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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 3 Refugees’ Status in Kenya Colony


Chapter 3

Refugees’ Status in Kenya Colony

The previous chapter described first-person accounts from former Kenya refugees of their experiences during flight and refuge. Their stories are the point of departure for the following exploration of the status of German (and a few Austrian) Jewish refugees within the Kenyan colonial society. Specifically, this chapter looks at refugees’ attitudes toward Africans, connections to and opinions about the established Jewish Community, and forms of cultural adaptation and immersion in the British society.

Attitudes toward Africans

A number of Germans and Austrians who found refuge in Kenya had never seen a black person before, which is why their arrival in Mombasa (or sometimes land excursions to African port cities on their voyage down the East African coast) remained deeply engrained in their memories. In his 1998 published book Why there were Jews in Nakuru: Their Story, Tommy Joseph describes such a first encounter in the context of the arrival of the first group of settlers, the “famous seven,” in Mombasa on November 26, 1933:

For these, as in fact for all refugees, this first encounter with Africa as they slowly descended the gangway of the ship was simply mind-­boggling. It was to remain branded in their memories for ever. Suddenly they were confronted by half-­naked black people – even half naked women and completely naked children. They all←121 | 122→ babbled away in a language never heard before, loudly and with much...

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