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Freddie Traum: Evacuated to England

First Person Podcast Series

Freddie Traum discusses life as a refugee in Great Britain during World War II. Freddie and his sister were sent from their home in Austria to England as part of the Kindertransport, the special transport that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940. Freddie initially lived with a family in London but was evacuated to the countryside, along with other Londoners, when Great Britain declared war on Germany in September of 1939.



FREDDIE TRAUM: As a matter of fact, I was not allowed inside that house except when it came time to eat or to sleep. And the rest of the time I had to be out, and of course if any of you are familiar with English weather, it can be pretty miserable.

NARRATOR: Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

In today’s episode Freddie Traum talks with host Bill Benson about life as a refugee in Great Britain during World War II. Freddie was sent from his home in Austria to Great Britain as part of a special rescue effort to save Jewish children.

BILL BENSON: So you get to England, you arrive in Liverpool Street Station in London, you’re in a new country, you don’t speak the language, what happened?

FREDDIE TRAUM: Well, we were taken to the Griggs’ home, which was very different to our home. I mean, he was old fashioned style, authoritarian family, you know, at mealtimes you don’t speak. And of course not only didn’t they speak during the mealtime but certainly [it] wouldn’t be heard of to speak a foreign language that nobody else could understand. Yet the only language I knew at that time was German, and so since my sister was in a different room and I didn’t speak with her, I literally couldn’t speak with anyone for quite a while.

But the following Monday they signed me up in school. And they put me into an age-appropriate class and—I mean, the only English I knew was “yes” and “no,” and for some reason I learned “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.”

BILL BENSON: “Yes,” “no,” and “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”?

FREDDIE TRAUM: Yeah, and that was the extent of my English language. And during playtime, one of the kids came over to me [and] said, “Do you want to fight?” So I used my one word that I knew and said, “Yes.” And next thing I knew, he punched me! And I had no idea where that was coming from. But it took a while.

Well, actually I should say, it didn’t take that long. English came very quickly, and by the time war broke out—actually the day that Germany marched into Poland, September 1, 1939—most of the schools in London evacuated their children to safety in the surrounding countryside places. It’s amazing the organization they had. I mean, just as much as they were unprepared to fight a war, they were wonderfully prepared to evacuate the children.

So we went by train to this little place, and three days later, the war broke out, I mean England declared war on Germany based on the agreement they had with Poland. So I was there for three years; my sister was there for about a year and a half and then went back to London. Meanwhile my foster mother in London, Mrs. Griggs, had died at the beginning of the war. So when my sister went back to London, she actually did all the things that the eldest daughter would do, she had to take care of the house and food and all that.

BILL BENSON: Before we continue on with that, let’s go back to when you were evacuated to the countryside. So what that meant is having to leave the Griggs family and be placed with another family. And that was quite a contrast to your experience with the Griggs.

FREDDIE TRAUM: Yeah, we were unwelcome guests, to put it mildly. The thing is, the organization they had for evacuees was that some representative from the Women’s Voluntary Service would meet, say, a class, and they would go up the street in this development, and she had a list of everybody’s home—how many people lived there, and how many bedrooms they had.

And this was a young couple, in their late 20s, and they had three bedrooms. So they had a choice of either taking in a family that was being evacuated from London, or a couple of soldiers to be billeted there, or a couple of evacuees. And they choose the latter of these three evils.

BILL BENSON: So it wasn’t voluntary that they had to take somebody.


BILL BENSON: They had to have somebody?

FREDDIE TRAUM: Yeah. Now I don’t know to whom they would appeal if they said no, but that’s the way it was.

BILL BENSON: But they weren’t opening up their hearts and doors.

FREDDIE TRAUM: Oh no, no. As a matter of fact, I was not allowed inside that house except when it came time to eat or to sleep. And the rest of the time I had to be out, and of course if any of you are familiar with English weather, it can be pretty miserable. So I used to shelter in doorways out of the rain, and then ask people the time, because if I came late I’d be in trouble.

But as I said, kids become used to anything, and when I was a bit older, I used to volunteer on the farm. They were wonderful, the farmers, and they used to invite me to Christmas dinner, and I’d go there and I’d work and I’d earn a little bit of pocket money. So that was pretty good. But the home environment there was not nice.

BILL BENSON: Am I correct that you actually heard the missus in the house say that she hates Jews

FREDDIE TRAUM: Yeah, she once said to me once that she thought that what Hitler was doing to them was the right thing.

BILL BENSON: And this is the house that you’re forced to live in.

FREDDIE TRAUM: Yeah. Well, the thing is if I would have opened my mouth, and said to my headmaster in school, “I’m not happy there,” they would have had me out of there immediately. I just didn’t think I had the right to complain. And so I didn’t.

NARRATOR: You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.