u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Rosalind Stuart

Rosalind Stuart

Member of North London u3a

The Stuart family story:

Geoffrey & Gerda's arrival in Britain via the Kindertransport and their lives thereafter, as told by their son Micheal Stuart & Rosalind Stuart, Geoffrey's wife after Gerda.

 

I [Micheal] grew up with a settled, peaceful suburban life in North West London. But in the background were my parents’ very different stories. Born in Germany, unaccompanied child refugees in England, each moving to Israel, meeting in a Tel Aviv British club, back to London to start a family.  

My father grew up 80km east of Berlin into a family that owned a menswear store, they had a chauffeur and box in the local theatre. There wasn’t much love and his father was authoritarian. When Dad cycled through a red light and had to go to Gestapo offices, his father said he’d done wrong and go. Grandfather Georg had a softer side too – when Dad left age 17 by train on the Kindertransport, Georg travelled on an underground train alongside for the first few stops, prolonging their farewell.

Of my grandparents, he was the only one to survive the war - three were murdered in concentration camps. 

Dad, then Gerd Stein, initially lodged with a Jewish family in Golders Green - ironically they were leading eugenicists. He trained as a tailor in Saville Row and was hungry during the war. He was interned for several months as an enemy alien and then negotiated hard to join a tank regiment rather than the non-combatant Pioneer Corps because that gave him a much better chance of girlfriends. He fought from D Day +1 through Normandy until hit by shrapnel in the chest, a misty, morning ambush in January 1945. Saved by penicillin he returned with the army to use his native German and help with denazification after the war.

Leaving the army he went to Israel in the 1950s, reunited with his sister and father and met my mother, who his father didn’t consider good enough and boycotted the wedding. But my parents settled or found economic security and came back to London in 1960 to start a launderette business and family.
gerda and geoffrey stuart 2

Gerda & Geoffrey Stuart

I heard many stories of his earlier life but not the emotional impact - when we visited his birthplace, Frankfurt am Oder, in the 1980s as part of an invitation to persecuted Jews he claimed it was just a holiday.

My mother, born Gerda Hoffman, was born in 1931 in Jever, Germany, a small town of 6000 people near the Netherlands. Her parents were Jewish butchers in cattle country. She left aged 7 and lived with a Jewish family in Norwich, ironically vegetarian. My mother said virtually nothing about her childhood in Norwich. I knew she’d run away aged 17 but only after her death when I traced her adoptive family and the man answering the phone said ‘she’s my sister’ did I learn she’d had four siblings there. She trained as a nurse, then secretary, and made her way to Israel and worked for the British Embassy.

Once settled in London she had two sons, a job she loved at a Citizens Advice Bureau, a busy social life, helped my father’s business and was liked and respected by all. One day she phoned in sick to work and took her life age 57 without a word of warning.

Since her death, I learned she’d been sexually abused in the Norwich family and had had ECT for postnatal depression. She’d hidden whatever was troubling her extremely well since then.

A wonderful school history project in her home town of Jever researched its Jewish population, driven by the same black hole and silence about the Nazi era that I experienced, if for different reasons. Thanks to them, I have my family tree, second cousins in the USA and the remarkable story of my mother’s uncle Fritz. He returned to live in Jever after the war, told townspeople he’d been a Nazi as none of them had and, alternately depressed and angry, activist and politician, did not let them forget. A totally different approach to my families strategy of assimilating and behaving impeccably.


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