Title: Serry and Me: Kindertransport and Beyond
Author: Elfie Rosenberg
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2001
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Germany: Bad-Salzbrunn, Poland: Uyadz and Warta, England: London(and East London), Acton, West Mersea(in Essex), Woodside Ruardean (in Gloustershire), Stamford Hill, France: Paris, Australia: Beaumaris, McKinnon, East St Kilda, Carlton
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Rosenberg offers a detailed account of her life from 1939, age eight, to the completion of the book in 2001, age seventy. The account of her sister, Serry, is also included, as well as many details about the lives and experiences of their parents. The narrative is separated into four distinct time periods and locations: Germany (June 1939), England (1939-4th April 1947), France (1947-1949) and Australia (1949-2001). This account has been written in an attempt to provide closure for a troubled and confused childhood and to remember and pay tribute, in writing, to the many people Rosenberg encountered or lost during the war years.
The first section of the book deals with life in the German town of Bad-Salzbrunn. Born there on the 6th December, 1930, Rosenberg offers a brief recollection of her childhood, including holiday and leisure time experiences. Various accounts tell of anti-semitic experiences and reflective evaluations of the situation at the time and the restrictive effects of the Nuremberg Laws on Jews living in Germany. On June 20th 1939, Rosenberg’s parents, Salma and Risla Naparstek, are smuggled illegally into France by a brother-in-law, Foal. Towards the end of the same month, Rosenberg’s parents had arranged that the two girls, Serry and Elfie, would travel towards London on the second last boat of the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport instigated by British Jewry between 1938 and 1939, allowed 10,000 unaccompanied children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to receive sanctuary in England. Rosenberg provides recollections and insights into her personal feelings of leaving Germany and her separation from her parents. For years, Rosenberg harboured anger and resentment towards her parents’ ‘abandonment’. This autobiography, written over fifty years later, is an attempt at emotional reconciliation.
Arriving at the end of June, 1939, Serry is taken to stay with family in Acton, near Shepherd’s Bush, while Elfie is taken to east London. In 1940, Elfie was evacuated from London with many other children to West Mersea, in the County of Essex on the East Coast. After a few months she was again evacuated to the town of Woodside Ruardean, in Gloucestshire. Here she spent five relatively happy years, despite continual feelings of alienation. During these years there was intermittent contact with Serry through letters and meetings. An account of her parents’ experiences in France is offered at this point. Her father had joined the Foreign Legion but was soon placed in a compulsory work camp for foreigners where he worked clandestinely as a tailor for the Resistance. Wanting to be near her husband, Risla followed him to Lyon, where, after obtaining false identity papers, rents a room from a French family, in exchange for domestic work. Rosenberg’s only mention of the war during these years is a recollection of being able to see the fire from distant bombings, with one instance of her having to carry a gas mask on a train leaving London.
At the end of the war, Elfie returned to London, along with the other evacuated children. It was now 1945, she was fifteen. Following this, Rosenberg outlines her experiences of being eventually reunited with her parents and sister in Paris and their migration to Australia. Much attention is given to recording the details of living conditions, contact with relatives and friends as well as the emotions she experienced during those years. Focus is on the positive and the years in Australia rather than her war time experiences.
The style and language of this narrative is simple, direct and accessible, without compromising details. It is an insightful and reflective memoir of a childhood forever altered by extraordinary circumstances.