Under construction …
Please do read on below, but if you have a family connection to Kitchener Camp, you might want to bookmark a new website at www.kitchenercamp.co.uk.
If you have suggestions for things to add, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.
Clare Ungerson’s (2014) Four thousand lives provides considerable background information to the few details we have from my father’s narrative about Kitchener camp.
With reference to the information given in our family letter extracts, the original full letters (and their translations where applicable) can be found by clicking on the underlined links, below. There, the letters are presented in chronological order.
The context: Jewish refugees in the 1930s
Letter: 9th June 1939 Werner to Frau Sack ... I want to tell you a few remarks regarding another matter. I assume that you received a letter from Aunt Frieda, about the same time I did. I am very depressed about the circumstances in which my aunt and uncle are living. My uncle, a German in Poland, has lost permission for employment and has not received any funding, through no fault of his own, but because of the strained relationship between Germany and Poland. If he has to return to Germany the consequences are unimaginable; he doesn’t really know how terrible they will be. Apart from the fact that he would be unable to feed himself or his family there, because there are no employment opportunities for Jews, he would surely end up in a concentration camp, as has happened to the Jews who have arrived there from other countries. I can tell you from my own experiences what that would entail in all its gory detail, but I don’t think I need to tell you that. Those who get away with their lives can talk about being lucky. We have suffered much of its consequences on our health and our life. For these reasons I am begging for a way of escape for my aunt and uncle, which has to be found, if we don’t want to give up. For we ourselves unfortunately can do so little for our emigration ...
The global context
According to the census, on June 16, 1933, there were around 505,000 Jewish people living in Germany, down from 525,000 when the National Socialists came to power in January 1933. This constituted less than one percent of the population.
This sudden drop in numbers was a result of new anti-Jewish legislation, accompanied by official boycotts of Jewish businesses and personal assaults, and the opening of Dachau in March 1933, which was used to quell dissent. Thus, within the first few months of the National Socialist rule, around 37-38,000 Jews emigrated – largely to other European countries. Tragically, many of these people were later caught and killed from May 1940 when German troops swept through western Europe.
Over the next few years, in the mid 1930s, emigration numbers stabilised, party because the USA moved to strictly enforce immigration quotas, but Britain and continental Europe were also reluctant to take in additional Jewish refugees.
Thus, the next larger wave of emigration took place after the November terror of 1938. Before this, there had also been a general increase in assaults on Jewish people, and a widespread seizure of property and businesses owned by Jews. Although it continued to be difficult to find a country that would give refuge to Jewish people, around 36,000 left Germany and Austria in 1938, and 77,000 in 1939 (source: USHMM).
The USA held a conference on Jewish refugees in Evian in July 1938. The thirty-two participant countries included Britain, France, Canada, and Australia; only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees.
Letter: 5th July 1939 Else to Werner ... Are you thinking about the financial implications or something else? I am pleased that you are in contact with the people from [Kitchener] Camp in E[ngland] ... it would have been even more beneficial if one knew how long such preparations will take to be realised. One can only hope for the best. Our flatmates are not in a good mood. The fate of the passengers on the St. Louis had sad consequences and it is questionable whether they will be able to leave in spite of the fact that they have paid their fares. I am very sorry for them ...
In 1939, for the first time, the USA filled its quota for Germany, Austria, and the now-annexed Czechoslovakia, but need still far outstripped the supply of places. By the end of June 1939, when my father – unable to obtain a coveted place in the USA – left Germany for the UK, 309,000 Jewish people from these three countries had already applied for the 27,000 places available that year in the USA.
Letter: 19th March 1939 Werner to Frau Sack ... I haven’t found any other person who offered to help me without knowing me personally. For this offer I am most grateful with all my heart. You can have no idea how much better the future looks; it is like using a branch to save a drowning man reaching out for help. I am fully convinced that you will be able to find some way out for me and will continue your efforts ...
By September 1939 – the month in which war broke out – approximately 282,000 Jews had left Germany and 117,000 had left annexed Austria: 95,000 went to the USA, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to Great Britain, 18,000 to Shanghai, and about 75,000 to Central and South America.
Letter: 19th March 1939 Werner to Frau Sack ... The representative organisation for Jews in Germany – you may remember I mentioned in my previous letter – accepted my application for admission to the transit [Kitchener] camp and informed me yesterday that confirmation of my acceptance there will be sent from England, and they told me I should make all my preparations to travel to England, but I don’t want to remain there permanently. In order to be accepted by the camp I had to confirm that I would continue with my plan to go to Bolivia. The climate there is unsuitable and there is no professional future there for me, however ... We also want to help my Aunt Frieda’s oldest child. She has two girls – one aged 15, the other 10. The little one is very attached to me. She is already saving up so that she can join me. I wish it were all as simple as children imagine. Could you try and find a camp for the older girl? I am told they enjoy their time there in US camps ...
In October 1941, further Jewish emigration from the Reich was officially forbidden. Around 163,000 Jews were left in Germany – the vast majority of whom were murdered in the Shoah.
