by Cindy K. Stewart
For more information regarding the Kindertransports, please see my April post, “TheKindertransports: Nearly 10,000 Children Saved from Nazi Territory.” Today’s post begins in Austria.
|Jews seeking emigration visas line up in front of the Polish |
consulate in Vienna. Austria, March 22, 1938. Wide World Photo.
Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Germans marched into Austria in 1938 and immediately instituted the same Nazi racial policies they had gradually established in Germany during the previous five years. Kurt Fuchel was seven years old, and his idyllic life in Vienna changed rapidly. Kurt’s father was dismissed from his position as a mid-level bank manager, Kurt was dismissed from his school, and tensions mounted in the Fuchel home. Kurt’s parents spent many hours visiting consulates, making phone calls, and studying maps as they endeavored to escape their homeland. Kurt, accustomed to being the center of attention, coped by pulling the tablecloth off the table, dishes and all.
|Kurt's Mother in Their Vienna Apartment, 1930|
Courtesy of USHMM
The German occupiers passed a law that Austrians in good standing with the Nazis could "appropriate" Jewish apartments. The Fuchels lived in a very nice apartment in Vienna, and on the morning of Kristallnacht (November 9-10), when other Jewish businesses and homes were raided, a Frau Januba with some officers arrived at the Fuchel home and claimed their apartment. She showed the Fuchel's an official paper and gave them one day to move out. When Kurt’s father told her she was stealing what he and his wife had worked for, she threatened to send him to a concentration camp. The Fuchels packed what they could but had to leave the rest and move in with a neighbor the next day.
The Fuchel's situation became so grave that they sent Kurt to England on the Kindertransport. He traveled by train through Germany and Holland and then by ship across the English Channel to Harwich. Percy and Mariam Cohen chose to become Kurt's foster parents and met him in Harwich on a bitterly cold morning. Dirty and smelling of seasickness, Kurt and the other children straggled off the gangplank into an unknown land. The Cohens took Kurt home, gave him a bath, burned his old clothes, and provided him with new ones.
|Kindertransport Refugees Arriving at Harwich, England, 1938|
From Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library Limited
Courtesy of USHMM
|Kindertransport from Vienna, Austria, Arriving at Harwich, England|
From Wide World Photo - Courtesy USHMM
According to Mariam Cohen, Kurt was very well behaved and became a happy member of their family. He gained a little brother - five-year-old John Cohen. Kurt learned English from a German man hired by the Cohens, and then he attended a small, private school with John. Kurt promptly forgot how to read, write, and speak German and never relearned it.
Kurt recalls hiding under the grand piano in the living room and listening in as the adults gathered around the radio and heard England declare war on Germany. To an eight-year-old, the beginning of the war was exciting. When the air raid sirens went off, he and the Cohens hid in the downstairs coat closet, and in the mornings, they picked up shrapnel outside. The fear and horror came later.
Kurt’s biggest fear was that the Cohens would send him away. Other children he knew from the kindertransports had not adjusted well to their new families and had been forced to move to other homes. Kurt worked hard in school and worked hard to please the Cohens, but he was jealous of John and paid close attention to whether the two boys were treated the same. After a time, Kurt concluded that the Cohens were very fair with both of them.
parents escaped Austria through Italy and settled in the south of France, and Kurt was able to corresponded
with them for the first two years he lived with the Cohens. Wonderful
people in southern France hid Kurt’s parents, and after the war, the Fuchels
reestablished contact with the Cohens. But Kurt was so settled in his new life
that he was horrified by the thought of going back to live with the Fuchels. Mr. Cohen convinced Kurt's parents to wait to send for him until Kurt had earned
his English school certificate and the Fuchels had reestablished themselves. Kurt’s father obtained employment, and he and his wife found a place to live in Toulouse, France. Kurt was sixteen years old when he and the Cohens left for France.
When Kurt saw his parents for the first time in nine years, he was overtaken by a strong sense of love, which he both felt and fought. He couldn’t speak German or French and his parents spoke little English. When the Cohens left to return home to England, Mr. Cohen cried. Most of the children from the Kindertransports had lost their birth parents to the Nazis, but Kurt had two sets of parents who loved him.
Kurt’s parents had sent a seven-year-old off to England and now they were confronted with a sixteen-year-old. This required an adjustment for all of them, but Kurt and his parents rebuilt their relationship. In 1956, the Cohens' quota number came up to emigrate to the United States. Even though Kurt was now a Frenchman and was comfortable with life in France, he and his parents moved to America, and Kurt fell in love with New York. And, of course, he could already speak the language. Kurt corresponded with the Cohens over the years but regretted not seeing Mr. Cohen before he died. Kurt was later able to enjoy many visits with Mrs. Cohen and John.
Source: Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer, 2000.
Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies and language arts teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, semifinaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions writing contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-six years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.