Holidays for Refugees
The aftermath of the 2nd world war left thousands of people living in camps mainly as a result of the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. World refugee year was in 1956 and did much to alert the free world to the problem, but it was many years before all the camps were cleared. The articles below were written in the 60s (hence terminology below which would not be considered acceptable today!). The first three written in 1962 record stories of children who came over in 1959. There follows an essay written by A.E. Jones of a somewhat hair-raising trip to Berlin and the experiences of the IHC Escorts in that city. It provides a fascinating insight into what it was like to go through East Germany by train during the Russian occupation.
This pretty fair-haired girl came to England at the age of ten. She had a black eye and a broken nose given to her by her mother's boyfriend, and her luggage consisted of a biscuit tin with an old dress in it. Although we did what we could for her, she never learnt to speak comprehensibly. Possibly she suffered from slight cerebral palsy, as she understood English quite well. Unfortunately the government ordered her to be returned to Germany, and as her mother didn't want her, she was put in a mental home. I am certain that if anyone had adopted her and brought her up with care, they would have been more than rewarded for their efforts. She was always very conscious of and interested in people and things-she needed no teaching to take photographs with my camera.
Following publication of this website Irena's sister, Christine Mazurek, who also came over with her but stayed permanently in England, got in touch with us. She told us how her family had lived in Horst (Mariental), a small village where there had been a lot of fighting and drunkeness. She remembers after the 2nd world war how a boy playing on bombed ruins fell to his death. She and Irena came to England, but after this the rest of the children, Danuta, Maria, Helena, Zygmund, Romusch and Kazimier, were put into a Childrens' home. The last Christina heard from them was in 1974 following which the German authorities apparently denied them the right to keep in touch with her. There must be so many stories like this as all the children we helped came from families with problems, and I am very grateful to Christina for providing us with this extra information. (July 2012).
Maria, a tall twelve year old comes from a Berlin camp. Her parents are conscientious and loving. They have brought her up to be clean, well-mannered and
helpful, and they are saving hard to buy a house. Maria has stayed several times with a family in Wales and speaks English with a strong Welsh accent.
We welcome her at Little Pond House (The reception centre) because she can always help prepare the vegetables or keep the younger children in order.
Recently I met Reinhardt, who came over with a party of children, some of whom stayed with families in Sevenoaks. But he too bears the mark of an exile.
When I asked him. where he lived, he gave me his camp number-'Lager XVII'. He added that he lived in a house of five rooms with ten
other people (probably three families), but he emphasized that this was not a proper home-" Ich habe kein zu Hause mehr. " .
Short extracts published in mid 60s about children from various refugee camps.
There are nearly 182,000 foreign refugees in Germany. Only 1,000 of them are now left in camps, but 13,000 of the remainder are living in poor and inadequate housing conditions. Many of these have children who could be greatly helped by I.H.C. These figures of course do not include the many who have emigrated from Germany, nor the large number of German citizens who have moved over from the Russian zone. In Austria there are some 25,000 refugees, of whom 100 are in camps, and 1,500 living in sub-standard houses. These refugees include Displaced Persons, who lost their homes as the result of the last war, and many who have been forced to leave their country for fear of arrest, as well as those who "have voted with their feet". The influx rate is very small, owing to the strict frontier control, but there are still about 10,000 people entering Trieste each year from Yugoslavia.
FINKENWERDER CAMP (Berlin) - written in December 1964
After the Second World War, Russia took the eastern half of Poland for her . own defence, and reconstituted the new communist state of Poland by
annexing a large portion of East Germany. Many Germans were expelled from the area, but those who remained have now been fully integrated with the Polish people both in regard to education and opportunities for work. Many of them save up enough money to leave Poland, and by taking only a minimum of luggage they can travel to Hamburg where they hope to start a new life in the western world. Although it is usually possible to find them employment, their only accomodation is in Finkenwerder camp, where overcrowded and difficult conditions prevail. During the winter months the snow and cold climate force the family indoors where they may be living five to a room. Quarrels, disease, and other evils abound, and the children have nowhere to play. Herr Nietsche, the camp manager, has asked I. H. C, to give holidays to these children during the difficult winter months, and a party of thirty, mostly girls, aged six to eight years, will be coming on 2nd. February. Edmonton, Northwood, and Finchley, have been asked to consider them
SPORTALEE CAMP (Hamburg) - written by Jack Finch in 1967.
