Anita Payson: Firmness and Valor

by Anita Frank Payson

I have already lived longer than either of my parents, but my admiration for them continues to grow with every passing year. When new friends learn that I was saved by Kindertransport, they usually say: “Oh, you must have been so brave.” I answer “Not I, but I accept the compliment for my parents.” I say that because I realize that they are the true heroes; they fit the dictionary definition of courage: that quality of mind which enables one to meet danger and difficulties with firmness and valor.

I was born in August 1926 in Berlin into an assimilated German-Jewish family of middle class means. My father had served in the army during World War One and owned a clothing business. My mother, like all her friends, stayed home and looked after the household and me. By 1938, life in Germany had become difficult for Jewish people, but they hoped that things would improve. Wen I was no longer permitted to go to the public school, my parents enrolled me at the private Jewish Theodor Herzl school. There I made friends, went ice skating, played with my dolls and enjoyed being the center of my parent’s love.

I had my own room, filled with books and toys and a desk covered with pictures of Shirley Temple. Many a evening my father would come into my room when he thought I was asleep and leave a marzipan candy on my night table which I devoured as soon as he closed the door. I liked to read in bed and after my mother put my light out, I took the battery operated lights from my doll house and read under the covers.

Then came Kristallnacht.

My school was among the Jewish institutions to be destroyed, and now the German Jews were frantic to leave. But visas were very scarce. My parents heard about a British effort to rescue Jewish children under the age of seventeen. They investigated and resolved to have me join the Kindertransport. I have tried to remember, but I cannot recall if there were any discussions with me concerning this decision.

Valor and firmness! My parents had the courage to send me, their only child, twelve years old, to another country, not knowing if they would ever see me again. I left on a  cold and cloudy day in January, 1939; the weather was in tune with the heavy hearts of the people on the train station. We met some of the other parents and children, many, like me, were crying. I was dressed in a blue ski suit and held onto the small suitcase and my favorite doll. That was all I was allowed to bring. I saw babies held in the arms of older siblings and then the train pulled in. My parents kissed me and handed me to one of the counselors who were accompanying the children. Moments later I was looking out the window at all the white handkerchiefs waving goodbye.

I have no clear recollection of the voyage from Berlin to the coast of France, from there unto a ship that landed in Southhampton. Kind women, strangers to me, took me in hand for the next par tof my voyage, to Scotland. How very fortunate I was to be taken to the home of a wonderful family in Glasgow. They had volunteered to care for me as long as it was needed.

I felt secure and loved in my Scottish home. Returning to school, I learned English in just a few weeks and although I missed my parents, I was a happy child. I remained in Glasgow for two years. My parents had been able to leave before the Nazis closed all exits and we had a joyful reunion. Ten thousand children were saved through the Kindertransports, however only nine hundred were as fortunate as I and were reunited with their parents; the rest, never saw their parents again.

As I have reared my own children, been blessed with grandchildren and now great-grandchildren, I have wondered if I could have done what my parents did for me. I can’t imagine the pain they must have suffered as that train left the station in Berlin. Valor and firmness. My parents had that and they put my safety first.

They are my heroes.



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