In 1990, near the end of my service, I was working on a contract in the Outer Hebrides when I saw a letter in The Sunday Post asking if anyone knew anything about the Kindertransport to contact the person below. Coming home for the weekend, I phoned the number listed and spoke to Dorrith Sim.
[Dorrith Sim became involved with trying to locate ex-Kinder from around Scotland. Dorrith initiated SAROK in 1990, the Scottish Association of Reunion of Kinder]
INT: Who started SAROK.
BM: Yes she was the instigator who was trying to arrange a get together of Kinder. Dorrith said she had a photo of some Kinder, which she would send to me to see if I recognised anyone on it. When I received the photo, I was very surprised to find right at the very front were my sister and myself. I was holding the hand of a young girl.
INT: And where was that taken?
BM: Waverley Station.
BM: I’ve got a copy there. Have you met Edith Forrester?
INT: No we are still hoping to go and meet her; she’s in St. Andrews I think?
BM: No, Kirkcaldy.
BM: Edith and I, we keep in touch. It’s only Christmas cards but we put a letter in giving the year’s news, you know. The girl’s hand I was holding was Edith Forrester’s.
INT: Oh goodness.
INT: Was she the only one that you really remember ever having had much contact with?
BM: No, it…I didn’t even know…
INT: You didn’t even know that was her then.
BM: I didn’t even know, well I didn’t even know that that photo had been taken.
INT: So you only met Edith after you had met the SAROK people?
BM: After Dorrith Sim got things organised.
BM: The first meeting of the Kinder.
INT: And you’d really not met any of them again since you came over?
BM: No, never met any of them.
INT: And the people you worked with, did they know your background or was there no cause for them to know that?
BM: Well, by that time my name was Mackenzie, you know.
INT: Uh huh.
BM: Alright, in Forres they knew it – the wee Jewish/German boy, right? In the town, that was it, you know. Eby, Eby…it was ‘Hello Eby’, nobody could say Abraham Rosenberg; it was Eby, Eby. It was all I got, you know?
And that was it. I played with them, they played with me and I was in the air training core, in the squad in there, and go down flying to Kinross and it was a case of ‘You going down on Wednesday Eby?’ ‘Eh I’ll try and get the half day off’ and away down we would go, you know. But it was… the local crowd; nobody seemed to bother about it. I never met any other refugee.
INT: You were just one of the locals.
BM: In fact I make use of it now. Do you ever get these funny phone calls, you know, “I am enquiring for Mr Mackenzie. I would like to…” I just reply, “I dinnae ken what your saying man! I dinnae ken. I canny understaun ye” The Forres lingo! Phone down. So it’s paid dividends.
But, as I say, I was…there was my sister and myself and I was holding the hand of a young girl and that was Edith Forrester. It appears the photo had been taken when the children had arrived at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, on their way to Selkirk, and been kept as a memento by one of the group. On 20th May 1990 the first get together of Scottish Kinder took place and the four children in the photo met together for the first time since 1939. Since then there have been regular annual gatherings for Scottish Kinder held at various places in Glasgow. Now where my….So I’ll bring these photos down….your tape’s running, I’ll let you see the photos after.
Although I retired from government service in ’91 I’ve been approached several times by consultancies/agencies to take on various contracts and I succumbed.
I have taken on short term contracts, the last being a contract with Glasgow University. But after retiring five times I have now decided to stay permanently retired. I’m not sure my wife believes me!
So, I’d always wanted to have at least one visit to my old home before I got too old. I knew my cousin Barbara had inherited the house in Neukirchen when my mother died. This was a thank you for looking after my mother in her final days. In ’95 I took a chance and wrote to the old address hoping to get a reply. The letter we got back gave us an open invitation to come any time and we would be most, made most welcome. September ’96 we took the car over the continent, decided to do a month tour and include a visit to my old home.
Took the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and in the morning we hit the road. First night we got as far as Kassel and the following night we headed for Neukirchen. We swung off the Autobahn and took the A road into Neukirchen. As we entered the town I swung right and we’d only gone about one hundred yards when I knew I was on the wrong road. After all these years…you know, it’s just some trigger. I got out and asked locals in my rusty German, “Wo ist der Bahnhof bitte?” - Where is the railway station please?
She told me to get back to the roundabout and turn right and as soon as I was on that road I knew exactly where I was, even after all these years. And we were about a mile and a half from my old home, I drove directly to it without another mistake. When we arrived my cousin and her husband were waiting for us along with several people who had known me as a boy and also some of the neighbours who had known my parents.
We had intended to stay for perhaps a couple of days and then start touring but my cousin insisted we stay longer. She took us to see another cousin with whom I used to play as a child and also took us to meet my mother’s sister who was living in Chemnitz. We also met some of the families living close by who had known my parents and one lady produced a school photo of herself, which included my sister as they’d both been in the same class.
It’s surprising how the memory of childhood days stick in ones mind. My cousin took us out on a tour of Neukirchen and pointed out various places, which I could remember. On one building however, we disagreed. She pointed out a primary school and asked if I remembered going to it. I told her it was not the school I’d gone to, as my primary school was up a lane, beyond a church.
But she insisted that this was the only primary school in the town. Prior to leaving Neukirchen a friend of my fathers gave me a book on Old Neukirchen and there was a photo of my old primary school, up the lane beyond the church, which is now part of a residential complex. After staying for some time with my cousin we decided to go visit Prague as we were so near - it was only about four hours drive away, a beautiful city well worth the extra mileage. We stayed for four days and could have easier stayed longer. On returning from Prague we stayed at my cousins for a few days to celebrate her husband’s birthday and then set out to do some touring before heading home.
