|Refugee Children in Britain
Testimony of Hanna Bergas
Source : Yad Vashem Archive O33/188 [Hanna Bergas was a teacher in Germany. After being dismissed in 1933, she emigrated to Britain, where she continued to work in a Jewish school for refugee children. The testimony was originally written in English.]
December - January 1938-39 At Dovercourt Reception Camp .
Bunce Court - among other organisations caring for children - was asked whether some of our staff could help in the large reception camps Four of us, two men and two women left for Dovercourt Camp near Harwich harbour The place had been planned for summer camping for large groups of school-age children. It could house about 1,000 children and had spacious grounds with some play equipment The Bunce Court contingent included three teachers whose task was to help the children settle in the strange surroundings and to learn as much English as possible in a short time. Our fourth person was to organise the huge kitchen We had scarcely got the dormitories and the big hall ready for occupancy when the first transport arrived. Hundreds of children streamed into the camp, children who were strangers to each other, to the adults who had accompanied them, strangers to those who received them in strange surroundings. They had experienced various degrees of bad treatment, even brutality in the schools of their country; they were, accordingly, full of anxieties and fears, some of them even of distrust and suspicion. The main thing was to instil in them calm and confidence that people here would be kind to them They were extremely restless until their little possessions were under their care The day after a group's arrival, lessons started . Teaching equipment was at a minimum Daily transports landed from now on. The children were, like those in the first group, confused, some intimidated, some even defiant out of ignorance of what was happening to them . We tried to occupy the children as satisfactorily and fully as possible. Besides teaching them, we organised and played games with them and gave them a few simple duties. Again and again everybody was given the opportunity to speak with an adult about themselves and their families, and we explained to them that plans were in progress to find a suitable place for each of them in the new country In order to clear the camps as fast as possible and to integrate the children into normal ways of life, the committees in charge had arranged that people who were interested in taking a child into their home should come down from London or other places on weekend days and choose a child whom they thought would fit into their surroundings. Hard to decide after such a brief acquaintance as a visit like this could offer. Many a pretty little girl and her belongings were packed into the car of the family who were to become her foster parents, while less attractive looking children stayed behind in prolonged uncertainty as to what was to become of them. Nor did all of these matches turn out to be successful, as supervisors of the cases were gradually to find out. Ultimately the committees succeeded in placing all the children in private homes, in boarding schools or in other children's homes
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