‘You put it in a box somewhere, as you wouldn’t be able to carry on’ - Clayhall man talks of escaping the Nazis and returning to Germany to translate Hitler’s will
12:00 12 July 2014
A 14-year-old boy boards a train, his only possessions the clothes on his back and the items he carries inside a small suitcase.
As he steps forward, he leaves behind his family and the only life he has ever known – on the streets of Germany, where the Nazis are preparing for war and intensifying their persecution of the Jewish people.
This memory is still all too fresh for 89-year-old Herman Rothman, who was one of approximately 10,000 Jewish children saved by the Kindertransport rescue mission, which brought them all to Britain.
But this was not to be his last remarkable experience as, when he returned to the country as an adult, he became one of the first people to lay eyes on Fuhrer Adolf Hitler’s will.
Herman, who has lived in Clayhall for 55 years, was born in Berlin on September 2, 1924.
He grew up in the city with his parents Erich and Betty and younger brother Sigbert, unaware that their lives would be changed irreparably in the coming years. Herman said: “My parents looked after me, I went to school – there was nothing I can report about anything I suffered.
“It was my parents who suffered, all the Jews in Germany suffered.”
As a boy, Herman witnessed examples of the brutality which lurked in the country’s streets.
Aged 13, he was sent out on an errand by his mother. He saw an elderly Jewish man being pushed around and told his attacker to stop, which he did.
Herman’s school was also partially destroyed during Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, which saw the Nazis target Jewish businesses, homes, and synagogues.
With the climate of fear rising among the Jewish community, Herman’s parents managed to get him onto the Kindertransport in 1939.
He said: “The Kindertransport was a marvellous thing. [But] it must have been really sad for my parents; we didn’t see each other for about 15 years.”
While Herman began his new life in Britain, working in agriculture, his parents were suffering the terror of the Nazi regime.
His father was at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for eight months, before police officer Herr Belgart sprung him out, along with Herman’s best friend Siegfried Mandelkerm.
Erich travelled to join Betty and Sigbert in Palestine, where they had fled. But Siegfried stayed in Germany so he could say goodbye to his parents and he was shot dead.
Herman joined the British Army in 1944 and was later transferred to a counter-intelligence section.
After the war ended, he interrogated Nazi prisoners at a camp in Germany. He also helped to translate Hitler’s will after it was discovered in the shoulder pads of Heinz Lorenz, who had been propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ press secretary.
Herman documented these experiences later in his book, Hitler’s Will.
Upon returning to England, Herman met his wife Shirley, in 1949 at a dance, and became a lawyer.
The couple had two children, Janice and Jonathan, and now have six grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.
Herman has played an active role in Redbridge’s community, having been a founder of a synagogue and a governor at King Solomon High School.
But he will never forget the horrors the Nazis inflicted on millions.
“You put it in a box somewhere, as [otherwise] you wouldn’t be able to carry on. There were so many Jews who didn’t live to tell their story.
“My whole family in Poland was obliterated and part of my mother’s side was too. I still carry it with me. I do not understand why people cannot live in peace.”