Kindertransports - A Personal Account

The Atkins Family by Harry Stadler 

When my brother and I arrived at Liverpool Street in very early July 1939, we were met by our aunt, our mother's sister, who had arrived in London some months earlier as a refugee herself, was living in a small flat, working for a tiny salary, and therefore quite unable to cope with looking after two nephews. 

She had of course been privy to the arrangements in train for our expected arrival, including the offer sponsored by Bromley Methodist Church in co-operation with Bloomsbury House to find a home for us. Immediately after the conclusion of the formalities at Liverpool Street, she took us to Bromley and introduced us to Mr and Mrs Atkins, who were to look after us for the start of our lives in England, and who we were instructed to address as 'uncle' and 'auntie.' 

The Atkins lived in quite a large Edwardian house in a good street in a very pleasant part of Bromley. They were both retired, he having been a furniture salesman, after emigrating to and returning from Canada, in memory of which they had called their house 'St Lawrence.' In their earlier lives they had both been Salvation Army officers at a number of smallish Corps in East Anglia. They had two grown -up daughters, one married who lived directly opposite and the other, single, who lived with her parents. 

There was never the slightest doubt as who to wore the trousers in the Atkins household and 'uncle' was always the second class, if not third class citizen, who was not allowed to interfere with anything affecting 'the boys' and accordingly had but a peripheral influence on our lives. Auntie's motivation stemmed from her firm evangelical Christian beliefs, including the literal truth of the Bible and she never tired of reminding us that in so much as you do this unto the least of these my brethren you are doing it unto Me.' 

Consequently she felt it her duty to start with no delay in introducing us to Christianity - principally myself as my brother was only 10, at the time, and knew practically no English, as part of which we were required to accompany her regularly to Sunday morning services at the church. It must be borne in mind that we came from a very liberal Jewish background and although I had had my bar-mitzvah the only time our family attended synagogue was at New Year and Day of Atonement.  

I will except from this our maternal grandmother who lived in Vienna, but on her frequent visits always lit a candle and said her prayers at the beginning of Sabbath. In consequence of this, religious ceremonial of any description was pretty strange to us and what with my own still rather limited knowledge of English, this introduction to a new religion would probably on its own have proved rather ineffectual. I do not think it took Auntie long to realise this and she felt her plans might be aided by the Reverend Davidson, head of the Barbican Mission to the Jews, whose headquarters were at Chislehurst, not far from Bromley, whom I met there on a number of occasions, and who took me through the Old Testament prophesies regarding the coming of the Messiah -Jesus.

Auntie's granddaughter, with whom I am still in touch, tells me that her grandmother was violently anti-Semitic. I must say however, that apart from the occasional remark about how little British Jews had done to help refugees, I had no sense that this was so. There is no doubt that however mistaken her beliefs - if that is what they were- she acted from what were to her honourable motives, and whatever may be said about the time with hindsight it is a fact that she opened her home to two total strangers, one must ask oneself how many people nowadays are willing to take similar action for almost no financial reward. 

For a Non-Conformist church Bromley Methodist Church was very 'High Church' with sung responses etc, and Auntie's evangelical leanings eventually returned her and took us to the local Salvation Army Corps of which we became members, until I joined the British Army in January 1945. I even tried to learn to play an instrument in my capacity as a Salvation Army bandsman in my bright red uniform and was known to testify at Hyde Park Corner and speak to a large audience at Westminister Central Hall. We never had any contact with any British Jewish organisations, and as far as I am aware, none tried to contact us. On a personal note I must add that I am now an agnostic and likely to stay one.

Our lives with the Atkins family in non-religious aspects were soon to be affected by the war. Our involvement in daily household routines had to be learnt from scratch: washing up, making beds and hanging up our clothes had been the responsibilities of mother, maid or cook. Sleeping in one narrow bed with my brother was also a novelty. I do remember we were very often hungry, even before rationing, but unlike Oliver Twist, did not have the courage to ask for more. I am sure there was no intention to starve us, just a profound ignorance how much two young growing boys could comfortably consume. My brother and I were not allowed to communicate with each in Auntie's hearing other than in English, which proved difficult initially when we did not know any, but was understandable from her point of view and certainly useful to both of us in the longer term.

To sum up I would say that our treatment was firm but not unfair. To expect love from strangers and to think of the Atkins household as 'home' would have been unrealistic, although we would not at the time have felt this lack consciously: fortunately we had come from a loving home, which stood us in good stead then and in later life. 

I did feel that my brother was the favourite, a belief probably not wholly unfounded as it was Auntie's stated intention to counteract what she believed was the custom of preference bestowed on the firstborn in Jewish families. I could not tell her that she was wrong in our case. Our aunt did visit regularly after our arrival but realised after a time that she was not really welcome and we came to see her only rarely. On reaching relative maturity we were left to make our own lives and contacts with the family were only sporadic. 

Both Uncle and Auntie died soon after the end of the war.

Harry Stadler 

Cranleigh February 5, 2003 

I would like to include the short biography of Harry's parents Otto and Martha Stadler. 

Otto and Martha Stadler 

thersienstadt -izbica transport list 536

Transport List Ab 609 - Theresienstadt - Izbica Transit Ghetto March 17, 1942, with Otto and Martha listed 

Otto Stadler was born on March 22, 1897, in Strazow Na Sumave,. He met his wife Martha, formerly Drucker, who was born on May 14, 1904, in Korycany, in Zlin, Moravia during 1924. After the First World War they moved to Vienna. They had two children in Vienna - Harry in 1925, and Robert in 1929. 

In 1934, the family moved from Vienna to Klatovy, and then onto Pilsen and Prague in April -May 1939. From Prague, The two boys were sent to Britain on the Kindertransport rescue mission during July 1939. From Prague Martha and Otto were taken to Theresienstadt during February 1942. On the March 17, 1942, they were both deported on Transport AB to the Izbica Transit Ghetto in Poland. They were both deported to the Belzec Death Camp in 1942, where they both perished. 


Harry Stadler written communication with Chris Webb February 5, 2003

Interview between Harry Stadler and Chris Webb - Cranleigh, Surrey, February 5, 2003 

Pamatnik Terezin - Transport List to Izbica, Poland March 17, 1942

Grateful thanks to the late Harry Stadler and Dr. Robin O'Neil 

Holocaust Historical Society, January 19, 2024