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Negotiating Belonging in Exile: A Study of Diaries of Kindertransport Refugees

Citation: Stahlberger, Monja (2024) Negotiating Belonging in Exile: A Study of Diaries of Kindertransport Refugees. Doctoral thesis, Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies.


Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

The Kindertransport holds a key position in twentieth century refugee movements. Much attention has been paid to the implementation and organisation of the scheme. To date, there has not been an extensive investigation of unpublished ego-documents that were written around the time of the Kindertransport but rather these sources have often been utilised as supporting material. Diaries of Kindertransport refugees can be used in an endeavour to understand the lived experience of these refugees in their early years in Britain. Aiming to question the notion of binary and mutually exclusive cultural identities and senses of belonging, examining diaries gives us indications of transnational identities and changing notions of belonging of Kindertransport refugees. By bringing together the diaries and analytical concepts derived from theories of transnationalism, everyday theory, memory studies, and diary studies, this thesis highlights the Kindertransport refugees’ fluid and hybrid senses of belonging. Investigating the diary as a practice and a material object, underscores the diary’s role in analysing changing notions of belonging. The diary becomes a tool which is used to manifest a sense of self and identity. The practice of writing and decorating the diary suggests not only agency but also an exercise of mindfulness in otherwise often overwhelming times. The Kindertransport refugees' direct engagement with belonging in their diaries shows how their sense of identity, self, and integration are dependent on processes of homemaking, remembering their lives before exile, and navigating new experiences. The diarists base their understanding of belonging on spatial aspects such as their countries of origin and countries of refuge, but they also expand their notions of belonging by reflecting on the sense of belonging to a particular social group or feelings of non-belonging. Utilising forms of remembering in their writing can further amplify their understanding of what it means to belong or not belong as they engage with feelings of Heimweh or nostalgia for their country of origin to also make sense of their lived experiences in their country of refuge. Emphasising the translingual nature of the diaries highlights how integration and notions of belonging are negotiated on a content level in the diaries as well as through the Kindertransport refugees’ use of language. Everyday practices and encounters not only shed light on the multifaceted exile experiences but the diary entries also reveal narrative strategies that show the agency of the Kindertransport refugees in their everyday lives and, with this, an active attempt to make sense of displacement, exile, and new everyday experiences. This research contributes to the field of exile studies by revealing the fluid nature of belonging among Kindertransport refugees, challenging the idea that spatial binaries govern the negotiation of belonging. It offers a new perspective on the Kindertransport experience, using personal diaries as windows into the refugees' evolving identities and notions of belonging.

Creators: Stahlberger, Monja and
Subjects: Culture, Language & Literature
Keywords: Kindertransport, Refugees, Exile, German, Belonging, Diaries
Divisions: Institute of Modern Languages Research
Collections: Thesis
  • 30 June 2024 (accepted)


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