Kindertransport to Millisle

'There was a real sense of community, like a Kibbutz...'

In the year of the 60th anniversary of VE day, war-time memories are ever present, not least for the coastal town of Millisle County Down, which played a vital role as a haven for evacuee Jewish children during the Second World War.
It is estimated that over one million Jewish children were executed during the Holocaust. In a desperate attempt to save lives, tens of thousands of Jewish Children were evacuated, to towns across Britain, including the sea side village of Millisle.
Generations later, a primary five class from Millisle Primary School made a 30 minute film about what the Jewish children experienced in the Millisle Kinderfarm.
The DVD, which was scripted, directed, acted and edited by eight and nine year olds from primary five, under the direction of their teacher and vice principal, Linda Patterson, is entitled ‘A kinder Place, A Different World.’
Between 1939-1948, nearly 300 Jewish children were saved because they passed through Magill’s farm on the Woburn Road Millisle, thanks to the Kindertransport.
During the making of the video, the children explored the lives of the Jewish families who stayed on the farm. They interviewed local historian Bobbie Hackworth, Edith Kohner who was evacuated from Vienna to the Kinderfarm with her children and Marilyn Talyor,  an author of the book Faraway Home, which is based on the Millisle Kinderfarm story.
Christopher Butcher ,aged nine,  said: ‘Children were taken out of their towns and moved by the Kindertransport to stay at a farm in Millisle, they played games and went to our primary school.
‘Most of all I enjoyed the acting we did in some parts and the filming we did. It was great working the cameras. We went out to the beach and worked at the cabbage fields.’
Yani McDowell from the class said: ‘I enjoyed it because we got to go to different places. It was fun.’
Erin McNamara,aged nine,  wrote a poem which started the film, entitled ‘Help’: ‘I wouldn’t like to go out there away from my mum and dad,’ said Erin, ‘It was quite sad, so it was great that they came over here, so that they didn’t die.’
Larry Kitzler who now lives in Donaghadee, is the only person still living in the area to have grown up on the farm. Larry’s mother and father were evacuated from Vienna in 1940 to Millisle Kinderfarm and in his own words: ‘They probably knew what they were doing when they placed the farm in Millisle because they put it in a fine community.
‘The farm was where I grew up, it was all I knew in my formative years, but I’ve always thought about what I would say. However I tend to, maybe cynically, think that things are romanticised. They might not have thought at the time that they were the lucky ones, but they certainly did after the war.’
KindertransportWhen the community arrived in Millisle,  a working farm was set up and Larry remembers his experiences growing up there fondly: ‘I remember being in the pram and looking down a path which led to the farm, that’s really my first enduring memory. Also, I remember being caught in a hen coop and not being able to get out. I was the youngest and the next was a much older teenager, so I was definitely mollycoddled and spoilt by all the women.'
‘There was a real sense of community, like a Kibbutz, everything was shared equally. But a story that sticks out was that one day, my mother said there was trouble. One of the men who looked after the chickens was found to have taken an extra egg for himself and to even hear my mother’s tone of voice I knew it was very serious.’
Bobby Hackworth, who was 11 years old in Millisle Primary School when the Jewish children arrived, recalls how the headmaster at the time placed a Jewish child beside a local pupil in order to help them learn English quickly.
‘Sometimes if the girls fell, naturally they cried for their mums and dads, but they weren’t there,’ remembered Bobby. ‘What these children came through they had every good reason to cry, but after they had been in Millisle for quite a while it was very seldom we saw them in tears. One of my best friends who was a Jew, had been evacuated with his sister after the Gestapo raided his house and took his parents away. Luckily his uncle put them on the Kindertransport. I know only one of my friends from the farm found his parents after the war, nearly everyone else was orphaned.’
Edith Kohner, now 93,  lost 23 members of her family during the war.  She said: ‘The people here are very kind and very helpful and we have made many friends so it was the best place for us to stay.’
For Larry Kitzler, the Millisle farm will be remembered as his home and sanctuary during a very difficult time: ‘I remember my mother saying they didn’t fight at the time when they were taken away by the Nazi’s. But they did after the war and they have ever since. When they announced that Hitler was dead, I remember seeing my mum with her friends, they were all very very happy.’
At the end of the film, nine year old Erin asked ninety three year old Edith, ‘Did your daughters like living on the farm?’
Edith replied: ‘They liked living sweetheart, never mind where’
‘You just like living.’
By Catherine Lynagh
Supported by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation