Thursday 13 August 2015

Some thoughts on Seminar 1 – notes from the author

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  

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. 

The Kindertransport

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 their jobs.   
We scratched at the surface: we saved just under 10,000 children. 
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.  

Becoming English

What made life easier  

  • She had a lot of support from the family with whom she lived.
  • She was immersed in English.
  • 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 Police station.
    • 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.    

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