I was in the middle of Kristallnacht, and I knew exactly what was going on

-Ellen Rawson

Ellen was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia (a former kingdom of Germany) in January 1922. She was the eldest of three children, with her brother Gert being born less than a year apart from her. She also had another brother, Heinz, who was 7 years younger. Both of her brothers ended up going to boarding school.

Ellen’s family led a comfortable life. Her mother was very friendly and would often go out of her way to help people. Her father was very loving but was away a lot for work. She had a large extended family, and has many fond memories of attending family gatherings, such as her brother’s bar mitzvah. Whilst they were not Orthodox Jews, religion played an important role in Ellen’s family.

Ellen had many friends growing up, both Jewish and Catholic. Her best friend was a Catholic girl whom she saw every day. However, by the 1930s they had to keep their friendship secret, as Ellen’s friend’s father was a tax collector, and her brother was in the SS.

Once Hitler came to power life became gradually more difficult for Ellen and her family. The changes were subtle at first. Ellen recalled when her high school class were asked to do a performance to be broadcast on the radio. Ellen was given a part, which she studied, only to be told that was not allowed to participate due to being Jewish.

Ellen was in Mannheim during Kristallnacht and remembered seeing crowds of people in the street, destroying Jewish properties wherever they saw them. Ellen’s mother had predicted that something like this might occur, and in the event of this happening she had instructed Ellen to go to her cousin in Heidelberg, who was married to an American. Ellen stayed with her mother’s cousin for two or three weeks, and whilst she was safe during this time, she was not allowed to leave the flat due to the danger posed to Jews outside.

Ellen’s mother decided that Germany was not safe for Ellen and wrote to several different places in order to find a safe place for her children to go. She received a reply from the Ladies’ Committee of the synagogue at Seymour Place, London. In 1939 Ellen set off for Berlin with her father to board transport to take her to England. She was 17 at the time, the maximum age for passengers on the Kindertransport scheme.

There was a reported case of scarlet fever on Ellen’s train, which led to Ellen and a few other children not being picked up from the train station. They were instead sent to Islington hospital, where they stayed for just over a week. Eventually the woman from the Committee came to collect Ellen, and immediately put her to work doing household chores. Ellen was unhappy during this time, as she could not receive proper payment for her work as she did not have a work permit, and she did not know any English.

Ellen moved from family to family, only staying for around 2 weeks at each, doing household chores. Once war broke out between Britain and Germany, she was evacuated. She managed to find a job as a machinist at a Jewish firm, which was her first proper job. One of Ellen’s brothers, Gert, also made it to England, and worked on farms. Unfortunately, Gert was the only member of Ellen’s family that she ever saw again. Her parents were murdered in Riga, Latvia and Heinz died shortly after the war ended.

Later in life Ellen became a close friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum and gave her testimony as long as she was able. Her testimony and the objects, documents and photographs she has donated provide a crucial role in Holocaust education.  

The Collection

The museum houses documents, objects, and photographs donated by Ellen Rawson. It is our privilege to care for these artefacts and ensure they are available for future generations. The museum's collection provides vital, tangible, evidence of the Holocaust. We are committed to ensuring we have everything we need to continue to tell our speaker's stories into the future. Please find a selection of objects below from the Ellen Rawson Collection, you can also search our collections for further objects and information.