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The Kitchener Camp: When Britain Welcomed 4,000 German Jews

07/02/2019 12:42:53 PM


Linda Topping Streitfeld

Irmgard Brill was pregnant with her first child, and she was terrified. Nazis had burned down the synagogue, violence reigned in the streets, and she and her husband Walter had been forced to hide in the home of a friend. After years of increasing abuse and discrimination against Jews in Germany, this horrific night focused their dilemma. Irmgard must have wondered if they should stay in their hometown of Munich, Germany. And if not, how could they manage to get out?

Nov. 9, 1938 became known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis looted and destroyed synagogues and Jewish businesses across the country. Dozens of Jews were killed, and thousands of Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned.

A short time later, Nazi police came for Walter Brill. He was sent to Dachau, one of Hitler’s German internment camps, where prisoners were starved, humiliated, tortured and literally worked to death.

This story might have ended there, one more tragedy among the 6 million, but for an extraordinary effort that was taking shape across the English Channel. A resourceful and well-connected group was working feverishly to create a safe space near the town of Sandwich, England, for Jewish men who were at risk from the Nazi regime — men like Walter.

The fascinating tale of the Kitchener Camp has remained almost unknown for eight decades.

But now, another resourceful group has revived its memory and engaged dozens of descendants. In cluttered attics, dusty boxes and German postcards, “Kitchener kids” are finding their own connections to a spare collection of wooden huts near the southeast coast of England, where, in less than two years, 4,000 men were rescued.

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