THE STORY OF THE SQUARE
Quilt 3, Square 13
Artist: Helga Shepard
The train from Berlin was an adventure for me. I remember my parents, at a distance, in the station, but I was excited because I was going to share a coach with my older brother. At the age of six, I had no understanding of what was happening in Germany under Hitler, nor of the consequences of leaving my family. Only much later did I come to grasp the magnitude of the thunderbolt that deprived me of country and community, of my place in a family that loved me — as I would never feel loved again.
My brother and I were separated upon arrival in England; I scarcely saw him after that. First, I was sent to Nottingham, to a cousin of my father’s, and I started school there. A few months later, I was sent to another relative in London. Soon, due to the Blitz, there was evacuation to Oxford, where I stayed with a woman who had a private school. After a while, the maid having left, the family in Nottingham wanted me back — as a slave. ‘Five, six, pick up sticks!’ and mow the lawn, feed the chickens and weed the garden; make breakfast and serve it upstairs to them; dust and shop and clean — but nothing was ever done to the woman’s satisfaction. First she hit me, then she used a whip, but it was her constant humiliation and shaming that hurt the most. After several bitter years, I was sent to a hostel and then a boarding school for a few months.
After eight years, there was reunion with my parents in Paris. The war years and their ordeals had brought about cataclysmic changes. We could not take up our previous roles and it was heart wrenching for all of us, exacerbated by the death of my brother at age 18, three years after reaching London.
The Korean war brought my father to the idea of coming to America. The day after arriving in New York I found work, and soon started going to school at night. It took me sixteen years to get my bachelor’s degree.
There are many consequences of the Kindertransport experience.
Luckily, psychotherapy helped me to unravel the pain and sadness, the loss of family and love, and to accept the loneliness. There is continuing self-education: how to deal with feeling like an outsider, and with comments that sting. How to be a good parent and send your children out into a world you have to learn to trust again. But always, there is the gratitude for being gloriously alive, when millions of others did not have that chance.
New York City