John Auran, Mountainside resident, travels to Kindertransport reunion in Germany
Margaretville — Mountainside Residential Care Center resident John Auran recently traveled to his native Germany for the first time in 75 years to reunite with participants in the Kindertransport program.
Kindertransport was a plan that took place in the nine months leading up to World War II, wherein predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were taken out of these countries as a means of protection from the atrocities taking place in Europe. The children were placed in foster homes, schools and on farms in Britain. Approximately 10,000 children were involved in the program.
John grew up just outside the city of Aschaffenburg. As tensions escalated prior to the start of the war, his family decided it would be safest if John were sent to England as part of the Kindertransport. The concept had been devised by the British government as a way of assisting the families who were suffering under the growing Nazi regime. The children who left the country were often the only family members who survived the Holocaust. Fortunately, John’s older brother had left Germany two years earlier and his parents were ultimately able to relocate to the United States.
Time for action
With his father already imprisoned in Dachau and the impending drumbeat of war growing constantly louder, John’s mother made arrangements for him to board a Kindertransport train bound for Harris, England. The day after Kristallnacht (an historic night of attacks against Jews across Germany and Austria), November 10, 1938, John’s mother began working on arrangements for her son to leave the country.
On August 26, 1939, John was among the children on last Kindertransport train that departed from Frankfurt destined for England. Ten days later, war was declared.
“When we crossed the border from Germany to Holland the cheer that went up was just tremendous,” he recalled.
When the train arrived in England, a family friend met John and he was taken to Taplow Grammar School where he’d been enrolled.
As a young child, who did not speak English, in a strange country, John recalls that his first experience at school was getting involved in a game of rugby.
“This was heaven-sent for me,” explaining he had a lot of pent-up aggression after enduring a considerable number of skirmishes with Hitler Youth in his hometown.
John said he was involved in anti-Semitic encounters in Germany on nearly a daily basis. He began to fear going to school and facing the frequent fistfights that took place. His father then gave his young son some advice that would prove advantageous.
“He said don’t wait for the Hitler Youth to hit you – hit them first, and hit in the nose so it bleeds. He was right. After that, I won a lot more fights than I lost,” John recalled.
School was bombed
Free from such situations, John and the other children settled in at the school in England and they also lived on premises. He said that in the spring a bomb hit the classroom after the students had been huddled in an air raid shelter.
“When we came up, there was virtually nothing next of the classroom,” he remembered.
With the school destroyed, the students were sent to a summer camp near Oxford and John was later relocated to Hereford, England. John moved in with a family whose head was a basket maker and he soon learned that craft. He later went to work at an auto repair business.
He eventually moved to Wembley where he was an apprentice for a fellow who fixed engines. The skills he learned there led to work at a business that repaired DeHaviland aircraft engines.
As John moved around and learned new skills, efforts continued to try to get him out of the country. By 1940, his parents had been able to flee Germany and move to the United States. John had been in constant correspondence with his parents since he was sent away and they were continually working to arrange his travel to America once they had arrived.
“After three or four false alarms (planned trips that fell through) to get me out of the country, I finally made it out,” he stated.
John was reunited with his family, who had found employment working for legendary film director Paul Muni in California.
“Paul taught me a lot,” John recalled. “He took me to see a movie being made. I still had ambitions of getting involved in the industry. Then I watched them shooting scenes over and over of Merle Oberon in “Song to Remember,” and I thought it was the most boring thing I’d ever seen and I never wanted to get in the movie business after that,” he laughed.
John enjoyed a varied career, including working as an editor for Skiing magazine. He recalled quickly feeling at home in his new country.
“I’ve been an American mentally for years. There’s something about this country that just gets you right in the gut,” he explained.
As for his recent return to him homeland for the first time in 75 years, John enjoyed the experience and catching up with the half-dozen others from his hometown who rode the Kindertransport to freedom.
“I have had contact with some of them, but it was nice to see everyone again,” he noted.
John gave an address at the reunion, recalling some of his memories of the growing power of the Nazi regime.
The entire journey, including airfare, accommodations and meals, was funded by the city of Aschaffenburg. John was originally going to be accompanied by a friend, but when she became ill, Mike McDermott, a nurse at Mountainside, volunteered to take John on the five-day journey. The trip gave John the opportunity to not only get reacquainted with friends who had shared a unique experience, but to also visit his home town, including stops at his father’s former business and house where his family last lived.
“It was one of the few houses that survived,” John commented.
John said that trip was well worthwhile, but he’s also glad to back at Mountainside, where he has resided for about four years.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place to live and they feed you like a king here,” he said sincerely.
Happy to assist
Mountainside Residential Care Center Administrator Philip Mehl said his staff was more than happy to assist with the arrangements for this unique experience. Every discipline was involved in making sure the journey was safe and that John’s needs were taken care of.
“Mountainside is thrilled to have this opportunity to help the residents of our facility fulfill their dreams and celebrate their lives. Age and disability alone should not eliminate the range of possibilities,” Mr. Mehl commented.
HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley® is the alignment of Benedictine Hospital, Kingston Hospital, Margaretville Hospital, Mountainside Residential Care Center and Woodland Pond at New Paltz. As the parent organization, HealthAlliance provides a unified governance structure, while still allowing each hospital to continue as a separate and distinct corporation.
The goal of HealthAlliance is to strengthen the quality of care and bring forward enhanced technology to serve the present and future healthcare needs in the Hudson Valley. HealthAlliance and its affiliate facilities are committed to providing compassionate, patient-centered care and ensuring patient safety, privacy and dignity to all. For further information about HealthAlliance visit our website at www.HAHV.org.