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A tribute to Kindertransporte Ann Kirk
Last uploaded : Monday 20th Aug 2018 at 14:20
Contributed by : Rabbi Alexandra Wright


Introduction to the Torah reading: Deuteronomy 20:1-14 - Rabbi Alexandra Wright
Shof’tim, the parashah which we are reading this morning includes the rules for war. If war is sometimes a necessary evil, if nations are pushed to the limit that they have no option other than to go to war to defend themselves, then a manual for soldiers and their generals is surely mandatory. Actually, this is no drum-banging exhortation to beat the life out of one’s enemies. On the contrary, this is an appeal to young men on the brink of life who are instructed to return to their homes, lest they die in battle.
It feels particularly poignant to be reading these verses this morning. This month marks the beginning of the Allies’ final offensive against the German Army in August 1918 that ultimately led to the end of the First World War with the Battle of Amiens. 19,000 British, Australian and Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded with 26,000 German losses, but of course, the overall losses were far more numerous. Over the past four years, as we have marked particularly sombre anniversaries, much has been written about the catastrophe of the First World War, a whole generation of young men who lost their lives or whose lives were never to be the same again – the waste of human life that warfare brought in those years. But a recent article, I think by the historian Richard Evans, urged us to think about the ‘war to end all wars’, not from our own 21st century perspective, but from the point of view of a generation that were much more ‘gung-ho’ about going to war in defence of the values they cherished.
Deuteronomy is charged with the expectation of Israel’s conquest of the land that is about to take place and yet, in the light of this, we must read our verses this morning as a profound, ethical recognition that life is precious and must at all times come first even in times of extreme national danger.
Introduction to the Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12
This week’s Haftarah, once again, is a message of comfort: ‘I, I am the One who comforts you…’ Comfort comes after pain and anguish – here it is the disaster of Israel’s loss of land and Temple, not only a physical loss, but the loss of identity. Who is this tribe, rooted in Zion, but cut off from that land, without a centre of worship? In the first part of the Haftarah, God, through the mouth of the prophet, reminds Israel that their identity must be grounded in faith, a universal faith in a God who ‘stirs up the seas’, ‘who stretched out the skies and made firm the earth.’ We are reminded of our place in the universe, no more, no less than any other people. And yet, as the second half of this reading goes on to imply, we have a particular relationship with God through our own singular history of slavery, exile and freedom and through an enduring hope for the future.

An interview with Ann Kirk on her 90th Birthday
Shabbat Shof’tim 5778

A few weeks ago, I visited Ann and Bob Kirk in their flat in Northwood in order to talk about this service. It isn’t an understatement to say that Ann and Bob are two of the most remarkable members of this congregation. I don’t think it’s their combined age – they think nothing of driving from Northwood to the LJS not only once in their day, but sometimes twice as they did on a Saturday in July for the service in the morning and the Tisha B’Av service the same evening. And I don’t know if it is their extraordinary experiences – albeit different - of arriving here as child refugees on the Kindertransport almost eighty years ago, carving out professional lives, meeting each other, marrying, building a warm and loving family – children, grandchildren and now two great-grandchildren – or whether it is their determination, their involvement in all things that matter, their memories, their gratitude, their passion for passing on their experiences to new generations, their optimism, their love, or all of these things.

I probably could have spent all day listening to Ann, whose story I wanted to focus on particularly, not to the exclusion of Bob, but because today, after all, is a celebration of your special birthday Ann. I learnt about Ann’s parents, Franz and Herta Kuhn; how Franz’s father and grandfather were both doctors in Breslau and how Franz himself would have liked to have become a doctor, but instead, much to his disappointment, was ‘put in a bank’ by his father. Franz had met his wife at a business school in Berlin and it was here that Ann was born, moving to Königsberg, when she was six months old. Both her parents, whom Ann describes as a ‘modern, cultured couple,’ worked – Ann’s father had been something of a musical prodigy, playing the cello and piano and it was probably fairly unusual for women, especially mothers to work at that time.

