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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 4 Experiences of Refugee Children in Colonial Kenya


Chapter 4

Experiences of Refugee Children in Colonial Kenya

In order to better understand life as it was for children in the British Colony, it may be helpful to return once more to Asaph Grasovsky’s 1938 report on the possibilities for German-­Jewish settlement in Kenya that was discussed in more detail in Chapter 1. Grasovsky, the Senior Horticulturist from Palestine whose inspection tour of the Kenya Colony was commissioned by the Council for German Jewry in England, met with representatives of the Board of Education in Nairobi and also visited the Prince of Wales Secondary School. Grasovsky was not in favor of raising children in the Colony. One reason he gave had to do with finances: “The cost of raising and educating children in Kenya at present is high, as they have to be sent to local boarding schools up to the age of 11 or 12 and subsequently abroad for a few years.”1 In his pseudo-­scientific assertions Grasovsky also expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental development of children: “Children in the tropics mature early” he wrote, adding that especially females were affected: “Girls are fully developed at the age of twelve. They are heavy, flabby and over-­grown. If they remain in Kenya between the ages of 12 to 17, they remain backward and sub-­normal. They cannot concentrate, tire easily, have little will-­power, lack energy and responsibility, and have bad memories. The strain on girls is greater than that...

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