Member of North Cotswold u3a
Renate Beigel - born in Vienna 1933.
My family, mother, father and sister Trudi moved several times around Vienna after my father was forced out of work as a hat maker. We appeared to live a comfortable life until Hitler and National Socialism arrived in Austria. We were surrounded by many relations from both parents’ families.
We watched Hitler and his army march into the city in March 1938. My parents decided it was time to leave Vienna, so in late 1938 we travelled secretly to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, carrying just one suitcase each. Zagreb was teeming with refugees and there was nowhere for us to stay. Walking through a covered market we asked around for any type of lodging and were eventually offered a room in a warehouse that already housed other refugees.
Renate with her family in Zagreb, 1939
My parents spent their days trying to find a country that would take us all. Eventually, after some 6 months they managed to contact an organisation called Austrian Self Aid, part of the Austrian Centre in London, a cultural and political hub founded late 1938 to assist Austrians both in Britain and abroad and whose main task at that time was to obtain entry permits for Austrians. It was only possible for my sister Trudi and I to travel to England – not my parents – and it was also impossible to find a sponsor who would take both Trudi and myself. I did not realise until many years later that we were being accepted to the UK under the Kindertransport scheme because we did not come within a group as many others did. My father took us to Trieste where we boarded the train alone. We travelled through Italy, Switzerland and France, changing trains in Basel and Paris. We apparently stayed overnight in Paris with a family, organised by the Jewish Committee in Paris who then put us on a train to Boulogne and cross channel to Folkstone, where we boarded the train to Victoria. My sister told me that we travelled alone, asking other people for help when necessary. I do remember at some point that armed German soldiers came onto the train and made everyone open their suitcases in order to confiscate anything of value.
There was no one to meet us at Victoria! We approached a British policeman who, realising we could not speak English, read the labels attached to us with the Westbourne Terrace address and arranged for a taxi to take us there. When we arrived a woman came running out in shock at having missed our arrival at Victoria.
We were told to say goodbye to each other there and then and my sister was taken back to Victoria and escorted to Broadstairs, to St Nicholas School, a primary boarding school for girls, where she was sponsored by Headmistress Miss Seeley and Miss Duthie. From letters to me and our mother she appears to have been very unhappy there. That same year the school moved to Colwall near Malvern which I think was a safer wartime location than Broadstairs.
I was escorted to Dinton, Nr Salisbury in Wiltshire by Prudence Perkins, an army officer whose family lived in Dinton and the only person I met who spoke German. She delivered me to an elderly couple who lived in the lodge to a large estate, Phillipps House (now National Trust). I remember crying non-stop throughout that night having lost, not only my entire family, but having to part from Trudi in such a cruel way. No-one around me spoke German – Prudence having gone back to army quarters – and I spoke no English. The lodge was primitive – no running water, no electricity and a frightening outside loo. However, the elderly couple were not my sponsors. The following day two elderly ladies arrived, the Misses Isobel Gordon and Agnes Macintyre - my sponsors. It seems that when they heard that the child they were to sponsor was only 6 years old they decided I was too young for them to handle and thought it best to lodge me elsewhere, perhaps until I was house-trained? The irony was that Mr and Mrs Wheeler, with whom I was placed had no experience of children either. I shall never, never forget the sheer misery and shock of my arrival in the UK.
Through necessity I learnt English fast – I’m told I was fairly fluent in 6 weeks – and after some time was sent to the village school. My German accent was soon a source of ridicule and German being the language of our arch-enemy at the time, ridicule turned to physical abuse, culminating with stone-throwing. At this point, I was removed from school and my sponsors taught me at home up to age 11. Isobel Gordon decided to send me to boarding school in Salisbury, the Godolphin, where I was really happy for the first time. Unfortunately, Isobel died from cancer 4 years later and Agnes, who I later realised had not been in favour of so much money spent on my education was unwilling to keep me at the Godolphin. Pleading ill health she said I could not continue to stay in Dinton. She contacted a Miss Joyce Carr in Hedenham, Suffolk. Miss Carr was in some way involved with my arrival and placement with Miss Gordon in Wiltshire when I first arrived in the UK. She had sponsored another refugee who was no longer on the scene, but she too was unwilling to have me stay with her as she had an ailing, elderly mother. So she found lodgings for me with the Lambert family in Ditchingham Norfolk and arranged for me to complete my schooling at Sir John Leman School, Beccles.
Mrs Lambert was a widow with two daughters, one adult and one the same age as me. I stayed there for around 18 months. As soon as I received my exam results, Miss Carr said that I was now the responsibility of my father who amazingly had survived the war and managed to get to the UK in 1947. We had not seen him for 8 years and he was much changed.
During the years I stayed in Wiltshire with both the Wheelers and my 2 sponsors I felt very unloved. All of them found it very difficult to show affection and my upbringing was strict, Victorian. However, looking back I am truly grateful for the excellent education I received, which enabled me, despite the move in schools at the age of 15, to achieve Matriculation from my final school. It stood me in good stead in later life.
During school holidays I occasionally went to stay with Trudi in Colwall or Trudi came to Dinton. These holidays together were not much fun in Dinton – better in Colwall as there were other children.
Trudi & Renate, 1940
Two weeks after Trudi and I left for England my parents were deported from Yugoslavia. It was some years before I finally knew what had happened to my family. My mother died in Auschwitz, my maternal grandparents and their son Alex were deported to a Polish ghetto where they died. Last week I watched the very moving ceremony from Austrian TV of the inauguration of the Wall of Names in Vienna. The wall is inscribed with the names of the 65,000 Jews who died. Ten of those names were my close family.
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