When the family moved to Cologne, Ann – or Hannah as she was known – attended a kindergarten and then a Jewish primary school. Ann’s spiritual roots in the progressive Jewish movement go back a long way - she still has her old Tanakh with ink stains from school and particularly precious is her grandmother, Marta’s Siddur, one of the early German Reform prayer books.
The Nuremberg Laws, unanimously passed in the Reichstag on 15 September, 1935, were the first steps designed to strip Jews of German citizenship, prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and German citizens and forbidding employment of German women under the age of 45 in Jewish households. This had a direct impact on the Kuhn household as Agnes, who cared for Ann had to leave them. Franz and Herta subsequently lost their jobs and moved to Cottbus, some 80 miles south-east of Berlin to find work.

Was eight year old Ann aware of the difficulties the family was facing? Yes, said, Ann, very aware because of the horrible cartoons, because of the areas of the cities that were designated Judenfrei – Jews were not allowed to go into swimming pools, although Ann did once go swimming in a pool forbidden to Jews – and because, she added, of the dreadful voice of Hitler on the wireless.

In September 1938, almost eighty years ago, Ann, just ten, returned to the city of her birth, Berlin and attended a private secondary school, Holdheim Schule, named after the radical German Reform Rabbi, Samuel Holdheim, whose views came to represent classical Reform Judaism.

Many of us have heard Ann and Bob speaking about Kristallnacht 1938. Ann, who had bright red hair, was sent into sandwich bars by her parents to buy food, because she didn’t look particularly Jewish. In the aftermath of November 9th and 10th, the family stayed in a flat, above a police station, forced to remain silent and tiptoeing about for fear of being discovered.

It wasn’t long after Kristallnacht, that Ann’s parents told her that she would be going to England to stay with two maiden sisters, Sophie and Millie Levy. They were members of the LJS and had been in the congregation here at the LJS when Rabbi Dr Mattuck, the first Rabbi of this congregation had given a sermon urging members to take in children who were being sent to England on the Kindertransport. Sophie and Millie lived in Apsely House just round the corner from here and were obviously moved to respond.

Ann describes her ‘Kindertransport experience’ as unique. ‘I had advantages,’ she says. The aunties, as she came to call Sophie and Millie, were quite unlike her own very modern mother who wore a velvet trouser suit. Ann told me they were very Edwardian and very strict; they valued education and recognised that Ann was advanced academically. Although Sophie and Millie were emotionally somewhat distant, they evoked huge respect, and insisted on formally interviewing Bob after his engagement to Ann. But this respect turned into immense loyalty and love, so that when Ann received an invitation to go and live with her father’s sister in the United States, she turned it down. ‘I wanted to look after the aunties in their old age,’ she said.

I know that you, Ann and Bob both continue to speak about your Kindertransport experiences travelling to schools in and outside London, and even to a US Army camp in Germany, to talk about your childhood, growing up in the shadow of Nazi Germany, leaving your parents to come in London, entering a rather hostile school environment, learning the language and going through your teens not knowing if your parents were still alive. This year will be the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9th and we plan to commemorate the occasion at our Shabbat morning service on 10th November. It is, of course, also the eightieth anniversary since the arrival of the first Kindertransport at Liverpool Street Station and our synagogue will be the starting point for a walk to the Station for a commemorative event organised by World Jewish Relief. I hope our congregation and many others will join us to walk 10,000 steps for each of the 10,000 children who arrived in the months before the outbreak of the Second World War. And if not walk, then take a coach that we will lay on to arrive in time to light the first candle for Chanukkah on December 2nd.

