The Jewish Refugee Resettlement Farm, Millisle, Co. Down

Between 1938-1948, many young Jewish refugees fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust found a safe haven in an old farm on the outskirts of Millisle, Co. Down.

Before, during, and after the Second World War, a dilapidated old farmstead near a coastal village in Northern Ireland took on a vital role. Sometimes referred to as Gorman's Farm or Ballyrolly House, those who lived and worked there between 1939-1948 knew it simply as "The Farm". It was a working agricultural enterprise, but more than that it was a place of refuge and a safe haven for hundreds of young Jews from occupied Europe.

In the late 1930s, many Jewish children and young people fled the horrors of Nazi persecution on the Kindertransport. Many made their way to the United Kingdom, risking their personal safety and often leaving family and friends behind. Of those who made it to the U.K., a number would find their way to the village of Millisle, Co. Down. There, alongside a handful of adults and members of Zionist youth groups, they found a home away from home, and a place of tranquility and safety.

In May 1939, President Barney Hurwitz, Leo Scop, and Maurice Solomon of the Belfast Jewish Community met with Lawrence Gorman. He was the owner of a run-down farmstead on the outskirts of Millisle, Co. Down. Over a drink in Mooney’s Bar, Cornmarket, Belfast, Hurwitz and Gorman put pen to paper, signed a lease, and the story of “The Farm” began.

The first of the Jewish refugees arrived in Millisle during the summer of 1939. They found an almost barren 70-acre plot of land. The stone farmhouse – known as Ballyrolly House – had seen better days and the surrounding barns and outbuildings were derelict. Despite arriving in the height of summer, the young people quickly grew accustomed to Northern Ireland’s weather. Torrential rain and heavy winds battered their leaking tents. They were cold. They were wet. But, they were safe.

Building a Community

With help from the Jewish community in nearby Belfast and local neighbours in Millisle, “The Farm” became a much more habitable abode. By the second night in Northern Ireland, the refugees took shelter in a newly-whitewashed cowshed. A run-down old stable had become a makeshift kitchen but outdoor privies made-do until the digging of latrines.

Much more digging would soon be underway. Older children cleared fields while the younger ones gathered stones and uprooted weeds. Adults tilled the earth, planting grains and vegetables. In time, the farm would run like a Kibbutz or co-operative. Even the youngest children worked on the farm and received a shilling per week. This would later rise to half a crown.

Before long, they built long wooden huts as dormitories and bedrooms. A cleaned-out cistern and the installation of a rotary hand pump enabled showers and flushable toilets. Once settled, the fledgling Jewish community built a recreation room with billiards and table tennis. There were offices for administration and a synagogue for worship.

One of the final buildings was a large twin-gabled structure. This included a cattle byre, workshops, and a place to store what few valuables the refugees owned. Adolf Mundheim, a civil engineer from Hanover, Germany oversaw the completion of this building project.

Life in Millisle

By 1948, around 300 people of all ages had passed through “The Farm”. At any given time, up to 80 residents – adults and children – made their home in what became a thriving community. Although wartime restrictions sometimes thwarted travel plans, the young refugees integrated with the local community in Millisle.

When not working on the farm, the Jewish children attended the nearby Public Elementary School. After the age of 14 years old, they would move on to secondary schools across Co. Down such as Bangor Grammar School, Bangor High School, and Regent House Grammar School. Others attended night school in the nearby coastal town of Donaghadee, Co. Down, or joined the Scouts, the Red Cross, and the local Air Training Corps.

Working the Land

The manager of the farm was Eugen Patriasz, a Hungarian with a degree in agriculture from the University of Vienna. Before moving to Millisle, he had little practical experience of farming matters. The farm administrators were Franz Kohner and Edith Kohner. The Kohners were from the Sudetenland and came to Northern Ireland with their two young children. They looked after the day-to-day running of the farm. They bought supplies, managed rations, and controlled the enforcement of the blackout. This inexperienced team received help from friendly locals who taught them some farming skills.

By October 1940, the farm had 2 Clydesdale horses, 7 cows, and around 2,000 chickens. There were also 16 acres of vegetables and cereals. The fields produced oats, barley, wheat, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, turnips, and maize. In 1941, the farmers acquired a Ferguson tractor with the aid of government grants and a donation from the Dublin Jewish Community.

With the farm at full production, they operated a dairy where some of the children churned cream and butter. Others worked in the kosher kitchen, sewing room, laundry, or repair workshop. Among the roles filled on the farm were a carpenter and a shoemaker.

Residents of The Farm

These young Jewish refugees were residents at The Farm in Millisle, Co. Down on 10th April 1946. Most had survived life under Nazi rule and time spent in camps throughout occupied Europe.

