On Wednesday 20th November we took part in an exciting event ‘Children of the Great War’. It was in partnership with Age Exchange, a reminiscence organisation located in Blackheath, Europeana and Oxford University. The RAF Museum London in Colindale kindly let us use their magnificent Grahame-White building and First World War aircraft hangar. The project let us bring together members of the Jewish community to share family stories of the First World War that have been passed down through the years.
It was a cold and wet day but all staff and volunteers arrived at the RAF Museum in high spirits.
Visitors arrived at the Welcome desk before filling in the consent forms with a cup of tea and a biscuit. They then went to the interview space where staff from Age Exchange and some our wonderful volunteers recorded their stories.
Most visitors brought objects, photographs and other documents to accompany their story. These were brought through the hangar to the ‘Digitising In’ desk where I recorded all the items to be photographed/scanned before taking them to the digitisation room. I was sat in the freezing hangar all day, but meeting the visitors and hearing their stories made it worth braving the cold for.
Next it was my job to take the objects up to the digitising room where a team of staff and volunteers photographed and scanned the items.
The visitors I spoke to were proud of their family stories and believed in the great importance and need to record these stories for the future.
Niki Goorney, the museum’s Learning Officer, who organised this great event writes:
“We were really pleased with how the day went, especially as this is the first event that Age Exchange have facilitated. Some of the stories that have come out have been truly fascinating and inspirational”
All of the stories and objects from the event will be entered into the Europeana 1914-1918 international online archive. We will use them to support the creation of our First World War exhibitions,and Age Exchange hopes to use them to create a new play to premiere in London in August 1914.
One story we will be including in our forthcoming First World War exhibition is that of Julius Weinberg. His son Kurt Weinberg,a child of the Kindertransport, told us the story of his father. Julius was born in Werther North-West Germany and worked at a cigar manufacturer. He volunteered for the German Army from 1908 and during the First World War served as a Sergeant in the Supply Corps. Kurt told the interviewers that German Jews were enthusiastic to fight for the Kaiser and their country.
Kurt showed me photographs of his father in uniform along with his Soldbuch, (service record). Julius Weinberg was awarded the Iron Cross 1914-1918 and the Iron Cross (Rhine) medals in the First World War of which he was immensely proud. When the Nazis rose to power Kurt explained that his father believed these medals and the fact he was part of the organisation of German Jewish soldiers would keep him safe. Kurt showed me his father’s Bescheinigung document which was produced to prove that he had fought in the army. However, even with this document and presenting his Iron Crosses at a Police station Julius could not escape persecution. Julius survived the Buchenwald concentration camp but Kurt felt that he was a changed man.
Kurt recently donated his father’s Pickelhaube (German Helmet) to the museum which will be displayed in the exhibition. It is such a fantastic object!
Our curator Roz reflected on the day;
“During our Children of the Great War Open Day we have uncovered some amazing stories from the Jewish community. It was a wonderful day of discovery adding to our understanding of the Jewish Experience of the First World War which we will be exploring in our exhibition at the Jewish Museum next year. Thanks to all our partners for making the day so special.”