The Wiener Holocaust Library has now started the final part of the IT process to take this Kitchener website into their care.
And so it is time to say my thanks and my goodbyes.
First, the practicalities: if you have contacted me with information for the website this year (2020), please can I ask you to forward it to [email protected].
I am so very sorry that I have not been able to keep up the work on the website this year. I have been ill, requiring surgery and a biopsy: I’ve had to focus on my health and my family. Thank you so much for all your kind enquiries – things are looking up and I am recovering well.
Of course, I will see many of you at events as the Kitchener history is taken forwards. But this day had to come. If the project had stayed with me, eventually, it would have been lost to families and to historians. And that isn’t what any of us would have wanted. Sadly, but inevitably, I can’t afford more time away from work, nor the ongoing resources needed to run the website, the correspondence, and the accompanying research.
The two years through which I created and ran the Kitchener Project have been a truly extraordinary experience, however. And I will be speaking about these processes at the Wiener Holocaust Library on the evening of 23 April 2020, if you’d like to join me.
Information about my talk will be available through the usual Wiener Library channels (https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk). I know many of you are members of the library, or are registered to receive their email newsletters that contain information about exhibitions and events. They also put information on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wienerlibrary) and their Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/wienerlibrary).
Over time, the library will automatically send their newsletter to email addresses on our Kitchener list. If you do not wish to continue to receive these, you may opt out in the usual way. We figured this was the simplest way of working out who wants to stay in touch.
As for me, I had to re-start my ‘day job’ at some point, but if you want to keep up with what I’m doing next – and whatever spin-offs may arise – you are most welcome to visit my family history website at www.fromnumberstonames.com.
‘From Numbers to Names’ is where my family history work began.
I gather that a number of folk have assumed that my focus on Kitchener history spoke mainly to my relationship with my dad. And of course in some ways it does, as it does with all of us, for all sorts of complex reasons.
But my family history work began with – and continues to be driven by – a deep need to know something about our missing family members – and the deepest emotional driver for this is my grandmother Else Weissenberg (pictured below) who was killed at Auschwitz in 1942.
Those of you who have seen the digital section of Leave to Land may recall that my Kitchener work is in fact dedicated to Else.
From Numbers to Names
When my mother died in 2014 I decided, finally, to look into my dad’s family history.
I began with two items: my father’s ‘German suitcase’ of documents and letters, which I ‘inherited’ when my mother died, and a slip of paper on which in a young child’s script I had written our family tree – on a rare occasion when my dad felt like discussing his pre-war life. I have no memory of what prompted this exchange.
All I know is that many decades later it was to prove invaluable to what happened next.
Anyway, this story is told on From Numbers to Names, which I created so that I could keep far-flung family and close friends in touch with what I was getting translated and what I was discovering.
The originals of all the documents and letters that are on that website will eventually be housed for safe-keeping with the Wiener Holocaust Library, London – in the heart of a city my dad loved, in the country that gave him safe refuge at his time of greatest need.
I know many of you have been on similar family history ‘journeys’.
As most of you know by now, when I was working through my dad’s materials in chronological order, I soon found his documents and pictures of Kitchener camp. And I wondered, ‘What was all that about then?’ I tried Google, and found very little. And the rest, dear friends, turned into this Kitchener Camp Project!
Just for the moment, From Numbers to Names is closed. When we were getting a lot of media interest ahead of the exhibition and the Kitchener memorial plaque last year, I didn’t want my family website trawled for information.
I still have some work to do before making the site ‘go live’ again, but if you’d like to stay in touch that way, please check From Numbers to Names in a few weeks’ time, and I’ll look forward to seeing some of you there.
Archival research: Some future work?
There’s something else hopefully coming up that you might want to keep in touch about.
A number of times I have been on the receiving end of friendly remonstrance for not telling the story of other – especially women – refugees to Britain, many thousands of whom arrived on what are generally referred to as Domestic Service visas.
There were also the Kindertransport rescues, and many smaller rescues – around 65,000 of which were carried out with the assistance and organisational capacity of the Council for German Jewry. The largest section of the Council was the Central British Fund – today, World Jewish Relief.
The World Jewish Relief records are the last significant unexplored archive about Jewish refugees to Britain in the 1930s. And I am in the process of applying, alongside a historian, for funding to access this archive. If we succeed in securing the funding, we intend to run workshops on our findings, write blogs and articles, and of course, we will be asking for individual histories to be shared about the tens of thousands who were rescued over these crucial years.
At least in the early days, I will probably use ‘From Numbers to Names’ for my updates on this work, rather than trying to run a separate site. There isn’t any funding for that side of things, so we’ll just have to see how things progress.
Do listen out for this next stage of research getting going (…fingers crossed!). The funding decision will be made mid-Spring 2020.
So, this just leaves the thank yous and the goodbyes…
I don’t really know where to start – or where to end! And as I hope most of us will stay in touch, I hope the goodbyes aren’t really necessary.
I suppose my deepest thanks must go to the families who put their trust in the project and supported it with materials and with suggestions of avenues to explore – many of which I’d never heard about before. You have shared photographs and documents, as well as corrections and ideas – and we needed all this to get to where we have reached today.
In relation to the many suggestions of events and people to be followed up: I soon came to refer to these as my ‘rabbit holes’ – so many of which I would love to have had time to go down in depth.
But the extraordinary response from so many families, historians, and institutions meant that my initial intention – that I would spend months carrying out research in archives – was just not achievable. To keep up with the correspondence and the materials that came pouring in was the best I could hope do. To undertake serious archival research as well would have taken a small team of people, as things transpired. And of course, there have not been the resources to make that possible.
The World Jewish Relief archive aside, I’m not yet sure which part of our history I will follow next. All I do know is that something in me – a ‘need to know’ what happened to my family – will keep taking me down one rabbit hole or another.
I genuinely hope and trust that I will continue to encounter Kitchener families and our diverse histories along the way. And one thing I am certain of – is that there is much more to be learned from the many Kitchener descendants who have yet to find us.
The things I’ve learned and the people I’ve encountered here will remain with me always. Importantly, your generous support and your personal warmth will travel with me wherever I go next.
And for all who have asked what my father would have thought of this work – I genuinely believe that our fathers and our grandfathers, our uncles and our cousins would be proud and pleased with what we achieved together over the few months that led up to the 80th anniversary of their Kitchener camp rescue to Britain in 1939.
In collating the many small pieces of our family histories, we have brought an important and meaningful piece of research together. And in so doing we have focussed light on another corner of our shared Holocaust history.
Finally, I know many are taking up the baton to share this history further – in the form of articles, and talks, and events.
Please keep up this vital work. The sharing and future understanding of our Shoah and refugee history depends on us all.
With my warmest wishes – and my heartfelt thanks –
Designer and Editor, The Kitchener Camp Project