01 December 2008

Kindertransport - December 1938

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport children in the UK. The story of this remarkable rescue fascinates me, partly because I pass a memorial outside Liverpool street every day and partly because of the actions of a local resident, the late Bill Barazetti, one of the Righteous among the Nations

In 2003 a superb memorial, featuring a sculpture by artist Flor Kent was erected Liverpool St station. “Fur das Kind” commemorated the Kindertransport (Wikipedia reference), a rescue mission that saved around 10,000 mainly Jewish children from Nazi occupied areas just before the outbreak of WWII. Unveiled by Sir Nicholas Winton the memorial consisted of a statue of a small girl beside a transparent suitcase filled with memorabilia brought by the children, including books, toys and, poignantly, photographs of family members who almost certainly perished during the Holocaust. Sadly the design was not as successful as planned and the memorabilia was returned to the Imperial War Museum. It was replaced in late 2006 by a new memorial called simply The Children of the Kindertransport


The story of the Kindertransport rescue has been overshadowed by the Holocaust. However, it was an astonishing feat the first transport arrived in England 70 years ago on December 2, 1938, bringing 196 children from a Berlin Jewish orphanage torched by the Nazis the previous month. The work continued until the outbreak of war, although in 1940 a final transport brought 80 children from earlier transports that had stayed in Holland on the day it fell to the Nazis. The freighter itself was strafed by German warplanes.

Around 10,000 children were saved, most of them Jews, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. None were accompanied by parents.

In an effort to deal with the “refugee problem” a conference proposed by President Roosevelt was held in the French resort town of Evian in July 1938, but despite grand words, the conference was ineffectual, as most countries continued to refuse to accept new immigrants.
Following events in Germany and Austria refuge aid committees in Britain swayed the government to permit an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter the United Kingdom. Jews, Quakers, and Christians of many denominations worked together to rescue the children. Many great people rose to the moment, including Nicholas Winton, who saved nearly 700 Czech children; and Truus Wijsmuller-Meyer was a Dutch Christian who faced down Eichmann in Vienna and brought out 600 children on one train,

The Children who had prearranged sponsors were sent to London, arriving at Liverpool Street station. The unsponsored children waited in transient camps until individual families came forward to take them. The children were dispersed to many parts of the British Isles. Those over 14, unless they were fortunate enough to be sponsored by individuals and set to boarding schools or taken into foster care, were frequently absorbed into the country’s labour force after a few weeks of training, mainly in agriculture or domestic service. But many families, Jewish and non-Jewish, opened their homes to take in these children.

In 1940, more than 1,000 Kindertransportees over 16 were interred on the Isle of Man and other sites. Some boys, including Walter Kohn (later a Nobel Laureate) were transported to Canada. Many young men and women who had stayed in Britain, Kindertransportees later joined the army when it accepted “enemy aliens”.


Most of the Kinder survived the war, and a small percentage was reunited with parents who had either spent the war in hiding or endured the Nazi camps. The majority of children, however, had to face the reality that home and family were lost forever.

12 comments:

Kay Dennison said...

Thanks for reminding me of these children and those who saved them. It's one of those things that restores faith in humanity, And then one think about Mombai . . . sigh

Kay Dennison said...

Thanks for reminding me of these children and those who saved them. It's one of those things that restores faith in humanity, And then one think about Mombai . . . sigh

jams o donnell said...

It was a marvellous thing to do Kay. It dioes hearten me that there is an awful lot of kindness in this world too

jmb said...

What an interesting heartwarming story Jams and one I had never heard before.

jams o donnell said...

It's a story that cries out to be told jmb

Devika said...

This is so fascinating a story...
More interesting than what the history books offer...

Nice post, Jams

wishes,
devika

jams o donnell said...

Thanks Devika

Glad you found this interesting

James Higham said...

Displaced people is a sad consequence of grand plans of other people who think it necessary that they sacrifice for the grand plan.

jams o donnell said...

Sadly so James

Anonymous said...

hey. im doing a project in english on the Kindertransport. Its hard for me to learn because i cant handle not being with or seeing my parents and to be taken from them...wow... but its fairly heart warming to hear that children were saved in the act of violence. today people know less and less, and yet youd think that the world would have learned from the Holocaust, but we, the world, have not learned the lesson of the Holocaust, we have allowed it to happen again, and again, and again...

Bre :) said...

i am also doing a project on kindertransport and i am now relizing how phenomanal these people and there stories are and i appreciate them sharing the hardships the have lived through. i am now appreciative of my parents and sisters and family, i would not have felt this way without hearing these stories of these amazing, wonderful, and strong people!!!

jams o donnell said...

I hope you found this of use in your project. It is one of those truly heart warming stories. The selflessness of Winton and his assistants made sure that 10,000 children lived where otherwise they would have probably died in the Holocaust.