The UK context
Following the November terror, from late 1938 to 1939 the UK admitted around 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children under the age of 17 in a program called the Kindertransport. This program covered children from Germany and the annexed territories of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
The British government allowed unaccompanied refugee children to enter the country on temporary travel visas. Private citizens or aid organizations, such as the Central British Fund for German Jewry, had to guarantee payment for each child’s care, education, and eventual emigration from Britain.
When ‘events’ settled down, the children were to be returned to their families.
The children were selected by Jewish aid organisations in Germany; they gave precedence to orphans, and those whose parents had been imprisoned or otherwise made destitute.
When transports arrived at Harwich, those with sponsors went to London to meet their foster families. Those without sponsors were housed in a summer camp in Dovercourt Bay – which is sometimes mentioned in connection with Kitchener Camp (see below) – and similar places, until foster families or hostels could be allocated.
As with some of the adult men from Kitchener Camp, in 1940 about 1,000 Kindertransport children were interned as enemy aliens. They were held in camps on the Isle of Man, Canada, and Australia. The latter voyages were stopped following public outcry after German submarines sank the SS Arandora Star on 2 July 1940. The ship had been carrying over 1,500 people: over half were killed.
Nevertheless, again as with the adult Jewish men from Kitchener, some of the boys from the program later joined the British army and fought in the war against Germany.
Many Jews, Quakers, and Christian groups assisted in the Kindertransport programme, and around half of the children ended up living with families throughout the war. Of the 9,000-10,000 children brought over, about 7,500 were Jewish.
Most were never to see their parents or extended families again, because they were murdered in the holocaust.
Obtaining a place at Kitchener Camp
By the late 1930s – the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland had long been trying to organise a place of escape to which they could direct people: they were inundated with requests for help to find a safe haven.
After the November 1938 pogroms, when thousands of Jewish men had been rounded up across Germany and imprisoned in Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen, they were eventually released on condition that they left Germany.
Until they had somewhere to go, they had to report to a police station every week, and they meanwhile remained at risk of re-imprisonment, which would have meant almost certain death. Hundreds had died in the camps because conditions were so bad and their treatment so brutal. Thus, the priority was to get these sons and husbands out of the country at all costs.
Most will have assumed that at some point they would have been able to gain employment somewhere and then bring their families out of Germany to join them. Kitchener Camp never offered this opportunity, it should be noted, as the refugees were only allowed temporary residence visas for these purposes. To obtain a place at Kitchener, the men had to show that they had a good chance of being able to move to another country – which effectively meant being able to show that they could find work elsewhere.
Letter: 9th June 1939 Werner to Frau Sack ... I am so glad that my emigration has finally taken place because every second in my original home, where conditions for us were a senseless gamble with our lives, entailed superpower for a human being to survive. Hopefully I will soon be able to emigrate to the USA so that I can earn my daily bread and not be so dependent on others and be able to support my relatives who unfortunately have not found a way to escape ...
The journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees carries a number of articles on Kitchener, one of which includes witness testimony from Werner Rosenstock, editor of AJR Information from 1946 to 1982.
In 1939, Rosenstock had been “employed at the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland, the only major Jewish organisation still functioning in Germany after the November pogrom. He worked in the department responsible for selecting those men from the camps whose applications for transit visas would be successful, and thus he had considerable first-hand experience of the scheme” (Anthony Grenville, AJR May 2009).
Grenville writes about Rosenstock’s undertaking that year:
"He worked for a committee that chose as many emigrants as possible, provided they were under 45 and had some kind of documentation promising entry to a foreign country, from the mass of shorn-headed applicants freshly released from Nazi camps and from those still imprisoned, whose cases were pressed by their relatives. The agonising decisions the committee had to make were all too often a matter of life or death" (AJR May 2009).
So far, I have no idea why my father was chosen to be saved in this way and given a place at Kitchener Camp – without which he would almost certainly have died with the rest of the family.
Letter: 19th March 1939 Werner to Frau Sack .. The representative organisation for Jews in Germany ... accepted my application for admission to the transit camp and informed me yesterday that confirmation of my acceptance there will be sent from England, and they told me I should make all my preparations to travel to England ...
Thus, when Werner left Germany for England in June 1939, he was headed for Kitchener Camp in Sandwich, Kent. It had been a British Army camp originally, as the name suggests, but by this stage it had been left derelict. Permission was given for it to be taken over by the Council of German Jewry to provide a refuge for Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 40.
Letter: 27th February 1939 Else to Werner ... After you received confirmation of your acceptance by the camp we can regard your circumstances more positively. You don’t seem to be aware of our application [for you] to enter Bolivia, which was sent via the Aid Association even before you heard from [Kitchener] camp ...
As often remains the case today, in 1939 people had to have a sponsor, an assurance of somewhere to live, and a job in order to be able to emigrate.
Letter: June to September 1939 Werner to Frau Director Dr L Goldschmidt ... I would be very pleased to hear very soon whether my harsh treatment in the concentration camp would be taken into consideration in your claim on my behalf. I hope to get a job teaching in an infant school ...
The Kindertransport (above) provided such a route out between 1938 and 1940 for between 9,000 and 10,000 children.
