Kitchener interviews

Refugee Voices

Copyright – Association of Jewish Refugees

Richard Hymann transcript

Interview 19

12 June 2003

In Knaresborough

Place transcript was read: The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust, London

(Summary of interview as it pertains to Kitchener camp)

Heading for Kitchener camp, Hymann testifies, he was allowed to bring out of Germany his suitcase and 10 marks. Other possessions were put into boxes and shipped ahead; customs officers were present and sealed the boxes, so they went “straight through”.

“We had some pots and pans, I still have some pots that I brought from Breslau, believe it or not ... bed linen, table linen ... and of course clothes and things you would need to set up a household, you see, practical goods.”

Hymann’s goods were stored in London, in an arrangement made by his sister, and on 31st July 1939 he joined the transport to London from Berlin, and then on to Kitchener camp.

“We had to stop at Cologne, it was at night, we didn’t see much of Cologne, we never got off the station you see. And then we went to, we went over the border at Arnhem in a van, and then hurray, you know and then we went over to Dover and from Dover to Sandwich. ... there were one or two compartments reserved for us” 

The interviewer asks how the men were received in Sandwich and although he laughs that there was ‘no red carpet’, he states that they were allocated their beds and given tickets to use in the dining room. He was put in “Hut 31, 30 or 30a, and then you had 30b on the the side, and we were allowed to go out of the camp, we could go out, you could see Richborough, Kitchener Camp was actually in Richborough, which is outside Sandwich.”

Hymann goes on to describe hop picking on a local farm, for which they were paid. That aside, he states, they were give 6d pocket money, “and we had reasonable lives there.”

Hymann shows a clear understanding of the nature of Kitchener – “a transit station, for people who had come out of concentration camps who had a chance of further emigrating. I don’t know what would have happened to us had the war not broke out. I was in the lucky position because I had, we had a joint permit…”

When war broke out, he describes the men being classified into ‘Alien’ categories A, B and C.

"A alien status were straight into the camp. B you were a bit iffy, but you were tolerated and C you were a friendly alien. Then we got our alien registration book you see, so if we went anywhere or wanted to stay overnight you had to go to a police station to ask for, but that did not apply to us, you see. And then ... a bit later they came and gave us a transfer into the army.”

The interviewer asks about how the camp was run and Hymann describes being able to move around and socialise; he mentions English lessons and other activities, and the fact that they got used to entertaining themselves. He also states that the men could leave the camp to go for a walk or into Sandwich. He adds that if they had the money they could go and buy a cup of tea.

"Oh yes, we had no restrictions... Unless you wanted to stay somewhere to stay elsewhere and then you had to take your registration book with you because you had to report it. It did not apply ... to me.”

Hymann’s wife also arrived in Britain, “she stayed in Sandwich and then there were other wives, so they made room for, in the camp for wives.”

In all, Hymann states that he was in Kitchener from 1st August 1939 until he joined 69 Company of the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps; he cannot recall the date. He describes their non-combatant status: “We remained aliens but were treated as British soldiers … and our army numbers unfortunately indicated that we were alien pioneers, 13800490 was the first number. And, so in January 1940 we were sent to France”

(Summary of interview as it pertains to Kitchener camp)

Max Abraham transcript

Place transcript was read: The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust, London

Editor’s note: Max Abraham was a teacher at the Berlin ORT school

Abraham mentions having a short medical examination on arrival at Harwich, “but only very superficial”. They then travelled onwards again to Liverpool Street train station in London, arriving at two o’clock in the morning.

"It was absolutely terrible, and then we went to Woburn House and from there to the Kitchener camp. And that’s where we enjoyed ourselves. It was like a holiday camp.”

The interviewer asks about the daily routine in Kitchener and Abraham describes his work in the carpentry department, which he states he enjoyed very much.

"in the evenings we always had, we were together with the boys. You know we talked ... the Rabbi and every Friday night there was a service in, so and we made it. We were next to the canteen. We played a lot of table tennis, and we really enjoyed ourselves there, and the boys enjoyed it too.”

