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u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Helen Ruddock

Helen Ruddock

Member of Littlehampton u3a, writes about foster sibling Fanni Bogdanow

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The Three Sisters - Beatrice, Fanni & Helen

The Story of Fanni Bogdanow

On the 5th December 1924 Abrascha Bogdanow, a Russian Jew, married Johanna Selz, a German Jew. It was a double wedding as Abrascha's sister married Johanna's brother. The wedding took place in Affaltrach Synagogue, a place that was to play a very important part in Fanni's life. Abrascha was a design engineer and Johanna, before her marriage, an accountant. Following their marriage, they moved to Dusseldorf where Fanni was born on 20th July 1927.

On the 5th August 1930, the family in Dusseldorf was granted citizenship in Prussia by naturalisation. Abrascha had found it difficult to secure permanent work and eventually, the family was deregistered on 28th February 1936 and they moved back to Affaltrach. The Selz family were living in the town and Fanni and her cousin Helga became very close.

Abrascha tried to find work at Heilbronn Labour Exchange but was unsuccessful. A letter from the Mayor's office states, “The reason why Bogdanow could not get a job while he was unemployed is probably due to the fact he is a Jew.” The letter is dated 31st January 1937. According to another letter from the Mayor's office, Abraschca was described as a very reserved and unassuming person who had never been involved in politics and had no police or criminal record.

In this very difficult situation for the Bogdanow family, the Affaltrach Israelite congregation rented the family 2 rooms on the ground floor of the Synagogue. Fanni recalled that anti-Semitism was an official part of the national curriculum and “Jewish children like me had to listen to Anti-Semitic songs and propaganda every day. History lessons were deliberately distorted to make the Jews look like enemies who must be destroyed.” (letter of 28th August 1997). Fanni's parents lived in constant anxiety only whispering to each other “for fear that something they said might be overheard.”

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The Abrascha Family, 1937/8

In the afternoon of 9th November 1938 Abrascha Bogdanow and his brother-in-law Ernst Selz were taken from their homes and incarcerated in Dachau Concentration Camp until 30th December 1938.

Fanni arrived home from school to find that her father and uncle had been taken away and her mother in tears “But that was only just the start of the horrors that day. At about midnight SA men broke down the door of the synagogue and smashed everything to pieces. The Nazis knew there were only women and children in most Jewish homes that night and that a Jewish family was living on the ground floor. The flat of the non-Jewish family on the first floor was not touched.”

Fanni recalled the experiences of Kristallnacht, 9th/10th November 1938 in a letter written 22nd March 2001. She went on to write, “They used pickaxes to break down the doors of our two rooms, they smashed the window panes and frames and the crockery. In the bedroom they cut open the feather mattresses. Feathers were flying everywhere in the bedroom. Even now I can still see the fragments and feathers all over our flat.”

On 10th November, Fanni, like all Jewish children, was banned from going to the Christian school. All the Jewish teachers had been taken to Dachau. The headline in the daily newspaper, The Heilbronn Tagblatt, on the 14th November was “German schools Jew-free.” Fanni and her cousin Helga returned to school when Jewish teachers were returned temporarily from Dachau CC. Most children only attended for a short time. One day, Fanni reported, most of the children in her class had disappeared. Many children with their parents had been deported east to the Polish border.

The Jewish Tenancy Law of 30th April, 1939, meant that Jewish tenants no longer had legal protection. Under this law, Jews could be compelled to move to particular houses, so-called “Jew houses”. The Bogdanow family received written notice to leave the synagogue in three days and “to move to the house of the Jew Hugo Israel Levi”. They were allocated one room.

From early March 1939, the family tried to emigrate from Germany. Despite all their efforts the family never managed to emigrate before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In England, the mass exodus of Jewish children from Germany was being arranged. One of the organisers was my father, H. A. Clement. He was a historian, teacher, lecturer and author. My mother, Portia, was also a teacher and they both were Quakers. At that time they lived in Haughton Green near Manchester and had two children, my brothers Charles aged 4 and Richard aged 2. Fanni Bogdanow arrived in Britain on 27th June 1939 through the Kinderstransport and came to live with our family. Fanni writes later the Clement family “looked after me with all the love they showed their own children.” Fanni's cousin, Helga Selz had arrived 3 weeks earlier and lived with the Rhodes family near Oldham. The cousins were frequently invited to each other's homes and were able to keep close contact. Fanni called my mother 'auntie' and the children told Fanni: “Our mother said, “you are our sister.”