For adult men, Kitchener Camp provided a way out for the next largest group of people to have found refuge in the UK, although far less is known about it.
It is estimated that around three to four thousand men found safe haven from Germany and Austria in Kitchener over the course of 1939.
Economic context: Jewish aid and assistance in the UK
Once again, in relation to the men arriving at Kitchener Camp, British Jewish communities played a crucial role in these events. In 1933 they had undertaken that all expenses relating to Jewish refugees would be borne by Jewish communities, not by the government. They kept up this undertaking, despite numbers of refugees that far exceeded initial expectations.
Letter: 17th February 1939 From Dr Engel to Werner Woburn House does not provide employment and is not able to deal with the daily receipt of 6,000 letters. It is difficult to do anything for you. I cannot make promises because I know I will not be able to keep them. In any case, please send me 3 photos and 3 copies of your C.V., written in perfect English with a typewriter, a clean copy. I beg you also to type all further correspondence with me, as handwriting cannot be read by me considering the vast number of letters I receive, and my English secretary cannot deal with them at all. Please obtain 2 medical reports with photocopies. I will try to obtain a trainee post for you, but it is very difficult as these positions are rarely available. I will do my best.
As persecution intensified in the late 1930s, the aid efforts increased and by 1938, the number of organisations dealing with the many aspects of the refugee problem had grown. They had been working out of Woburn House in London, but now new premises were opened in Bloomsbury House – a former hotel in Bloomsbury Street.
Letter: 5th April, 1939 Else to Werner, from Gleiwitz ... Did you read the latest edition of the Jewish paper that Woburn House has moved to Bloomsbury House? ...
The administration of Jewish aid was established here to manage the influx of Jews leaving Germany after the November terror of 1938, the Kindertransports from December 1938, and mainly young Jewish women who came to Britain on domestic service visas. It was through this organisation that Kitchener Camp at Richborough, Kent, was established and run, accommodating Jewish men who were admitted to Britain – as long as they could show an undertaking to find a job elsewhere and leave the country as soon as possible.
Letter: 5th April, 1939 Else to Werner ... It’s a pity about Cambridge because one doesn’t hear anything good about the camp. It is a bit like imprisonment, you can only withdraw cash at certain times, obviously no one wants to work there. It is doubtful whether Dr Engel or anyone else can find employment as he hasn’t promised you anything before you emigrated. It would have been more use to apply to Woburn House, but what can you do if you don’t have the sponsorship. We have to thank God for what we have ...
Thus, although Kitchener saved many men, it was impossible to get out older family members, who would not have been able to show that they could work abroad, and so would not have been able to gain a place here.
The result of this refugee policy, while undoubtably it saved lives, was that the majority of men – who were forced to leave behind their families in order to try to find a way to get them out – would never see their parents and grandparents again.
Letter from Else: 22nd May 1942 ... On the 27th or 28th there is another transport departing and I expect we will be on that. I am just taking one rucksack, as my mother cannot carry one ... They even took an 89 year old woman: many are over 80 ...
The refugees started to arrive at Kitchener Camp in February 1939, and they continued to come until the borders closed once war had broken out. In the end, many joined the Pioneer Corps of the British Army when war broke out and the camp was closed down.
According to Clare Ungerson’s (2014) book on Kitchener, initially, there were fears that local fascists in the Sandwich area might cause problems for the camp residents, although in the end many locals were very welcoming.
However, for men only recently released from imprisonment in Germany, the fact of being detained again could not have been easy – whatever the reason for their confinement. The refugees were only allowed out on occasion and then with a pass, for short periods of time.
My own experience of people contacting me through the website suggests that the camp was at least sometimes viewed with mixed feelings by the refugees themselves:
Email: 31 January 2017 My Dad arrived in England ... from Buchenwald. Because he was not of the intelligensia nor a professional, they put him to work as a laborer opening/cleaning up Kitchener Camp. This, after he was broken in body and mind by the Nazis, working in the quarries & gravel pits of the two concentration camps.
Similarly, after the war, despite the camp being his means of survival, my father also recalled its restrictions on his liberty and the requirement to carry out hard physical labour – both in the camp and in the Pioneer Corps during the war.
This set-up, while no doubt well-intentioned, presumably further damaged the men’s already damaged bodies and minds. The humiliations of the November terror, and their terrible concentration camp experiences, would not have been helped by this new experience of enforced labour and their vulnerable status – nor by once again finding themselves living in huts and bunk beds, with no privacy, restricted freedom of movement, and unimaginable levels of uncertainty about their own and their families’ futures.
Notarised document: 1960s Lebenslauf / CV: Werner Weissenberg to German authorities ... In November 1938, with all the male teachers in the school, I was taken to the concentration camp where I remained until February 1939. After my release I had to report regularly to the police until I was successful in arranging my emigration to England, where I entered a refugee camp with restricted liberty. I had to do physically hard labour in the following years ...
Family letters and information
There are a number of sources that describe the establishment of Kitchener Camp and its day-to-day running (see below). What we can add here are extracts of family letters that tell us something about the mundane details of the camp, juxtaposed with the horror and desperation of what is going on back at home in Germany.
