Above: 1989 interview with Frank Henley (previously Otto Lichtenstein) by Alan Dein for the Central British Fund. Courtsey World Jewish Relief and the British Library Sound Archive
The persecution of Jews in Germany was gradual and cumulative, beginning a boycott of Jewish businesses a few months after the Nazis came to power in January 1933, and a series of discriminatory laws limiting their access to work and education.
For many children, shielded by their parents from outbreaks of violence and anti-semitic propaganda, their experience of Nazism began with their exclusion from German public schools, which now had strict Jewish ‘quotas.’
Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, Jews were excluded from citizenship. In 1936, membership of Hitler Youth was made obligatory for all young ‘Aryans’, cementing the divide between Jewish youth and their former classmates. In 1938, as the persecution in Germany intensified further, the Nazis annexed first Austria and then the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, as remembered by Ilse Majer and Gerda Stein.
‘The city was full of strutting, posturing soldiers … A surprising number of neighbours in our block of flats, most of whom were good friends of ours, blossomed forth as fully fledged Nazi officers, complete with uniforms. Also several of our neighbours began to disappear … I was expelled from my school and had to go to a special school for Jewish children.’
Ilse Majer Williams, extracts of unpublished memoirs, remembering the Anschluss of Austria. Wiener Library Collections.
‘I’ve had such a terrible experience that I’m almost fit to burst…It was wonderful in grammar school, but I only went there for a week and now I’m a primary-schoolgirl again. It came about in the following way. Hitler took Karlsbad and we are emigrants. We fled to Prague. But we probably shan’t stay here either..’
Gerda Stein’s diary, 4th November 1938 (aged 11), describing her family’s flight from Sudetenland.
No way out
In July 1938, an international conference was organised in Evian, France, to address the growing number of of Jewish refugees. Most nations, including Britain, were unwilling to relax their immigration laws, and no agreement was reached.
Meanwhile in Germany, Jewish freedom of movement was increasingly restricted. In October 1938, the passports of all German Jews were recalled and stamped with a red J. By early 1939, all Jews were forced to carry identity cards, and those with ‘non-Jewish’ names had to adopt the second name ‘Israel’ or ‘Sara.’
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