

And in English the nearest we can get is:

…with the tram to another station. In nice leather seats to Hook. On the way there are windmills. In Hook in the waiting room. Tea, bread. Nice conversation/talk. At 8h in cabin 304 of the ship together with Klarissa [Clarisse Nathan], Grete and Gundi. Steward brings cookies. Fresh air through a peephole towards Grack [? possibly Grete] and Ruth. Visit to Walter and Raimund dropping asleep near the bed. Evening with Ruth, wake up at 5.45am on deck. Visit the ship, a long wait in smoking [area?], dog tag 46, medical examination good again. A meal of eggy bread with apple, where Klaus…[text ends]

The dog tag was her identity label, so maybe 46 appeared on it, perhaps along with the four-figure number on the typed list shown further down in this post.

Who travelled with them

And recent online searches have revealed a bit more about who else was on that Kindertransport.

Clarisse and Walter Nathan knew the Neumeyers in Munich, and Ruth kept contact with them for many years after; I spoke to Clarisse and her husband in 2019 when writing a post for this blog about their war years, and their journey on the Kindertransport: click here for the story.

It was a very long journey. By the time we reached the ferry at the Hook of Holland there were about a hundred of us children, all with name tags around our necks. Daddy Bovey’s mother and his brother, Uncle Arthur, lived in London and were glad to be able to meet us. We were going to spend our first night in Mrs Bovey’s home in Chelsea. Uncle Arthur made a special detour pointing out to us some of the famous places in the capital.

Clarisse Delafield (Clarisse Nathan) describing her journey to England with her brother Walter and with the Neumeyer children, in May 1939.

The departure from Munich was at midnight, and other children were picked up from stations further on the route in the small hours of the morning. This seems to have been a deliberate policy of the Nazis – that the transports left in the middle of the night so that the rest of the population would not have to witness the tearful departures.

One of the other passengers on the train was Edith Rothschild (born 1925) from Frankfurt. In an interview with Lyn Smith of the Imperial War Museum, she recalls leaving Frankfurt with her father Gustav in tears and her mother Martha silent. Like Ruth, Raimund and so many other children, she was told by her parents that they would follow on. Gustav and Martha had tried unsuccessfully to emigrate to America, where they had a cousin. Her sister Trude left on an earlier Kindertransport.

On the train near the Dutch border, Edith recalled, some boys changed into shorts and came round giving everyone money but saying they would take it back later. Then SS officers came on board asking if they had any valuables to declare. As the train entered the Netherlands, everyone cheered and the boys in shorts changed back into their long trousers and took their money back. Edith then realised they were smuggling cameras as well as money, and they got away with it.

Edith herself smuggled her doll into her luggage – not because it was a forbidden item but because her parents thought she was too old for dolls. That object (shown here) is now at the Jewish Museum in London.

She remembers nothing of the rest of the journey until the ferry, when she had a cabin to herself, with two bunks, as the other girl wanted to be with friends; the tightly made bed of sheets and blankets mystified her, as she’d always slept under duvets, and in the morning the steward brought in tea with milk, which she found similarly unfamiliar and poured down the sink.

On boarding the train in Harwich there were men by the railway throwing sweets into the train. Like the Dutch women who brought cocoa and white bread on board earlier in the journey, they were very aware of the regular convoys of child refugees from Nazi Germany.

On arrival in London she was met by her grandparents, and she then travelled to Cambridge – where her sister Trude was – and went to live for two years with Professor and Mrs Bennett “near Newnham” – which would have been not far from Ruth in Adams Road; it is very possible their paths crossed. Later they heard of their mother had been deported, and Trude had a breakdown, while Edith tried to shut it all out of her mind.

Edith’s mother died at the hands of the Nazis but her father survived a concentration camp and he and Edith were reunited after the war.

A happier story surrounds the fates of the Katzenstein family from Bielefeld. Their daughters Marianne Adelheid (married name Marianne Bern) and Eva Susanne (married name Eve Roberts had two British-born cousins living in Portsmouth who had managed to find a family willing to give a home to Marianne but not to Eva – which meant their parents Willi and Selma would be unable to come too. Willi Katzenstein was a leading liberal Jewish lawyer.

