Jewish immigrant recalls child-rescue effort that removed her from much of the horror of Nazi Germany

Magie Furst has been involved with the Dallas Holocaust Museum for 18 years, sharing her story of survival.

Special to the American Press

Holocaust survivor Magie Furst said she wouldn’t be alive today if not for the Kindertransport.

“The Kindertransport was formed out of necessity to rescue the children that were in danger in Europe,” the 88-year-old Dallas resident said. “It involved the children of Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria and ultimately 10,000 children were given shelter by Great Britain because of it.”

Furst, whose father died of a heart attack in 1934, was living in Astheim, Germany, with her mother and brother in November 1938 when Nazis set fire to synagogues, vandalized Jewish schools, stores and businesses, and killed nearly 100 Jews.

The night was later referred to as Kristallnacht — which translates to “night of the broken glass” in German — because of the glass shards that filled the streets after the vandalism. The attack led to the formation of the Kindertransport program a month later.

Furst, then 9, and younger brother Bert, then 8, were among the children accepted into the program.

“After Kristallnacht, my mother decided she was not going to raise her children in Nazi Germany,” she said. “She had had enough.”

Furst said the Kindertransport allowed only two children per family to apply.

“And they had to be under 17 years of age and they had to be potty-trained.”

Furst said she and Bert were taken by train to Holland and from there traveled by boat to the east coast of England and then were transported by train to London.

“In London, the children were picked up by their foster families that were going to take care of them,” she said. “These people volunteered to take these children and they were not compensated; they did this out of the goodness of their heart.”

Nine months after the Kindertransport’s formation, World War II was declared.

“Of course, we didn’t know war was going to break out so soon, so most of those children were cut off from their families after they left,” she said. “Most of those children lost their entire families in the Holocaust.”

Furst said that at the end of the war, 62 percent of Kindertransport children chose to stay in Great Britain.

“Some came to the United States, some went to the other colonies — Canada, New Zealand, Australia — and one turned up in India and one was a scientist in Nepal,” she said. “They ended up in all kinds of places, but the majority stayed in Great Britain.”

Of those 10,000 children, Furst said four would later become Nobel laureates.

Furst said her mother was allowed on the same ship the Kindertransport used because she had family ties in Great Britain and was able to get a visa.

“She was able to get work in the household of her cousin who had immigrated to Great Britain in the early ’30s, but that didn’t work out too well because when she got there she found out that he was bankrupt,” she said. “A family from Vienna came and took over the house and she worked for them for a while but then she had a nervous breakdown.”

As their mother recovered, Furst and her brother were split up and sent to separate foster families in Coventry, England. Their mother remained in London.

“Bert was sent to a Christian family and I went to a Jewish family and the people I stayed with were not very nice to me. The father was abusive, very abusive,” she said. “The family that Bert went to were wonderful.”

She said sometimes she could visit with Bert once a week, “but sometimes not at all.”

“Essentially we were separated for six years,” she said.

Furst said she kept a diary during that time and wrote entries in it every day describing what was going on during the war.

“We were very well-informed; there was no censorship,” she said. “We had radios, we talked about it at school and after I left that foster family I went to a boarding school in Hertfordshire for girls and everyone was very open about it.”

She said her experiences at the boarding school were far different from those with the foster family.

“I stayed there until I was 14 1/2 years old and it was some of the happiest days of my life,” she said. “The teachers were like mothers to us and we lived on an estate that belonged to a colonel who was fighting in North Africa. He gave this estate to the London Town Council for the duration of the war.

“It was beautiful, really beautiful,” she said. “We had fields and a pond and pathways with begonias on it.”

Furst said of the 38 girls enrolled at the school, two were Jewish and two were refugees of the Spanish Civil War.

“I went to church every Sunday with a girl there and I sat on the bench and I thought if I didn’t kneel down God would forgive me but I did learn all the hymns,” she said with a laugh. “And I kept all those relationships, and I’m still in contact with one of the girls I went to school with.”

She said she had to leave the boarding school when she was nearly 15.

“There was a war going on and they just weren’t equipped to teach beyond that age so I found a job working at a dentist’s office.”

Furst said that as her mother recovered, she found work in a factory and later reunited with her children and insisted they relocate to America. She said an uncle had already relocated to the U.S. at that point and was able to secure visas for his sister and her two children.

“My mother decided we would all be better off in the United States and she wanted to be with the rest of her family,” she said. “When I got here, I went to school and I worked for a dentist after school and then I worked full time for a dentist for the next 50 years.”

Furst said the first stop when the family landed in the United States was New York, where they would ultimately live until 1963.

“New York is overwhelming,” she said. “After being in London, New York was almost foreign to me when I first saw it because people were so wrapped up in themselves they didn’t stop to say hello. In England, everybody greets you — at least they did during the war because we were all one big family. It was a different country, even though the language was the same.”

She said that when she enrolled in the New York public school system, she struggled to keep up with her classmates.

“I was 16 and when I got here and I did very well in English but everything else was very hard for me,” she said. “I was lacking in math, and in chemistry and in physics I did very poorly. It took me a while to catch up and I never really did catch up. I just didn’t do well at all.”

Furst said that despite the years of separation from her brother, the two were inseparable after they were reunited.

“We never fought, not like I see other kids doing, even my own children,” she said. “We didn’t, we just didn’t.”

While living in New York, Furst said the opportunity to move to Dallas was presented and she “didn’t want to shovel snow anymore,” she said with a laugh.

She said she lost her diary during the move from New York to Dallas.

“I think about it all the time. It was about 10 inches thick and the memories it would contain,” she said wistfully.

Furst said she has visited Germany three times since relocating to the U.S.

“It’s a funny feeling when you go,” she said. “I had to put one foot down at a time.”

Furst said she has been involved with the Dallas Holocaust Museum for 18 years, sharing her story of survival.

Furst, whose father died of a heart attack in 1934, was living in Astheim, Germany, with her mother and brother in November 1938 when Nazis set fire to synagogues, vandalized Jewish schools, stores and businesses, and killed nearly 100 Jews.

Furst will speak at 7 p.m. May 3 in Tritico Theatre inside the Shearman Fine Arts Annex at McNeese State University as part of the university’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration.

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