An Oxfordshire pensioner who worked in medical sciences has written a book about her family's experience of the Holocaust.

Vivien Sieber, 68, who lives in Headington began exploring her family history when she retired and tells the story in Kino and Kinder: A family’s journey in the shadow of the Holocaust.

The discovery of boxes of old photos following her father's death prompted the author to write the book.

Vivien Sieber's connection with Oxford began as a postdoctoral researcher when she joined Research Institute at the Churchill Hospital back in the 1980s.

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She studied the effect of radiation on skin and hair. Although her next fellowship was in London, she continued to live in East Oxford for many years.

She returned to work for the university, setting up the Medical Sciences Division Learning Technologies Group which ran the first formal online examinations for the university in 2004, almost 20 years ago.

Since retiring she has been learning to make pottery and has written Kino and Kinder.

Oxford Mail:

Explaining her family story, she said: "I have always known that my grandmother Paula's family bought a cinema in Vienna in 1917 that she ran with her sister until she fled to Britain in 1938 to escape Nazi antisemitism.

"A penniless refugee, Paula became a matron in a hostel for children saved by the Kindertransport.

The Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-controlled Europe before the start of World War II. Children, separated from their families at major train stations, travelled across Europe accompanied only by strangers.

"Arriving at Harwich the children were either sent to host families or hostels. Unlike Ukrainian refugees of today, there was no state funding to support them, communities had to raise funds to house, clothe, feed and provide everything needed to care for them.

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"Paula became the matron of a hostel run by a group in Newcastle, first in Tynemouth then Windermere. Over seven years Paula helped to care for 30 plus girls aged from five to 14. After the war they discovered that few of their families, left behind in Europe had survived the Holocaust."

Oxford Mail:

The author added: "The women spread across the world most married and had families of their own. They contributed to society in caring roles as nurses and teachers, and a few went on to talk about the Holocaust in schools."

When the author's father, Peter, died Vivien discovered cardboard boxes with old family photographs, Paula’s dusty old attaché case, covered in stickers from European hotels, full of bundles of miscellaneous letters written on flimsy blue air letters, and more faded old photographs.

Peter also left an unpublished autobiography, his wartime journals along with the results of his survey of the Kinder, the women cared for in the hostel.

And the author's sister had another collection of papers and pictures in her loft.

Vivien added: "As I sorted through the papers it became clear that there was so much more to uncover about my family history.

"A trip to Vienna ignited my quest to discover more I had Paula’s address and cheekily wrote to all the apartments in the block explaining my history. Serendipitously, the one invitation I received was from the current owners of the exact flat she had lived in with my father all those years ago. These kind people gave us coffee, home-made strudel along a carrier bag of documents copied by the archives and advice on how to continue our search. The quest was on."

Using the contacts her father left, Vivien met some of the Kinder who talked and wrote movingly of leaving their parents as young children, adjusting to life in the hostel and their adult lives. Most remained in touch with her grandmother throughout her life sending cards and photos of births, growing children and weddings.

The author added: "I began to write and Kino and Kinder, the story of my grandmother’s cinema, her glittering life in 1920s Vienna before she was forced to flee antisemitism and then the Kindertransport hostel.

"My father’s manuscript runs through the narrative with descriptions of being interned, and being the first enemy alien to serve in the navy.

"Meeting the ladies who came to the hostel as children in 1939 is a privilege, their writing is sometime heartrending."

Kino and Kinder is available on Amazon.

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

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