Monday, November 4, 2013

The Tiger in the Attic: Memories of the Kindertransport and Growing Up English by Edith Milton 2005

"In a series of vignettes, [Edith Milton] describes adolescent challenges both universal and unique to her displacement ..." from a review by Alana Newhouse in the New York Times 10-16-2005

Edith Kohn Milton, who was the daughter of a young German Jewish widow, was sent in 1939 at the age of 7 with her older sister on the Kindertransport to England. There they lived with an English Protestant family for the duration of the war. This memoir recounts those years: what it was like for seven-year-old Edith to separate from her mother and be brought up by a loving couple who became surrogate parents. And what it was like to grow up in England during World War II. The author writes about how memories of being brought up by her mother faded and how, despite feeling foreign and like an outsider, she absorbed the English way of life.

She and her sister spent seven years in England, finally reuniting with their mother who had made it to America and wrote to them regularly. The author's powers of observation are keen in her descriptions of growing up in England, a country suffering during the war. She vividly describes scenes in America as well: visits to Vineland, New Jersey where relatives had started a chicken farm, and her growing up in Great Neck, New York in a neighborhood of other German Jewish refugees. In America she also felt like an outsider, but she managed to find a place in a country of immigrants.

Milton’s discussion of her reuniting with her mother is interesting even though predictable. They are strangers to each other and had to feel their way toward a genuine mother/daughter relationship. Milton reports that it took many years. She realizes that during the years she was growing up in England, her mother had her own difficulties. The author had, in fact, created an entire fantasy about what her mother looked like and what her life in the United States was like. When she and her sister arrive in New York she was surprised to find her mother living in reduced circumstances.

This memoir does not deal with the history or the logistics of the Kindertransport. Nor does it deal in any depth with life in pre-war Germany or the Holocaust, although she does report her reactions to a trip she took back to her hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany many years after the war. She discusses her Jewish identity and how that did and did not shape her life, but this is not a large theme in her memoir. Its primary focus, as stated above, is what it was like to be plucked out of the  German Jewish culture she was nourished on for the first seven years of her life and then to be planted in an English one for the next seven, only to be displaced again and have to adjust to America and its culture.

To see a press release and film clips about a film called Nicky's Children which is about Nicholas Winton, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who was behind the rescue of so many children who took part in the Kindertransport, click here.

To read about the Kindertransport Association, click here.

Family on her mother’s side
Wilhelm Heidingsfeld – married Henrietta Willstatter (related to Richard Willstatter and Kurt Weill)
     Liesel Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married to Julius
         Clare – daughter of Leisel and Julius
         Kurt - son of Leisel and Julius
     Helene Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married Bruno Cohn
         Ruth Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Harry
                Dickie- son of Ruth and Harry
                      Max – son of Dickie
         Edith Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Peter Milton; author

Fred Reichenberger – distant cousin of mother – married to Andree
     Dorothy and Bernice Reichenberger – daughters of Fred and Andree

Friends and Acquaintances
Helen Westheimer
Ludi Kohn
Joe and Ellen Steinhardt
      Roger and Carol Ann – children of Joe and Ellen

Karlsruhe, Germany
Swansea, Wales
Leeds, England
Kracow, Poland
Great Neck, NY
Nirvana Avenue, Great Neck, NY
Vineland, New Jersey

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