Sunday, 30 November 2008

Seventieth Anniversary of The Kindertransport

Frank Meisler's Kindertransport Memorial
Liverpool Street Station, London

© Wikimedia Commons

I’m ashamed to say that until today I had never heard of the Kindertransport and I have no idea why. I heard about the anniversary on the radio this morning and decided to find out more.

It was a very moving event starting in 1938, involving the transport of over 10,000 babies and children, mainly Jewish from Nazi occupied territory in Europe in 1938. Following the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933 the anti Jewish laws brought in led to businesses being closed, their homes taken away, Jewish doctors and teachers not being allowed to practise, harassment and deportation and to concentration camps. Jewish children and students were bullied and beaten and finally banned from schools and universities.

The ferocity of pre-war persecution of Jews reached its pinnacle on November 9 and 10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), when German and Austrian Nazis burned and destroyed 267 synagogues, killed 100 people, smashed 7,500 Jewish stores and incarcerated nearly 30,000 in concentration camps.

The majority of Jewish families were unable to travel abroad because of lack of cash and the stringent visa controls imposed by countries such as Britain and the USA. The British Refugee Committee put pressure on the British government to relax immigration controls for a limited number of children. They agreed, but sadly they refused to accept their parents. The Quakers and organisations like Red Cross organised the transport and the first train carrying Jewish children away from Nazi persecution left Berlin on 1 December 1938. The last left on September 1, 1939 - just two days before Great Britain's entry into the war, which marked the end of the programme. By that time, approximately 10,000 children had made the trip.

What a terrible dilemma those parents must have faced, sending their children to an unknown future. Many of them did not survive to see their children again seven years later at the end of the war. Of the six million who died in the concentration camps, a million and a half were children.

How traumatic it must have been for the children, leaving everything they knew and loved to go to a foreign country and have to learn a new language. It was hard enough for the British children who were evacuated within the country, it's hard to imagine how much harder it must have been for these children. The older children lived in hostels, others were lucky enough to have caring loving foster families although a small number were treated cruelly by foster families. Some eventually went to the USA and Canada.

It’s a magnificent story saving over 10,000 children but how sad we weren’t generous enough to take their parents.

You can get more information about this story on the following sites:

The Children Who Cheated the Nazis


American website Kindertransport Association.