Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Ruth Barnett "Person of No Nationality"


Ruth came to England in 1939 with her older brother Martin. Her father was a Jew and her mother was German. She had a slightly different experience form our own Renate Edler, whose mother was a Jew and whose father was German, but there are many parallels.
Like Renate, she didn’t know whether she was German, Jewish or English. Renate had most problems with her Jewishness but perhaps Ruth had more problems with being German: she was very young when she first left Germany. Both girls forgot their German.
The uncertainty about identity caused both girls to become depressed. Both girls ended up sleeping for a long time when they finally gave into their tiredness.
Amusingly Ruth had the opposite problem from Renate when it came to beds: the German bed with its bed roll and square pillows puzzled Ruth when she went back to Germany for the first time. Renate was puzzled by the sheets, blankets eiderdown and bedspread when she first arrived in London.
Ruth’s story shows that though the Kindertransport was well-intentioned and though it did save many lives, it did not supply a happy-ever-after ending. Both girls had three different foster homes. Ruth had some bad experiences in her first foster home. Renate was well-treated everywhere. Both girls found their parents alive again. So in many ways they were more fortunate than some of the other Kinder.
The worst for both of them was the feeling of not belonging anywhere. Renate had her serendipitous German passport but returned to Germany in 1947 as a British citizen with a British passport. Ruth had to travel as a “Person of No Nationality”. But both girls suffered from confusion about whether they were English, German or Jewish and therefore lacked an identity.
The question is, is this resolved for Renate?
Ah, well, you will just have to read the book. While you’re waiting for it to be finished, you could read Ruth’s book. 
                            

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