THE STORY OF THE SQUARE
Quilt 3, Square 11
Artist: Robert Sugar
The picture was made, as the caption says, on the day, in June 1939 when we, the Kindertransport children, arrived on the refugee farm. A professional photographer, with a tripod camera and hand-lit celluloid flash, recorded the event. Some were adolescents, but we, in the first row, were really children, nine, ten years old. More would still arrive before the outbreak of war, so that then the first row would have contained about twelve of us, eventually called "the children of the farm."
The Refugee Settlement Farm, Millisle (1939 – 1948) stretched inland from the Irish Sea over a hundred acres of the low hills of the Ards Peninsula of Northern Ireland — Scotland on the eastern horizon. The farm had been founded in the spring of 1939 by the Belfast Jewish community as a Hachsharah — a training farm for about 30 pioneers from Germany and Austria — their destination Palestine. But by the advent of war, in September, the farm population had grown to about 80 — a number of older people and 30 or so Kindertransportees. No longer strictly a Hachsharah it had become a small, almost self-sustaining Jewish village, with a cobblery, a carpentry, and machine shops, and of course, farmers (no doctor!). We had three giant Scots mares, 20 milk cows, a large herd of beef cattle, a huge flock of chickens, ducks, and even bees. We built houses. Agriculturally the farm quickly became a great success. Because we had so many people we could raise crops which single family farms could not . We grew all vegetables, potatoes, wheat, oats, and barley.
Conditions were spartan. We lived in unheated barracks, it rained constantly, and though we had bumper harvests most of what we raised was sold. We had sufficient food, but no seconds — perhaps because of this, we were very healthy.
Socially? By and large the very young children, nine, ten years old, got to like it, we formed strong bonds, and eventually went to good schools. Those older, who were not pioneers by choice, who had to work in the rain-drenched fields full-time, without pay, liked it much less, and got out as soon as they could. Many joined the army. To the older Herr and Frau Professors our farm was little more than an internment camp. Ursula, now a social worker in Baltimore, who had visited our farm in 1945, whom I met at one of our reunions about fifty years later, said to me — it was not a very nurturing place! She was right.
Why then the glowing “How beautiful Your Tents”? Apart from the usual nostalgia for youth, friendship, love it refers to the moment. We, the children, had arrived in twos and threes at the Belfast refugee hostel since the end of 1938. The hostel was in a decent house, the rooms were cold, the manager was cold, but from an adult view it might have seemed quite adequate. But I was eight years old, homesick, and miserable as hell. We were sent to a local school, where I did not understand the language and caning was the method of instruction. Then one day it was announced we were all going to a farm. We packed in a few minutes — our clothing was still in our suitcases, got into a fleet of cars, drove to the sea, which even though I had crossed, I’d never seen before, drove up a lane, saw new people, cows, horses and wide fields — all ours. It was our own Jewish country. On top of it, we would live in tents, like scouts. School was over, the endless summer before us. I felt liberated. And then soon, if not on the same day, we learned to sing, in Hebrew, Ma Tovu — How beautiful our tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!
We ran free for a few weeks, but then we, the little children too, were marched out to the fields. They set taskmasters of our own people above us, and we weeded endless rows of scallions, carrots, cabbages, which danced before my eyes when I fell asleep. Most of us would spend eight, nine years on the farm, most of us (though not I) would become orphans. Cold winters, the threat of invasion, grim days were ahead. But, of that moment, when we arrived, when our picture was made, I think my memory is as true as memory can ever be.
The quilt panel was designed by Robert Sugar.
Embroidered and photographed by Novel-Ts, Yonkers, NY.
Sewn by Sparkle Cleaners, Mount Vernon, NY