Last Name First Name(s) Alias Hometown Age
Alter Herman Polana (Polyana, Ukraine) 17
Berkovic Samuel Chust (Khust, Ukraine) 17
Brandstein Isak Bustina (Bushtyno, Ukraine) 17.5
Czucker Jan Berehovo (Berehove, Ukraine) 15
Deutsch Ignac Berehovo (Berehove, Ukraine) 17
Deutsch Zoltan Berehovo (Berehove, Ukraine)
Diamantstein Julius Seredne (Serednje, Ukraine) 17
Eckstein David Brod (Brody, Ukraine) 17
Friedmann Alexander Svalava (Svalyava, Ukraine) 17
Frischmann Ladislac Ushorod (Uzhhorod, Ukraine) 17
Frischmann Vilem William Frischmann Ushorod (Uzhhorod, Ukraine) 15+
Gruenberg Vilem Majdan (Majdan, Poland) 17
Gruenfeld Herman Kivjazd (Kamianske, Ukraine) 17.5
Himl Jan Nizni-Verecky (Nyzhni Vorota, Ukraine) 17
Hoffman Adolf Velki Sevllus (Vynohradiv, Ukraine) 17
Jakubovicz Chajim Leib Sandrovo (Oleksandrivka, Ukraine) 17
Klein Tomas Usvorod (Uzhhorod, Ukraine) 16
Luger Herman Ustcorna (Ust'-Chorna, Ukraine) 17.5
Luger Mendel Ustcorna (Ust'-Chorna, Ukraine) 15.5
Luger Salamon Ustcorna (Ust'-Chorna, Ukraine) 17
Markovic Moritz Koposno 17.5
Rothschild Herman Hamburg (Hamburg, Germany) 17
Rozenberg Chajim Hamburg (Hamburg, Germany) 17
Rozenberg Mendel Neli Peno (Nelipyno, Ukraine) 17.5
Salamon Tibor Mukacevo (Mukachevo, Ukraine) 17
Schaechter David Ubla (Ubľa, Slovakia) 17
Slomovic Chaskel Nizni-Apsa (Verkhnje Vodyane, Ukraine) 17
Spiegel Eugen Bardejov (Bardejov, Slovakia) 17.5
Steinmetz Moses Dubova (Dubova, Romania) 17
Braunsteinova Blanka Visni-Bistra (Verkhnyaya Bystraya, Russia) 17
Dubova Ruzena Velki Bockov (Velykyi Bychkiv, Ukraine) 17
Feigova Marija Ganyce (Hanychi, Ukraine) 16
Freilichova Josefa Visna-Bistra (Verkhnyaya Bystraya, Russia) 17
Galacova Zuzanna Jasina (Yasinya, Ukraine) 16.5
Ickovicova Cervenka Kivjad (Kamianske, Ukraine) 16
Ickovicova Etelka Kivjad (Kamianske, Ukraine) 17
Jakubovicova Zlata Veliki Lucki (Velyki Luchky, Ukraine) 17
Kleinova Marija Lince 17
Markovicova Serena Koposno 17
Moscovicova Gizela Kuzmina (Kuz'myno, Ukraine) 17
Oesterreicherova Luisa Strabicovo (Strabychovo, Ukraine) 17
Perlova Manci Slatinska-Doly (Solotvyno, Ukraine) 17.5
Rezmovicova Ester Slatinska-Doly (Solotvyno, Ukraine) 17
Sabova Berta Visno Apsa (Verkhnje Vodyane, Ukraine) 16.5
Slomovicova Helena Velka Dobron (Velyka Dobron, Ukraine) 16
Slomovicova Jolana Velka Dobron (Velyka Dobron, Ukraine) 16
Slomovicova Ruzena Velka Dobron (Velyka Dobron, Ukraine) 17
Slomovicova Ruzena Rachel Levy Nisni-Apsa (Verkhnje Vodyane, Ukraine) 16
Zelikovicova Helena Tacova (Tyachiv, Ukraine) 17

Leisure time on "The Farm"

At first, some in Millisle looked at their new neighbours with an air of suspicion. Soon, however, the fledgling Jewish community ingratiated themselves with the locals. Firm friendships were made that endured long after the war ended. The farm received visits from members of Jewish communities in Belfast and Dublin, and some visitors volunteered on the farm during the summer months.

Children on the farm would play football with locals or go swimming at Millisle Beach. Occasionally, they would hire a rowing boat and spend the evenings fishing for herrings. On “The Farm”, they enjoyed ping-pong, billiards, and card games. Occasional concerts and dances were held. A transistor radio tuned to the B.B.C. service and a wall map allowed them to track the latest news from the Second World War. Many of the older children feared the possibility of a Nazi invasion of Ireland in 1940. For lighter listening, there was a gramophone that played classical, swing, and jazz. Some of the older residents would enjoy a game of German or Austrian Monopoly.

The children at Ballyrolly House rarely heard from their families. With the outbreak of the Second World War, postal services from Europe ground to a halt. An occasional letter smuggled through the United States of America or Switzerland would reach Northern Ireland. For the most part, updates came from Red Cross messages limited to 14 words. Many of the children heard nothing from their loved ones for many years, if ever again. It would be 1945 before the older children saw the horrors of the Holocaust. Newsreel pictures of the liberation of the Nazi camps flashed across the screen of the Regal Cinema in the nearby town of Donaghadee.

From time to time, the children enjoyed trips to Belfast for shopping or recreation. Some were lucky enough to visit families in Dublin, Ireland. In general, travel during the Second World War was not easy. There was much administration required and fuel was in short supply and heavily rationed. Short journeys by foot, bicycle, or in a horse-drawn cart were the norm.

Life after the War

The Jewish Resettlement Farm in Millisle closed in May 1948. Some refugees were still there although many had left at the end of the Second World War. Some of the teenagers had joined the British Army’s Pioneer Corps, some got jobs in the local area, and some went on to further education at Queen’s University Belfast. Edith Jacobowitz studied nursing and went on to work at Newtownards Hospital.

After the end of the Second World War, many of the Millisle refugees found they were orphans. Some had their entire families killed in the Holocaust. A lucky few would find relatives in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Canada. Most left the safety of Ballyrolly House and the Millisle farm ready to face a post-war world on their own.

Rachel Levy returns to Millisle

In recent years, Rachel Levy returned to visit The Farm at Millisle, Co. Down. She had first arrived in Northern Ireland as a refugee and Holocaust survivor in early 1946.

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