As far as I could gather Sportallee is the worst of the Hamburg camps, About eleven hundred people live there, either in Nissen huts, where they have to :make use of communal washing or W.C. facilities, or in a large barrack block. Accompanied by two of the foster parents) -we visited the huts of some of the children whom we had escorted back to Hamburg. That of Brigitte and Wolfgang was on the approach road so I passed it frequently. The children have deaf and dumb parents although they speak and hear quite normally themselves. The family of six have a tidy but unbelievably cramped hut. There was no floor space in the only bedroom as it was entirely taken up by the bed. The only daylight cane from a tiny window high up in the roof. Four children and the mother slept there, with the father on a bed-settee in the living room.. Uwe and Barbel's hut on the contrary was slightly better. The family had been there for 15 years; it was tidy; and the mother told me that she looked after her children carefully, and that they unlike Herbert next door had regular meals, We visited many other huts as well and our visit proved well. worthwhile.
The Russian occupation of Lithuania resulted in many of the inhabitants fleeing from their country into Germany. A large number have managed to establish themselves in various countries including the United States and Canada, but there remain many who, through reasons of bad health, poverty or other problems, have been unable to solve their difficulties. For about three years I. H. C, has been in touch with Herr Kurgonas, himself a Lithuanian, who feels very strongly about the pathetic plight of his countrymen. Delighted by I. H. C's offer to have some Lithuanians over, he is at present selecting a party of twenty-five to come on February 2nd. Ages will be between six and nine years, and it is intended to have fifteen girls and ten boys. They will spend one month at Little Pond House, and we hope that families in Exeter and the Isle of Wight will take them for a furthur two months.
RICHARD VALAITIS written in 1967
Seven year old Richard Valaitis first came to England with a party of Lithuanian refugee children in 1965. He had been living with his mother and
five younger brothers and sisters in two shabby rooms, part of an old barracks which had been turned into a refugee camp. The concrete staircase and
the long cold corridors were dirty and untidy and the whole atmosphere was one of drabness. His father had suffered many hardships following his
escape from Lithuania and his attempts to settle into the German life in Munster. Earlier that year he committed suicide by taking poison and his wife
and family found him dead the next morning. Richard had been very fond of him, and the loss affected him profoundly. No longer a smiling happy child
he became morose and difficult, and his mother found him impossible to cope with. In England he lost his tragic mask and became brighter, but a year
later back in Munster he was again bitter and silent. As a result it was decided that he should return here as soon as possible on a long term
sponsorship. Now he is staying on the Isle of Wight (where he was before), and when visited by Miss McEwen this month, who saw him at school
and talked to his teachers, he appeared much happier with every chance of making progress and settling down in this country. It is hoped that his
mother will allow him to receive a British education which will enable him to make his own way in the world.
JOURNEY TO BERLIN
The children left Send on their return Journey to Berlin .Promptly at 5.p.m. on 29th July 1963, for the first few miles two of them cried bitterly but they had all settled down by the time we reached London . At Liverpool Street we were joined by 14 Children from Ruislip accompanied by Mrs Wakeling, 11 children from Exeter accompanied by Miss Stoffen and Miss Heath Also there were 3 German Escorts . The first snag of the journey came when Miss McEwan arrived and said that there had been a mixup in the reservations made by the Berlin authorities. No berths were available on the night boat and emergency arrangements had been made for to us to travel on the day boat the following day. We were however allowed to sleep on the day boat, overnight. We left Liverpool Street at 6.10.p.m and arrived at Harwich at 9.40a.m.. The train did not go as far as the quay for the day boat so we had a good half mile or so to walk before we were on board, I was surprised to find that there was a little boy in the exeter group only 6 years old and he must have been very tired by the time he was in bed .
We were given breakfast on board at 7.30 a.m.and then all settled down on chairs on the sun deck for the long wait until sailing time The children were extremely quiet and well behaved all morning. During the morning all passports were signed and stamped by one of the Ship’s officers and landing tickets issued as authority to land in Holland .There were no customs formalities of any kind on the whole of the journey into Berlin. The boat was due to sail at 12.20, but it was 1.20.p.m. before we were finally under way
20 hours or so after leaving Send and 15 hours behind schedule. The boat Journey was uneventful It was very warm on the sun deck ; the sea was calm and no one in the party was ill .Good time was made and we arrived at the Hook of Holland at 7•20.p.m.
