The unconscious Jewess
Warning: this may cause a few spoilers if you haven’t
already read the book.
Realisng she was Jewish
Renate really had no idea she was Jewish until just a few
weeks before she came over to England on the Kindertranpsort. She mixed with
ordinary German children. Her mother and father were both scientists and
weren’t particularly religious. Her grandparents, although born as orthodox
Jews, had converted to the Lutheran religion. They considered it more up to
date than the Jewish religion.
Renate’s teachers had protected her from much of the Nazi
indoctrination. Several of them got into a lot of trouble because of that. Renate lived in Nuremberg and the Nuremberg
rallies could not have been very pleasant. In fact the Blutschutzgesetz was
also made in Nuremberg.
So it came as a complete shock to her to find out that she
was partly Jewish. This may seem unbelievable – and this included fact almost
stopped the book being published. Fortunately Crooked Cat were convinced.
In retrospect she realised that this was an explanation for
her mother’s strange behaviour. Her mother had given up going to the opera, was
often found weeping and made a real fuss about not allowing Renate to go on a school
trip just because she had the remains of a cold. She was probably too scared to
let her daughter out of her sight.
Some of the Nazi indoctrination had worked – Renate at least
realised that Jews were regarded as a disgrace.
The Blutschutzgesetz – literally the blood protection law –
sees Jewishness as a race rather than a religion. As Renate had two Jewish
grandparents, she was a Mischling of the first degree.
Renate’s parents decided to send her to England on the
Kindertransport. The £50 that had to be guaranteed was not a problem for them.
They were relatively wealthy. Renate’s papers were in order also as because her
father had had a run-in with officialdom she had her own adult passport even
though she was still a child. Again, this seemed improbable and almost stopped
the book being published. However, this story is also true.
It may seem cruel, taking the children away from their
parents. The British didn’t however want to have whole Jewish communities
coming to England. It may have led to anti-Semitism in a country that had just
gone through a major depression. The authorities didn’t want to give the
working people the opportunity to resent the Jews and accuse them of stealing
We scratched at the surface: we saved just under 10,000
The Quakers did a lot of work on the Kindertransport. The
Germans who accompanied the children as far as England were expected to return to
Germanys straight away. If they did not, the Kindertranpsort would be stopped.
At the Dutch boarder, Dutch women provided drinking
chocolate, snacks, blankets and soft toys for the children.
For Renate the whole of the journey would have been odd. She
was probably travelling with orthodox Jews and knew very little about them. She
considered herself to be German.
Most of the children arrived at Liverpool Street station in
London. Here they were either picked up
by families who were going to look after them or taken to a centre where they
lived together for a while before places could be found for them.
Many of the children never saw their families again.
Here again Renate was different. Her two uncles met her in England. Her mother
came over a few months later. They had found a very nice family for her. She
was even reconciled with her father after the war. She attended a Steiner
school where staff and students would have been very open-minded.
Many of the Kindertransport children never saw their
families again. Some were abused. Quite
a few were used as free slave labour.
What made life easier
- She had a lot of support from
the family with whom she lived.
- She was immersed in
- Her friend and teacher,
Mrs Cohen, understood her confusion.
- She befriended a cat. Many
children who had to leave their families – including our own British
evacuees - found it easier to relate to animals than to people.
- She could run well
What made life more difficult
- The school seemed
supportive but the other students still found her strange at first.
- It became worse when the Second
World War started. As you know if you’ve read the book, the fact that her mother
was in London being bombed by the Germans and her father in Nuremberg
being bombed by the Allies, lead to her having a nervous breakdown.
- She and her mother became
Enemy Aliens Class B. This meant:
- They could not go near to
the sea without permission. Renate’s school was by the sea.
- They had to report to the
- They couldn’t go near
munitions factories. Not that either of them wanted to,
- They mustn’t go more than
ten miles away from their home. However,
Renate’s home was more than ten miles from the Police station.
- They mustn’t be out after
10.0 p.m. ( Fortunately for Renate the
local policeman was very friendly and sensible.)
Although she became very fluent in English and
was an extremely able and intelligent girl, she was not allowed to go to a
British university. The 1944 Education Act made it a lot easier for people of her
generation and those that came afterwards. Her lack of official Britishness did
not. She later took on British nationality but it was still not easy.