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Roads Less Traveled

German-Jewish Exile Experiences in Kenya, 1933–1947


Natalie Eppelsheimer

Before Nowhere in Africa won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002, the fate of German-Jewish exiles in Africa was not widely discussed. The film, based on the autobiographical work of Stefanie Zweig, tells the story of the Zweig family, who escaped the perils of Nazism and found refuge in the British colony of Kenya.

Taking Zweig’s written works Nowhere in Africa and Nirgendwo war Heimat: Mein Leben auf zwei Kontinenten [Nowhere was Home: My Life on Two Continents] as a point of departure, and drawing on extensive sources – including previously unexplored government files from the Colonial Office and other archival records, correspondence, first-person accounts and personal communication with former refugees – this book provides a detailed historical look at German- Jewish emigration to Kenya. The volume explores British immigration policies and the formation of the Plough Settlement Association, under whose auspices German-Jewish refugees were to be settled in Kenya as farmers. It also traces the difficult lives of refugees, both adults and children, within the complex dynamics of British colonial society in the Kenya of the 1930s and 1940s, paying special attention to the experiences of children in the colony.

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Introduction Roads Less Traveled



Roads Less Traveled

Figures 1 and 2: Cover and interior page to a tourist brochure for Kenya acquired by the Berg family shortly after they fled there from Germany. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives #63521 and #63521A. Courtesy of Kurt and Jill Pauly. Copyright of USHMM.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the British Crown Colony Kenya was considered a haven for white “gentlemen farmers” – a place that offered cheap living, cheap native labor, a healthy climate and abundant opportunities for hunting. In pamphlets, brochures and guide books, many of which were published by the Kenya Association, the Colony was advertised as “Kenya, The Land Where Life Is Still Worth Living,” “Kenya, The Land In Which To Make A Home” or “Kenya, Britain’s Fairest Colony” (see←5 | 6→ Figures 1 and 2). What made the Colony even more attractive is that in the infamous White Highlands, Crown land was leased to British settlers for 99 or 999 years.

The Kenya Association, formed in Nairobi in 1932 by white settlers, certainly did not have German and Austrian Jews in mind, who were fleeing persecution under the Nazi regime and seeking safe havens in Kenya. Its main goal was to attract prospective British settlers.1 Yet, the British Colony became one of the last places that offered these refugees a safe haven. This is because immigration policies were initially rather lax in Kenya and because the established settlers were – at least initially...

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