But one day, their luck turned. The cousins were sitting in a café  with a friend, telling her about the desperate situation at having nobody willing to take Eva. A woman magistrate and a governor of a Girls’ Grammar School in Portsmouth who was also the widow of a lawyer happened to be sitting at the next table and overheard this conversation. She came over to tell them that she might be able to help; a sealing factor was that Willi Katzenstein was a lawyer too. She said the Grammar School would give Eva a place, and she would finance her keep. Travel arrangements were made: the girls came on the Kindertransport on 10 May 1939 while their parents travelled separately. And so the whole family was saved.

When we were leaving the Dutch border, we jumped in relief and shouted: “we are out!” 

Eva Katzensteine (Eve Roberts)

Marianne married in 1952. She worked at Cornell College and at the World Jewish Congress in London and Geneva, Switzerland. She later moved to Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Stolpersteine memorial plaques in Bielefeld outside the home the Katzensteins left in 1939: unusually none of them have the word ‘Deportiert’ (deported) or ‘Ermordert’ (murdered): just ‘Flucht 1939, England, Überlebt’ (Escaped 1939 to England, survived).

The first page of the list, and what it tells us about the others

Recently, this remarkable document turned up after an internet search. It is a list of the children on the same Kindertransport as Ruth and Raimund, and is headed lle Kindertransport van Duitschland naar England via Emmerich wo 10 Mai 1939 (“2nd Kindertransport from Germany to England via Emmerich Wednesday 10 May” – implying there was a first transport on this day):

The first page from the list of 41 children on the Kindertransport from Munich via Nuremberg and Mannheim, 9-10 May 1939. It appears that not all those listed would have travelled. The heading translates from Dutch as ‘Second Kindertransport from Germany to England Wed 9 May 1939’, implying that there was another Kindertransport on this date. The transport left Munich at midnight on 9 May, so most children joined it on 10 May.

The list is just the first page, but the names, addresses and birthdates are useful in googling a few details, although some what is typed is not clear.

So using these numbers as reference points, here’s what emerges:

1 Fritz Krebs, from Gaukönigshofen, born 18 February 1923. The US Holocaust Museum lists him as having emigrated to London on 9 June 1939, rather than 9/10 May. The discrepancy with dates indicates either the record is wrong, or he didn’t actually take this transport but travelled the following month. Three people from a Krebs family in Gaukönigshofen – Sigmund, his wife Sara and their infant child Seigbert – are recorded as being deported and murdered in 1942 – so far I haven’t been able to find out if they were related.

2&5 Walter and Clarisse Nathan (friends of Raimund and Ruth Neumeyer – see above).

3&6 Raimund and Ruth Neumeyer (my uncle and mother).

4 Günter Sturm, from 18 Bahnhofstrasse, Augsburg, born 13 March 1930. His family ran the major cloth store, Wimpfheimer & Cie, in southern Germany. It is reported that while his sister and brother went to England Günter went with his parents to New Jersey, and given that there is a line struck through his registration number on this list, it seems likely that he did not actual travel on this Kindertransport. The grandparents, feeling they were too old to attempt to escape from Germany, committed suicide. A commemorative event for the family was held in Augsburg in 2010; a report on his visit to his home town is here. Günter later changed his name to George Sturm. Photo: Jewish Museum, Augsburg.

7 Ruth Koschland (mistyped here as Kochland), of Karolinenstrasse 6, Fürth, born 19 November 1923. The travel companion of Eva Mosbach (see below) and quite possibly the “Ruth” mentioned on the scrap of paper that I describe at the beginning of this blog post.

Karolinenstrasse 6, Fürth, the former home of Ruth Koschland [Wiki Commons, cc-by-sa-3.0]
Andra Marx, niece of Suse Marx, with her husband on a visit to Schweinfurt in 2017, by the site of the Marx home in Rückertstrasse [Main Post]

8 Suse Marx came from Schweinfurt. A German newspaper, the Main Post, reported 78 years after her coming to England that her niece Andra Marx and her husband Mark Madonna paid a visit to the sites of where Suse and her father Helmut lived, in Rückertstrasse. Helmut managed to leave Schweinfurt just in time, in 1941, and emigrate to America, while Suse stayed in London until the end of the war. In 2014 Andra inherited from her father a mass of papers and photos relating to the family’s history.

