The School that Escaped the Nazis

The True Story of the Schoolteacher Who Defied Hitler


By Deborah Cadbury

Read by Julie Teal

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The extraordinary true story of a courageous school principal, Anna Essinger, who saw the dangers of Nazi Germany and took drastic steps to save those in harm’s way

By 1931, Anna Essinger had read Mein Kampf and knew that Hitler’s world view was violent, utterly destructive, and that many of her pupils in her small progressive school in Herrlingen, Germany were in terrible danger. She decided that in order to offer them a refuge, and a future, she must first move her school entirely out of the Nazis’ reach. So, she did just that, creating a safe haven in Kent, England. 

Anna and the first seventy children escaped Nazi Germany in 1933, but in time she would accept waves of increasingly traumatized children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and then Poland as the crisis spread.  Some children had, by the time they reached Essinger, been violated by five years of escalating deprivations. For those who escaped the camps and ghettos, Essinger offered the only salvation that mattered, in the words of a student: “a great deal of love and determination to help us.”

Acclaimed writer Deborah Cadbury retells the remarkable story of Essinger, drawing on moving first-person accounts of the children who escaped and their reflections on the lives they created from the ashes of WWII. The School That Escaped from the Nazis is not just a Holocaust survival story – many of the students were Jewish – but an inspiring narrative of one woman’s refusal to allow her beliefs in a better, more equitable world to be overtaken by violent force and political extremism. Essinger’s determination to move her school becomes a triumph of humanism in a time of increasing violence and intolerance. 


  • “What gives this book its immediacy and freshness is the fact that Deborah Cadbury has spoken to so many of the witnesses to a phenomenal story. The woman who brought an entire school to Kent from Germany, and saved so many children from the Nazis, was a completely heroic figure. This story is an uplifting reminder of how courage, high virtue, and intelligence can overcome even the most appalling odds. At many points, with tearful eyes, I cheered—it is a book which stirs up deep emotion, and high admiration, for the author as well as its subject.”
    A. N. Wilson, author of The Mystery of Charles Dickens
  • “Anna Essinger’s wartime school for Jewish refugees reminds us of the lifelong impact which one person’s compassion and imagination can make on others—even in the darkest of times. Cadbury’s story packs a real emotional punch.”
    Caroline Shenton, author of National Treasures
  • “A stirring account of a German schoolteacher’s efforts to build an oasis for children fleeing the Nazi advance across Europe. . . .  Impressively researched and vividly told, this is a captivating portrait of courage and resilience in the face of unspeakable horror.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “An inspiring, well-researched life portrait of a spectacularly heroic teacher.”
    Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Jul 12, 2022
Hachette Audio

Deborah Cadbury

About the Author

Deborah Cadbury is the author of ten acclaimed books. As a BBC TV producer and executive producer, she has won numerous international awards, including an Emmy. She lives in London.

Learn more about this author