Of course, what we have, on the whole, are letters to Werner, not from him, and we must extrapolate from these the kinds of things he must have written, or that family back at home in Germany will have heard from other sources.
Letter: 10th June 1939 Else to Werner ... When we returned from an excursion to Beuthen I was very disappointed at not finding any sign of life from you sent on the way to Belgium, so the card on Friday surprised me. It came from E[ngland] and was most welcome. We didn’t expect any news from there until Sunday at the earliest. Now we are very pleased that you arrived in the right place without mishap and to know that your new home made a good impression on you ... NB I hope the luggage arrived safely. Did you sign for your suitcases, sleeping bag and covers? ... I was very excited with your two affidavits, so that you can find the registration number in England. The affidavit for Frau S. may have been sent to Uncle Kurt, or it might be forwarded to us; in spite of the very high allocation number, Mr B. thinks it will be valid for two years. I am surprised, dear Werner, that you are looking forward to a speedy move. Why do you want to do that? Life in the camp must be carefree. You have a right to demand more from life with a view to freedom, as everyone has; apart from a lack of money you have your liberty ...
Letter: 15th June 1939 Else to Werner ... It is obvious that you are suffering from homesickness, if you are expecting news from us before Monday. It couldn’t arrive more quickly! Your letter arrived Friday, early in the morning and on Saturday I sat down to write to you. Even if the post were any quicker it wouldn’t have reached you before Monday: that’s why I am answering the letter you wrote Monday and it should be in your hands by Saturday. The mail from Frankfurt sometimes arrives more quickly than from England. Yes, and we are pleased of course, mightily glad that you are well and satisfied with your life. I am sure you will get a more satisfactory occupation soon ...
Letter: 15th June 1939 ... We have to be thankful to those trying to help us in America. I hope we find someone to write a letter on our behalf. You must write to Frau S; she may have contacted an Aid Welfare organisation. I can’t send you another letter in answer to you, as the Post Office is only allowing us to send one a month. We have cleaned your bike, it looks really good, as I have always said – don’t be too quick to discard it. Who would have thought you could use it for excursions in England? If the camp is only 40 km from the sea, you could go on foot easily to reach it. When will you be allowed to visit E? Perhaps you did. He has a lovely flat; you could store some of your belongings there. Do you still have bunk beds? In the letter published by the camp it says you should have two pillows and three pairs of pyjamas. Why are there such strict regulations? There is no way you can afford these ...
Letter: 22nd June 1939 Else to Werner ... We are pleased to receive good news about your personal circumstances, which is the main thing. Less joyful is the seven-year long wait, but I don’t think that can be taken seriously; but I can’t imagine why you haven’t registered when you applied for your affidavit originally, when you were advised to do so by Dr W. What made you do it eventually? Now you have two affidavits and not a seven-year delay and a registration number without use. An ideal situation for all of us. The best thing would be for you to appeal for help for us to emigrate, when you are allowed to travel to London, with the Emigration Aid office, wouldn’t it? There might be a possibility. I expect it will be just the same in England as it is in Germany. Perhaps among the ladies and gentlemen there who teach you English as an advanced student – you will certainly be in touch, as these people move amongst the elite; others will not have time for their favours. If you write to Dr W. he will shake his head about your arrangements. There can’t be many people with two affidavits and no registration number ... PS. We got three duvets from an offer by Selkan. Are you busy in the kitchen now? Can’t you offer lectures in your own specialist subjects. You must decide how you can make best use of your qualifications.
Letter: 29th June 1939 Else to Werner We were pleased to receive your last letter twenty-four hours ago, and yesterday’s, and to note that you are well and cheerful. Incidentally, I showed each one of your letters to the aunts, who were eagerly awaiting your news ... I would love to walk along the coast with you, my son.
Letter: 5th July 1939 Else to Werner ... They have a 14-year old boy. He was sent to the camp from here a short time ago, food is not to his taste. As you are cooking the rice yourself? You must appreciate the taste. Are you adding parsley? The amount must be quite plentiful ...
Letter: 13th July 1939 Else to Werner ... I was pleased to hear that you are content with your food. I was told that English vegetables are very watery and the meat almost raw. Do you get fruit sometimes? Lately, I was informed that it is possible to send you parcels of clothes, but I will have to find out more details. I will send you cigarettes, because the English ones are said to be scented. Perhaps you can get them for nothing from non-smokers and make some money. Do you agree? ... we were discussing how lovely it would be if you could spend your holidays at home, like you used to. The empty school playground upsets me all the time and depresses me ...
Letter: 20th July 1939 Else to Werner ... I was overjoyed to have news of you. It looks as if you have a chance of obtaining employment in an office and I can understand that you would prefer such a job. I expect you would find more satisfaction in such employment. The organisers in the camp will be pleased for you and it is important that you stay in contact with your acquaintances and that you will be able to take up the invitation from London. As regards the Australian project, it was mentioned in the newsletter; if I am not wrong I think it is in the North West of the country, which is suddenly a consideration. The land is wonderful, a representative says, but one has to be aware that great effort and hard work will be required from the settlers. Who knows what the climate will be like? ... I couldn’t get hold of the cigarettes. It wasn’t till Saturday, Sunday and Monday I received them as samples. If the customs charges are too high, 25 shillings, you will have to inform me. There is a possibility of using Ecuador, which is charging 25 shillings a month. The English lady told Ruth that it is very difficult. It is not a good thing that you have so little fruit. Sell the cigarettes and buy fruit ...
