What Kitty Did - By Janey Hames

During a ‘Bible Comes To Life’ exhibition in Leicestershire we encountered a fascinating story.

With the family’s permission we re-tell some of that story here.

What Kitty Did

Kitty Kraiser was born in Vienna, Austria on 26 August 1920 she was the oldest of Hugo and Ella Kraiser’s eight children. Life was normal for her growing; up she did all the things that little girls her age did, like dressing up her pet cat as a baby and wheeling it around in the dolls pram.

Or swimming in the nearby river Danube with friends, allowing the current to carry them for a mile or so downriver and then hopping out and walking back. And when the winter months came ice skating on frozen ponds.

However, Hitler came to power in Germany during the early 1930s and soon things would soon change for Kitty’s family.

The Nazis came to Austria when Kitty was around 17 or 18 years old. At the time she was training to be a nursery nurse, but because she and her family were Jewish she was unable to get a job anywhere. Nazi police stormed the Kraiser’s house searching for valuables although they had none and arrested Kitty's father for no other reason than his Jewish heritage. Thankfully Hugo was not kept prisoner for long, but things were getting very bad for Kitty and her family.

Meanwhile in Motherwell in Scotland Anna Howson was pleading with her parents to take in a little Jewish boy from Europe. Anne’s father agreed to take in a little boy, but only if he was called Robert!

Little Robert Kraiser came to stay with the Howson family from Austria by “Kinder Transport”.

Kitty had moved to London aged 19. She got a job as nanny to the family of a wealthy ironmonger. The Aston’s had two small children aged 2 and 6 years old and Kitty was treated like one of the family. Eventually, the Ashton’s decided to emigrate to Australia and were prepared to take Kitty with them, however she wanted to stay in London to be near her two aunts who lived there, so instead moved into a flat with a friend, finding work in nurseries whenever she could. Later on in Kitty’s life, she and Mrs. Ashton would still write to one another. One night Kitty went to visit her aunt and returned home to discover that her flat had been bombed. All Kitty had were the clothes on her back. It was then that she decided to go to Scotland to be with her younger brother Robert who was staying with the Howson family.

Ann’s brother, Louis Howson, had come to London to visit Kitty asking her to come and live with the family and help out as the father had taken unwell, and her mother was spending all her time looking after him. Robert had known that his sister was in London and Louis’ father had been able to trace her. When Kitty move to Motherwell she was able to help him trace where some of her other siblings were. Louis’ father wanted to trace as many of the eight Kraiser children as possible. Kitty was 20 years old when she went to Scotland. Out of the eight children, Mr. Howson had been able to trace Kitty; her brother Pauli, who was traced to Denmark and had settled there; and two sisters. Lottie (12) was brought to Motherwell from Brighton and Edith (10) from Norway.

While with the Howson’s, Kitty helped with all the housework, cooking and looking after the family during Mr. Howson’s illness. The Kraiser’s and the Howson’s were very close, even calling Mr. and Mrs. Howson “father" and “mother”. Even though they hadn’t much, they were willing to share and everybody somehow managed to squeeze into the three bedroom council house in North Lodge Avenue. In her early twenties Kitty became a believer in Jesus and in 1945 she married Louis Howson.

After the war, Kitty’s aunt contacted the Jewish registry office in Vienna and was able to discover that Kitty’s parents, Hugo and Ella, her grandfather and three younger sisters, Herta, Lucie and Leah were taken to Auschwitz in Poland, just one week before the war had ended. Sadly, all their lives were ended there.

Kitty and Louis lived happily together for 56 years and had six children; Jane, Edith, Thomas, Louis, Rhoda and Carolyn. They had ten grandchildren. Kitty lived to see four of her great grandchildren. This is what Kitty did.

A tribute from Kitty’s children

For Such A Tiny Woman

For such a tiny woman, our mum, Kitty Howson packed a lot into her 90 years of life.

Although she was only 4’10 and 1/2 inches tall, less than 7 stones in weight and took size 2 1/2 in shoes, mum did things in a big way! She had Jane, Edith, Tommy and Louis, her first four children in just over five years (and Louis weighed in at 10 lbs!) Rhoda arrived 5 years later and and ten years after that Carolyn was born - two weeks before mum’s 47th birthday.

For such a tiny woman, mum was a hard worker and a formidable organiser. She needed very little sleep and was often up until two o’clock in the morning making our school uniforms. Then there was the knitting machine, going ‘zip, zip, zip’ into the wee small hours of the morning producing all sorts of misshapen garments to keep us warm. Mum never went out to work, but never stopped working; nor were we allowed an idle moment lest we got up to mischief.

For such a tiny woman, mum did food in a big way. Big cloutie dumplings , big cakes, big puddings, big casseroles, big pots of soup and big helpings of everything. AS though feeding the family weren’t enough there were usually extra mouths as well. We often had lodgers, folks from the church who needed a home for one reason or another. The kitchen was mum’s natural habitat. She produced large quantities of scones, cakes, shortbread, big puddings and churned pints of double cream to a smooth thickness in her Kenwood Chef. Then there were the picnics! Big pots of soup heated on the primus stove, followed by mince and patties from a thermos flask, then home made apple pies and freshly made custard.

For such a big family, we needed a big car. Mum’s driving was legendary. (Scary!) She was so small that dad made her a frame to sit on so that her feet could reach the pedals. In the early 60’s the family car was a 12 seater Bedford van. Mum drove it to the market to buy enough food to feed the troops. She drove it to the meat market to buy whole fillets of steak and mince to fill up the big freezer. She drove it into Glasgow to for all the sales. Mum loved a good bargain and on one occasion she forgot where she’d parked the van, reported it as stolen and came home by train!

Mum only stopped driving at the age of 70 when she wrote the car off under a bus and walked home with only a scratch on her glasses.

For such a tiny woman, mum had a big heart. Although she lived in the confines of 18, North Lodge for for almost 70 years, she wasn’t restricted by the small home. Mum sponsored children in Bolivia for many years, and had a wide interest in all sorts of charitable organisations; the local homeless, local deaf children, Jewish refugees, MAF, Tear Fund and many more. Mum prayed for every organisation that she supported and was actively involved with the local Torch Trust for the Blind for many years. Mum was very generous. Latterly, in unexpected places, we would find plastic tubes heavy with pound coins ready to give to folk who needed them.

Life wasn’t always easy for mum. Because it was wartime her wedding ring came from the local pawnbrokers, but if there were any money worries, we never knew anything about them.

We were always well fed and well clothed. We were always encouraged to do well at school and mum was very strict about equal opportunities. Boys and girls had to have the same education. Although mum herself didn’t have a great education, she had a fine mind and was fiercely competitive when it came to playing games! Mum was educated in a Catholic school and had Jewish teaching on a Friday afternoon. That was where she first started asking questions about God. How could one religion have one god and another religion have three gods?

For such a tiny woman, mum had a big faith. It was mum’s faith that kept her going through the hard times, like when Tommy died at the age of 39 and when dad died. Then when her health began to fail she went into Milton Grange Nursing Home she was kept going by the talking books from Torch Trust for the Blind and headily readings on CD.

The biggest tribute to mum’s faith is her family. Each one of us was prayed for even before we were born, and that goes for the grandchildren too. Not many parents can boast of bringing six children into the world, all of whom are active Christians and all of whose spouses and children have a strong Christian faith.

For such a tiny woman, our mum, wee Kitty Howson has left a big legacy in the generosity, life skills and faith which she has passed on to the next generation.

By Janey Hames

Janey is one of CMJ UK's National Representatives. If you'd like to email a response or get in touch please email paulandjaneyh@cmj.org.uk 

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