The interviewer also asks whether they resented having to be in Kitchener, rather than being allowed to leave.

“[W]e could go out on Saturdays in the afternoon. Six o’clock we could always go out; it was not a concentration camp, not at all. On Saturdays we could always go out all afternoon. We always went to Sandwich, and I expect the boys had their girlfriends there partly you know, and partly not. It was very nice there; the weather was beautiful; it was absolutely beautiful at that time.”

Abraham did not have very much contact with local people in Sandwich; he states that they went to the bakery, and to have a cup of coffee, but that this was about the extent of his contact. He notes that there were around three thousand people in Kitchener: “it was quite a camp. And then the boys, eventually they went to the military, partly, they went to Australia, and later on, partly to America.”

Abraham was in Kitchener from September until December 1939, although he notes that some of the boys remained there into January and February: “But not, I mean not too long … they all found a job eventually; they all started really with engineering … until the war finished in ‘45, then they started doing whatever they wanted to do.”

Transcript Friedrich Hirschfeld

Interview 60

4 May 2004


(Summary of interview as it pertains to Kitchener camp)

Place transcript was read: The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust, London

During his interview, Hirschfeld describes his journey out of Germany, watching for the border with the Netherlands approaching:

“[A]s soon as the train crossed the Dutch border we shouted ‘hurray!’ So, then we arrived in Vlissingen ... we went out and I was directed to go there to the, there is a port and there is a ship lying which will take us across to England.”

Hirschfeld was refugee number 165 in Kitchener camp:

"and I was placed into a hut, and that hut was a hut which once was under the control of Lord Kitchener, the camp was a soldiers’ camp from 1918 ... nobody touched it from 1918 to 1933 or 4, which Anglo Jewry by agreement took over."

Hirschfeld’s ‘boss’, as he describes him, who was to lead this group from Berlin told the men to clean a hut up so that it could be used as a hospital.

"I said, ‘with two hands?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘With any assistance? With any help?’ ‘I give you another two boys but you be in charge, get ready.’ ‘ What do you mean get ready? They are coming tomorrow night, we need it by tomorrow night,’ that was him, he is in the papers this week ... Leopold Kuh’."

He next describes the arrival of people from a concentration camp, who were immediately hospitalised. Within a short space of time he was receiving men with frostbite on their hands and feet: “they came in a terrible state.”

Hirschfeld then describes the arrival of Dr Mink, whose job it was to look after the patients, and Hirschfeld’s job was now to help him: “It was, it was a piece of work, dear me”. He had arrived on 4th March 1939, having filled out a ‘simple’ application: “And Kuh said I need 24 boys, there is a camp in England, the sooner the better.” He confirms that they could bring belongings with them.

When asked why he was only in Kitchener camp for a few months, Hirschfeld replies –

“I had a friend, who was suspected to be a German girl ... [she said] 'come to Manchester because you have a visa and you can work here.' So I said to my friends in Kitchener camp: 'I am leaving and going to Manchester ... I am invited. So the next morning I took the train, it cost me 14 shillings from London to Manchester.'"

Interview – audio – Kitchener mentioned from 24 minutes 15 seconds

Oskar Winter

British Library

No direct information about Kitchener but describes internment after KC

Interview – audio

Arthur Flor

British Library×000006

Extensive detail about Kitchener camp, including Julian Layton, wife a refugee in Britain, transit camp, training camp, gardening, luggage, 3,500 people, journey from Vienna through Aachen and Belgium, first impressions of Britain, cycling every day, visiting refugee parents in Britain, Swiss authorities instigated ‘J’ in passports, transiting through KC, dental equipment, camp sectioned off for women, enjoyed the camp, learned to drive a steam engine, railway line ran into KC, German/British dog fights near by, wife in KC at start of war, until start of December, luggage strewn all over by soldiers and Sandwich local people, internment.