Letter: 24th July 1939 From Else to Werner ... On Saturday midday my grass-widowhood came to an end, because I went to collect Father. Sadly, he was not allowed to accompany me and up to now he has still not returned. I am trying hard to obtain more information. Tomorrow, I will go again to try and find out more. Now I have been advised to get into contact with you immediately, so that you can make it your priority to obtain a visa for Father personally. As you are not completely free yourself, you can undertake little yourself, but I would like you to contact the authorities in charge, to set things in motion immediately. Perhaps in this case they will not adhere to the age limits so strictly for accepting someone for a place in the Camp. I myself cannot get away because I cannot leave Grandmother on her own. There must be another way – the housing shortage might be a solution – an occupation for me in another household might be a possibility ...
Letter: 27th July 1939 Else to Werner ... father arrived home on Tuesday afternoon at 1.25 after I phoned the appropriate authority in the morning. He is obliged to give evidence of emigration by the 1st of October. On Tuesday morning I collected the required from the assistance board. Frau Wienskowitz, whom you may remember, knew what to do and thought we had a son in England, that perhaps he could make arrangements for us. If that happened I would be very happy. In the last three days, Sunday and Monday, father is very depressed; he weighs 134 lbs, which is far too little ... If you would like to hear more from us, then if you can get leave – travel on Thursday, the third of August to Dover where the Cordillera will land with the Bujaltouskys on board ... Besides, I am curious to know with whom you conducted the conversation regarding scientific questions. How is it that you have not put it in writing? Is it because they want to keep you busy, because they have tired you out, or because you didn’t come out well ...
Letter: 2nd August 1939 Else to Werner Today we are celebrating the Jewish Holy Day, but everywhere is quiet ... I just gave him a piece of [birthday] cake. Father took a piece to the post office too. The postage is almost as much as the value of it. The main thing is, however, that you will receive it this time and that you will enjoy the taste of it. As to the cigarettes, my son, it is your own fault. I can’t save you from the blame. Why didn’t you ask before the event not after, because the cost of tax on them is prohibitive. That is why they were returned. Haven’t you been able to calm down the officials at the savings bank? Please write and tell us how often we are allowed to post goods, then you can receive a replacement. It has occurred to me that I wrote on ordinary paper instead of airmail. Did you have to pay extra for that? A fine? Are they being returned (the cigarettes) in a packet or singly? ... Someone told him that Dover is 200 miles from the Kitchener Camp. I don’t think so, if I remember correctly, and you can’t be bathing in the sea.
Letter: 10th August 1939 Else to Werner There were problems with sending you the sample I enclosed in your letter ... One is only allowed to send 400gms of goods, excluding packaging (500gm altogether). Father wanted to find out from the Post Office and he returned with the news that you could send 2 kilos 5 x 50. I was pleased about that news, because it meant that the cake could remain whole, didn’t have to be cut, and Father dispatched 700grms as a taster from the post office for 70D postage. That was on the Wednesday, but on Friday the package was returned with the words taster cancelled and a remark that postage cost 10d for 50 grms, so the whole package should cost 1.50 postage. The whole cake wasn’t worth that much, at least not the 100grms. Most of that would have been for the packaging – so lovingly prepared, which weighed 110grms – so I cut a piece of the cake off and took it as a taster to the post office on Saturday, weighing 500grms; it looked less firm, and obviously the surplus 20d postage I had already paid I had to lose. I obviously had an argument with Father and I was very angry. I am curious to find out in what condition the cake arrived at your place; probably all broken. It would be better to send individual small cakes, but for that one needs B. I will send 10 cigarettes, but without any packaging – postage is cheap for that and I hope we will be luckier ... The enclosed letter from the benefit office we received yesterday. Maybe it will be of some use in Father’s affairs but it will have to be returned quite quickly because he needs it for the authorities. It would be good if you could get to London. I hope it will be not just a future wish. In a short while you will be able to meet Max K; as his wife has employment as domestic help he will be coming to London. The son-in-law of Mrs Bettchen Plesner, Mr Weissen, is also coming to the Camp. If you have anything to send we could ask him to take it ... Stay well my dear son, and be as happy as you can ...
Letter: 17th August, 1939 Else to Werner ... I am pleased that you have the chance of enjoying bathing in the sea; sea water makes you stronger, but don’t stay in the water too long ... You will have received the cake but I had to take the cigarettes home from the Post Office because they are no longer accepting those types of goods ... I will ask aunt Hedel to visit his wife to find out if she can take the articles you asked for when she travels in a few weeks time to E. (that is, if she is still able to leave then). I would love to send you some fruit, because your few pairs of P are insufficient ... If you have to deal more with maths, and you probably prefer that, it is a small improvement and perhaps a bigger one will follow on and everything that you are unaccustomed to will prove an advantage ...
