Grandad tells of his emotional goodbye
PUBLISHED: 15:39 07 February 2008 | UPDATED: 21:22 31 May 2010
WAVING goodbye to his mother as he boarded a train in Vienna, 13-year-old Francis Deutsch had no idea that he would never see her again. It was July, 1939, and Francis and hundreds of other Austrian children were leaving their homes and families behind to
WAVING goodbye to his mother as he boarded a train in Vienna, 13-year-old Francis Deutsch had no idea that he would never see her again.
It was July, 1939, and Francis and hundreds of other Austrian children were leaving their homes and families behind to travel unaccompanied to England, where they would be safe from the Nazis' relentless persecution.
Francis, now an 82-year-old former lawyer enjoying retirement in Saffron Walden, was one of more than 10,000 mostly Jewish children evacuated from Germany and the occupied territories of Austria and Czechoslovakia as part of the British "Kindertransport" operation.
He said: "It was a pretty brutal time. Jews were being treated very badly - at the time Austria had a worse reputation for anti-Semitism than Germany itself.
"My mother had lost her business as a milliner - it was expropriated by the Nazis - and we were constantly hearing about Jewish people who'd been taken off to the concentration camp at Dachau, only allowed to return if they emigrated immediately and paid a huge fine."
A month after the Nazis occupied Austria in March 1938, their anti-Jewish legislation was introduced in one fell swoop and things became very hard for Francis.
"In July 1939 I got on a train bound for the Hook of Holland, before getting a ferry to Harwich and meeting my foster parents in London," he said.
"My father had died from a heart attack when I was younger, so my mother took me to the station to put me on the train. The plan was that she would come over three months later and we would meet in Southampton before going on to America together.
"We said goodbye, but with no sense on my part that it would be final. We didn't realise how close we were to war.
"But of course it started just two months later, so my mother never came. We wrote to each other - we had a relative in Italy who would pass on my letters to her and vice versa, but once Italy came into the war we were restricted to just half a postcard every six months.
"There was room for just a few words. In 1942 these stopped coming, and post-war I learned the few Jews that remained in Vienna were taken to the concentration camps, and we know what happened to them there."
Francis settled into life in England, picking up English quickly and taking a degree in sociology, before becoming a solicitor. Living in north west London, he fathered two children and now has three grandchildren.
"Saffron Walden was the first place we considered and as soon as we saw it we realised it was where we wanted to be," he said.
Francis has been telling school children about the Kindertransport operation at the exhibition in the Friends' Meeting House on Saffron Walden High Street which finished this week. The exhibition, an initiative of Uttlesford District Council chairman Cllr Catherine Dean, was held to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.