Stephane Shirley: escaping from Nazi Germany aboard a Kindertransport

Stephanie Shirley recalls escaping from Nazi Germany aboard a Kindertransport to Britain, and how traumatic childhood experiences affected her outlook on life.

This clip is an extract of an in-depth interview taken from the Oral History of British Science programme.

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We, my sister and I, were put on a Kindertransport, one of ten trains leaving Germany and, and Austria. I don’t know where they all left from, but, ours left from Vienna and there were other starting points. And came to England with, a very traumatic journey, because it was 1,000 children up to the ages of sixteen, two adults on the train, plus some young girls, of whom I have only really been told, I can’t remember this, who, I think with enormous bravery, which is why I always mention it, had volunteered to bring out babes in arms, on the assumption, arrangement, that they would bring the children out and then return to Germany and to almost certain death. So the journey was fairly traumatic. Some things that I remember have been, disproved or disputed perhaps by some of the films that I’ve seen, or other, what I’ve read about other people’s experiences. The three things I suppose that I remember is that I lost my doll, you know, very important to a child; that there was a little boy called Peter, who kept being sick; and, the train was stopping and starting all the time. I can remember having, somebody having rolls of corrugated paper, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, which were brought out so that we slept on the floor, and I think, in the luggage rack, which sounds very unlikely, but that was my memory, and my memory of the compartment is not what I’ve seen in the pictures. We came out without nationality, because Hitler had taken nationality away from all Jewish. No, you were classed as Jewish, I think if you were up to one-sixteenth Jewish. And, we had no money, because, all the money had been removed from us. And we had only what we could carry at the time, which, at five years old, and at the time I had a poisoned foot, don’t ask me how I got it, wasn’t very much. We arrived in July 1939; by September I had got enough English to go to school. But what I think I wanted to say was that traumatic childhood has impacted my life and is as important, and its effects are as important to me today as they were seventy years ago. What did it actually do for me? Well it made me realise that, tomorrow is nothing like today, and certainly nothing like yesterday, and that, that helped me to welcome change and start to, well, first of all, it allowed me to cope with change and then eventually welcome change, and now I really like innovation, I like new things for the sake that they’re new, and that has I think come out in the fact that I’ve always worked in some aspect of research and done new things. I think the, it’s given me a sort of patriotism, I mean I love this country with, with a passion that perhaps only someone who has lost their human rights can feel. And that is... And the feeling that my life was saved, and for a lot of my childhood I was kept being reminded that my life had been saved, not by Aunty and Uncle but by others, ‘Aren’t you lucky not to have gone up in smoke,’ and all that sort of thing, and the confusion between refugees and German and, and this was the enemy, and, dreadful things, that, [pause] has made me really convinced that my life has to be, I have to make my life worth saving, and that, each day you spend as if it would be your last. And that’s still with me today, you know, I sort of, I like to live sort of in the present, because I don’t know about tomorrow, and it’s not a question of age, it’s just, I never know what’s going to happen.

  • Interviewee Stephanie Shirley
  • Duration 00:04:47
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 08/08/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/28
  • Keywords

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The following clips are short extracts from an in-depth interview.
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