u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Shira Sleight

Shira Sleight

Member of Arun West u3a

Sharing her mother Elga's story


Shira Sleight

A young Elga Kitchener with her parents, before being sent to Britain

My mother, born Elga Kitchener, came to Britain from Berlin on June 27th 1939, aged 6. She was part of the Kindertransport allowed by Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. She came with her small suitcase, a label identifying who she was and clutching a doll given to her by her mother. She could speak only German and did not know the aunt who was going to meet her when she arrived in the land called Great Britain.

I’ve often thought how frightening and confusing that three-day journey must have been for a small child all alone.  

When my mother arrived in England she was met by her aunt Dinah Sugarman, also known as Aunt Toby, who had agreed to look after my mother. After being collected by her aunt my mother’s journey continued on to Abercynon, South Wales, where her aunt lived.  

My mother’s life changed irrevocably. She no longer was a child having to hide under the table away from Nazis and Nazi sympathisers in Berlin. She no longer had to keep quiet and not draw attention to herself or the family. Her new home was a hardware shop in the Welsh valleys that Aunt Dinah and her husband owned. She had to learn English, go to school (which had been denied to Jews in Nazi Germany) and learn to live alongside Aunt Dinah’s four children, as well as the older step children.  

My mother’s memories, recalling the horrific events of the war, were often shared with me as I grew up. I learnt from a young age that I couldn’t take her pain away or make the hurt disappear. There was nothing I could do but quietly listen and console her with a gentle tap on the back of her hand when she recalled the events that embroiled her, her mother, father, grandmother, sister and uncle during the time of Nazi Germany 1939-1945.

A treasured link my mother had to her family’s very existence were letters written by her parents when there was still hope of escape for them. The letters had been written to a Mr. Frank Hoffman in Chicago, USA, a distant cousin of my grandfather’s, in the hope that he would supply an affidavit enabling them to escape Germany and go to the USA. Frank Hoffman, having kept the letters, returned them to the Kitchener family after the war. The letters were given to my mother when she was a teenager.

Letter dated July 1st 1939

From: Charles Kitchener

To: Frank Hofmann

My dear!

We delayed in writing to you and in answering your letter. We beg your pardon for it but we have had many agitations. We have got our second girl June 27th. Her names are ‘Judis Tana’. The same day our girl Elga left to aunt Toby in England. She will remain there till our emigration. Then we shall take her with us.

We are sorry your affidavits have not sufficed. Mr Man[n] wrote to us that he is willing to sign an additional affidavit for us. He is living in Chicago. The meanwhile uncle Solly is trying to bring over us to Cardiff, England. All this things are very difficult. We are hoping and begging that we shall be successful. We have written to Mr Man[n] and are waiting for his news now.

It was a sad day for us to send our little daughter abroad, but we think it was the best under this circumstances. We know also she is going to very good relatives.

We are very, very grateful to you for all your love and for writing to Mr Man[n]. We hope it will be not a long time till our coming to you. Then we shall be happy again.

Please write to us soon again.

All our love to aunt Bernice and you

Yours gratefully

Charlie and Ruth

The letters became a connection to the family members who were so brutally murdered during the Holocaust, and helped to keep their memory alive.  

My mother had lost her uncle Siegfried Mendel, (her mother’s brother), who had suffered for several years and died of malnutrition on 11th September 1942 in the Lodz Ghetto, in Nazi occupied Poland, aged 33; her Grandmother, Betty Mendel nee Katz, who was transported to the Concentration Camp gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) in 1943 and murdered, aged 61 and her mother, Ruth Kitchener (my grandmother), who, on 1st March 1943 was deported from Berlin on Transport 31 and was murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) on 2nd March 1943, aged 37. Alongside her was my mother’s sister, Judis, born on the very same day that my mother came to Britain on the Kindertransport. She was murdered in the gas chambers, aged just 3. My mother grieved throughout her life that she was never able to see her only sibling, her sister, or be with her mother again.    

In 1951 my mother married my father, Joe, and their happiness lasted for 60 years. Together they had three children – me, followed by my two brothers. We, in turn, have had children, and so the line goes on.

The letters, now in my procession since my mother’s death in March 2012, tell of the desperate plight that my past family had to endure in their struggle against anti-Semitism in Germany. Their suffering is in my heritage. I cannot make it better. I cannot turn back the clock - but I can tell their story. Their hope for freedom will never be forgotten.

Shira (Shirley) Sleight

22nd November 2021

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