Kitchener Camp Rescue 1939 exhibition coming to the Ramsgate Tunnels

The Kitchener Camp

Travelling exhibition Leave to Land: The Kitchener Camp Rescue 1939 will be coming to the Ramsgate Tunnels next month.

The exhibition ‘Leave to Land’ is about  refugee camp for nearly 4000 Jewish men, all refugees from Germany and Austria, which was sited very close to Sandwich in 1939/40. The men lived in a one-time WW1 army camp known as the ‘Kitchener Camp’ just beyond the Sandwich Toll Bridge on the west side of the old Ramsgate Road.

During Kristallnacht in November 1938, 25,000 to 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. They were subjected to starvation and torture, and hundreds died or were killed.

A condition of release from the camps was that the men had to undertake to leave Germany immediately. As country after country refused to take more refugees, the Kitchener rescue began. It was funded and run by the same, mainly Jewish, aid organisations that funded and coordinated the Kindertransport and Domestic Service Visa schemes.

Official Kitchener records are scattered widely, missing, or have been destroyed, but it is estimated that approximately 4,000 men were rescued between February 1939 and the start of the Second World War in September 1939.

Once war broke out large numbers of the men enlisted in the unarmed section of the British Army, known as the Pioneer Corps, and the camp changed from being a refugee camp into a Pioneer Corps training camp.

Archives suggest that 887 German and Austrian Kitchener men enlisted, with most forming part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to continental Europe at the start of 1940.

After the fall of France in May/June 1940 Kitchener camp was closed down. The refugees who had enlisted remained in the British Army, but were moved to Devon.

The aim of the Kitchener Camp Project has been to rebuild this forgotten history by bringing together both dispersed archival materials and the personal records kept by Kitchener refugees and their families.

The exhibition consists of reproductions of letters, diaries, memoirs, and photos of the men who found refuge in Sandwich. These documents have been collected and put together by a descendant of one of the Kitchener men and collected from the many other descendants of Kitchener men who are now scattered across the world.

Ramsgate Tunnels is hosting the exhibition, which is free to view, from March 2-16.

Clare Ungerson, author of the book ‘Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939’ which describes the background and stories of the men and families involved, will giving a talk at the Tunnels on March 7 at 7pm.

The talk is free but tickets need to be booked and are available both online and in the Tunnels ticket office.

4 Comments

  1. Went over to Sandwich when the blue plaque was put up on the Inn there. Made a surprise discovery that the well built hut used for social activities was handed over to the old Broadstairs and St Peters Urban District Council and is now in St Peters High Street as a resource for our local community. A truly well built souvenir from a talented group of refugees

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