‘My fa­ther es­caped the Nazis on the Kin­der­trans­port’

Karen Mil­lie-James knew noth­ing of her dad’s re­mark­able child­hood un­til let­ters dis­cov­ered af­ter his death re­vealed his in­cred­i­ble story

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On 19 July 1939, a 12-year-old Jewish boy was sent out of Ger­many to es­cape the Nazis. Af­ter trav­el­ling via Swe­den, he ar­rived in Bri­tain with just a card­board box con­tain­ing his mea­gre be­long­ings and a cou­ple of trea­sured fam­ily pho­to­graphs. A card was slung around his neck with his name, Rudi Adolf Cohn, hand­writ­ten on it. He had left his par­ents and twin broth­ers be­hind in Ger­many, not know­ing if he would ever see them again.

Rudi was nat­u­ralised in the UK in 1947 and changed his name to Roger Cum­mings. No one knew of the hor­rors he had wit­nessed – or of his mirac­u­lous es­cape.

In 1953, Roger mar­ried a tal­ented de­signer and win­dow dresser called Iris Co­hen and they had four chil­dren to­gether, in­clud­ing the nov­el­ist Karen Mil­lie-James. “We were brought up Jewish but I knew noth­ing of Dad’s his­tory,” Karen ex­plains. “He told us that he was Swedish, but wouldn’t elab­o­rate fur­ther.

“There were some clues to his back­ground, how­ever. Any­thing to do with Ger­many was a taboo sub­ject. I bought a Ger­man ra­dio once and Dad al­most threw it out of the house.”

Trag­i­cally, Karen only found out about her fa­ther’s child­hood af­ter he died aged 39. “Dad was taken into hospi­tal for a sim­ple her­nia op­er­a­tion and suf­fered a pul­monary throm­bo­sis. This was 1967 and I was 12 at the time. Mum strug­gled to bring all four of us up on a pal­try widow’s pen­sion.”

Af­ter Roger died, his story be­gan to un­furl when Karen and her fam­ily dis­cov­ered let­ters and pa­pers that he had writ­ten in Ger­man. They also stum­bled upon an obit­u­ary in the

Jewish Chron­i­cle, which said that he had come to Bri­tain on the Kin­der­trans­port – a res­cue ef­fort to bring Jewish chil­dren from the Con­ti­nent to safety in Bri­tain, which saved the lives of more than 10,000 chil­dren.

“Dad was born on 29 Au­gust 1926, not in Swe­den, but in Char­lot­ten­berg, Ber­lin, Ger­many, to Erich Alexan­der and Frieda Cohn. Erich owned a live­stock busi­ness and bank com­mis­sion­ers. Roger’s grown-up twin broth­ers, Hans and Gün­ther, stayed be­hind in Ger­many.”

Roger at­tended board­ing school in Taplow and Here­ford be­fore be­ing placed with a fam­ily in Birm­ing­ham. “Judg­ing by let­ters Dad wrote, he was badly treated. His es­cape came by join­ing the Army in 1944 and he was trans­ferred to the Welsh Fusiliers,” Karen says.

Roger joined the In­tel­li­gence Corps in March 1946 and was quickly pro­moted to sergeant. He was sta­tioned in Bel­gium and ven­tured into Ger­many to help cap­ture fugi­tive Nazis. This was work over and above that ex­pected of his rank, and he was awarded the France and Ger­many Star.

For 16 years af­ter the war, Roger ex­changed let­ters with the United Resti­tu­tion Of­fice in Lon­don. “The au­thor­i­ties made it as hard as pos­si­ble to claim com­pen­sa­tion for the loss of the fam­ily busi­ness and home. Dad had to cre­ate ex­haus­tive lists of house­hold items, such as but­ter dishes, cut­lery and bed­ding, from vague mem­o­ries.

“Fi­nally, in 1961, he was of­fered the sum of £1314.13s 2d. In­cred­i­bly, they also de­ducted com­mis­sion and ex­change han­dling charges.”

Fif­teen years ago, Karen read in The Times that a Good­will Fund had been es­tab­lished for fur­ther resti­tu­tion, so she ap­plied to the Court of Frank­furt. “It was shock­ing to re­ceive ev­ery de­tail of Dad’s fam­ily, in­clud­ing the dates they were taken to the camps and when they were mur­dered. I felt as though I had lost Dad’s fam­ily all over again and went through a pe­riod of mourn­ing.”

She learnt that Gün­ther and his wife Su­sanne were de­ported to Kovno, Lithua­nia, on 17 Novem­ber 1941, while Erich, Frieda and Hans were taken on to Auschwitz on 1 De­cem­ber 1943.

De­spite the dev­as­tat­ing turn in Roger’s child­hood, he cre­ated a lov­ing fam­ily home and did much to help oth­ers. For years he was chair­man of the char­ity AJEX, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Ex-Ser­vice­men and Women. “He led its pro­ces­sion at the Ceno­taph on Re­mem­brance Day and I have pho­tos of him march­ing in White­hall, proudly dis­play­ing his medals.

“Dad con­tin­ues to in­spire me ev­ery day and I’m cur­rently work­ing on my se­cond novel, which will be based on Holo­caust sur­vivors. Dad was my hero and I want to keep his story alive.” The lit­tle boy stand­ing alone on the sta­tion plat­form in 1939 has left be­hind a pow­er­ful legacy of love.

We were brought up Jewish, but I knew noth­ing of Dad’s his­tory. He told us he was Swedish

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