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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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When Hans Albert Walter wrote in 1984 about British refugee policies that “all that remained of the opening of the East-­African colonies which was propagated so promisingly in Evian was merely the attempt of a settlement of 15 families in Kenya”, he may not have had the documents which are accessible today and which enable us to provide better estimates regarding the number of German and Austrian refugees who managed to flee to Kenya.1 It is true that compared to South Africa, the number of German and Austrian Jews who came to British East Africa in the 1930s remained low. Yet, with at least 800 women, men and children who found safe havens in Kenya, the immigration numbers for this Colony during the Nazi-­era were substantial.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to say who is to blame for the failure of a larger-scale settlement scheme of German and Austrian Jewish refugees in Kenya. Based on what has been described in Roads Less Traveled, it is evident that the work of refugee organizations in Germany, Great Britain and Kenya and their negotiation with the Colonial Office and the Kenya Government was a balancing act. Henry R. M. Brooke-­Popham – Governor of Kenya from 1937 to 1939 – had repeatedly voiced his opposition “to the setting aside of any large area of land, even if such were available, for one big Jewish settlement as [he] consider[ed] that a Jewish enclave of this kind would be...

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