Ellen Fletcher was president of the Mac User Group when I was the Newsletter editor several years ago, and we had printed her story in our publication for our members. Ellen was also present at the Celebration of Life we held for Amalie, and I talked with her just the other day.
The following is a slightly condensed version from Saturday's San Jose Mercury News.
A Holocaust kid shares story of escape with students
By Joe Rodriguez
It takes more than sporadic showers to stop Ellen Fletcher from riding her bike around Palo Alto. So when a Jewish school in town asked her to speak about her escape from Nazi Germany as a kid, she showed up on a rainy Friday ready to go.
"It's not every day a Holocaust victim comes and speaks to us," said Rabbi Noam Silverman, head of Jewish studies at the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, as he introduced the slender 82-year-old. "And it's not every day a Holocaust victim comes to us on a bike, especially in the rain."
With that, more than 100 middle-school students grinned and welcomed the former "kindertransport kid," one of 10,000 Jewish children rescued from Nazi Germany just before World War II broke out.
She told her story, pulling her young listeners with her out of bed on Kristallnacht, the night Nazi mobs rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods. She was living in a Jewish group home at the time. "One night, the house mother told us kids to get dressed and ready," she said. "We heard glass breaking and someone said a synagogue was on fire. We were not allowed to go to the window. We had to sit quietly on our beds."
The house mother dragged them with her to the police station where she was summoned to be deported to Poland, and the day the English came to the rescue. She had the kids anticipate a grand farewell and 10th birthday party Fletcher's mother had planned for Dec. 14, 1938, days before Fletcher would board a "kindertransport" train to Holland and then a ferry to England. The party never happened, Fletcher said, because the Nazis banned Jews from the streets the same day. "That meant all my friends couldn't come," she said. She described the mass goodbyes between parents and children at the Berlin train depot. As the oldest child in her car, she consoled the youngest by playing Jewish folk songs for them on her portable record player.
Here she stopped for some historical, little-known background: It was the Quakers who finally persuaded the British government to accept Jewish children. England offered safety, but the Jewish children still were classified as "enemy aliens" and not refugees. At school and play, English children teased Fletcher because she was German. To them, I was a Nazi!" she said. "They called me Nazi!"
Eventually, she adjusted, quickly learned English and lost her German and Hebrew. But there was another price paid. "I lost all feeling for my parents." She joined them anyway in New York in 1946, attended high school and college, moved to California, raised a family and served on the Palo Alto City Council.
She never spoke with her mother and stepfather about their experience during the war while she was in England. In those days, all we wanted was to forget the whole thing," she said. "I regret to this day I didn't ask my mother those questions."
Fletcher ended by describing a trip to Europe in 1989 with her daughter, who felt deep sadness for not having any personal connections there, because everyone in the family had fled or died in the Holocaust. At that, Fletcher allowed herself to finally cry in front of the students.
"Sorry, I get emotional."
The kids applauded loudly.
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