Broken Homes: Three Kindertransport Poets

By Lawson, Peter | Critical Survey, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Broken Homes: Three Kindertransport Poets


Lawson, Peter, Critical Survey


The Holocaust has exerted a substantial influence on twentieth-century and contemporary English poetry. One has only to consider Shoah-related work by the likes of Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes and Tony Harrison to recognise this cultural fact. (1) Further, Jewish poets writing in English have spoken out as especially affected by this European tragedy. Dannie Abse, for example, states in 'White Balloon' (1990):

   Dear love, Auschwitz made me
   more ofa Jew than Moses did. (2)

Discussing the Shoah in the Gale Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (1987), the Anglo-Jewish poet Jon Silkin similarly emphasises its traumatic effect on him:

   I was in London for the holidays, and I discovered a paperback which
   induced, or confirmed, my worst fears about what it meant to be a
   Jew. The book offered an account by a concentration camp inmate of
   his experiences. (3)

Among other Anglo-Jewish voices expressing the traumatic aftermath of the Holocaust may be numbered Elaine Feinstein, Ruth Fainlight and Michael Hamburger. (4)

However, none of the aforementioned poets experienced the Holocaust with the immediacy of Continental Jewish poets such as Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan. Neither Anglo-Jewish Elaine Feinstein nor Anglo-Saxon Ted Hughes may be non-metaphorically characterised as survivors of the Shoah. This fact also differentiates them from the uniquely positioned poets I am considering in this essay. Karen Gershon, Gerda Mayer and Lotte Kramer were sent to England as Kindertransport (children's transport) youths between 1938 and 1939. These poets were three of some ten thousand children spared the gas chambers by desperate parents who put them on planes and trains to save them from Nazi persecution. Gershon reached Britain in December, 1938; Mayer in March 1939; and Kramer the following July. Two of the girls--Gershon and Kramer--were German; the third, Mayer, a Czech. In the following pages, I present an introduction to these poets and their responses to the shared historical experience of losing their homes to survive the Holocaust.

Karen Gershon: Pioneer of the Kindertransport Generation

Karen Gershon was born Kaethe Loewenthal in 1923. Her home town was Bielefeld, in the province of Westphalia, Germany. Kaethe was the youngest of three sisters, Lise being one year older, and Anne one year older than Lise. Her parents were Paul, an architect; and Selma, a housewife. Gershon's autobiographical narratives, A Lesser Child (5) (1994) and A Tempered Wind (1992, unpublished), provide poignant accounts of the refugee life of children fortunate enough to escape Nazi Europe.

Gershon was driven by a survivor's sense of guilt. She felt it her duty to bear witness: 'The terrible pastis not an adversary but my greatest asset: I will not fight against it but put it to work. I cannot alter what has happened but by making a tool of it I can at least give it a purpose,' she asserted. (6) The consequence of this decision was her acclaimed collective autobiography of Kindertransport refugees, We Came as Children, (7) and her simultaneously published Selected Poems. (8) Of the ten thousand Kinder sent to Britain, two hundred and thirty-four were chosen to contribute to We Came as Children. Gershon assembled their recollections without attribution, thus foregrounding the shared over the solipsistic experience of these castaway Jewish youngsters. In what is clearly her own entry (describing Gershon's return to Bielefeld in 1963), she writes: 'My Jewish childhood in Nazi Germany and my orphan exile at the age of fifteen must remain a part of my life always' (WCAC 159-160). Elsewhere, she states: 'It has taken me twenty-five years to learn to accept what I am: a German Jew' (WCAC 149). Together, We Came as Children and Selected Poems established Gershon as a pioneering presence in the field of Holocaust literature.

Like her fellow poets and Kinder Gerda Mayer and Lotte Kramer, Gershon is also keen to record her gratitude to Britain for providing a refuge:

   At Dovercourt the winter sea
   was like God's mercy vast and wild (9)

Meanwhile, in 'Monologue', the poet refuses to be consoled for her parents' murder, since mourning is all she now has of them.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Broken Homes: Three Kindertransport Poets
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.