9&10 Adolf and Herbert Birnbaum, Dennerstrasse 2, Nuremberg; Adolf born 6 May 1922, Herbert born 17 October 1926. Adolf’s number in the final column has been struck out: he had just reached his 17th birthday, so would not have been allowed to travel. No further details known.

11 Hans Heilbronner, Guntherstrasse 44, Nuremberg; born 6 January 1929. Three months after his brother Fritz (born in 1924) had left on a Kindertransport, Hans – son of Luise and Josef Heilbronner, joined this transport for England. The brothers’ school life became impossible in 1937 when gangs of Hitler Youth gathered at the school gates and beat up Jewish children, and on Kristallnacht in November 1938 while Hans lay ill with diptheria the house was vandalised by Brownshirt Nazis, who smashed and cut everything up, even the contents of cupboards and wardrobes. He spent a year in Kent before travelling to America in 1940; he changed his name to John, while Fritz became Fred. The family managed to regroup in New York, and ran a leather business. The full story with these photographs is on Jewishgen.org.

12 Inge Mohr of Virchowstrasse 9, Nuremberg; born 17 December 1928. The number in the final column is struck out, suggesting she did not travel. That I confirmed by looking on the website dokin.nl, which has details about child refugees from the Third Reich who came to the Netherlands after Kristallnacht. The date of birth and German address are the same on the Dokin record, which shows she had already left to England, on 9 January 1939. Her parents were Richard Mohr (born July 1897) and Maria Marzberg (born in Ramberg, June 1903). Her last known address was recorded for 13 December 1938, in the Netherlands: Rivierenhuis de Steeg, Hoofdstraat 10, Rheden. This was a former hotel and bathhouse, used for four months as a Koloniehuis – a sort of children’s home, run by kindly German-speaking nuns – for Jewish children; it could house 80 children but was not meant for orthodox Jews as the food was not kosher. Inge was one of the first group of 45 children to arrive here. The last children left on 19 April 1939.

The Koloniehuis in Rheden, in its days as the Hotel Quisisana. The building stood until 1977. [Dokin.nl]

13 Eva Mosbacher of Emlienstrasse 4, Nuremberg, born 22 October 1926. Thanks to an excellent online article (from which the picture here is taken), there is plenty known about the story of Eva and her family. In April 1939 the Nuremberg Jewish Congregation informed Dr Lindgren and Mrs Lavén in Cambridge, England who were to receive her that she should be ready to leave in early May. She was issued a passport on 29 April, and the date of her departure was set on 6 May: the train would leave from Nuremberg at 2.50am on 10 May.

Her parents informed the foster mother in Cambridge that “Eva is of course exceedingly happy, that she will soon be with you. The knowledge that she will receive a good warm-hearted reception relieves us at the time of our parting.” That night, the Mosbachers took their daughter to the station, not knowing if they would see her again; two boys and one other girl boarded with them.

Eva Mosbacher in 1938

Once on the train, their passports and identity cards were taken. Eva wrote of the chaperons “The girls are really very nice, and of course very determined and energetic.”

Eva began writing to her parents when the train was “between Dettelbach and Würzburg” that there was a baby on board, and that the average age of the convoy of over 40 children was about 13. The oldest were 17, and there was an equal number of boys and girls. One of her travelling companions was Ruth Koschland (number 7 on this list).

In Frankfurt they were joined by more children. “We saw a few goodbyes, which were awful.”

And Eva met Ruth, Raimund, and their friends Clarisse and Walter. “Some of them were siblings, like the 13-year-old twins Clarisse and Walter Nathan from Munich.” She remarked (about them) “There were “children from Munich, who spoke with quaint Munich accents”.

Eva wrote at length to her parents, to the bemusement of the others who wrote mostly just postcards. She gave her letter to the conductress in Emmerich, the last stop before the Dutch border. Out of the window she saw ‘alternately cows and windmills. Everything is absolutely marvellous.”

