Summary - This exhibition focuses on how objects can tell a story

Authors: Aneesa Riffat, Curator and Amy Williams, PhD candidate and guest contributor 

The Kinder brought both sentimental and practical items with them when they journeyed from Continental Europe to Britain. Many former Kindertransportees remember packing their possessions with their parents and loved ones in their homelands before embarking upon their journeys to their host nation. These objects would later become the last physical remnants of a former way of life. Through the Strengthening Our Collections (SOC) interviews the centre has been able to show:

  • How objects present and further demonstrate a survivor’s story
  • How survivors' stories challenge the British national narrative of rescue and adaptation
  • How objects speak about a lost past but also how they speak about a survivor’s heritage
  • How objects also demonstrate a survivor’s physical and emotional journey through the objects movements and testimony given which discusses a particular object
  • How objects are a historical piece of evidence and how they testify to a survivor’s experience when they are no longer here
  • Forgotten voices are also heard through the stories which relate to a particular object as the stories of the parents are also told as the survivors recount how their loved ones helped to pack their items

Ruth David who was born Ruth Oppenheimer brought with her many photographs on her journey to Britain. Ruth was born on 17th March 1929 in Frankfurt and she lived in the village of Fränkisch-Crumbach with her parents and siblings. The family observed Jewish festivals and faced the rise of Nazism and increasing persecution. Ruth came to England alone on a Kindertransport in June 1939, both of Ruth’s parents were murdered in Auschwitz.

Ruth: I am very fortunate in that I have a great many family photos. Most of the children that came to England as I did, with the Kindertransport, were able to bring very little, they came out in a hurry and quite often my family did not have many photos. We had a great many photos, because my aunt, a single lady, my mother’s sister loved visiting us, she loved having the children of her sister, as her sort of children, we were nieces and nephews but she looked on us, as a young family, that she had a right to and she took a great many photos, she was a good photographer, she enjoyed taking photos, I do not think my mother had any idea how to take a photo, so I am very fortunate and some of the photos I brought from Germany, very few, but most of these photos I found after my aunt had died, she had come to York, on a Domestic Permit, which was the only way single women could get out of Germany, and she had a very hard life in, in York, doing domestic work for other people and but after her death, I found a whole collection of photos many concerning my family.

Ruth’s testimony highlights the importance of objects because her photographs capture the many memories of her childhood and family life in Germany. Therefore, Ruth’s photographs not only speak about her personal experiences but they also speak about her aunt’s love of photography and how she documented family occasions. These items show what life was like before the war evidencing the range of cultural activities the family participated in. This piece of testimony also shows how families were separated not only in Continental Europe but also when they arrived in Britain. For Ruth explains how her aunt came to Britain as a domestic servant but she came to Britain on a Kindertransport and how some of the photographs were passed down to her when her aunt passed away. The British national narrative is challenged here because Britain’s memory of rescue and adaptation is celebratory and emphasises notions of solidarity yet Ruth’s testimony discusses the more negative aspects of this historical event. Ruth talks about how her aunt ‘had a very hard life in, in York, doing domestic work for other people’ which highlights how some refugees struggled to adapt to a new way of life. Britain in this instance is not presented as a haven. The British national narrative of rescue has traditionally ended positively because refugees find safety and shelter in Britain away from persecution but Ruth’s testimony and her objects tell a different story, one that does not end positively. Ruth’s testimony demonstrates how some refugees grappled to adjust to life in a new country without their family members around them.

See the Ruth David Collection for a selection of Ruth’s pictures.

To find out more information about the centre’s collections or to listen to survivor’s talk about their objects visit The Journey exhibition.