It is with sadness we report the recent death of Strathbungo resident Rosa Sacharin at the age of 93. The following is an article which appeared in the Strathbungo Society newsletter in Autumn 2016.
In a famous 1938 photograph of Kindertransport children arriving in Britain, that’s Rosa in the top right corner – just 13, small for her age, bewildered, utterly alone. Incredibly, those eyes had already witnessed Hitler at close range, whipping a crowd into a frenzy of hatred. She had seen her father imprisoned, his manufacturing business destroyed, the aftermath of Kristallnacht when Nazi thugs carried out state-backed violence against Jews, her brother arrested, and finally her mother and sister left behind as that train took her from Berlin to the relative safety of Britain. The Kindertransport was a massive humanitarian effort between 1938 and the start of the war that enabled some 9,000 unaccompanied refugee children to escape the coming Holocaust. “It got better, but we were the first and they really didn’t know what to do with us.”
In the event she was sent to Edinburgh where, after a nightmare stay with family whose cat covered her with fleabites, she lived for the next few years with a foster family. “They were kind,” she says, “but quite old, and I was really just the maid.” Unable to understand or be understood, she virtually taught herself English, relying more on the Chalet children’s books and the public library than school. Miraculously, her older sister Betty made it out of Berlin just before the war started and in 1941 they were reunited in Glasgow where Rosa moved into a hostel run by the Quakers. They never saw their father again, nor their brother Abraham Karl who was murdered at the Belzec camp in Poland.
In 1947, they learned their mother had survived and were able to bring her to Glasgow. By then Rosa was training as a nurse and had begun a career as a practitioner and tutor that would include writing the seminal textbook in her field, Principles of Paediatric Nursing. Along the way she met and married Joe, who followed wartime service in the Royal Navy with a distinguished career in aviation aeronautics.
They bought their lovely home in Strathbungo in 1960, and raised their two daughters here. After so many hard times, life has been good. Rosa’s story is well documented, both in her autobiography, The Unwanted Jew (2014), and in powerful online interviews she gave to Gathering the Voices. Her own voice is steady and calm, but those same eyes that stare out of the 1938 photo still see the world as a dangerous place. As a new generation of unaccompanied child refugees head toward Britain, racism and anti-semitism are growing. “Human beings will never change. Suffering is suffering. It doesn’t matter which colour, creed or religion you are.”