Survivor's story: 'People say I was lucky to escape. What do they know?


Vienna-born Margit Cohen, 90, has not previously spoken to anyone beyond her family about her experiences as an only child who left her parents to board a Kindertransport to England in December 1938. Her father and most of his seven siblings were murdered in Nazi camps — Mrs Cohen never discovered her mother’s fate. Arriving here at 16, she lived among Jewish communities in London, Wales and Manchester, learning the skills to produce leather goods and ladies’ handbags during the war. Her talents gained her an apprenticeship at a London boutique run by Lady Alison De la Bere. Her husband died eight years into the marriage, leaving her to raise two young sons. Now a great-grandmother, she lives in the Heathlands care village in Manchester

“I have a yahrzeit [memorial] candle lit all the time for my mother and father — that’s all I have to remember them,” Mrs Cohen says. “I have one picture of each of them I brought with me to England. My mother’s family went to Terezin, one person stayed in Vienna and was never heard of again. I had an aunt with two little girls — they also got killed. The confirmation of my father’s death only came a couple of months ago from the Red Cross. He got killed in Auschwitz. My mother just disappeared, I haven’t got a clue what happened to her.”

She feels that the story of the Kindertransport children has not been properly told. “People say I was lucky to escape, but what do they know about it? I earned my escape by working and I lost everything I had.” At 17, she lived with a Jewish spinster she fondly called Aunt May.

“Aunt May said I was talented. She got me the job with in Wigmore Street with Lady Alison. It was a very expensive shmutter shop.

“I have a strong sense of gratitude to this country. I thought England was heaven [at first]. But I also learned that if you work you eat — and if you don’t work you don’t eat.”

Mrs Cohen is still trying to find out what happened to her mother. She plans to put the findings into a personal archive about her family which will be given to her children.

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