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From Anschluss to Albion:

Memoirs of a Refugee Girl 1938–40

By Elizabeth Orsten

From Anschluss to Albion

From Anschluss to Albion:

Memoirs of a Refugee Girl 1938–40

By Elizabeth Orsten

Based on the author's childhood diary following the Nazi occupation of her native Austria, this is an intimate account of the problems a refugee child faces when she is plucked from her home and placed unceremoniously into a different world.

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Elisabeth Orsten grew up in a comfortable Viennese middle class milieu, together with her wealthy parents, her younger brother George and her nanny. Educated as a Roman Catholic, she was nevertheless Jewish according to Nazi criteria, and it rapidly became clear to her parents that if she was to survive the Nazi occupation she would have to leave her native country. Her settled and secure childhood changed abruptly in January 1939, when she and her brother George were transported to England by the Jewish Refugee Children's Movement in an operation parallel to the English Quakers; 'kindertransport'.

In England she was lodged with a friend of her family and her three daughters, but they were unable to accommodate George, who was found a lodging by the Quakers in a different part of the country.

Feeling very much alone, Elisabeth immediately had to start learning an entirely new language and to accommodate herself to a quite different culture from the one she was used to. The struggle shows in her narrative of those times and, particularly, in the extracts from the diary she had been given by her nanny as a last present before she left Austria and which she began writing in to maintain her German. When at last she managed to begin feeling at home in England, there was yet more disruption in her life.

At the age of twelve, not knowing where George was, she was put on a ship to America. Confusion on disembarkation, and the renewed difficulties of fitting in with yet another family and culture, were exacerbated by the frightening news of the sinking of later transatlantic transports which might have been carrying others of her family to safety. Only when she was finally reunited with her parents and her brother, in September 1940, did the terror abate; and there her diary entries cease.

Fifty years later, now a university professor, Elisabeth Orsten picked up that diary and reread it. As the memories flooded back, she knew that she had to share the story with others, and she began writing these memoirs. Full of personal feelings and private incident, they constitute an intimate account of the problems a refugee child faces when it is suddenly plucked from its usual environment and placed unceremoniously into a different world.

Many contemporary refugee children have to deal with harsher conditions than the author endured. Yet their stories have things in common with these memoirs. From Anschluss to Albion can give us all an understanding of the feelings and the turmoil undergone by a refugee child struggling to understand what has occurred and why, while at the same time having to cope with different language, culture, and carers.


I. Childhood Joys and Fears
II. Mixed Messages
III. Gathering Clouds
IV. Temporary Refuge
V. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
VI. The Phoney War
VII. The Threat of Invasion
VIII. Between Here and There
IX. Across the Atlantic


Elisabeth M. Orsten lives and works in Canada where she is a professor at Champlain College, Trent University, Ontario. Apart from learned articles, From Anschluss to Albion is her first published work.

Elisabeth's diary entries have a huge simplicity about them. She is out to impress no one: ... Happenings are recorded in a straightforward, matter of fact tone. ... observing the past, and herself, with a certain dry humor. ... utterly human. Again and again we identify with Elisabeth ... This book has to be read personally. ... it leaves the reader with deep, deep thoughts. Sr Mary Noble OP
... an intriguing account of the problems a refugee child faces ... First and foremost it is a good story, not a documented case study. It would make fascinating reading for carers working with children, but for anyone who has no involvement at all in this field, the book is a great read. Third Sector
How did it feel to be a victim of anti-Semitism? The memoirs of Elisabeth Orsten provide a vivid answer. Her autobiography is both touching and stylishly written. Jewish Chronicle
A fascinating account of a ten-year-old child's experience as a refugee, with the author's adult, and thoughtful, comments on the effects of these experiences. It succeeds admirably. Rose Goldstein, in Reportback
Her writing evokes an experience of childhood with which many readers of her age and, particularly, background, would probably identify. ... small touches vividly convey experiences from her childhood. Vivienne Cato, in The International Journal of Children's Spirituality