Sometime during the morning 2 small parties of teenagers up to 15 years had come aboard, with 2 German male escorts and I female escort from Liverpool and Scotland,so by then there were a large member of suitcases to unload and reload on the train. Compartments had been reserved on the Warsaw train . And at at 8-45.p.m we set off on the long journey, glad to be settled with all children (including some white mice belonging to one of the Exeter children) and baggage intact.
I was allocated a sleeper in a compartment with 5 of the teenage boys from Scotland, but the German escorts had to make do with an ordinary compartment . Just after midnight I was awakened for a passport check on entering Germany and again at about 5.a.m. when we reached Helmstedt on the East German border. Here 3 or 4 East German guards, including One young woman complete with revolver handed out application forms for the issue of Visas which were collected a few minutes later and passports stamped Forms for entering details of currency carried were also issued. Our third check at 7.40.a.m came at Creibnitesce which was the border control between East Germany and West Berlin This station is used only for for train checks and no passengers are allowed to alight .As a result the station is very shabby, the platform being overgrown with grass and weeds. There were a number of East German guards on who searched the train for refugees and inspected passports.While the trains are stopped a guard attends on the line at the back of the train. There is barbed wire everywhere leaving only the railway line free .At 8.10.(wednesday) we arrived at the main line station of Berlin, where parents were waiting to welcome the children , Only then did I learn that some of the children had alighted at Hanover to continue the journey by air. These children, which included Margritt, who had stayed with Mr and Mrs Truphet had previous family history recorded on their passports which made it dangerous for them to travel through the East German zone. They may have been detained or turned back, so they were flown ever instead. At the station we were met by Herr Tauber who said he was there to act as our guide for the rest of the day. Herr Tauber is a schoolmaster in West Germany and has 13 children, 8 boys and 5 girls between the ages of 5 and 18 .
OUR STAY IN BERLIN
Herr Tauber had a taxi waiting and he took is to our hotel where we had breakfast of rolls and coffee, My room was very nice and apart from the usual bedroom furniture had a writing table with letter headings and air mail letters and telephone. The Charge was 13 marks - about 21/6d per night and was most reasonable. In the Hotel lounge there is a large board on the wall covered with signatures including Yehudii Menuhin, Brendan Behan, Paulette Goddard, Satchmo and many German princesses, actors and actresses which Herr Tauber recognised. My name is now on the board.
Shortly after our arrival at the hotel we were joined by Frau Van Meusel who had just arrived with a party from Belgium and at 10.a.m Herr Tauber returned with a Minibus in which we covered over 80 miles during the rest of the day. The programme was to take us all over Berlin (West) during the morning and early afternoon followed by an hour or so shopping a visit to the office of Der Senator fur Jugund und Sport - the organisation which chooses the children for the holidays- and finally at visit to some of the children's houses.
We set off towards Potzdamerstrasee and on the way passed the Russian Memorial in the British sector. There was a Russian soldier on guard and around the whole of the memorial there were large rolls of barbed wire with a. British soldier doing sentry duty. The Russian was guarding the Memorial while the British soldier was guarding the Russian. It is very difficult to describe in print just what the wall looks like, We seemed to meet it unexpectedly . We would be driving along a wide main road and suddenly would come up against the wall so that the road led nowhere . On the other side of the wall, East German guards were loitering with tommy guns and binoculars. All the houses on their side of the wall were derelict and their side of the wall and the houses near were whitewashed so that when the searchlights were switched on at night, shadows would show immediately and there would be no natural shadows In which refugees could hide.
At Potsdamerstrasse we stood on the wooden platform to see over the wall. There were the usual East German guards standing and sitting by the Brandenberg gate, watching everything that was going on*The Potsdamerstrasse as it was and as it is now is seen on the postcards below. At one stage we went along a road and the tenements one side formed the border with a wall being built across the side streets. Every window in the tenements were bricked up as in the past people had jumped from the windows trying to escape. In this road an old lady of 81 had been killed when jumping from a window and
we saw dozens of crosses with wreaths and pots of flowers on the pavements where refugees had been shot. Houses on the western side of the streets were pitted where machine gun bullets had hit them.
We visited an information centre with leaflets and books available and at this centre there is an observation platform for looking into East Berlin. While there we saw a lady who goes there every day at 12 noon to wave to her sister on other side of the wall. She had binoculars and a
handkerchief but her sister puts her hand to her forehead,she dare not wave otherwise she may be shot .
