INT: Right. Good morning. This is Friday the 21st of September and I’m here to interview Rosa Sacharin. Rosa would you like to start off by telling me when you were born, where you were born and your name at birth?
RS: I was born in Berlin in Germany on the 23rd of March 1925.
INT: And were you an only child or did you have siblings?
RS: I was the youngest of three – my sister Betty was the oldest; my brother was the middle one and then I was… There was almost two years between us.
INT: And what was life like when you were a young child growing up in Berlin?
RS: Well I wouldn’t say that it was anything unusual, except the environment I lived in was a very Jewish one and a politically very active environment and even as a very small child I was very much aware of the problems at the time. People tend to think that Germany in the early periods was a democracy where people could virtually do what they wanted, but in fact it wasn’t. There was a constant struggle between the Communists and the National Socialists, already in the 20s so I was very much aware of the problems.
INT: In what way, sorry, were you aware?
INT: In what way were you aware? Can you give me an example?
RS: Well because there were constant fights and also because my uncles, and in a way my father too, seemed to be very much involved with what was going on. We used to have police coming to the house looking for material or any adverse material against the government, so, I was very much aware of problems and difficulties. I also remember that there was a curfew imposed in our area because, primarily, because of all these fights, which were going on and we were not allowed to go out. Our windows had to be shut and I was a very young child at the time and I wanted to know what was going on because we had police standing on either side of our street, not just with revolvers, but with guns. So I opened the window and I heard this voice shouting ‘Shut that window or we will shoot!’ So my mother came running in and knew exactly who was responsible and quickly took me away and said ‘Do you want us all to be shot?’
But that is what I saw and I was about five years old. So I understood a lot of problems that actually emanated both from the political situation and the purely social and physical situation.
INT: And were your parents employed at that time? Were they in employment?
RS: My father by that time already had his own business; he had a small manufacturing business. He was a master tailor and he employed about twenty people in his works but also had home workers. And he was a staunch trade unionist and I remember when we visited him in his factory premises the first thing he insisted upon was that we went to each one of the workers and wished them a good day. My sister was OK; she did that but I wouldn’t do it. I thought this is stupid. I don’t go up to those people, make my curtsey and say ‘Good day’ and I think he found that very difficult. He didn’t know how to handle me and eventually… I really wanted to play.
INT: Of course
RS: I wasn’t interested in going up and saying hello to people. And then he said to me ‘Roselchen, do you see all these workers working very hard? It is because of them that you have bread on the table’. And in my little mind, I understood what he was saying. I looked round and I went to each one of them, made my curtsey and wished them a ‘good day’.
INT: And did he employ Jewish and non-Jewish workers? Did that enter into it?
RS: I think they were mainly non-Jewish workers. I couldn’t say for sure because I didn’t really know sufficiently about it but, I think they were mainly non-Jewish.
INT: And did you live in a Jewish area in Berlin?
RS: Yes we did.
INT: So would that be similar to other Jewish communities – that everybody knew what everybody else was up to?
RS: Not quite because it was a very large area.
RS: And it was a mixed area. I mean, although Jews lived there, there were lots of non-Jews there as well so it wasn’t a question of us being in either in excess and that the non-Jews were sort of subjugated. Nothing like that.
INT: No. And was it a traditional Jewish area?
RS: Oh yes.
RS: But I think there were variations there.
RS: Certainly my family was Orthodox but my father was already moving away from it. But I had…my great-grandfather evidently was a Talmudist.
INT: Right. Would you like to explain what a Talmudist is?
INT: A Talmudist is?
RS: A Talmudist is a man who is very knowledgeable in what the Talmud actually represented and what it said and people of course came to him for any questions to be solved. This is basically what Talmudists did. It’s not that they created something new but they had studied it and they knew it in depth.
INT: And they would be very respected as well.
RS: Oh very much so, yes.
INT: And so did you keep Shabbat?
RS: Oh yes, oh yes. We were an orthodox home.
INT: So how did you leave Berlin?
INT: How did you come to leave Berlin? Did you come over on the…?
