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Inge Katzenstein: Refuge In Kenya

First Person Podcast Series

Inge Katzenstein discusses fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 and finding refuge along with her family in Kenya, where they remained during the war.



INGE KATZENSTEIN: Fear of drawing attention or their wanting to see what we had or didn’t have. We had to be quiet. And once we crossed the border into Switzerland, my mother said, “Now you can talk.”

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 Inge Katzenstein talks with host Bill Benson about her family’s emigration in 1939 from Nazi Germany to Kenya, where they would live for the remainder of the war.

BILL BENSON: So the decision now is to go to Kenya, everything’s been put into motion, the permits have been obtained, your mother has bought supplies and clothing to last a long time, it’s been packed, you think it’s going to go with you to Kenya. Tell us now about beginning the journey to Kenya.

INGE KATZENSTEIN: We left Cologne by train and went via Switzerland to Genoa, Italy. It was a wonderful trip, except that we were not allowed to talk, one word, on the train. Not a single [word]. They separated my sister and me.

BILL BENSON: So you wouldn’t chatter with each other?

INGE KATZENSTEIN: So we wouldn’t chatter, or fight. And as long as we were in Germany, we were not allowed to open our mouth.

BILL BENSON: And that was out of fear of drawing attention to yourselves?

INGE KATZENSTEIN: Yes, fear of drawing attention, or their wanting to see what we had or didn’t have. We had to be quiet. And once we crossed the border into Switzerland, my mother said, “Now you can talk.” And we traveled from the afternoon through the night to Italy, and we stayed there a day or two and then boarded a German ship to go to Kenya. And the trip took two weeks.

BILL BENSON: And it was a German ship?

INGE KATZENSTEIN: It was a German ship that served kosher food, in 1939. And the trip was Italy through the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, through the Red Sea, around the corner of Africa, and down the coast of Africa to Mombasa. Up and down the coast of Africa, from Gibraltar all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Because when we continued to come here, we boarded the boat in Kenya, in Mombasa, and then came down and around—it was a cargo boat, took seven weeks to get here.

BILL BENSON: Inge, it was a German ship, so it had German officers on it. Did they know that you were a Jewish family?

INGE KATZENSTEIN: Oh yes, oh yes. Not only did it have German officers on it, it also had carrier pigeons on it that Germans were taking to Tanganyika, and it was right before the war. God knows what they were used for, but they were using them.

BILL BENSON: Do you remember the trip yourself?

INGE KATZENSTEIN: Vaguely. Vaguely, ten year[s] old. It was nice, it was a boat trip.

BILL BENSON: There was one incident that you and Jill had talked to me about where your sister, I believe, was overheard singing. Tell us this.

INGE KATZENSTEIN: My sister had a good voice and she was overheard singing and the captain asked her to come and sing to them. And my mother was absolutely petrified that they were Nazis and that my sister would say something. She was four or five years old and she didn’t know the difference between a good or a bad person. So my mother lived in fear every time they called her to sing. But she did it.

BILL BENSON: And she was worried about what she might even sing, right?


BILL BENSON: But you pulled that off, she pulled that off, you made the journey and you get to Kenya. So you get to Kenya and you’re free from Germany, you’ve gotten out, and now you’re in Kenya. But new challenges begin.


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.