November 01, 2015
By Esther Rosenfeld Starobin
By train and boat, and other means, I arrived in Thorpe, Norwich, England, in June 1939 to live with the Harrisons. Mr. Harrison, Uncle Harry, read a sign on the bulletin board at the shoe factory where he worked, asking for families willing to take refugee children from Germany. I was just past my second birthday and had been brought from Germany by an organization called the Kindertransport. While I had three sisters, each living in separate places in England, I arrived by myself.
It was now 1964, and I was a married woman with two daughters. We decided to bring my foster parents to the United States for a visit. Our youngest daughter, Judy, was just past her own second birthday. We were at an airport waiting anxiously for the plane to land. It seemed a miracle. Auntie Dot and Uncle Harry were coming to visit us in the United States. I spent eight years as part of their family, and when my sisters came to visit, they too became part of their family. Since coming to the United States in 1947, I had kept up a sporadic correspondence with the Harrisons. After I graduated from college in 1957, I spent several weeks in London with my aunt. During that time I had gone to Norwich for a short visit to the Harrisons, Dorothy, Harry, and Alan.
Now we were waiting for my foster family to exit the plane. Their visit coincided with the end of their son, Alan’s, year as a Fulbright exchange teacher in New Jersey. Once the Harrisons were settled into our home, we introduced them to our extended family. Our girls, who were two and four at the time, enjoyed their “new relatives.” We loved showing the Harrisons what our life was like and helping them become part of it. We went to the park, to the stores, and to the museums.
In true American fashion we had decided to spend a week with my three sisters and their families, Alan, and the Harrisons at the shore. Since Alan was in New Jersey, we figured he could find a suitable vacation spot for us in New Jersey. We relied on him, and he located a large enough house for all of us in Toms River. We all descended on this place from our various homes. It was fine, at first, but as the day wore on we discovered we were in mosquito paradise. They were everywhere and made life unpleasant. Alan was sleeping on the porch since all the bedrooms were taken. Many of us were gathered inside when we heard a truck approaching. After some investigation we realized it was a truck that sprayed the area on a regular basis in an attempt to destroy the mosquitoes. We were so mean; we didn’t warn Alan before the truck reached the porch. In spite of the mosquitoes, we had a pleasant week together. This event became part of the folklore that tied our two families together.
Our life in America was very different than life in Norwich. With two young daughters and a large extended family in the area, our home was often busy. Phone calls, people popping in and out were part of each day. Traveling by car to the grocery store, park, or to visit was a sharp contrast to the ability to walk or take the local bus in Norwich. I was amazed at how accepting the Harrisons were of our ways. However, they seemed to enjoy all of it. I think it was probably as strange to them as life in Thorpe had been to me when I first arrived there.
My daughters considered the Harrisons grandparents. Deborah and Judy knew I had lived with them and understood that made them family. Of course the girls didn’t understand the reason I had had to leave my home in Germany. They were too young as I had been too young to understand and question in 1939.
I wonder if the Harrisons had ever envisioned such a trip and extended family when they agreed to take a little Jewish refugee child from Germany into their home and family in June of 1939. Our extended family trip to the beach reminded me of the time we had spent when my sisters visited Norwich and we went boating on the river. In 1964 it was our turn to repay the kindness and love that had been extended to us. It was indeed a good day to be all together with our second family.
©2015, Esther Starobin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.
PREVIOUS POST: My Last Vacation