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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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Chapter 1 Kenya? Historical Background of Jewish Emigration to Kenya 1903–1939


Chapter 1

Kenya? Historical Background of Jewish Emigration to Kenya 1903–1939

1903: The Zionist project in East Africa

To understand Jewish refugees’ interest in Kenya and the complex politics behind British immigration regulations (both for the motherland and its colonies), one has to go back to 1903 and take a look at a little-­known episode in East Africa’s history. It was in this year that, after the pogrom in the Czarist Russian town Kishinev on April 19, Whitehall unveiled the plan to settle thousands of Russian Jews in a very fertile stretch of land in the Kenya highland region that British settlers referred to as “White Highlands.”1 Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, who had inspected British East African territories shortly before and found the climate suitable for white people, offered the leader of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, this land as “a temporary homeland for the Jews, a stepping stone to the Promised Land”2 in lieu of Palestine. This proposal provoked fierce resistance not only from the British settler community in Kenya, but also from members of the Zionist movement who resented the idea of a Jewish “antechamber”3←31 | 32→ in Kenya, because it would divert from the Zionist commitment to return Jews to the Holy Land.

In August 1903, the news of the proposed scheme, which was revealed after Herzl had put the British proposal to the Sixth Zionist Congress at their meeting in Switzerland, sparked strong...

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