When she was taken shopping for a new wardrobe of clothes young Edith Twelkemeyer believed she was going on a special family holiday.
She was excited at the prospect but also somewhat bewildered as solemn-faced friends had begun arriving at her home in Nordhausen am Harz, Germany bearing gifts, their eyes misted with tears.
What she could never have envisaged was that she was about to be packed off on a train full of other children, utterly bereft and without a single member of her own family to accompany her, heading for an unknown destination in a foreign land.
As the shocked seven-year-old cried out for her mother, who remained on the platform searching fruitlessly for her little girl among a sea of frightened faces, she had no idea she would never see her beloved “Mutti” again.
Her Jewish mother had, in a completely selfless act, given her daughter hope of survival and a new life, as a passenger on the Kindertransport, a huge humanitarian effort that brought thousands of Jewish children to homes in Britain on the eve of the Second World War, keeping them safe from the clutches of the Nazis.
Jackbooted soldiers of the SS had already come in the night for her family, roughly pulling little Edith’s cancer-ravaged grandmother out of bed, rampaging through the house and taking away her father. As a Christian, he was returned a few days later, unlike so many others.
The incident came in the wake of the notorious Kristallnacht of November 1938 when a wave of Nazi violence destroyed Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues and schools, leaving 100 dead. Edith’s grandmother died fairly soon afterwards and it was not long before her granddaughter would embark on that long, lonely journey that would save her life.
On the day of her departure Edith was initially accompanied by her mother to Hanover but there, to her horror, she was put on a train alone while her mother remained on the platform.
Along with scores of other terrified children young Edith then sailed from Holland to London. Recalling her story in a relative’s book Darling Mutti, she recounted: “I was an only and much loved child and suddenly, like a fledgling, I had been cast out of a warm nest.”
She knew no-one but, after being photographed on arrival in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Waverley station, her picture was seen by a Christian couple who had lost their own baby. Bank manager Gavin Forrester and his wife Nancy wanted to take in a Jewish child and applied to look after Edith who, after a brief stay in a Selkirk orphanage, went home with them to Kirkcaldy where they became her foster parents and she adopted their surname.
She settled in at the local primary school and within six weeks had begun to forget her native German. At 12 she passed the high school entrance exam and went on to specialise in French, English, Latin – and German.
At around the age of 14 she accidentally stumbled upon some family papers and discovered what had happened to her mother. She had read about concentrations camps and sickening newsreel images had given her nightmares. But now the horrors were brought home on a ghastly personal level as she learned about the camps, particularly Auschwitz and Theresienstadt ghetto where her mother, her second cousin’s parents and his grandmother had all died. “I heard someone screaming and only realised that it was my own voice when mum came running into to see what was wrong.”
The shock rendered her incapable of enjoying life for a considerable time and she vowed never to return to Germany. She would also have nothing to do with anything or anyone from Germany – a decision that would cause more personal heartbreak.
After leaving school she worked as a civil servant before going university and on to teacher training college. She found her true vocation in the classroom and taught French and German at Viewforth High School, Kirkcaldy for more than 30 years.
Known, affectionately, as Batwoman, thanks to her billowing black teacher’s gown, she is regarded as an important part of the school’s past and admired for her significant influence for good on generations of pupils who benefited from her kindness and encouragement.
She was there from 1957 to 1989 rising from class teacher to principal teacher, advisor to female students and then assistant rector, a post she held for two decades. Always supportive and approachable, she urged youngsters to go out and experience life and could detect and foster the raw potential in children who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside. Completely dedicated to her pupils, she delighted in their success when they made their way in the world and remained in contact with many.
Over the years she did return to Germany, once to visit her father, for whom she felt nothing after their years apart, and at other times with student trips. During these visits deep feelings of hatred surfaced in her at the thought that German people of a certain age may have been involved in wartime atrocities. Despite that she fell in love with a young German but the memories of what happened to her and her family destroyed any future they might have had. She rejected him, breaking off the relationship and never revealing her Jewish heritage.
Her mother had forced her father to divorce her, in the hope that he would be safer without her, and Edith herself suppressed her own German/Jewish background for many years. It was only following a visit to Israel and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial that she found real peace and felt rid of bitterness and hatred.
“Here part of me died when I saw the eternal flame burning for the six million victims of the Holocaust, and the horrific photographs,” in the museum,” she told Joan Marshall, who compiled Darling Mutti. “It became very clear to me that I could have been one of the million Jewish children who perished in the camps. But for the grace of God and the Kindertransport I might never have survived.”
Edith, who had a profound spiritual experience on the banks of the river Jordan, was later baptised and served as a deacon at Kirkcaldy’s Whyte’s Causeway Baptist Church for many years. Utterly embedded in the community of the town, where she had lived ever since being fostered, she had a close circle of friends, sang with the Kirkcaldy Choral Union and was a member of Kirkcaldy Soroptimists. She was also involved in the Messianic Fellowship in Edinburgh.
In retirement she shared her life’s experiences with schoolchildren, among others, and took part in the Gathering The Voices project chronicling the stories of those who sought safety in Scotland from Nazi persecution.
She never married and described herself as “Jewish by race and very proud of it, German by birth and British by choice.”