German Jewish Escape and Internment in the UK

Meet Lora and Ernst Drechsler

I assume they were brother and sister but could have also been a married couple. Both were born in Vienna in 1906 resp. 1908 and both of their German passports were issued in Vienna with the infamous Red J-stamp for Jew. A marker was introduced in October 1938. Since July 1937, Jews were granted passports only under special circumstances, and it became increasingly difficult for Jews to escape Nazi-Germany and annexed Austria (March 1938). The property of emigrating Jews was confiscated, and they were only allowed to travel with minimal luggage and “pocket money.” This was especially the case after begin of World War II on 1 Sep 1939. Escape became most difficult. By 1933 about 500.000 Jews lived in the Reich; by the end of 1944 – only 15.000. German Jewish Escape Internment

German Jewish Escape Internment

Ernst Robert Drechsler 103423
Red J-stamp 14.3.1939
Issued in Vienna, 14.3.1939
Occupation: Sales agent
POB: Vienna
DOB: 18.2.1906
Page 6 has an entry that his name was corrected
Page 7 has a currency control stamp from 28.4.1939
saying luggage is approved. On the same page is a
Fleetwood immigration officer stamps from 4 July 1941
(this stamp must have been applied at a later control)
Page 8 show a currency exchange stamp and a Kent County
Constabulary (Wingham Division) stamp from 15.5.1939
Page 9 is a UK visa granted in Vienna on 5.5.1939 and
Immigration stamp Dover/UK from 12.5.1939
Lora Drechsler 63899
Red J-stamp 23.12.38
Issued in Vienna, 23.12.1938
Occupation: Household
POB: Vienna
DOB: 24.7.1908
Page 7 shows several money exchange stamps
Page 9 UK visa issued in Vienna on 27.7.1939
Immigration stamp UK/Dover on 22.8.1939
(10 days before the outbreak of WWII)
Page 10 shows a Belgian transit visa issued in
Vienna 29.7.39 & UK stamp


German Jewish Escape Internment

Two historically significant German passports with the infamous Red J-stamp. Luckily they could escape Nazi-Germany just before the outbreak of WWII. Only two of very few Jews surviving the horrors of the Holocaust. By 1944 The Reich was “Judenfrei or Judenrein” by 97%, meaning “cleansed” of Jews. German Jewish Escape Internment

British Civilian Internment 1939-1945 German Jewish Escape Internment

Internment of civilian nationals belonging to opposing sides was carried out in varying degrees by all belligerent powers in World War Two. It was also the fate of those servicemen who found themselves in a neutral country. German Jewish Escape Internment

At the outbreak of war, there were around 80,000 potential enemy aliens in Britain who, it was feared, could be spies or willing to assist Britain’s enemies in the event of an invasion. All Germans and Austrians over the age of 16 were called before special tribunals and were divided into one of three groups: German Jewish Escape Internment

  • ‘A’ – high-security risks, numbering just under 600, who were immediately interned;
  • ‘B’ – ‘doubtful cases,’ numbering around 6,500, who were supervised and subject to restrictions;
  • ‘C’ – ‘no security risk,’ numbering around 64,000, who were left at liberty. German Jewish Escape Internment
    More than 55,000 of category ‘C’ were recognized as refugees from Nazi oppression. The vast majority of these were Jewish.

The situation began to change in the spring of 1940. The failure of the Norwegian campaign led to an outbreak of spy fever and agitation against enemy aliens. More and more Germans and Austrians were rounded up. Italians were also included, even though Britain was not at war with Italy until June. When Italy and Britain went to war, at least 19,000 Italians in Britain and Churchill ordered them to be rounded up. This was even though most of them had lived in Britain for decades.

Thousands of Germans, Austrians, and Italians

were sent to camps set up at racecourses and incomplete housing estates, such as Huyton outside Liverpool. The majority were interned on the Isle of Man, where internment camps had also been set up in World War One. Facilities were basic, but it was boredom that was the greatest enemy. Internees organized educational and artistic projects, including lectures, concerts, and camp newspapers. At first, married women were not allowed into the camps to see their husbands, but by August 1940, visits were permitted, and a family camp was established in late 1941. German Jewish Escape Internment

That many of the ‘enemy aliens’ were Jewish refugees and therefore hardly likely to be sympathetic to the Nazis was a complication no one bothered to try and unravel – they were still treated as German and Austrian nationals. In one Isle of Man camp, over 80 percent of the internees were Jewish refugees.

More than 7,000 internees were deported, the majority to Canada, some to Australia. The liner Arandora Star left for Canada on 1 July 1940, carrying German and Italian internees. It was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 714 lives; most of them were internees. Others being taken to Australia on the Dunera, which sailed a week later, were subjected to humiliating treatment and terrible conditions on the two-month voyage. Many had their possessions stolen or thrown overboard by the British military guards.

An outcry in Parliament led to the first releases of internees in August 1940. By February 1941, more than 10,000 had been freed, and by the following summer, only 5,000 were left in internment camps. Many of those released from internment subsequently contributed to the war effort on the Home Front or served in the armed forces.

Kitchener Camp German Jewish Escape Internment

Was your relative a Jewish refugee to Britain from Germany, Austria, Poland, or Czechoslovakia in 1939? If so, they may well have found refuge in Kitchener camp near Sandwich, Kent.

Between February 1939 and the outbreak of World War Two on 3 September 1939, just under four thousand adult Jewish refugees, all of them men, were put on trains from Berlin and Vienna. They travelled via Ostende and Dover to Sandwich in East Kent, where the CBF had rented an old First World War base known as Kitchener camp. This camp was one of seven WWI camps close to Sandwich, known collectively as Richborough Port. The camp itself was sometimes referred to, particularly by the Jewish philanthropists who ran the CBF, as Richborough transit camp.

Kitchener was run by two Jewish brothers, Jonas and Phineas May. They had experience running summer camps for the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, but this must have been a much more demanding task – to run a camp for 4,000 traumatized men, most of whom had had to leave behind their families in the Third Reich. During summer 1939, a few of the men managed to get their wives and children out of German territory using the system of ‘domestic service visas’ for their wives and the Kindertransport for their children. However, most families were not able to get out of Germany in time, and they were killed during the Holocaust.

German Jewish Escape Internment

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  1. Thanks very much for showing an essential part of history. As a German now living in Brexit England, this is a story too close to home. As a collector of passports, I appreciate the display of these historic passports.

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