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The Kitchener Transmigration Camp at Richborough
In the late 1930s tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Central Europe were unable to obtain visas to other countries of Europe, the North and South American continents, and Australia. Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to the opening of a camp for Jewish refugees. Conditions for admission included: age 18–40, urgency to leave Germany, and prospect of emigration from England. In January 1939 the Anglo-Jewish Council for German Jewry leased a derelict World War I army camp at Richborough on the Kent seashore near Sandwich. And within a month 100 German refugees arrived to reconstruct the camp. Gradually, facilities improved and the camp was prepared to absorb 3,500 Central European refugees. The camp was self-governing but animosity between different nationalities and religious denominations became evident. Men spent five hours a day working and two hours studying English. There was a plethora of cultural activities. Married quarters were available for staff, whose wives often came across to work as domestics. The townspeople of Sandwich demonstrated goodwill to the refugees. In August 1939 frantic efforts were made to enlarge the capacity of the camp and to prepare for war. Many of the men volunteered to serve in the armed forces and were accepted into so called “alien companies.” The first 1,500 such men landed in France in early 1940. In May 1940 the Kitchener camp was evacuated and the civilian inhabitants were transferred to the isle of Man. An estimated 15,000 individuals were saved by the Kitchener camp.
Leon A. Jick