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Fanni in Haughton Green with Portia, Charles & Richard Clement August 1939

The separation of Fanni from her parents was very hard. Her father accompanied her as far as Stuttgart Railway Station where all the children who were going to England gathered. She, helped by my parents, wrote letters to the British Home Office and to The American Embassy asking for a visa for her parents so they could emigrate to Britain, America or Palestine but all her efforts were in vain.

For a while, Fanni received short 20 word letters from the Red Cross every 3 months. If the letters arrived on the Jewish Sabbath, she refused to open them but asked my father to open them and read them to her! My parents took her to the local synagogue when she requested it.

My parents, perhaps realising her exceptional academic intelligence, felt she needed to go to a school where she would be supported and encouraged to achieve. They both tutored her for 6 months until she reached the required standard and then applied to Fairfield High School for Girls, one of the first schools just for girls in the country. At that time it was fee-paying and one of my mother's brothers paid Fanni's fees. There she flourished, despite the continual anxiety over her parents' welfare. She studied Latin at the school which was extremely important for her future work as well as being needed for university entrance.

The letters from her father dried up in 1941. In her letter of 22nd March 2001, Fanni writes that her father was taken to a prison in Heilbronn on 14th June 'quite simply because he was a Jew'. He was ill-treated to the extent that he burst an eardrum and lost his hearing in that ear. Then in October, he was taken to Wulzburg Concentration Camp at Weissenburg in Bavaria.

Her mother Johanna was allowed to stay in the “Levi Jew House” but the Gestapo came every morning and night to check she had not run away. She had to “perform forced labour” at the Jewish old people's home in Eschenau. Her duties included looking after the elderly people from morning to night, cleaning cooking, washing shopping and personal care. When the home closed, the elderly residents had to walk to the station to be deported to the Killesberg Muster camp at Stuttgart. If they were unable to walk 'they were thrown onto filthy trucks, half full of cow dung'. (Johanna's report to Fanni)

Johanna Bogdanow was then responsible for the care of old people's homes in Buchau and Butterhausen. According to Johanna, the Jewish staff in those homes had already been deported to concentration camps and she had to do all the work herself under constant checks from the Gestapo. There was no longer enough food for the Jews at this time. When these homes closed, Johanna was taken to Bergen-Belsen on 26th September 1943. In a letter of 4th December 2001, Fanni described the hell that her mother endured; “My mother's bed was a wooden plank, her pillow was her shoes and her blanket her coat. Snow and rain came in through the cracks in the barrack walls and rats were constantly jumping on the inmates. But even the rats were preferable to the Nazi camp guards. The food was a starvation diet: a piece of bread and water in the morning, a watery soup at midday and then nothing else.” Fanni ends her report with the words, 'The brutality of the camp guards was indescribable'.

On 29th January 1944, Johanna Bogdanow and other women were taken to Vittel Concentration Camp in a cattle truck on a dreadful journey lasting three days and three nights. In this camp were British prisoners who had been taken captive in France after the German occupation. One of the prisoners wrote to the Clement family and my parents were able to tell Fanni that her mother was still alive, although very weak and ill. There was no news of her father.

Fanni left the school at 16 to earn a living working at Stalybridge Public Library.  On VE Day she sat the entrance exam for Manchester University; she passed and was awarded full scholarship, so she could support herself whilst studying for a French Degree. Following her first degree, she went on to gain an M.A. and a PhD, going through the academic positions of Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer and Reader before she became a Professor.

