Selmar Hubert from Kriegshaber
The Children’s Transport Trains to England
Becoming the son of a foster mother
This is the story of Selmar Hubert, born in 1926 and who grew up in Middle Franconian Cronheim. Chased from there with his parents and sister when the village had to become “free of Jews” following the pogrom of November 1938. And so the family came to Kriegshaber, Ulmer Strasse 185. Relatives, the family Moritz and Isaak Einstein, let them have a room in their house. “We didn’t have anyone else, my parents were desperate.”
Selmar Hubert celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Kriegshaber. That is the celebration when a 13 year old Jewish boy becomes of age, religiously.
He writes one day my father said “I completely forgot, it’s time for your Bar Mitzvah.” But the Synagogue in Augsburg had been destroyed, and the one in Kriegshaber was locked up. I think it was four days before the Bar Mitzvah when we heard that the Kriegshaber Synagogue had been reopened. So my Bar Mitzvah took place on the first Saturday when religious services were allowed again in the Synagogue. Jews came from all around Augsburg too. It was mainly women and children as many of the men had been interned in Dachau. It was a very emotional Bar Mitzvah with a lot of tears. I shall never forget it. That day, 4th February 1939, was also the last time that our family celebrated an important religious event together.
The date of this Bar Mitzvah remains very meaningful in the life of Selmar and his sister Emmy. As they don’t know when their parents, who had been deported from Kriegshaber in 1942, actually died, they always commemorate the death of Leo and Hedwig Hubert on the day of the last family religious celebration. The couple had recognized early on the dangers that German Jews faced and would have liked to emigrate to the United States. But their number on the immigration waiting list was too far down. By the time it was the turn of Leo Hubert, up until 1938 a sales representative for soap products in Cronheim, and his wife, they had long since been murdered by the Nazis.
In spring 1939 the Hubert family in Kriegshaber was notified that one of their children would be allowed to enter England. Sel Hubert (as he now abbreviates his name): “But my parents had two children. Which one should they save? They chose Emmy as she was the elder of the two, and really impressed on her to look for a family in England for me too.” June 1939: an English family has been found for Selmar too. The King family in Leyton, near London, received a letter from Bloomsbury House in London, the headquarters of the Relief Committee for German Children: We are pleased to advise you that the Committee has checked and approved your guarantees and the name of Hubert, Selmar has been included in the transport list sent to Berlin on 12.6.1939. That means … that the child will arrive in the next few weeks in England. You will receive details regarding the London station, arrival date and time in due course. Selmar Hubert doesn’t remember very much about the children’s transport train trip from Munich. What remains etched in his memory is only the farewell from his parents, a short stop in Holland, the arrival in London.
My mother said goodbye to me in Kriegshaber. She wasn’t able to travel with me to Munich. I was now the second child that she was giving away. My father accompanied me. Before he brought me to the children’s transport train, he took me to the Jewish Cemetery in Munich, to the graves of an uncle and an aunt from Regensburg. My uncle and aunt had thrown themselves into the Danube after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). As I was now about to go out alone into the world, my father wanted to impress on me that Jews have the obligation to honor their families and to visit their graves. Then we went to the train. I shall never forget those last minutes. Our family was religious. We held Kiddush each Sabbath on Friday evening – my father said a prayer and blessed the wine. Then our parents laid their hands on the heads of us children. My father did this to me on the platform and then said goodbye. Having to leave my parents’ home affected me very, very much. I knew, although I was still so young, that this might be my last farewell from my parents. I also realized what it meant to my father and mother to give their children away; to send me out into the world, not knowing where I would be living. We also knew that the war would come soon. That was all so hard for me and so infinitely sad.
I hardly remember anything about the journey. Of course we children were very upset, some were crying. Some sat in the corner and said nothing. Then slowly we began to talk to each other. What about? I don’t know. I do know that the train stopped once and an SA or SS man went through the compartments. Possibly he opened some of the suitcases. But I do remember when the train stopped for the first time in Holland. Dutch ladies came and gave us food and drink. That was good. But I remember even more that a large lady took me in her arms and hugged me to her bosom. Suddenly I felt free and in safety, like I hadn’t felt for months. I have never forgotten those Dutch ladies. They sensed what we children needed more than anything else at that moment. It was fantastic."
Liverpool Street Station: “I remember that we arrived in a large hall. There was a stage and a lot of chairs. Each child had a label pinned to his chest with a number on it. We children sat on the stage and the foster parents were down in the audience. Two names were always called out – first the name of the child and then the name of the foster parents. I sat up there, a 13 year old, looked down and hoped that my name would be called together with that of a beautiful lady and not with a lady who wasn’t so pretty. Suddenly they called my name and that of a Mrs. King. And so I met Mrs. King. Of course my sister was there too. I went with Mrs. King to her house in Leyton, a suburb of London. My sister was living nearby. We even went to the same Synagogue."