Eva went to Cambridge and became a nurse. Tragically depression overwhelmed her and she took her own life in a London hotel near Victoria station in 1963.

14 Luise Verhaus, of Zeltnerstrasse 30, Nuremberg; born 26 May 1923. No further information found.

15 Herbert Jauss of Pforzheim, born 3 October 1921. All I can find out about him is that he changed his name to Herbert Parker.

16 Gerhard Kuppenheim of Wilferdinger Strasse 20, Pforzheim, born November 1922, was from a family of noted silversmiths, which went into liquidation in 1939. The factory was founded by Louis Kuppenheim in 1857; after his death in 1889, the business passed to his three sons, Albert, Hugo (who has the same address as Gerhard, but Gerhard is not listed among his children; Hugo committed suicide in August 1938) and Moritz. The factory went into liquidation in 1939.

17 Inge Rosenberger, of Tullastrasse 10, Mannheim; born 21 November 1923. Travelled with her sister, Ruth (see below). No further details known.

18 Lore Baer, of R Wagnerstrasse 53, Mannheim; born 16 October 1928 to Hellmuth and Hedwig Baer. Hellmuth worked in a bank, while she attended a Jewish school in Mannheim; her brother Max was in Italy studying to be a chef. The family’s apartment was smashed up by SS officers on Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938, and Hellmuth was arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp; Hedwig paid frequent visits to the police station enquiring after him and eventually managed to obtain his release; she then worked on getting the whole family out of Germany. Lore recalled ‘I never knew how she managed to get his release. He came home and was a totally destroyed man. He looked just terrible and his head was shaved.’ Hedwig looked for somewhere he could go and soon managed to get him to the Japanese sector in Shanghai, where visas were not required; meanwhile she arranged Lore’s Kindertransport. “My mother told me it was only going to be for a little while” said Lore.

Lore was taken in by a family in London’s east end; the only language they shared were some words of Yiddish. In 1940, Max was able to get to England and visited Lore, before being arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Australia. Two years later, Hedwig was deported to Drancy transit camp and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 2 September. Less than two months later, on 29 October 1942 Max was on board the unescorted passenger ship MV Abosso, sailing from Cape Town to Liverpool when a U-boat torpedo struck: he was among the 44 internees who perished in the attack. Hellmuth survived the war, but only just, dying of pleurisy in 1946.

Lore Baer (Lore Kirchheimer) giving a talk to schoolchildren in 2014 for the North Shore Congregation Israel in Illinois

Happily Lore had distant relatives, the Kirchheimers (from whom she took her new name), in the USA and through them obtained a visa. She sailed to New York, and to a new life, in 1946. She married another refugee, Harry Weiniger in 1949 and they had three children, settling near Chicago. She died in 2019.

A full account is given here on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website. You can also see a one-hour presentation in English given by Lore in 2014 to schoolchildren.

19 Ruth Liebermensch, of Kirchenstrasse 4, Mannheim; born 6 February 1922. She and her sister Hanna both came to Britain before continuing to New York in May 1940. Outside their Mannheim home, a brass Stolperstein commemorates their father Samuel, who was deported to Gurs concentration camp in France and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in September 1942. In 1944 Ruth married Richard Pfifferling, a Jewish refugee from Dresden, whose parents were unable to escape from Germany.

20 Ruth Rosenberger, of Tullastrasse 10, Mannheim; born 14 June 1925 or 1926. No further details known.

Charlotte Siesel (Amira Gezow)

21 Alice Rosa Siesel, of Mittelstrasse 10, Mannheim; born in Bad Honnef, 10 June 1925. Her parents Walter Samuel and Ida ran a laundry room across the street from their home, from 1934 until 1938 when the Nazis forced them to sell the business to an Aryan owner. Walter found some work with a construction company and when war broke out he helped establish a home for elderly Jews. He and Ida were taken to Gurs internment camp on 22 and were both killed in Auschwitz in 1942.

