Shropshire Star

Shropshire's safe haven for Jewish children

One school which came to Shropshire early in the war provided a safe haven for Jewish children who had escaped Nazi persecution.

Jewish refugee children working the land at Trench Hall

They had been brought to England thanks to the Kindertransport, a mass evacuation of Jewish children as Hitler's henchmen intensified their crackdown.

And so it was that German-speaking children, with Germans on their teaching staff, came to the heart of the Shropshire countryside.

Tragically they were effectively orphans. Their parents had stayed behind and mostly died in the Holocaust.

A blue plaque on Trench Hall at Tilley Green, near Wem, tells of its noble wartime role.

It says: "This progressive Jewish boarding school was founded by Anna Essinger M.A. in Ulm, Germany, in 1926, and was brought to Kent, England, in 1933 and evacuated here to Trench Hall over the war years, 1940-1946."

Founded at Herrlingen, near Ulm, by Anna Essinger, the independent boarding school had many Jewish pupils.

With the writing on the wall with the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, she took her school to England, and it set up at Bunce Court, a 16th century mansion in Kent.

As the terror against the Jews increased at the end of 1938, Anna was asked to organise a reception camp for Jewish refugee children, and dozens of those she rescued joined her at her "New Herrlingen School."

But when the war situation worsened, Bunce Court was requisitioned by the military in June 1940 and the school had just three days to find a new home – which it found in Shropshire.

It had a progressive agenda. Corporal punishment was taboo, teachers were called by their first name, and there was no school uniform – principles that were all radical at the time.

Practical skills were taught, and academic study was accompanied by a strong emphasis on music and the arts, as well as physical activity, including daily walks in the woods.

Although lessons were in English, many of the children still spoke German.

Among the notable pupils were Frank Marcus, the playwright and drama critic who was perhaps best known as the author of The Killing of Sister George, and was among the last Jews to flee Germany in 1939. He died in 1996, at the age of 68.

The school stayed in Trench Hall until 1946, when it returned to Kent. It closed in 1948, but Anna continued to live at Bunce Court until her death in 1960.