Letter: 24th August, 1939 Else to Werner ... Your letter arrived only today with the first delivery, but I was not worried about the lengthy pause, because I suspected you used the lovely weather to spend some time at the seaside. I am pleased that you were able to enjoy bathing and able to raise a smile or peals of laughter. Yesterday, a Mr Augress came to visit; he is a good friend of Burg. He applied to go to the Camp in February, but he didn’t hear any more about it ... Mr Augress ... wrote to the R.J.F., to a Herr Ernst Rosenthal, and now he has received confirmation from the Camp and hopes to be travelling in the next few weeks. He will bring you greetings from us. He doesn’t know whether he will need his ticket for L. himself. In case he does not need it, he will let us know; perhaps Mrs W can take you the ticket for Dover Ramsgate. What do you think? I have found out that Dover is not far from Ramsgate, or the other way round; or you could cycle there, as you like cycling. Even if there is not much in it for you, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity ... Incidentally, you couldn’t get the address of Rabbi Galliner via Uncle Fedor? Maybe he has connections that could be useful to you. Rabbi Galliner from Gelsenkirchen is also in England ... Are you speaking perfect English now? It occurs to me you could be cheeky and approach the Chief Rabbi Dr Herz in London and ask if there is any possibility of your obtaining a teaching post in England. Max Kaiser wants to travel in a few weeks, after Aunt Hedel’s news ...
At some point, Werner moved huts, although I do not know why, as can be seen from the address below, in 1940. Interestingly, it suggests he was also still living, or based to some extent, in the transit camp – some months after the war began.
Letter: 13th March, 1940 Hut 9/1 Kitchener Camp Sandwich Dear Werner, You probably will be interested in this letter of the 17th Feb. With it I am sending you my kindest regards. Yours very cordially, Ludwig
Letter: 13th March, 1940 Dear Werner, Thank you very much for your friendly reply to my card and the letter I received yesterday. One grows impatient after waiting in vain for almost two months, and nervous as well, which one is anyway. I am very sorry, dear Werner, that you don’t have any woollen clothing; that makes me very worried. Anything other than wool is really quite unsuitable for wearing in our existing temperature. We haven’t had very severe winter weather for a long time – around 27 degrees [minus 3]; this morning it was 18 [minus 8] – lovely sunshine during the day but in the evenings one’s fingers begin to freeze ... Nevertheless, we haven’t heated our bedroom as much in previous winters, but we have suffered much from the cold. The house is very exposed, that is why it is so draughty, and there are no rooms that are heated below ours. Father had to stay put for five days. I just suffered with freezing hands and toes. Grandma complains much about the cold ... We didn’t see uncle for 3 months; he came last Saturday and stayed until Monday. Conditions don’t look too good for him, unfortunately ...
Letter: Sunday, 7th April, 1940 My dear Werner, Our news is more scarce. Your letter of the 7th March arrived but looked as if it had been written in haste. Are you short of time? I have so many questions and don’t receive many answers. The questions I asked eight weeks ago have still not been answered properly; only that something was happening. Maybe there was something mentioned in the letter I sent to your friend Ettlinger on the 17th February. Anyway, I am happy about your circumstances and hope they remain that way. As far as we are concerned I had a bad shock, because Grandmother suffered two strokes. It took two weeks for her to recover slightly; the stress we have been under for some time now is affecting us – we cannot bear the constant moving – even Herr T. has to submit to it. It is undoubtedly the cause of her strokes. She isn’t eating much – she would be better more quickly if she ate. I often think how nice it would be if you had results for your efforts, it would have such a happy ending .... Frau Roy writes that her son Felix left on 1st September to be with you, probably temporarily, to the O.R.T school! The rooms were not quite ready for all the pupils. Find out about him, because his parents were very concerned that he could thrive under your influence; if he has found shelter elsewhere this will not be possible, but if he is with you the B’s wish could be granted ... Is your friend and colleague a teacher or is he giving private lessons, Marcel? The news I get from B – Uncle Fedor has not received any sign of life from Beth; he has himself been very ill. Uncle Edgar in Berlin died two months ago...
The Ettlingers lived in Switzerland at one point – Leopold was travelling to stay with them on business from time to time. Perhaps Ludwig was their son? Or perhaps the Ettlingers, from Switzerland, were able to get this letter to Werner, when his mother’s letters from Germany weren’t arriving. This is speculation, however.
Letter: 22nd August 1940 My Dear Werner, We have not heard from you for a long, long time and as I have not received a new letter from you I keep re-reading the last one I have and endeavour to gather hope from it that you are well ... Nothing has changed. We still have a boarder for a lodger; besides this we may get a schoolgirl to live in our guesthouse. If anything will come of it will be decided in the next few days. It would be very useful, as in this way the rent for our flat will be covered. Otherwise we will not be able to keep up the payments on the flat. I have written twice to your friend Leopold; about four weeks ago he repeated that he hadn’t heard from you ... There is no good news from Uncle Kurt, he has a damp flat in Krenau and suffers doubly with the damp there and the bad weather. Ilse sent congratulations to Grandma on her 86th in German writing, with which papa had to help her ... Uncle Fedor has no news of Betti. Thus we are both fellow sufferers my dear boy and God only knows when we will see each other again. I miss you so much that I could weep constantly and I do so often enough. Stay well, my dear child.
