Kindertransport survivor tells Prince Charles extraordinary story of translating Hitler's will

Herman Rothman was among 70 survivors who met the prince to commemorate the initiative that saved their lives


It was 5am on a day in mid-1945 when Herman Rothman was woken by the phone ringing.

“I was told to come to the office immediately — they couldn’t tell me on the telephone what it was all about.”

Six years before, as a 15-year-old, he had been among the Jewish children rescued from Europe via the Kindertransport. With good German and English, he had later joined the British Army’s 3rd Counter-Intelligence section.

He had no idea what he was about to see. “In the office I found a document, which was Hitler’s will. And I opened it up and gave the gist of it in English.”

British soldiers had arrested Heinz Lorenz, the former press secretary to Joseph Goebbels, who was travelling in Berlin under an alias as a journalist.

They noticed that the shoulder pad of his jacket was unusually thick. When the jacket was cut open, they found the document inside.

The young Jewish man would help translate both Hitler’s personal and political wills, “as well as Goebbel’s addition to Hitler’s will”.

Mr Rothman was one of around 70 Kindertransport survivors who attended a special reception at St James’s Palace on Tuesday, to mark the 80th anniversary of the initiative that saved hundreds of young Jewish children from the Holocaust.

He got the chance to tell the story to Prince Charles, who hosted the reception. After listening with keen interest, the Prince said: “I didn’t think he [Hitler] had anyone to leave anything to.”

The Prince moved around every table in the room to greet all the former Kindertransport children, now in their 80s and 90s.

Eva Glickman, one of the survivors, described herself as “so impressed" with the prince's keen interest in the group.

She described her first encounter with English food aftersailing to Britain aged 15.

“I had a little bit of English. When the menu came around... [I asked] What is ‘cornflakes’? I had learnt about corned beef in school, and so I said ‘it must be a kind of sausage’.

"When it came in a bowl I realised it was not a sausage. I gave them false information, thinking I could speak English, but I had only had a year of English in school.”

Dr Elizabeth Rosenthal described how, from Kristallnacht in November 1938 until February 1939, when she left on the Kindertransport, she had been hidden in the basement of a house Berlin by a German family.

“My mother was also saved by Germans,” she said. “One of them was later killed by the Nazis for his part in the [Von Stauffenberg] plot to kill Hitler.

“His daughter landed up in a mental hospital — she lost her mind, because her father was murdered. My mother and I went to visit her every year, as long as my mother could travel.

“There were some very good people, who saved lives.”

The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was also present, described himself as “exceptionally moved".

“The Prince of Wales has on many occasions reached out to Holocaust survivors. He has genuine empathy and deep concern; he’s showing that right now through the time he is spending in engaging in conversation with them. It’s hugely appreciated,” he said.

Left unspoken was the thought that, for at least some of the “kinder”, this might be the last major anniversary of the transport that they are able to commemorate. 

Some of those present had fascinating personal stories to tell. For most, the fact that they were rescued and given the chance to live full lives is story enough.

“You don’t really want to know about me,” Edith Jakobovits said when approached by the JC. “I know some of the people here are much better than I ever was.”

But she then talked about her life — “I was a nurse”. Her younger brother came with her on the Kindertransport: “I made sure he got a very good education. He was a professor at the University in Liverpool.”

She married her late husband, named Brown — “a good English man”; and her son, a musician; and grandson — “around your age, he has a beautiful voice”.

Michael Newman, chief executive of The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), called the palace event "a wonderful way" to commemorate the Kindertransport anniversary.

“Members were thrilled to be invited to St James’s Palace for a reception hosted by the heir to the throne of the country that gave them refugee 80 years ago, thus saving their lives,” he said.

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