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Fanni receiving her doctorate at Manchester University, 1967

On the 23rd October 1944, The prisoners in Vittel were released. My father received a letter informing Fanni that her mother was alive. By that time the Clement family had expanded to include my sister Beatrice, born in 1942, and I was born in the November of 1944. Fanni was able to write to her mother but not to visit as no visas were being issued. Then in the autumn of 1945, my father received a letter telling Fanni that her father was alive! On the 26th April 1945, the prisoners in Wulzburg camp were marched out of the camp. Fanni's father, Abrascha Bogdanow, was found lying in a ditch by American soldiers and taken to hospital where he remained for some time. Fanni was in the extraordinary position of being able to write to her parents telling each of them that the other was alive! Her father was too ill to visit her mother who was still in France but in September 1946, Abrascha and Johanna were reunited in Weissenburg, a camp for displaced persons in Bavaria.

In August 1947, Fanni was able to visit her parents in this camp and to see them again for the first time. They were the only members of the Bogdanow and Selz families to survive the Holocaust. Fanni visited her parents several times in Weissenburg. Her father died on 16th April 1959 of thrombosis and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Nuremberg.

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Fanni with her parents, Abrascha & Johanna, in Weissenburg, 1950

My parents had continued to support Fanni after she left the family home. Shortly after I was born, my father accepted an offer to be a tutor in Suffolk and examiner for Cambridge University as well as continuing to write history textbooks. So we moved down to Suffolk. My first memories of Fanni are of just having a much older sister. She would visit fairly frequently, especially for family celebrations, and look after my sister Bea and me. I remember on one occasion Bea and I climbed out of the bedroom window onto the roof. Fanni was furious, shouting for us to come inside which we reluctantly did. She was very cross but kindly made us a drink before settling us down in bed!

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Fanni with the Clement family, including baby Beatrice, in 1942

After her father's death, my parents helped Fanni make plans to bring her mother to England. In January 1963 Johanna Bogdanow moved to live with her daughter in Heald Green near Manchester.

In September of that year, I started an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at Liverpool University. Fanni begged me to visit and I soon got into the pattern of catching 2 trains and then walking to their little house in Heald Green. I went for one day each term. Her mother was always very excited to see me, as was Fanni. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know Johanna, a remarkable woman. She was tiny and always cheerful and smiling. She only ever learned a few words of English but had no difficulty in conveying her happiness. According to Fanni, “It was here she lived the happiest days of her life, as she felt free and not plagued by fear.”

In 1964 my father died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Fanni was as devastated as the rest of the family and often talked about his kindness and generosity in taking her in and giving her such opportunities.

In my visits to Heald Green, two things stand out very clearly in my memory: the first is watching Johanna doing simple arm and breathing exercises each day by the window and the second is our walks in Styal Woods. Fanni told me she had started doing the exercises whilst in Bergen-Belsen as a way of keeping control and now she really enjoyed them. In Styal Woods Fanni and her mother would laugh and giggle and chatter away. Before the war, they often went, with Abrascha, to the woods near their house for a picnic. Now they were reliving those happy times.

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Fanni with Portia Clement and Johanna Bogdanow in Heald Green 1964/5

Rather than leave her mother alone in the house, Fanni would take her – later in a wheelchair – to the University and Johanna would sit at the back of Fanni's lectures and seminars. She became a firm favourite with the students who treated her as a little pet giving her drinks and snacks. She couldn't of course, understand a word of the lectures but never stopped smiling!

Helga, her cousin, married and moved to live in Australia where she had 3 children. She and Fanni corresponded regularly throughout their lives and would meet up sometimes in London when Helga came over for the Kindertransport reunions. I never met her but corresponded with her daughter after Fanni's death as I had many documents and family photos, including pre-war ones that needed to be kept in that family and sent to Australia.

As part of her research, Fanni discovered Arthurian romance and it became her life's passion. Arthurian legends were written in medieval France, Spain and Portugal as well as in England.  Fanni taught herself middle English, medieval Spanish and Portuguese so she could compare and contrast the legends. In her obituary from Manchester University, her colleague, Jane H M Taylor wrote, “She taught herself to word process, pounding the keyboard as if it was her old typewriter: she was notorious for destroying a keyboard every six months or so. In the end, she presented the editorial board of the Societe des Anciens Textes Francais – perhaps to its dismay – with thousands of perfectly accurate pages each with two or three banks of footnotes.”