RS: I think, the reason why I left… My father was arrested in 1935 and there was a big trial and there were about two hundred Jewish men who were arrested and put on trial and each one of these men had offended the Nuremberg Laws and each one of these men were imprisoned. So it meant that my own life, my own family, became very dislocated. But not only that, as part of the punishment was that they virtually deprived him of all his funds so we were really very poor at that time. While we were quite comfortable at this point, my mother was really left without any means. But eventually I was put into a home because the situation became so difficult and when the Kristallnacht occurred, my brother was arrested, so again there was another loss. I wasn’t at home at the time when that happened. I was safely tucked up in bed somewhere else and I also didn’t see any of the things which happened on that night. But we were told to go to school the next day because I think the adults just didn’t know what to do with us. They didn’t. They were so shocked at what had happened. So I went to school. It was a Jewish girls’ school and I already had experienced my father being arrested; the problems that we had following that, but many of the children in the school didn’t. To them that was the very first thing that they experienced and it was pandemonium in school. Some of these children were so hysterical, the teachers couldn’t cope, and we had a well in the school and some of the children wanted to throw themselves down and I think it was realised that it was safer for us just to go home. So we were just told to go. But in fact, before we left the school, we all were told, two children at a time, at two minute intervals so that there wasn’t a whole group of children going home and on no account to stop anywhere, but run home as quickly as possible. I stopped somewhere; I was very disobedient.
INT: I kind of thought that actually, Rosa.
RS: There was a little eh, paper shop there, and I hadn’t known what had happened and then I saw and read what had happened and I felt a man’s arm on my shoulder and he said, ‘This cannot last.’ But I was absolutely terrified. But he was ashamed. Actually, going to school that morning, I had never seen Berlin as quiet as it was then, before I realised what had happened. So I ran home quickly.
INT: And your mother then arranged for you to go?
RS: I was told about a week before I was due to go that I would be leaving to go to England and the day before I left I was told to go to school and tell the teacher I wouldn’t be back. So I did that and I said that I wouldn’t be back and the teacher said to me, ‘Why you?’ How can you answer a question like that? I was aware that everybody was desperate to get out but how can a child really answer a question like that?
RS: It’s only about three years ago that I learned something I didn’t know before and that was that a German woman wrote a book about the Kindertransport and in it she had said that when she had spoken to some of the older people, who were still alive, who had been involved with organising the transports, that she was told that people like myself were already on the list to be transported.
RS: And that, I think, was one of the reasons that I was in the first transport.
INT: And what age were you then?
RS: I was thirteen then.
INT: Thirteen. And did your sister come over with you?
RS: No, no. No, I came on my own.
INT: And how did you find the journey? One of the reasons I was going to ask was my mother-in-law, my late mother-in-law said that she, I think she was one year older and she was asked to put, she was asked if she would look after younger children which she said she wasn’t very happy to do because she felt she was a child herself.
RS: How old was she?
INT: I think she was fourteen.
RS: Just a year older than I. No we weren’t asked that. There were some adults there who looked after the little ones but our transport actually was quite different from any subsequent transports because I think all of the children on that transport had already been in danger of being transported somewhere else. So it was a different type of transport and also no… no parents were allowed to come to the railway station, which of course didn’t happen on any of the other transports and…But my mother being my mother, she would come. So she came and was told in no uncertain terms, ‘You have no right to be here’ and she told them a few… said to them that, ‘She’s got every right’. However, she was the only one who did that; nobody else came. And we were given our labels and just told to get onto the train.
INT: And am I right in saying that there is a very famous photograph with you appearing as one of the children coming off?
RS: Oh yes, yes. I think our transport again was quite different. When I listen to other people, listen to their stories; it’s…. it was nothing like that. As I said already, it was the first transport, it was not as well organised, and when we reached Holland, there was nothing really there. Oh there were one or two women there and they handed round some chocolates. I don’t remember eating any chocolates or anything like that. We had nothing to eat all day and when I listen or read all the stories, its totally different. But our transport was different and there was very little organised at that time. I knew that there were adults in the train because, just before we reached the Dutch border, we were told that the police would come and search our cases. We had tiny little cases; there was very little that I had in it and the others didn’t have any more and the adults said to us that, ‘On no account must any of you complain if anything is taken from you’ and that we must behave ourselves, which we did. So obviously the Customs people came and they looked at all our things. It was quite embarrassing actually.
RS: Because there were lots of, I mean we were young people and they picked up things and held them up. They were humiliating us and there was no need for that.
INT: No. No. Absolutely.
RS: And we were very quiet, very well behaved. We didn’t dare say anything. And then, just before we reached across the border, then people gave vent to their feelings and (not myself, I just sat quietly) but some of the boys and girls, they shouted and they spat on the railway lines. However, that’s what they did and then the train stopped and they gave us a little bit of food and then we went straight on to Hook of Holland and just told to get on to the ship and that was it.