There is no question that this book deserves a 5-star rating. Not only is it a new, unique and thorough piece of research but, far from being an academic reference book, it spins out an amazing story from a real human viewpoint. From the first sentence I felt compelled to read on in order to find out what happened to Fritz, but instead found myself taken on a fascinating journey which turned out to be the story not just of this Fritz but of all the 'Fritz's' who ended up in Sandwich. We are shown every aspect of life on both sides of the camp fence from the surviving documents and from first-hand accounts from different individuals, families, communities and organisations in Sandwich, Kent, London, Great Britain and Europe. 'Four Thousand Lives' reaches out to everyone.
This fascinating and inspiring story has a cast of thousands, from Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Jewish refugees themselves, the population of Sandwich, the British Union of Fascists, and even Adolf Eichmann. From it you really feel what Britain was like just before the Second World War, and especially what the moral standards of its politics were. It was an excellent idea of Clare Ungerson's to begin with actual refugees' accounts of Kristallnacht and internment afterwards in German camps like Dachau, because this sets the right chillingly realistic focus and it was these events that actually woke up British political figures to what was happening in Germany. Even so it comes as a shock to discover that the British Government never contributed a penny to the establishment and running of the Kitchener Camp (it only produced the visas), all the funds were raised by Jewish organisations, and no-one thought there was anything unusual about that. Moreover, it is terrible to read that the government never took the initiative to enable the wives and children of the refugees to join them before the Holocaust engulfed them. Almost every page of this book raises ethical issues or describes impossible decisions that had to be taken immediately, and you just want to turn the page to discover what happened next. It is hardly surprising that there was suicide, mental illness, and deep unhappiness some of the time in the Kitchener refugee camp at Sandwich, but these are offset by the book's extraordinary heroes: the May brothers who ran the camp, the supremely life-affirming and energetic Norman Bentwich, Sir Robert Waley Cohen, and others, who set it up, and indeed the people of Sandwich who took the Jewish refugees to their hearts rather than listening to the posh local Black Shirts who had other ideas. Although impeccably researched, this is not an 'academic' study, it is a gripping, fast-moving, deeply human narrative; so absorbing, in fact, that I have read it twice. It prompts you constantly to engage your own moral sense, and it leaves you wondering whether something as remarkable as this rescue could be achieved in Britain today. But it also leaves you hoping the answer is 'yes'.
This is a marvellous book, full of interesting and informative detail about an almost unknown subject. The story of the Kitchener camp with its German and Austrian Jewish refugees makes for fascinating and moving reading. Clare Ungerson has written in a really accessible and "chatty" style, telling the story of the men themselves as well as the setting up and running of the camp. Who would have thought that this camp existed right on the doorstep of a small English town. I was riveted and really touched by the stories and the little details that are contained in this piece of research. It's my book "find" of the year so far and I recommend it to anyone interested in local history and especially a local history of Jewish survival in a time of unimaginable horror.
As the child of a parent who spent time in Kitchener Camp, I was impressed with the depth and incisive account of the creation, running and eventual closure of the camp. Clare's observations really enhance the bare facts and she is to be applauded for the way she weaves the research into a human story of survival. Anyone doing family history research on German/Jewish refugees who came to England in 1939 will find it illuminating. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know why asylum is such an important human gift.
I enjoyed this book enormously. The author has managed to tell the detailed story of the rescue of these German Jewish men in a lively and entertaining way, yet without losing any of the well researched in-depth historical detail. The people involved in the rescue and those rescued leap out the pages. I found it fascinating, and very moving. It was a joy to read - I became totally immersed and read most of it in one sitting as I couldn't put it down.
I bought this book as I only live down the road from where the events in this book took place, so has local historical interest for me, it's a bit ploddy at times, but a real piece of history, the subject matter may not appeal to everyone So I can only give it four stars for the content
This is an outstanding study of a fascinating episode, which brings new evidence to bear on the otherwise familiar story of emigration to Britain from Nazi Germany in the 1930. The story that Clare Ungerson tells is of a specific group of refugees and their experiences in a camp near Richborough, in Kent - Kitchener Camp. She draws on previously unpublished material, including the diary of the camp manager and the papers of Norman Bentwich, the driving force behind the scheme, to piece together a story which provides new insights on the role of Anglo-Jewry during this period. She also brings to life the experiences of the refugees themselves, both in the camp and subsequently. Beautifully written and organised, it should become a standard source for any future discussion of the "Hitler exiles" to Britain in the 1930s..
This is very far from a dry historical account of the events surrounding the Kitchener Camp. The writer manages to get inside the skin of the (mainly) men in the story and bring out their characters and idiosyncrasies, partly by using quotes from a multitude of different contemporaneous documents. An enormous amount of research must have gone into this detailed and compelling story: very well done. As the daughter of a child who escaped Germany on the Kindertransport, I found the account of the 582 children left behind by the Kitchener men particularly moving.
Well done, Clare. What was fascinating was the strange contradiction between compassion for the refugees and bizarrely inhuman - to modern readers - and authoritarian behaviour by those in charge. Your respect and affection for those you had interviewed was well expressed in your conclusion and serves as a better memorial to the Jews who passed through the Kitchener camp than that unveiled by Layton.
This is a fascinating book, carefully researched and written in a very readable engaging style. I would highly recommend it, especially to anyone with an interest in the second world war, the recent history of the the jewish community in Britain or local history.