The Tiger in the Attic:
Memories of the Kindertransport and Growing Up English
 

Author: Edith Milton

Review: Chris Gilbert

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About the book

Edith Milton left Germany with her sister in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War Two – she was one of 10,000 children to escape the oncoming war through the Kindertransport programme. She went to live with an English family until she and her sister were reunited with their mother, by this point a virtual stranger, in America after the end of the war.

Running for less than a year, the Kindertransport programme allowed children to escape Nazi Europe, although almost always without any adult relative. Edith recounts the isolation and fear of a refugee, of feeling different, and of losing her home, friends and family to come to an unknown country to live with a family she did not know.

The book recounts how one girl coped with life as a refugee, whilst also being clear that this saved her from life in Nazi-occupied Europe – she speaks of ‘the extraordinary privilege of having been granted such reasonable and ordinary lives’. Certainly Nazi Europe was a very dangerous place to be for a Jewish child – more than a million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust.

As well as documenting her feelings and experiences as a refugee, the author also documents what it was like to live in wartime England – the bombings, rationing, and the very real uncertainty about how the war would progress. While we certainly learn of some of the violence, fear and persecution in pre-war Germany, the reality of the Holocaust is not known by the general public until after the very final stages of the war, with the discovery and liberation of the concentration camps. This is not a story of the Holocaust as many picture it – of going into hiding, of the ghettos, or of the concentration camps. However, the story is one of loss and the cost of survival – like the camp survivors that Edith meets on the boat to America, she has lost her home, country and much of her family.

The Tiger in the Attic is a vibrant and subtle book that provides an insight into the experience of one child among the many saved by the Kindertransport programme. It also provides a broader view of the experience of the refugee, one example of what it is like to be displaced by war. Also an interesting historical account of wartime England, this is a valuable account of the impact of war on the young and how these experiences, even with love and care, have a lifelong impact.

Suggested further reading:

Two further autobiographical accounts of children living through the Holocaust:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Please click here for further details.

The Diary of Petr Ginz

In 1941, Petr Ginz was a young teenager living in Prague with his parents and sister. Adventurous, artistic and optimistic, he wrote poems and novels and edited a children's magazine inside the work camp at Theresienstadt. Petr's diaries describe daily life for the Ginz family and document the introduction of anti-Jewish laws from a young adult's point of view – pithy and unsentimental.

The writing stopped in 1942 when Petr received his summons to Theresienstadt, but the books survived in a Prague attic. Petr was assigned to one of the last transports to Auschwitz, where he died in the gas chambers in 1944.

One Small Suitcase (The true story of how 10,000 children escaped the Nazi Holocaust) by Barry Turner

Written for younger readers, this book is based on extensive interviews with those who helped to organise the Kindertransport programme, the families who took the children in and above all the young refugees as they began new lives in a strange country.

... And the Policeman Smiled: 10, 000 Children Escape from Nazi Europe by Barry Turner

Written for an adult audience, this a longer and more detailed book by the author of One Small Suitcase. The book is based on previously unpublished records and extensive interviews and describes the often painful adjustments of the young refugees to a strange country and the often lonely life of billeting, fostering, evacuation and even deportation.

About the author

Born in Karlsruhe, Germany, Edith Milton is a freelance writer who lives in California and New Hampshire. Her writing has appeared in, among other places, the New York Times Book Review, New Republic, and Boston Globe. 
 
Key themes:
  • The experience of the refugee
  • The impact of the war on civilian populations