Frank King, a carpenter, and his wife Anne really loved children. They had a daughter and, in this time of need for so many Jews, they took three boys from the children’s transports. Sel Hubert remembers this Jewish family as being very caring. The Kings did everything they could for him and the two Austrian boys to take the place of their families. He himself was very happy that although he was only 13, he was allowed to recite prayers in the nearby Synagogue. But after six weeks he was uprooted again, as the Second World War loomed large. The fear of German air raids was immense and, like all children from Greater London, he was evacuated. Another pain of parting, coming on top of the unhealed wounds of the separation from his parents.
Dunmow in Essex was the next stop. Once again children on the stage and foster parents down in the audience of the school hall, almost the same as in Liverpool Street Station. This time he follows a Mrs. Stacey to her home. Mr. Stacey is also a carpenter and this family, although poor, had also taken in two Austrian boys. The Staceys, who were not of the Jewish faith, had no children of their own.
Selmar Hubert thinks that the foreign boys took the place of the couple’s own children. The Staceys also made great efforts to give him, the youngest, as well as the two Austrian boys a real home. But they didn’t know how to handle a thirteen year-old. Nevertheless Sel Hubert wrote “again I was very lucky. I only have good memories of England and the two families.” At one point it hadn’t looked so positive. On 3rd September 1939, in the school room, Selmar had listened to Prime Minister Chamberlain’s declaration of war on Germany. When he got home, Mrs. Stacey was standing at the door and announced “as my country is at war as of today with your country, I don’t want to hear one more word of German spoken in my house.” A shock for the boys – but also a piece of luck, as Sel now sees it. “In a few weeks I was able to speak very good English.” The evacuees went to school in Dunmow in the morning, while the village children worked on the farms. In the afternoons it was the other way round. “We didn’t learn anything.” Sel Hubert found it humiliating to have to write to the Relief Committee for every penny he needed. “Please send me five or ten shillings to get my shoes repaired.” He found it so hard, that he ran around with holes in his shoes rather than buy new shoes.
A year later Sel Hubert left school and worked in the office of a garage. Soon afterwards the Committee suggested he should become a rabbi. Although he was very religious, he refused. Instead, as of 1942, he trained as a car mechanic, a job he wasn’t really very interested in. Another farewell – for his apprenticeship he had to leave the Staceys. His next home was a hostel in Cambridge with a lot of other orphaned young people from the “Kindertransport” trains. Unexpectedly two years later relatives from New York got in contact “come here”. That was an easy decision for Sel Hubert. Like all the other boys and girls from the “Kindertransport”, he was stateless in England and it was a horrible experience not belonging to any country. He had actually volunteered for the English army, as soon as he was 18, in the hope of soon becoming a British citizen. But no one would guarantee that, here as at that time, whoever served in the US army almost automatically acquired US citizenship, explained Sel Hubert.
In February 1945 he boarded ship in a Welsh port. He doesn’t have good memories of the trip. His banana boat sailed as part of a convoy because of the German submarines and was tossed around the stormy North Atlantic for three weeks. He landed in Halifax, in Nova Scotia Canada, very relieved that the trip was over. He travelled to New York by train, lived for a short while with his uncle and aunt in Washington Heights, known at that time as “the fourth Reich” because of all the Jewish refugees from Germany. His uncle is a brother of his father. For a long time he hadn’t thought much about emigrating. “The persecution won’t last – Germans are a cultured people” had been his opinion. Only after the November pogrom of 1938 did he and his wife pack their bags and eventually managed to get to the United States via Cuba.
In July 1945 Selmar Hubert was conscripted into the US Air force. A week later the Second World War finished in the Far East too, “the Japanese had heard that he was on his way”, he liked to joke. After basic training he was posted to the department in Washington that flew Presidents and Ministers. A meeting with Robert Jackson dates from that time. The principal US prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal was on his way to Nürnberg. “I asked him if I could have a few minutes of his time. In a side room he listened to my story for half an hour. Before he left, he assured me that he wanted to judge the Nazi war criminals fairly, which he did.
Selmar Huber’s youth is overshadowed by the persecution in Germany, the parting from his parents, the uncertainty about their fate. He had only been able to go to school regularly up until he was twelve. Which makes it even more astounding; how far he got later in his profession. He went to university in America, qualified first as an engineer and subsequently was Manager with the world famous ITT group. He spent five years at their European headquarters in Brussels as head of the payroll department. And although in the meantime 70 years old, he still does consulting for a well known American company. Selmar Hubert wasn’t given anything on a plate. His career is the result of hard work. For years he worked during the day as an engineer and then studied in the evening. Thanks to the intervention of the Red Cross he was able to correspond with his parents for some years, then in 1942 he got news from Moritz Einstein in Kriegshaber that his parents had “gone away” and he should send his letters to him. It was only in November 1946 that he learned that his parents’ “trip” had taken them to Piaski in Poland and that they would never return. But this information from the Red Cross was no more than a confirmation of what he had already learned about the fate of European Jews; he had given up hope a long time ago that he would ever see them again.
