u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Norman Freund

Norman Freund

Member of Towcester u3a

I arrived in the UK in March 1939 on a Kindertransport, aged 8. While I was to have gone to live with two elderly Quaker ladies in Thirsk, they decided they could not cope with a young child after all. As a result, I ended up in a home for Kindertransport children in London, sponsored by Alan Sainsbury (Later Baron Sainsbury of Drury Lane). I was one of only two children able to speak English when we arrived; my English was not very fluent but that of the other boy was perfect - he had gone to the American School in Berlin. His American accent later changed to a very British accent; the late Sir Gunther Treitel became an eminent lawyer and an Oxford academic.

The early months in the Sainsbury Home were not easy for any of us and traumatic for some. We varied in age from about 7 to 15. Most had never been away from their parents before and some adapted more slowly than others to their new circumstances. 

After our school (West Hill Junior School, Putney) was evacuated to Reading following the outbreak of war, the Kindertransport children were quickly assimilated into wartime British life. Many Sainsbury children drifted elsewhere to live with relations. Like the other evacuated children, I was 'billeted' with a succession of people before going to live with a young couple with whom I grew from age 10 to 14; they became my replacement parents and I remained close to them until they passed away many years later. 

I passed the 11+ and went on to Grammar School until, in late 1944, I travelled to the US, which my parents had managed to reach in 1941. I was one of a minority of Kindertransport children who were reunited with their parents.

The biggest challenge facing both Kindertransport children and the parents with whom they were eventually united was probably that the children had matured and had become assimilated into British society while the parents expected to be reunited with a child like the one they had sent to England. To me, they were more like strangers; to them, I was an adolescent whose development they did not understand. Moreover, neither they nor I had any understanding of how American teenagers lived.  

After finishing High School, gaining a university degree and serving for two years in the US army, I eventually returned to England to work for an American company and settled here.


Extracts of the letters sent by Norman to his parents whilst he was living in the Sainsbury home, along with his notes.

I made my last journey to Munich in February of 1939 to visit my grandfather and my aunts; both cousins and their husbands had long gone to America. My mother had made a hard decision; she applied for me to leave Germany and my family. The plan was for her to join me in England soon after - how this was to be accomplished, I do not know - but a serious illness prevented that anyway and, by the time she had recovered, war had broken out. 

The earlier letters were written in German, but, at some stage, English became the correspondence language.

March 16 1939 (translated from German)

I have arrived safely. The Customs people were very nice. Frequently, I have played the role of interpreter. Here everything is VERY cheap and good. See to it that you follow me soon. For Klaus (my much older brother) have I much to tell. We will be starting school here after the Easter holidays. Greetings to the Munich family.

26 March 1939 (translated from German)

How are you? I am doing well. I count the days till you come. Yesterday, Saturday, we went and played football, and again today, Sunday. There are 20 children in the Home and it is full. Inge (my adult half-sister) wrote from XXXX (illegible) that she must leave there. How are they taking care of you in the hospital and how is the food there?   Please send me my car, socks, underpants, tie, NO chocolate and no other sweets. How is everyone in Breslau, Dresden, Munich, New York?

Undated, probably July 1939 (translated from German)

How are you? Our sports day was very nice. Can you write soon about when you are coming here? I’m doing well here. Please send the picture back. How are things in Breslau? The parcel has not arrived here yet. The picture is of Aunt Lotte. Be very careful of it. How is Herr Spaeth in Dresden? Aunt Grete wrote me a long, long letter with an uncancelled stamp. Next Tuesday is the start of the holidays which is why I ask when you are coming. That’s all for today.

25th August 1939

In case of emergency, your child will be evacuated to the country. Letters can be sent here (Address of evacuee residence)

D.G. Sabakin


The tone of this card sent to my parents reflects the coldness of the Home matron. While the other staff at the Home were generally kind, Miss Sabakin remained a stern, remote figure, wholly unsuited to a position responsible for young children displaced from their parents.

On the first day of war, along with all the other children, we were loaded onto a train and taken to the town of Reading, which was considered safer than London during the war. There we were split up into ones and twos, and placed into the homes of local families. There was no differentiation between refugee children and all the others; gradually, what cohesion did exist between the twenty Sainsbury children was to disappear as our wartime lives continued.

With the outbreak of war, letters to and from my parents naturally stopped and the next letter in the collection was written almost two years later, in June 1941.

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