Johanna died in 1978 and was buried in the Jewish Section of Southern Cemetery Manchester. Fanni was totally distraught and was unable to function for some time. All the Clement family visited her and she also stayed with us. Then she began to bury herself in her work.

She scurried across Europe in pursuit of manuscripts. She found them, sometimes in book bindings, in elusive monasteries and obscure provincial libraries. She published 100s of articles on 'Another Undiscovered Manuscript of......'

Then in 1989, my husband Brian and I moved up to work with the mining communities in South Yorkshire. We were again in easy reach and started visiting her regularly. She was quite eccentric. Every surface in her bungalow, even the draining board, was covered in papers. She trusted no one except our family and her colleagues at the university. Even when she put the bin out, she would lock the front door whilst she collected the bin and then unlock it when going inside again. She was writing all the time doing her own press-ready, desktop publishing. When an article or book was ready for publication, she would put the precious manuscript in her shopping trolley, catch the bus to Manchester airport, fly to Paris and then walk through the streets to deposit her work with her publisher.

Our visits were her normality. My sister and her husband would often come and we would take Fanni out to a nearby park or wood and she would ask about our children and our lives. My two brothers also visited and she would come down to Suffolk and visit our mother Portia whom she adored. She called her 'auntie' all her life until my mother's death in 2001. 

Whilst we were living in South Yorkshire the desktop publishing programme which Fanni had used for years became obsolete. She could no longer write! Brian was called upon and managed to contact the author of the programme who talked him through how Fanni could continue to use it. It was a very tricky few weeks!

Fanni continued to research and write and her books are in several university libraries across Europe. After she retired, she became an Emeritus Professor at the University and kept her own study. She was a legend herself in the French department. Jane H M Taylor wrote in Fanni's obituary, “All this industry, all this dedication, meant that she was not the easiest of colleagues. She had little or no sympathy for anything written later than 1300 or so. …..... Medieval literature she taught with a bright-eyed enthusiasm that mystified generations of undergraduates – but they remember her vividly where they have long forgotten the rest of us, with our tediously conventional seminars.” An Arthurian scholar in the Middle East wrote that Fanni's edition of a cycle of romances was “among the most remarkable Arthurian sagas ever written.” Ms Taylor concludes that “scholars will be grateful for her unparalleled, if eccentric, scholarly drive.”

Fanni died on 27th July 2013. My brothers and sister plus partners attended the Jewish funeral. She was buried alongside her mother in the Jewish section of Manchester Southern Cemetery.

Fanni left £1.5 m to Manchester University to set up scholarships and to fund individual students to go to visit Auschwitz so each generation would learn about the Holocaust. She is honoured by a Blue Plaque at the University.

In 2015, Fairfield School for Girls also applied for a Blue Plaque and there is now one at the entrance to the school. In addition, Fanni's name appears on several Roll of Honour Boards there and Ms Anne-Marie Tilley, who teaches French at the school, informed us on a recent visit that every year they have an assembly on the Kindertransport and Fanni Bogdanow so that the new girls can learn about these events at the beginning of the Second World War.

The Bogdanow family are remembered in Affaltrach Synagogue. In 2014 a Stumbling Stone (Solperstein) was placed in the village to commemorate the merchant Ernst Selz (Johanna's brother) and his wife Civia (Abrascha's sister). We were unable to go but Helga's daughter from Australia attended the ceremony. Then in 2018 students working on a project turned the words from Fanni's diary describing Kristallnacht into a play. This recording is available on the Affaltrach synagogue/ Museum website.

Fanni and her family will never be forgotten.

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Fanni with Charles, Richard, Helen & Brian, 2013

Helen Ruddock (nee Clement) October 2021.

Sources:

  • Fanni's own letters, testimonies and recollections
  • The Fate of the Bogdanow Family by Martin Ritter (In translation)
  • Obituary by Jane H M Taylor from Manchester University
  • Obituary from The Guardian Newspaper
  • Obituary from Refugee Voices
  • Obituary from the Tourist Information Centre Tameside in relation to the Blue Plaque at Fairfield High School for Girls.
  • Recollections of my brothers, Charles and Richard, my sister Beatrice and myself.

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