I asked Ann what is her special birthday message for today and she said simply: ‘Mainly how much the synagogue has been my home. It’s not a question of getting something out of it; you’ve got to put something in. I want to express my thanks to the synagogue. There were such happy years, working with [Rabbis] John [Rayner] and Chaim Stern on the Siddur and with Rabbis Andrew Goldstein and Charles Middleburgh on the Machzor. I am so grateful to this country, to the Kindertransport.’ And she added, ‘Had I not been rescued, I wouldn’t be here. There is, of course, the sadness of my parents and Bob’s parents, but when I look at little Joseph [Ann and Bob’s great-grandson], there is a funny feeling.’ Today, just two weeks after her birth, I imagine that that ‘funny feeling’ is now doubled with the arrival of your new great-granddaughter, Sophie, born to Devora and Simon.

Dear Ann and Bob: I hope this doesn’t sound too much like an obituary. It isn’t supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a celebration of both of you, of your special birthday Ann and of your extraordinary lives, so embedded here in the LJS. I wanted to celebrate the significant relationships in your life: your parents who, perhaps unwittingly at the time, chose life in deeply frightening and uncertain times; the Aunties, Sophie and Millie Levy, who must have responded to that sermon almost immediately and whose lives for all their Edwardian formality, took to heart a teaching from the Torah that remains as crucial today as it was in 1938 and 1939: ‘For the Eternal One your God… upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

And I wanted especially to celebrate your warm, generous-hearted and loving family, your children David and Andy, dear Jennie and your wonderful grandchildren, Devora, Ben and Josh, your grandson-in-law, Simon, and not least, Joseph and now, the most recent addition to your family, little Sophie. Is it the miracle of these new, extraordinary lives, a new generation defying the worst horrors of the twentieth century that gives you that ‘funny feeling’ you described to me a few weeks ago?

And was that the feeling that Deutero-Isaiah experienced after the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem, the exile of her inhabitants, when he exclaimed: Mah-navu al-he-harim ragley me’vaseir, mashmi’a shalom me’vaseir tov, mashmi’a yeshuah… ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the herald who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace, the messenger of good tidings who proclaims deliverance…’ Ki-nicham Adonai ammo, ga-al Yerushalayim – ‘for the Eternal One has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 52:7 & 9) – this profoundly realised hope that in spite of the tragic circumstances of the past, in spite of unimaginable loss and desolation, new generations bring a sense of wonder, consolation and the knowledge that there is goodness in the world.
Thank you for all that you continue to bring to the LJS – you carry so much of the history of this community, the memories of our Rabbis and congregants; you care deeply for every single aspect of this community: its worship, its classes and community care, its fabric and each and every congregant and visitor with whom you come in touch – young and old. You bring clarity and integrity, memory and vision and for all those things and so much more, we are full of gratitude. May you continue to derive comfort, strength, and happiness from all that you undertake and just as you, Ann and Bob, are a blessing to all of us, so may you find blessings in your family, in this community and beyond its walls in all that you do. Vi-hi no’am Adonai Eloheynu aleynu, u’ma’aseh yadeynu kon’neinu, u’ma’aseh yadeynu kon’nehu - May the favour of the Eternal One, our God, be upon you and may the work of your hands be established for all time. Amen.
Mi-she-berach avoteynu Avraham, Yitzchak, v’Ya’akov, v’immoteynu Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel v’Leah, hu yevarech et Chanah bat Ari v’Zipporah v’Shmuel ben Yosef v’Hadassah ba’avur she-alu lichvod ha-Shabbat v’lichvod ha-Torah. Ha-kadosh baruch hu yevarech otam, v’yishlach otam b’riah, achavah v’ahavah, b’rachah v’shalom…

May the One who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, bless you Ann on your special birthday and bless you Bob for just being Bob! We thank You for the precious gift of years, companionship, trust and love. Eternal God, continue to show Your kindness to them, protect them from frailty and danger, sustain them in their trials and strengthen their spirit at all times. We thank You for the blessing of family, friends and community, for their example of faith, courage and hope, for their commitment to the future of Judaism and all they have done to make the world aware of the past and to bring about change in the future. We pray that Your blessing will rest on them and Your goodness abide in them for evermore. Keyn yehi ratzon – May this be Your will and let us say: Amen.


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