It’s so important… to understand what it means to be looked down upon and considered a second-class citizen.

-Steven Mendelsson

Steven was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1926. His parents were both musicians who would often entertain friends, of all faiths, at their family home. Steven had a brother, Walter, who was born in 1930. Their family lived happily together until 1933 when Hitler came to power.

Steven has fond memories of his childhood. He and his friends, most of whom were not Jewish, used to enjoy playing football, racing their bicycles, and scrumping for apples and pears. After the 1936 Olympics, held in Germany, Steven noticed a change in the attitudes of his friends. Many of them stopped talking to him, and when confronted by Steven as to the reason for this, one replied that his father had forbade them from talking with Jews. Steven’s confidence was hugely affected by this, and his once happy and active social life was ruined.

Shortly after, Steven and the other Jewish children were not allowed to attend state school, and instead had to go to a Jewish school with Jewish teachers. Initially he did not mind this, as he soon made new friends, and there were plenty of good Jewish teachers around as they were not allowed to work at the state schools. However, after a few weeks hordes of Hitler Youth boys would come to their school and beat them up. The Jewish children were outnumbered and had to go home bloody and bruised.

Things only got worse after the November Pogrom. Steven’s father was arrested and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, where he remained for 14 weeks. Miraculously, Steven’s father survived this ordeal. However, he was in a bad way when he got home and was bedridden for weeks. Steven and Walter were not allowed to visit him as their mother thought it would be too traumatic for them.

In March 1939 a letter arrived offering places for Steven and Walter on the Kindertransport to England, which would ensure their safety. This was a difficult decision for Steven’s mother to make, especially with their father still recovering, however she decided to send them on the transport. Steven remembers the day they let, and the pain etched on the faces of his family members that came to see he and Walter off.

When they arrived in Harwich, England, there were lots of women waiting for them. The children were showered with hugs and kisses and given hot tea and egg sandwiches – something that Steven and Walter found very strange at the time. At first the culture shock was difficult for Steven and Walter, particularly without their parents, and Steven recalls looking out of the train window at London’s dilapidated East End with dismay as they travelled to Liverpool Street station.

Steven and Walter were sent with some other boys to live in a hostel in Margate, ran by a Jewish charity, where they soon joined English schools. Whilst the first few weeks were difficult, largely due to the language barrier, Steven and Walter soon settled in and made English friends. They enjoyed playing football once again and tried their hand at cricket. Steven also found a long-lasting love for hot tea and egg sandwiches!

Steven and Walter’s parents made it over to England 36 hours before war was declared between Britain and Germany, closing any avenues for refugees to escape Nazi rule. Only 5% of children sent to England on the Kindertransport were reunited with their parents, Steven, and Walter among them. Most children never saw their parents again.

In later life Steven became a close friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. Steven gave his testimony at the centre for as long as he could, encouraging messages of tolerance and understanding and remembering the incredible courage and faith of his mother that saved their family. His testimony continues to contribute greatly to Holocaust education.

You can hear Steven's testimony here