“KINDERTRANSPORTS” FROM VIENNA TO GREAT BRITAIN 1938/1939

Agi with her twins, Susi and Josi

Agi Katz, the younger sister of my grandmother had found refuge in England as a maid in the household of her sister Käthe’s mistress, but she could not bring her two-year-old girl twins, Susi and Josi with her. Käthe had helped to organise from across the channel to have the girls transported via a “kindertransport” to England to Quaker foster families. Unfortunately the twins had to be separated not only from their mother, but also from each other, which caused serious and long-lasting emotional damage. They were reunited with their parents after the war. The family then decided to become British citizens and remain in the UK. In 1948 the Evening Standard printed a picture of the twins then aged 12, “Flowers at Victoria Station. 12-year-old twins Susan and Josephine Katz of Isleworth (Middlesex). They were waiting for their grandparents, septuagenarians Herr and Frau Ignaz Sobotka to arrive from Vienna for a holiday here.” (see below)

The twins, Susi and Josi, still in Vienna

With the permission of the British, Dutch and Swedish governments aid organisations in “Greater Germany” (Germany and the occupied territories) organised kindertransports in 1938 and 1939 on special trains to send endangered children west to safety. The children on board these trains left their parents and other family members at the railway stations of Prague, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, Leipzig, the free city of Danzig and the Polish city of Zbonszyn. Descriptions and eye witness reports abound of chaos, tears and the pain of the parents. The kindertransports from Austria took the train route through Germany via Cologne, over the border to the Netherlands, up to the Hook of Holland, across the North Sea by boat to dock at Harwich. Some of them were sent to London from there, others were transported to Dovercourt Bay, a holiday camp taken over to accommodate arriving youngsters. Newspaper reports describing the violence of the November pogroms prompted public sympathy and government action in the UK. The Times reported on 14 November 1938, “The position of Austria’s Jews is becoming daily more precarious… Although the more violent demonstrations have ceased the Nazis have prohibited non-Jewish stores, restaurants and cafés from selling to Jews. As no Jewish shops have been allowed to reopen the effect has been to reduce many Jews to a position dangerously near starvation.” The plight of children struck an especially resonant chord. Stories circulated in the UK about attacks against Jewish orphanages and children roaming the countryside on the verge of starvation.

INTRODUCTION: THE SETTING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leopoldine & Ignaz Sobotka (my great-grandparents)

 

This social and economic history blog looks at various aspects of the lives of ordinary people in Vienna; their different backgrounds, their lifestyles, their occupations and pastimes. It deliberately chooses “common people”, not artists, not industrialists, not high bourgeoisie or nobility. My family constitutes the template on which the blog is based and the different chapters are linked to the destiny of one of those “common people” that were members of my family and are representative of the lives of many of their contemporaries. The chapters analyse from a social and economic history point of view various aspects of life of indigenous Viennese, of immigrants and emigrants.

The German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940, “It is more difficult to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the famous. The historical reconstruction is dedicated to the memory of the nameless.” And furthermore, “History is not just the history of those who triumph, who dominate and who survive, but most of all the history of the suffering of the world…..It’s what history is based on: those anonymous people without name and without memory.”

Their four daughters: Käthe, Lola (my grandmother), Agi, Mitzi