How Cambridge saved children from the Holocaust

Suzie Spitzer arrived in Cambridge at just five years old. She had just taken the first journey of her life without her parents and knew no English after being bundled onto a train in Prague by her parents with a small suitcase with clothes and photos.

She travelled across Holland and onto a ship through the North Sea and arrived in England on a summers day in 1939.

It was the same way 10,000 children would arrive through the aid of the Kindertransport, a British mission to rescue Jewish children trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Kindertransport was triggered after the events of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, which saw terrible violence from the Nazi’s against Jewish people.

24th March 1939: Four young members of the largest group of German-Jewish refugees arrive at Southampton on the US liner ‘Manhattan’. The refugees number nearly 250, including 88 unaccompanied refugee children, the ‘Kindertransport’. The little girl on the right is named Annette Greenbaum. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
(Image: Getty Images)

Up until then, things were reaching breaking point under the Nazi regime in which laws discriminated against Jewish people owning businesses, working alongside other people and attending school.

During Kristallnacht hundreds of synagogues were burned, Jewish-owned shops were destroyed and men were beaten and taken to concentration camps.

The night became known as Kristallnacht because of the amount of smashed glass on the ground. But that night didn’t just make the British government take action, but local people too.

The Cambridge Children’s Refugee Committee was founded by Greta Burkill and friends who over their time saw 2000 child refugees homed in Cambridge because of their efforts.

Greta Burkill, Founder of the Cambridge Children’s Refugee Committee
(Image: Keystage Org)

Cambridge academics Mike Levy and Lesley Ford have over the last few years collected the local stories from this incredible participation in history and for Holocaust Memorial Day this January 27 Cambridgeshire Live is sharing Suzie’s.

Suzie arrived by ship into Harwick, Essex. Some of the children aged four to 17 stayed at a holiday camp in Dovercourt. Suzie was taken on a train to Liverpool Street station to meet Mr and Mrs Chadwick from Cambridge.

Ann and Winifred Chadwick with an older Suzie Spitzer
(Image: Ann Chadwick)

They had heard the news of the Kristallnacht and Greta Burkill’s call out for families to host these children. Aubrey Chadwick was a teacher, and he and his wife Winifred and two-year-old daughter Ann lived on Ditton Lane, Cambridgeshire.

That day Ann gained an older sister in Suzie. Ann said: “I have always known that ‘Ich weiss nicht’ means ‘I don’t understand.’ Sue must have said it a thousand times a day as she tried to comprehend what Mum and Dad were saying to her.”

Suzie was born in 1934 in Vienna. Her parents were Jewish, but according to Levy and Fords recordings, they weren’t particularly religious.

They had moved to Prague in Czechoslovakia in an attempt to find safety after Hitler rose to power, however the country was taken over by Nazi-occupation too in 1939.

In total 10,000 children were evacuated from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland between December 1938 and September 1939, before Britain then declared war on Germany.

Suzie Spitzer with her parents Hansi and Leo Spitzer, before their separation. Suzie was saved by the Kindertransport mission, her parents killed by the Nazi regime
(Image: Ann Chadwick)

Suzie’s parents Leo and Hansi Spitzer sent her letters from Prague for months after she arrived in Cambridge but the letters would eventually stop coming. It was only confirmed in 1960 that they had been killed by the Nazi’s along with an estimated seven million people.

One of the translated letters wrote: “My dear Suserle (little Suzie), In order that you do not forget anything, Mama and I are sending you this picture. I am so glad that you are so brave and that you know so much English. But you must not forget your German. If you do I shall be unable to have a conversation with you if I can visit you. I send you many greetings and kisses, Your Papa.”

For Suzie, she had inherited a new family and went onto become a highly trained nurse, but sadly passing away in 1973 aged 39.

According to Mike and Lesley’s carefully transcribed histories, Greta Burkill of the Cambridge Children’s Refugee Campaign helped to find these children schooling and training.

They inspected the families who would take in the children, found money to look after them, provided pocket money, uniforms, health care, jobs and even set up a social club for them.

Levy and Ford’s recordings state: “The committee worked every day, throughout the war, without any pay, to make sure that the refugee children were happy.”

You can read more about Suzie’s journey in Ann Chadwick’s book about her sister, ‘The Little Girl Who Changed our Lives.’ All the transcripts are available at the educational resources website created by Levy and Ford, funded by the Heritage Fund.

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