Ann Kirk is a Kindertransportee, who travelled to England from Germany, at the age of 10 to escape persecution. In her speech at the Parliamentary reception, she tells us what the theme for HMD 2014, Journeys, means to her.
My name at birth was Hannah Kuhn and I was born in Berlin to professional middle-class parents enjoying a good standard of life. However, after 1933 that all changed as Hitler’s anti-semitic laws began to bite and my parents were desperately trying to emigrate, but all their attempts were unsuccessful.
By a sheer coincidence they were contacted by two Jewish unmarried sisters, voluntary workers in the East End, who were prepared to offer me a home and so, aged 10, I was registered with the Kindertransport. The date for my journey was 19th April, 1939 and I so well remember the hordes of crying parents and children at the Station. As they kissed me goodbye, they told me to look out of the window at the next station but one. This I did, and there they were waving frantically. That was the last time I ever saw them.
We travelled to Hamburg where we boarded an American ship, the Manhattan. The crew made a great fuss of us younger children, and the leaders tried to cheer us up with guitar-led communal singing. But it was not much use and there were a lot of tears. We arrived at Southampton two days later- our children’s passports were stamped with – Leave to land, granted provided that the holder does not enter gainful employment - and boarded a train destined for Waterloo Station. Jewish ladies handed us chocolates and biscuits with smiles – the first friendly smiles from strangers that we had seen in a long time.
At Waterloo we sat in a hall, each with our labels round our necks until our names were called , and there were these two ladies, Milly and Sophie Levy, whom I recognised from their photographs and whom I called ‘Aunties’. They had been advised to send me to a boarding school to learn English so the next fortnight was spent shopping for School uniform etc. I hated that Boarding School, the girls since I had come from Germany thought I was a Nazi and bullied me. I was very miserable and lonely, but the Staff were quite nice, and I did learn English pretty quickly.
The outbreak of war meant that I did not go back to the boarding school, but instead – again through a set of coincidences – joined South Hampstead High School in Berkhamsted. The aunts felt that I had been through enough traumas and so to avoid my being billeted with strangers, shut up their London flat and rented one in Berkhamsted. From then on we lived as a family, they continued to pay for my education including sending me to a Secretarial College and, eventually hosted a very small wedding when I married another Kindertransport child, Robert Kirchheimer, who had changed his name to Bob Kirk in the British army. We have two sons and three wonderful grandchildren.
My Kindertransport experience was really quite exceptional, since I knew to whom I was coming, and what is even more important my parents knew to whom I was going. By contrast, many Kindertransport children had no idea where they were going and they and their families faced great uncertainty as to their future.
As a ten-year old, my feelings on my journey were a mixture of trepidation, but also excitement – a feeling that my parents had encouraged - allowing me to firmly believe that they would be joining me in the near future. That, of course sadly did not happen.