u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Ian Goldsmith

Ian Goldsmith

Member of Trust u3a

Sharing his father Salomon Goldschmidt's story


My sister and I only recently discovered my family history on my father’s side and the remarkable link to the Kindertransport programme. The reason I started on the research was all related to the Brexit referendum result in 2016.

I did not agree with the decision that the UK made to leave the EU and I had heard that descendants of German nationals who had had their citizenship stripped from them by the Nazi regime could apply for reinstatement of their German citizenship.

My father was Salomon Robert Goldschmidt and he was born in 1925 but he almost never spoke of his background to me or to my elder sister Susan. I was only aware that my father was German because when I was about 8 years old (circa 1970), a German tourist (in Nairobi where we lived) asked for directions in German to the rail station. To my great surprise, he replied in fluent German. I had never heard him speak German before – and, of course rather shocked, asked him what was happening – and that was when he told me that he was born in Germany.

Dad had also once mentioned that most of his family were killed in the concentration camps and I was aware that he was brought up in the Jewish religion though he did not pursue an overtly religious life. We also knew that his mother’s name was Laura as my sister has that middle name. However, that was all we knew.

I contacted World Jewish Relief after a suggestion from a family friend and to my huge surprise a few days later received an incredibly remarkable detailed set of papers including a photo of my father on the entry pass that he had been issued on arrival in Harwich on the 2nd December 1938, aged 13. Enclosed in that document was also a very detailed record of how my father and his brother Bruno (aged 11 on arrival in the UK) were supported by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (later the WJR).

 Robert Goldschmidt

Robert Goldschmidt's British Visa & Boarding Pass for the 1st Kindertransport train

I am sure you can imagine my set of mixed emotions when I saw that photo - I had never seen a picture of my father younger than his late 20's!

At that stage, I also had only a cursory understanding of the Kindertransport programme and it was only later after further research that I realised that he had arrived on the very first train with a group of 196 children from Berlin and Hamburg on the 2nd of December 1938 – of course, this was only three weeks after the Kristallnacht events of 9/10 November.

I then realised from the address on the entry pass that he and his brother were in an Orphanage in Hamburg in 1938 - another thing that he had never spoken of to me or my sister. From the other WJR records shown in part below, I was then able to piece together a detailed history of his early years in the UK.

Dad had started work aged 14 in Wellingborough at an engineering firm by the name of Arthur Cheney and had a variety of engineering jobs until he joined the British Army in 1944.

The WJR records provided the material to be able to search further and I then found further information in the Hamburg state archives. In addition, we found a detailed biography of Paul Aron Goldschmidt (I was aware by then that he was my father's uncle) on the Hamburg Stolpersteine website and so I contacted them and asked if by chance they had any other family information. Again, to my surprise a month or two later a gentleman from the Institute for the History of the German Jews (IGDJ) wrote back to say that, by chance, he had just completed a biography of my grandfather Barthold! This was the first time I became aware of my grandfather’s name!

With the very kind assistance of the IGDJ we then found a further huge volume of quite amazing, albeit much rather sad information. Barthold’s parents Aron and Annie had seven children in all, three boys and two girls. Two had died before the persecution but all the
other five died at the hands of the Nazi regime. It was very clear from the papers that the impact of discrimination against the Jews was having a very negative impact on their lives from the mid-1930s. Barthold lost his job (as of course happened to many Jews) in the early 1930s and could not support the children. In the records of the Hamburg, archive are the originals of 15 or more rather harrowing letters that he and Laura wrote to the welfare authority pleading for subsidies so that the children could have lunch at their school. Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1931 and died in January 1933 when my father was aged 8 and his brother (Bruno) was 7 years old. Below is a photograph of Laura with her two sons taken in 1931. 

Laura Freid

Laura Freid with her two sons, 1931

Whilst the years between 1931 and 1938 must have been a traumatic time for the two boys, in retrospect, their parents' plight leading to them being in the orphanage clearly saved their lives as the following rather terrible sequence of events illustrates: Barthold Goldschmidt spent 21 months and 12 days in the police prison of Fühlsbuttel in Hamburg. Immediately after his release on the 3rd July 1939, he was taken into protective custody. On 31st August 1939, he also was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration
camp. He was registered as "political prisoner Jewish" number 2491 and housed in block 16, in the so-called Jewish barracks. He was later moved to block 40, also in the Jewish camp where he died on 29th March 1940 of “weakness of the body”. As is written in an exhibit at the excellent Sachsenhausen memorial exhibition: "In Sachsenhausen, prisoners did not die through industrialised mechanisms used in extermination camps in the East, but through undernourishment, infections, and deadly working conditions, coupled with daily SS terror, torture and targeted killings."

My great uncle Paul Goldschmidt was imprisoned in the Hamburg Fühlsbuttel concentration camp. On 24th February 1943, he was forced to board the train to Theresienstadt, and he died there at the age of 69 on 21st December 1943.

My great aunt Ella was deported to the Riga concentration camp on 6th December 1941, together with 963 other Jews. Approximately 1,800 detainees who had survived the winter were shot in the spring of 1942 in the Action Dünamünde. Only 35 people from Hamburg are said to have survived this deportation.

A second great aunt – Martha was deported to Riga-Jungfernhof on 6th December 1941, together with her sister Ella, and was murdered there on a date unknown.

Elisa was my third great aunt – she was deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp on 11th July 1942, together with her daughter Kaethe and they were murdered there on a date unknown.

Our grandmother's family was also quite extensive - Laura was also one of seven siblings like grandfather Barthold. We know much less about the Freid side of the family though. Ironically this is because they fared much better overall and most of the family survived the Nazi persecution by emigrating in the late 1930s.

We have one remarkable photo of the Goldschmidt / Freid family gathering we believe on the occasion of our father’s first birthday – we are not sure of the identities of all but our best attempt at identifying them all is as below:

Goldschmidt Freid Families

The Goldschmidt & Freid family, and with names added

On a somewhat happier note, we have discovered that we have living relatives in the US on the Freid side of the family and relatives on the Goldschmidt side living in Saarbrucken. We have now placed Stolpersteine for Barthold and all the other family members and we have placed a gravestone at the grave where both Laura and Barthold were buried which had remained unmarked since their deaths.

My nephew Tim and I were able to celebrate the 80th anniversary year of the Kindertransport earlier this year by competing with 40 others a fundraising cycle ride (organised by World Jewish Relief) from Berlin to London - 600 miles in 6 days. That ride followed, as close as was practical, the route that the children's train followed on that very first journey.

My family and I all feel strongly that whatever the outcome of the current political turmoil, it is desperately important that the spirit of kindness and openness to foreigners that led to the rescue of so many from persecution in the late 1930s is retained. I have now received my German citizenship and passport. Many people have asked me what my father would have thought of this situation. Dad was a very stern but logical man and I am sure he would understand why we have pursued this route – to remain firmly European and not just British.

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