I have heard of the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 Jewish children, taking them to England in 1939. But I had never heard of the Kitchener Camp Rescue – in which 4,000 men were saved during the same time period. I learned about this because of an e-mail that my daughter Esther decided to forward to me from the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity. The email informs Seattle’s second and third generation family members that there is a new website gathering information about these 4,000 men. The creators of the website are looking for information about men who were part of this rescue: “This website is for those who want to remember their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and cousins who found refuge – and their chance of life – in Kitchener camp. It is our opportunity to commemorate, document, and share this little-known refugee history.”
Both the Kindertransport and the Kitchener Camp rescue were organized and conducted by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF). The CBF was founded in Britain in 1933 in response to Hitler’s rise to power. CBF guaranteed to the British government that those German Jewish refugees that were coming to England would not be a “burden” on the government. They raised the necessary funds to pay for the refugees’ housing and living expenses upon their arrival.
In the mid-1930’s, CBF attempted to get the British parliament to ease the entry restrictions to rescue more German Jews. But these attempts were unsuccessful until Kristallnacht in November of 1938. It was after this horrific pogrom that the British government eased its restrictive immigration rules and allowed two large groups of refugees to be brought to English shores – the famous Kindertransport and the less well known, Kitchener Camp men. These transports were conditioned on CBF’s guarantee of full funding for transportation and resettlement costs and that the refugees would “quickly” emigrate elsewhere or return to Germany or Austria. (How they thought that was going to happen is an interesting question – but not for now.)
Kristallnacht was a turning point in so many ways. For more information on Kristallnacht see other posts:
Kristallnacht saw almost 100 Jews killed, 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed, and hundreds of Synagogues burned. Thousands of Jewish men were pulled from their homes, “arrested” and sent to concentration camps, especially Dachau, where they became known as the November Jews. These November Jews were freed more quickly than other inmates, but only if they agreed to leave Germany. Some were rescued by the CBF and taken to England and housed at a camp in Sandwich in East Kent, known as Kitchener Camp. The 4,000 lucky ones didn’t all come from Dachau; some were from Austria and other countries. The website (see below) has a map of the places where the Kitchener Camp men came from.
The camp was run by Jonas and Phineas May, whose previous “camp” experience was running summer camps for Jewish children. Now they had 4,000 Jewish men, who had been yanked from their homes and family, imprisoned and tortured in a concentration camp for some months and then freed and sent directly to Sandwich. I can only imagine how the refugees felt – the guilt of leaving their families behind, the trauma of what they experienced in the camps. A few managed to get their wives and children out of Germany or Austria, but most did not, and their families were murdered by the Nazis. Talk about survivor guilt!
After the outbreak of the war (Sept. 1939) the Kitchener men were encouraged to join the Pioneer Corps – an unarmed section of the British Army. Once France fell in May/June of 1940, the British thought it was too risky to have a bunch of German-speaking Jews so close to the English Channel and its ports. So, it closed the Kitchener camp. Most of the men stayed in the British Army, but those that had not joined the Army were moved to an internment camp on the isle of Man. This interment camp sounds like the internment camps that the Americans established for our Japanese-American citizens. A place to imprison people of the same nationality as the enemy, to make the population feel safer.
I love it when I learn something new. This rescue of 4,000 men led to future generations of Jewish families that would never have existed were it not for this rescue. Thank you to the CBF for your hard work and dedication and feeling of responsibility for your fellow Jew. Thank you to Esther for forwarding the e-mail from the Seattle Holocaust Center.
Kol Yisroel Areivim Ze Ba’Ze – All of Israel is Responsible for Each other.
May we take this message to heart.