Letter: Gleiwitz, 18th September 1940 My Dear Werner, It is four weeks since I wrote my last to you letter to you. Meanwhile, we hope from day to day that a letter will arrive from you, but in vain. Dr Bresl, Max K and others have sent letters via the Red Cross to their relatives, but there is nothing from you. How come? Do we have the misfortune that just your letters have got lost? ... I told you in an earlier letter that Uncle Edgar in Berlin has died.
Letter: No date (but, given the other information here, after October 1940) Dear Leopold, dear Werner, I was overjoyed yesterday, when after five months’ gap, your letter arrived. It was high time, as such a long delay does not help my nerves, as you can imagine. I hope you are well and lively, as you were on the 12th August ... Ten days ago we gave up one of our rooms to the mother of our boarder, that is to say, she is sharing the room with grandmother ... Unfortunately, there is no good news from Uncle Kurt. I have already written to you that he was able to visit us, in my last letter.
Letter: Saturday, 6th April 1941 Dear Leopold and dear Werner, Our delight at receiving your letter was even greater as we had not expected it. We were able to ascertain, thank God, you are in good health. Our health varies with the weather, especially Father, whose condition is very dependent on the weather. Your two birthday letters, as I have already informed you, dear Werner, I received in February. We were completely alone on that day as the aunts only came on the 22nd February and Uncle Kurt, unfortunately, was unable to come because he had a very bad attack of influenza; however, he has recovered quite well. Even Ilse, who was 12 on the 11th, was very ill ...
Letter: Gleiwitz, 14 May 1942 From Else to Wilhelmina Hoffmeister My dear ones, Today we got the order to present ourselves at the police station on Sunday. I’m certain that our deportation is inevitable. Therefore I am sending you the enclosed. It is better that you should have it than it end up with strangers. In case you don’t receive any more news from me, don’t answer, in case your reply falls into the wrong hands. Please send on my last greetings to my son because it is 99 percent certain that we won’t see him again. To find his address, please contact the representative of the Jewish Congregation in London and inform him that Werner left Frankfurt on June 2nd 1939 for the Kitchener Camp, Richborough, England. This letter must not be found in your possession. Good health, my dear. May God be with you. He seems to have forgotten us.
22nd May 1942 My dear ones, A thousand thanks for the telegram and the lovely letter with the words of comfort. I trust you with all my heart but I am frightened to death. In case there is danger in informing you of Werner’s address. What you do not know is what is about to happen here. I begged you not to pass Werner’s address on but you must have misunderstood, although I thought I made it quite clear. There is a risk that I might be betrayed. I know what is happening but you will not be aware of it, that is, you don’t know how they are mistreating us. In case it is found by others, please don’t write to this address. I am going mad thinking there is danger in everything. I wish I hadn’t written anything down at all. The fact that mother and I are still here is a miracle. I am really worried that you may have sent additional information to England. I wouldn’t have given you his address if I had realised that there would be misunderstanding. I should have warned you about the dangers.
This was the penultimate letter from my grandmother – to an old friend with whom she used to work in Osnabrück, before her marriage. It is frustrating not to know what address Werner is living at by now. I very much doubt he would still have been at Kitchener Camp, as I believe it had long been closed down by 1942. My best guess is that his contact address would have been that of a vicar in Yorkshire with whom Werner often stayed, but it might also have been an army address of some kind, or an address of his student lodgings by now. Werner left the Pioneer Corps in the end, and re-trained as a radiographer for the Medical Corps. Again, I can only speculate on this point, until perhaps more information comes to light.
The structure of the camp
under construction …
According to diaries written by Phineas May – one of the men who helped to establish and run the camp, as well as accounts in Ungerson (2014), and in Branson and Kaczynski (2011), Kitchener operated as a kind of collective – up to a point. Many of the men who found shelter here helped to build the camp; others worked as agriculturalists to provide food for the kitchens. Training was made available to the men – many of whom had been professionals and were unused to physical labour – in farming and related activities. They were also given English lessons – often supplemented by language help from local people.
There were many sporting activities, a theatre group, a camp newspaper (Kitchener Camp Review), and a chess club, in which my father took part.
Letter: 2nd August 1939 From Else to Werner ... After all your stress, you are entitled to some entertainment, dear son. Mr Ing. can’t complain. Congratulations on your success in the chess tournaments; it is not surprising with the results of your previous competitions ...
Jewish celebrations were held here too. The 1939 Rosh Hashanah service was held under blackout conditions because of the war. Nevertheless, almost 3,000 of the men attended.