But is it really so? When he visited the former Concentration Camp in Dachau, when he was in Jerusalem or when he watched film of the camps – he was always looking for his parents’ faces, Selmar said. “I’m still looking, although they would now be over 100 years old; and I keep on thinking “what would I do if I suddenly found them? What would my parents say, if they found me?”
There was one moment when Selmar Hubert believed that the miracle which he so longed for, deep down, was coming true. On a trip to Israel, for one heartbeat, it seemed so. Selmar Hubert read on a computer screen that Leo and Hedwig Hubert were in Jerusalem …”I was trembling when I saw that. But it was a computer error. It only confirmed that his parents had been taken to Piaski. I can’t describe how I felt in those seconds. Not only that I believed for just a moment that they were alive – no, I thought: what shall I say to them?” On the computer he found the names and addresses of 25 men and women who had been in Piaski. He rang as many as he could and asked about his parents – it was terrible. Nobody knew anything.
Sel Hubert has often felt how difficult it is to bear the burden of memory. It wasn’t only because on the day war was declared Mrs. Stacey refused to hear any more German spoken in her four walls that he learned English in a few weeks.
He had at the same time tried to suppress his own mother tongue. “I only spoke English and kept in my mind every word, every melody in Hebrew, but I lost the German language. I wanted to separate myself, through the language, from everything that had ruined my life”. It was only when his job brought him to Brussels and he had to travel to Germany for the ITT Group that he regained fluency in his mother tongue.
Or the first visit to Germany in 1962. Sel Hubert spent two days in Berlin and wanted to nail down everyone he met “Were you a Nazi, what did you know?” And then after a visit to the former concentration camp in Dachau he couldn’t stand it in Germany any longer. “I had to get out”. Like many survivors of the Holocaust, Sel Hubert tortured himself with the question how God could have allowed Auschwitz to happen and why he wasn’t one of the six million victims, but had survived? In spite of his questions and doubts, he has felt himself to be very close to God in many moments of his life. He is now sure that there was a purpose in his having been saved. “The purpose is for me to do something positive with my life”. And he is trying. For 25 years he couldn’t speak about his past, neither with his family nor with his sister Emmy, who had also been saved through the ‘Kindertransport’. Now he talks – mainly to young people in America, so that the past cannot repeat itself in the future. Nothing is more important in his life than the family – and this stems from his history and his confrontation with the sense of the suffering of the Jewish people. His wife Hilda, née Simon, is Germany from Kaiserslautern. With her parents she had fled the Nazis, first to France and then in 1940 she arrived in the United States from Marseille. They married in 1963. “We have learned that one can lose wealth and other treasures. But the family cannot be taken away. What I am now is the result of what came from my parents and what they taught me. One day I shall pass this on through my children Steve and Linda: whether they have become good people, whether they are good Jews, whether they treat other people well, how they bring up their children.”
Selmar Hubert sees himself as a link of a chain. His grandfather and father were leaders of the small Cronheim Jewish congregation, he himself is head of the larger congregation which he and his wife belong to on the outskirts of New York. Although in 1939 13 year old Selmar could only take a small suitcase with him on his big journey to an unknown world, he packed a prayer book and a prayer shawl – “that was important to me”. Both went with him from England to the USA. When his son Steven and daughter in law Randy married, they asked their father to lay this shawl over them. They wanted to honor their ancestors, grandparents and parents and emphasize their attachment to them.
Sel Hubert’s story would not be complete without mentioning again his English foster parents Stacey and King. He never lost contact to them. Letters went back and forth, he visited the Staceys and the Kings several times. Mr. Stacey died young. Selmar Hubert visited Mrs. Stacey in hospital shortly before she died. They are still in touch with their nephews. Although Selmar Hubert was only a foster child of the Kings in Layton for one and a half months, they must have felt very close to him. The Kings and the Huberts have visited each other in England, Belgium, America. Their daughter Ruth with husband and children has visited the Huberts. When Mrs. King was very ill at the end of her life, her former foster son flew over to England. The old lady with a good heart had had the following inscription put on her gravestone “here lies Anne King – mourned by her daughter and her son”. Selmar Hubert: “she never had a son, she’s referring to me. It really was a link between parents and child”.
© “My children live in foreign lands“ by Gernot Roemer