One of the places we visited was the site of Buchenwald Concentration Camp…what an eerie experience. The whole campsite is surrounded by a belt of trees about a mile wide.
The remains of the private railway station can still be seen, where prisoners arriving by the wagonload were herded from there to the camp itself. The main gate has been preserved and now there is an information office in the site. One thing we noticed, at least the young generation are being made aware of the horrors; classes of school children were being guided around the campsite by their teachers. So at least they’re telling the younger generation about it.
INT: Did you find out how your…or why your father was released? Did you ever find that out?
BM: When he came home he got a suitcase, packed it and was off. So we never got a chance to, to find out why he was released.
But on the timescale…when he disappeared…I worked out the timescale with Kristallnacht and it appears that he was one of the ones who…one of the thirty thousand rounded up during Kristallnacht, and that was it, you know. But one thing ….the younger generation were being made aware of the horrors as classes of school children were being guided around by their teachers. When the Russians occupied the area they built a lasting monument in the shape of a huge bell tower, which can be seen for miles around. As well as a tower they also constructed a series of steps to the ‘street of nations’. This is a long street joining up three mass graves and along this street there are monuments depicting the nations who supplied inmates for the camp. There’s nineteen monuments, so nineteen nations supplied prisoners for the camp.
It’s peculiar how information, even after all the passing years, has come out of nowhere. During one of the annual gathering of Kinder in August 2000, I saw the Kinder Transport newsletter with an announcement regarding a Dr. Neitz trying to contact ex- Kinder children who had left on the Kinder Transport for the UK. I emailed him and he was very interested about my family. When I sent him more detailed he emailed me back to let me know that one of the men in his office, Mr Rotstein, had been in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp with my father and grandfather. He also told me that my grandfather had died in the camp on the 18th December 1942, an eighty-two year old man in a concentration camp, … Had we known this we would have been to visit Theresienstadt when we were in Prague in ’96 as the camp was not far from Prague and I believe all the records are still there, you know.
These SAROK meetings, the Kinder, used to get Kinder newsletters. Used to get letters from all over the world and one of the sad things about reading the newsletters was even in the period of time almost sixty years after the end of the war and the freeing of the concentration camp inmates, there are still letters asking for information about people who have never been traced. These letters give details such as date of birth, name, last known abode and ask if anyone knows of them or of any relative who may be able to supply information of their whereabouts.
INT: You think a lot of the people who came over to Scotland ended up going abroad?
BM: Well there appears to be. Some of the ones I’ve talked to in Glasgow have said they were in Glasgow then someone disappeared and, you know, didn’t know where they were.
I was in touch with a chap in Florida, you know, and we’ve got friends in Canada and she’s trying to find any Canadian ones who’ve ended up in the Kinder transport then come over to Canada. There’s quite a lot of them as well. But one of the things that really sticks in my craw is…it annoys me…The United States, you know, the ‘land of liberty and freedom’…blah blah blah, right? It’s possible more children could have been saved if the United States had been willing to take part in the rescue mission. On the 9th of February 1939 a ‘Limited Refugee Bill’ was introduced to the US Senate by Robert F. Wagner. Five days later the same bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Ed Rodgers and the ‘Wagner-Rodgers Refugee Aid Bill’ called for the admission to the United States of twenty thousand German refugee children under the age of fourteen, over the next two years, in addition to the normal immigration quota.
Within twenty four hours of the plan being made public, four thousand American families had offered homes to these children. Many more offers of accommodation were received via radio stations and newspapers. Unfortunately, after several months of debate, the bill was defeated at committee. You know…that could have been… another twenty thousand children could have been saved. That’s just …I could tell you about, I have it here.
INT: Do you know how they picked the children to go on the Kinder Transport? How was it that they found you or do you think your parents found them?
BM: I have no idea. All I know is that my parents said, ‘You are going on a train journey, there’s your case’.
Got it. Now there’s… one of the chaps who used to be at SAROK, I remember him saying (in fact he’s on the disc there) he was about fifteen. He spoke to somebody there who said, ‘Look, you could be in trouble. Go home, tell your mother, pack your haversack’. He said, ‘Just take essentials, none of your hobbies/stamp collection. Just basic essentials and get back here and get on that train’. He was on the train and he came over with us. But how he was…how we were chosen I have no idea, you know.
INT: And you don’t even know how it was that Mr Mackenzie eventually took you and your sister. I know he was willing to take people but it was just sheer chance that it was you and your sister that he took?
BM: Oh aye, could have been anybody, you know.
INT: Uh huh.
BM: It was just a case of the, the Refugee Committee, based in Edinburgh at that time.
INT: And were they Jewish? Or mixed? Who were the committee?
BM: Mixed. I think they were mixed but it was a conglomeration of ….I think it’s somebody in the front here…see this….
‘I recall this debate on the 21st November of various concerned groups involving Home Secretary Dr…Sir Samuel Hoare. During discussions he agreed to speed up documentations required for travel. Now, the various organisations had now combined into the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany.
The movement promised to fund the whole operation and state that it would be no drain on the public purse. The funds would be found to guarantee £50.00 (roughly £1,000.00 in today’s money) for every child brought in this country by Kinder Transport. By the time the war started it was estimated that around ten thousand children were brought in’. Now, remember that ‘Gathering the Voices’ we were at? There was a young chap there near the door, I don’t know who he was, and I gave him information about a lady who did a thesis on the funding for the Kinder Transport and it’s about that thick, you know. And I don’t know whether he dug into it or not but I can give you the details and you can maybe look into it yourself. It was the University of London and she did this thesis for her PHD and she really dug into it; detail, very, very close detail, you know.
INT: That would be useful.