Cilli Kasper-Holtkotte

"They called us Bloody Foreigners"

Jewish Refugees in Kenya, 1933 until the 1950s

Translation: Alexandra Berlina
Language: English
286 pages, softcover with (fold-in) flaps
140 illustrations
ISBN: 978-3-95565-361-3
Publication date: 2019
24.90 €

“Yes, but where even is Kenya?” – this was the question posed by the majority of Jewish refugees before being cast into the East African British colony, 1933 onwards. While often the last hope, it was seldom their destination of choice. A few hundred were successful in their flight to Kenya, despite the lack of willingness of colonial authorities to admit them to the country. But how is one to survive in an agrarian-oriented, sparsely populated country whose languages are just as foreign as are the customs, modes of life, climatic conditions, and health risks? What options were available to refugees who were prohibited from practising their professions, regardless of whether as medics, lawyers, or merchants?
Answers to these questions were found on a search for former ‘Kenyans’ that spanned continents, the putting together of fragments of this ‘Kenyan’ network like mosaics, and numerous conversations with contemporary witnesses who narrated their experiences for the first time. In view of the historical context, these tough, obstacle-fraught battles are made visible: the search for new identities, the reclaiming of self-worth, the conquering of social recognition. Lastly, it is shown how much life in Kenya shaped lives in the short and long-term.

“We did not go to Kenya out of a sense of adventure; actually, Africa did not hold any allure for me”. Most Jewish refugees who reached the British colony from 1933 onwards would have expressed themselves as had Grete Heilbronn from southern Germany. Finding your way around was difficult. Language, climatic conditions, landscapes, population: all these were foreign and alien. Neither was the presence of these refugees particularly welcome. If possible, they were immediately sent to the interior of the country to work on farms, despite commonly lacking any agricultural knowledge. Fighting for survival was not much easier in the city. Laboriously, yet energetically, the refugees built their own worlds, created centres as sources of identities. This book analyses these arduous inner and outer battles of the histories of many refugees stranded in Kenya, narrated primarily on the basis of contemporary witness accounts.