The tenements which formed the border wall in this particular road had barbed wire right up the walls and over the roofs -6 storeys high .We also saw in this street the Church which stood a little way back from the road and the wall had been built across the entrance thus cutting it off completely from people living on the other side at the street. The Church cannot be used now. Other houses and tenements not forming part of the wall itself and which are now derelict had East German guards at the windows all with binoculars and guns .Near Grunewald Forest there was a quiet country lane ,again blocked by a wall.A farmhouse nearby was derelict,being used by guards whom we saw lurking behind the bushes . During our tour we saw the Reichstag the modern Congress Hall, the Presidents Palace, Charlottenberg Castle, Grunewald Forest and Wansee Lake . This is a very large lake with pleasure boats and is very beautiful .We had lunch at a large log Cabin restaurant at Nikolskoe and as it was so warm all the diners - hundreds of them - were eating at tables among the trees by the side of the lake . Later we saw a most unusual church in the centre of Berlin It is octagonal and each wall almost 100 feet high is composed of small squares of glass which give a diffused purple glow . It has a large beautiful organ on a gallery over the entrance . At night, the purple glow can be seen outside and the whole effect is awe inspiring.
Tine went far too quickly and after a brief visit to Der Senator fur Jugend und sport and a cup of iced coffee which I was persuaded to try, much to my regret , We were left with only an hour or so for shopping before the Shops shut it 6-30.p.m.By 7.00p.m. we were on our way around to visit the children's homes . With 4 groups to visit it was impossible to call at more than 1 or 2 from each party , particularly as their homes were so scattered By 8.45 we had arrived in the street where Doris , my foster child, lived. It walls a drab street with 6 storey tenements either side and no gardens of any kind. At Doris's address„ there was a large heavy double door which led into a wide stone corridor which in turn led into a tiny stone courtyard completely surrounded by tenements. The walls of the corridor. were black with grime, and paint we peeling away and in parts even plaster's falling away. Herr Tauber and I stumbled up dark stone stairways without any light, to the 2nd Floor . We come to Doris's flat and the door had 5 names on it; Herr Tauber said that 5 families were therefore living in the one dwelling. I was most disappointed when we had no answer to our ringing, Doris's family were either out visiting or in bed. We then called at the home of Barbara who had stayed with Mr. & Mrs Peacock conditions here were similar although a little better than at Doris’s address .Barbara's flat was on the 4th floor and after a long climb up the stairs Herr Tauber and I were again disappointed to get no answer to our ringing. By then it was 9.30 p.m. end. we decided that it was too late to visit any other families. Herr Tauber said that after a very busy and exhausting day we should have good meal and he took us all including the minibus driver to a gypsy restaurant It was a wonderful place where we had a wonderful meal to an accompaniment of cello, violin and zither by players in full gypsy costume . Names and addresses of all were exchanged during supper in order that Committee representatives and Herr Tauber could keep in contact. We were each given two souvenir postcards by the waiter which are below and we were finally driven back to our hotel just after midnight, exhausted but full of praise for the wonderful way in which we had been looked after by Herr Tauber who had done everything he could to give us a full and interesting day to be remembered for years to come.
THE JOURNEY HOME
. There is very little to report of interest regarding the journey home. we left Berlin by air at 11.45.A.M. and arrived at Hamburg at 12-40 and after a quick look around the shops and a light meal were on the train at 3-56.p.m. on our way to Holland. The train journey was comfortable and we had an English soldier and his wife as companions all the way. Unfortunately there was no berth available for me on the night boat (I was still 27th or the waiting list, so I was told ) and I dozed in an arm chair until we docked at 6-30.a.m.(friday)and at 11a.m.I was back in Send once more.
The West Berliners are virtually prisoners and unless they can afford a trip to West Germany itself are unable to have a holiday out of the city. While there are fine shopping areas, there are many parts which still have derelict buildings still standing from the last war, so that the area contrasts between new modern buildings and shabby, overgrown districts. I am convinced that the children benefitted from the holiday in England and feel sure we should start now in order to have things well organised for another venture next year. The Ruislip Groups have an active Committee which meets monthly. It holds Gymkanas, Jumble Sales, Concerts, Raffles (5800 books at a time) and has 500pounds in the Bank . Exeter is also an active and flourishing group. I hope all parents will have found this report of interest and will wish to help our local Committee again in some way or another in the future.
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