Alice’s sister Charlotte was helped by a Jewish aid organisation to cross into Switzerland, from where she went on to Israel and changed her name to Amira Gezow. Alice married and became Alice Alexander but I don’t have any further details of what happened to her.

Stolpesteine in the street outside the Mannheim residence of Alice Siesel’s parents

Where the journey went

During the night we must have slept a little bit and we were woken up once by some SS officials wanted to look at our papers and we thought probably something awful thing was going to happen but nothing happened luckily. In 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, but we must have got on a boat to Harwich and arrived in the afternoon. Then we went down by train to Liverpool Street and waited in the hall there to be collected.

Ruth’s recollections of the journey

From the list above we know a bit more about the journey, which took them from Munich to Pforzheim and Mannheim, and later travelled via Emmerich before crossing the border into the Netherlands. At Rotterdam they got off the train and took a tram to across the city to another railway station, before carrying on another train to the Hook of Holland. The ferry arrived at Harwich early in the morning.

Plotting these places on a map, it seems likely that the train from Munich went via Pforzheim and Mannheim to Frankfurt. Those coming from Nuremberg, including Eva, would have joined the train there, as she mentions having to change at Frankfurt. Then it continued via Bonn and Koblenz to Köln, through Essen and crossing the Dutch border after Emmerich, then on through Arnhem and Utrecht. Somewhere they took a tram to Rotterdam rail station and took another train to the Hook, where the ship SS Amsterdam left for Harwich.

SS Amsterdam: the ship used for this Kindertransport on 10-11 May 1939. Built in 1930 as a passenger and freight vessel for the London and North Eastern Railway, it was used the following year in the Dunkirk evacuation, and as a hospital ship in the Normandy landings in D-Day, when it struck a mine and blew up, with the loss of 109 lives.

From Harwich, some of the children – those who had not been placed with families – may have gone to Dovercourt, a holiday camp used to house many Kinder refugees. Ruth and the rest carried on to London. There in the station, children’s names were called out and there were people to meet them. In Edith Rothschild’s case, her grandparents were there, and she carried on by train to join her sisters in Cambridge.

Eva Mosbacher’s account mentions other places the train went through: Dettelbach, Würzburg, Frankfurt am Main (where they changed trains), Köln and Rotterdam (with a tram ride across the city for the final leg by rail to Hook of Holland).

As regards the Katzenstein sisters, I have not found a reference to the other children on their transport. Bielefeld is some way north of the main route shown on the map below, so they would have done at least part of the journey separately. Given that there may have been two transports on that date, if they were on the other one then the two would have joined presumably at Hook of Holland for the ferry crossing.

From the accounts of Ruth, Eva and Edith, this seems the likely route the Kindertransport took from Munich on 9 to 11 May 1939

For Ruth and Raimund, Frank and Beatrice Paish met them and drove them through central London and on to the family home in Weybridge, where they stayed for some weeks with Oscar and Doris Eckhard. Frank and Beatrice’s son Anthony told me recently that he could remember the children’s arrival in London – they were both in Bavarian clothes, Ruth in a dirndl and Raimund in lederhosen.

The people who took care of us were wonderful. I remember going in a taxi from Liverpool Street to I think it must have been Waterloo, because we went to Weybridge after that – and on the way we were shown the Bank of England and St Paul’s on the way, and Trafalgar Square.

They were very, very nice and when we arrived there was an enormous round table with all the family – two girls and all the parents, and masses of food – we’d never seen so much food: there were scones, and cake and jellies and salad and sausages. We had forgotten that in England when you are asked if you want any more you say ‘no thank you’ – we kept on saying ‘thank you’ and they gave us more and more! But we soon learned.

Ruth speaking about her arrival with her brother Raimund at the home of her new English family.

2 thoughts on “May 1939: new light on the Kindertransport story

  1. This brought tears to my eyes……my mum and aunty were on a Kindertransport too, from Leipzig, and were also told their parents would join them the following week……only their father survived. Their mother, little 3 year old sister and grandfather were left behind and murdered.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Judith. So many Kindertransport children were under the impression that their parents would follow on. Do you know where your grandmother, great-aunt and grandfather were deported to?

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