Institute of Modern Languages Research
3rd Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Memorial Lecture
My Family in Exile
Dame Stephanie Shirley
'My family – German-Jewish father, Austrian Gentile mother, and my older sister and I (we were offensively called 'Mischlinge') arrived separately in the UK in 1939. He had walked over the mountains to neutral Switzerland from Austria and was later interned from England to Australia on the notorious transport ship Dunera. We two sisters escaped on the Kindertransport in July 1939 to be fostered by a Christian couple. My mother arrived in England four days before war was declared. So we were lucky: all our nuclear family survived.
But none refreshed the gene pool. My father served with the Pioneer Corps, then with the American Army (at the Nuremberg trials), and returned to his jurist career in Germany immediately it became possible. My mother remained in the UK, finishing up as a teacher. My sister declined British nationality after the war and migrated to Australia on a £10 Assisted Passage. Only I remained. I was a late pioneer of computing and a pathfinder in the professionalization of women; an IT entrepreneur in the early 60s, sharing ownership with the staff. Following the death of my only child, I became an ardent philanthropist.
As my memoir, Let IT Go, shows, the three things that have driven my life are each the result of that exile in 1939. First, I learnt to deal with change; secondly, I determined to make my life one that was worthy of being saved; and finally, my love for this country (one of the very few that would let us in) is with a passion perhaps only someone who had lost their human rights can feel.
After 75 years, I no longer relate to my family’s exile and this is now my home, sweet home.'