- Written by Joe Lonsdale and Jane Downes
- BBC Radio Newcastle
The image of three Jewish girls fleeing Nazi Germany has become an iconic image appearing in museums, galleries, and publications. They were taken at London’s Liverpool Street Station, but for more than 80 years the girls’ identity has been a mystery. So far.
Angie doesn’t remember the photo being taken and for decades she didn’t know it existed.
The five-year-old had fled her home in Breslau, Germany, and now Wroclaw, Poland, with her 10-year-old sister, Ruth.
Their mother and younger sister had stayed at Auschwitz and been murdered.
It wasn’t until she was retired that Angie realized that she and Ruth, who died in 2015, were forever immortalized as symbols of the Nazi Holocaust and the transportation of Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939.
I came across the photo in Never Again, a book by historian Martin Gilbert.
“That was a big surprise,” said Inge, whose maiden name is Adamecz.
“He’s just been put in ‘Three Little Girls’, so I wrote to him and said we’re so alive. People say I look like Shirley Temple. Why am I smiling?”
“Look at Ruth, I’m so touched.
“I don’t know who that third girl with the doll is. I never knew who she was.”
The girl with the doll was actually 10-year-old Hannah Cohn, who had arrived on the same train as the girls with her twin brother Hans, later named Gerald, from Halle in Germany.
Hans trouser leg can be made in the original glass plate of the picture.
Like Angie and Ruth, Hannah didn’t remember the photo that was taken, though she did remember the trip and the doll.
She passed away in 2018 but spoke about her experience in an interview with University College London.
“I remember passing Holland and nice ladies giving us sticky doughnuts and lemonade,” she said.
“We got to Liverpool Street station on this train from Harwich and I totally oblige, the seats were upholstered, not wooden and I was very worried we might be in first class by mistake.
“I was also worried we were going to Liverpool Street, as I thought we were going to London and Liverpool somewhere else.
“However, we got to this big room. I was holding a doll that I called Evelyn.”
Hannah first learned of the photograph when her brother discovered it at an exhibition at Camden Library in London to celebrate Kindertransport’s 50th anniversary.
Her twin daughters Debbie and Helen Singer said she was always very curious about the other two girls.
“When we saw the picture of her sitting there with her pigtail and her doll, she was like, ‘I wonder who the other two girls are?'” Debbie said. “.
Then in January, more than 80 years after the photo was taken, her daughters found out the truth after they came across a BBC audio series.
Our story, The Girls: A Holocaust Safe House, told the forgotten tale of a Northeast inn where Angie, married name Hamilton, and Ruth spent part of the war.
“It was Holocaust Remembrance Day and a friend sent me a link to the news on the BBC website,” Helen said, adding: “I thought, ‘Why are you sending me that link’ and I scrolled down and saw the photo with my mum and the names of the two other girls, Ruth and Angie.
“We were so excited. I texted Debbie and said, ‘We found the girls.'”
Then in April, Angie finally met Hannah’s daughters at the Imperial War Museum in London, where the photo had been on display for more than 20 years, to find out more about their families and what happened after it was taken.
“Angie is such a special person in our lives,” Debbie said, adding, “I think my mum would be really proud of us.
“She always talked about these two little girls and the fact that we found them would be really important to her.”
But what about the photographer?
We know from records kept by the Getty Images Hulton archives that his name was Stevenson and he worked for the Topical Press agency, which employed more than 1,000 photographers to provide images for the massive newspaper industry.
The daily book survives, in which the photographer’s jobs were recorded, for 5 July 1939 and is clearly marked “Three Young Children Waiting at Liverpool Street Station”, with the photographer’s name Stevenson in the margin.
We can’t know for sure, but it was likely a Scotsman named John F Stephenson (both forms of the spelling are used in the recordings) who is best known for co-writing the song Dear Old Glasgow Ton.
In the 1930s the Topical News Agency headlined him in Glasgow.
With the help of the Scottish Public Records Office, through the addresses of his birth and death certificates, we have traced his family.
His grandson, journalist Gordon Stephenson, was fascinated by the story of his grandfather’s career as a freelance photojournalist in the late 1930s.
“We knew he took pictures his whole life and we have a lot of pictures of him,” Gordon said, adding: “We knew he was a huge part of his life.
But this was always in his later years, so the revelation of an eclectic career in his late 30s came as a complete shock, but a wonderful one.
“We didn’t know anything about his photographic career south of the border.
“So to find out this kind of history that we knew nothing about was a real revelation and we’re still struggling to fathom the possibility that this could be him, but it’s just as wonderful.”
The photo appeared in the national newspaper The News Chronicle the day after it was taken, but it was then used only occasionally until the digital age, when it appeared frequently in newspapers and galleries.
And during a visit by Debbie and Helen Singer, Getty Archives updated their records, so the caption accompanying the photo spells out the names of the three girls.
“I’m crying so hard,” Debbie said, “because our mother’s name and where she’s from are appended to this picture with Angie and Ruth, and they’re not just faceless babies.”
Helen agreed, adding, “These weren’t just ‘three little girls,’ they were people with important names and lives.
“They deserved to be named and we think our mom would have been thrilled about it.”
Angie, who is 89 and lives in South London, has waited more than 80 years to find out the name of the cute girl she shared her doll with.
She now knows a lot more about the image that followed her.
“It was so far out that picture,” she said, adding, “It just seems to draw people in.”
Additional reporting by Duncan Leatherdale.
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