Further sources of information
As ever, the Wiener Library in London is a good place to find further secondary and primary source information. They have the diary of Phineas May, one of the three men who organised the day-to-day running of Kitchener. I spent an interesting afternoon there a few months ago, reading through the typescript. It gives a very clear impression of life at that time, from the busy excitement of the start of the camp, when they were desperately trying to get all the practicalities in place on time for the first arrivals, to a point where another few hundred arrivals barely merit a mention among the camp’s activities, musicals, social and sporting events, and the kinds of daily problems and issues that were always bound to arise during such an undertaking.
The USHMM website also holds quite a number of photographs of the camp, as well as further information about it.
In the UK, if you happen to have any photographs from Kitchener in your own family records, The Curator, Sandwich Guildhall Archive & Museum would no doubt be pleased to hear from you with copies, if you would like to support the archive of the town that supported these men and their families in their time of greatest need. If you consult the Research websites page here, you will find links to some photographs of the camp held by the Sandwich archive, as well as an edition of the review that was produced in the camp with some regularity. The Wiener Library also holds issues of the Kitchener Camp Review.
Kitchener Camp Review
The names of the majority of the Kitchener Camp men are not known to be recorded anywhere, although the current archivist at Sandwich Guildhall is slowly attempting to bring together as many names as he can. Many of the camp records were destroyed, and in 1939 there was also an attempt made to keep the inmates anonymous, for reasons of security for families left back in Germany and Austria.
So, when the Kitchener Camp Review was first published in early summer 1939, the names of the article writers were generally anonymised. In all, there were nine issues of the Review, which was produced monthly.
I was intrigued to read issue 5 from July 1939 and to see the following article, ‘The stranger in your midst’, by one Dr W … r W ….b. Is this my father’s writing? I can’t know. If it wasn’t my dad, however, it must have been someone quite like him.
“When does man most violently feel the rising of problems? When he is alone in a vast desert, or on the summit of a mountain, in the cell of a monastery, or when he is one particle of a huge crowd, one molecule of an enormous body, sharing its pleasures and its hardships, its troubles and its recreations? He who never had the opportunity of being alone for a long space of time will probably say, can there arise any doubt that he who has for comrades only the day and night, the sun and the other constellations, will soon be overwhelmed by thoughts, over-run by problems. But no – a soft peacefulness will enter his heart, and even the lonely prisoner will finally be lulled to sleep by a benevolent faintness. How different from it is the state of mind of a man getting embedded in a multitude of people he did not know before. Whilst the mountaineer or the monk are occupied more or less with the thoughts and the problems of their own, as a member of a community you will meet the problems and thoughts, the ambitions and fears, the longing and desires of your fellow-men; and you certainly will have to think of them. Speaking to one of them, you will, rather spontaneously, get informed on the history of his life, on the state of his family, on his political ideas, and so on.
This information may become to you either a source of luck or the cause of trouble. It depends on whether you will feel ‘molested’ by the pains of a fellow creature, who will tell you a ‘wearisome’ story of his own – or take a warm interest in all the difficulties and hardships your brother may meet with.
Frankly, you may decide whether your ‘milieu’ will trouble and bore you in a dreadful manner – or you will step forward to a more humane opinion; that you have to carry forth on your back your due portion of the common burden of pains and that thus the distribution of this enormous load will become fairer and more just than it would be if everyone would not support the other, everyone lend a hand to his brother.
A community such as our Kitchener Camp is already, or is going to become, a community that requires from each of its members a sacrifice of some spare time, of pleasure, of freedom, and last, but not least, of love.
The kind of love I mean is, of course, not the passionate feeling which consumes man and woman (this sentiment which may be the finest blossom on the tree of mankind) – it is rather the warm affection which is due sentiment for any member of our community. You necessarily will have to arrange a great many problems of your own, dealing with the distress of some people far away to whom you (almost as helpless as you are) give comfort and help. You will have as everyone has), sooner or later to settle with some problems of belief, you will have to find your political point of view and general opinions on the main problems of the world.
These endeavours to fulfil the obligations of your working brain take, apart from your daily work, nearly all your spare time. What there is left of it you intend to use for a short walk, for some recreation or for some reading. But, alas, during your contemplation, a fellow – he may be a friend of yours, or even a stranger to you – will come and ask you a favour. You will have to write for him an English letter to U.S.A., or he will ask your advice on a special matter which he believes you are an expert, or he will only stop you to ask your opinion about some problems of common interest, about some stirring political news, or your comrade will merely open to you his heart (although perhaps he did not know you up to this moment) and you will have to listen to his troubles.
Now somebody may put the question: Has this intruder a right to disturb your painfully won peace? And can anybody blame you for refusing to help your comrade? Is not this hour of leisure, this scanty rest of the day, too precious a thing to have it wasted by some so-called problems of a man with whom nothing may connect you except your common fate?
Nothing else — can you imagine a ligature stronger and more binding than this one? Does it need the fancy of a poet to realise the state of mind of a man who now seeks advice or encouragement from you? A sort of love, of this magic power which forms out of incoherent molecules, a vigorously living body.
There is one outlet, one refuge now left for one’s feelings, on the one hand the conversation you hold with the woman you love, or with your dear ones, by the means of writing letters – on the other hand, a discourse with one or the other of your comrades may be the germ of a more and more deepening friendship, which will enrich and strengthen you.”