War and Holocaust

Above: Frank Henley discusses the difficult of keeping in contact with his parents during the war, and having to wait until after VE day to get his grandmother’s final postcard. Courtesy World Jewish Relief and British Library Sound Archive

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, life for German refugees in Britain, now classed as ‘enemy aliens’ became much more difficult. All aliens over the age of 16 had to report to the police to be registered and assessed, and many, including Gisella Spanglet’s brother Stephen, and Evi Finkler’s father Walter, were interned in camps or sent to Australia and Canada.

The war also made communication more difficult, with postal censorship on both sides. As the mass deportations and murders began, children only heard from their families via red cross telegrams, limited to 20 words. In many cases, communications from their parents stopped stopped quite suddenly, and they had to wait until after the war to find out what happened to their loved ones.


Ilse Majer William’s passport showing police stamps. Wiener Library Collections.


Illustration by Walter Finkler in a letter to his wife Hansi in 1939, imagining his future internment. Wiener Library Collections


Letter from Walter Finkler to Evi Finkler, 29 May 1940 from the Isle of Man. He tries to reassure Evi, writing Dearest Everle, We are now on an island that’s just as beautiful as it is round your way, on the Isle of Man. I am living in style [“very fine”] in a Hotel and my window looks out onto the sea. There are beautiful mountains and a marvellous beachfront where I go walking and think of my Evi and the little house. I am really doing very well and I do hope that we three shall travel together some more soon. The views are very decent. Many soppy kisses, your Dad

Red cross telegram to Gisela Eisner, 11 March 1941, from her parents and Helmut, wishing her a happy birthday and asking her to write soon. Her reply on back ‘Heinz is in Australia and we are both healthy. I am in Chesterfield with the same family and I’m learning tailoring and design.’ Courtesy, Harriet Eisner.



Red Cross Telegram from Hannah Kuhn’s father, Franz, telling her her mother had been deported. It is very unusual for details of the Holocaust to reach Britain in this way, as they were usually censored. Note that the telegram was sent to Levy’s place of work. Note also the discrepancy in dates : the telegram took two months to reach Hannah. Wiener Library Collections.


Last letter to Gerda Stein from her mother Erna, written before she was transported to Auschwitz in January 1943, where she was murdered. Wiener Library Collections.
It reads: Beloved Gerti – Before my departure 1000 kisses – Pray for you every day – Have courage – Write to Elly’s sister Hella – Have number 461 – Date 20X. Mother.