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The KIndertransport


The history we must never forget:

Parents gave their children advice and checked them over one last time. Then, came the goodbyes—sincere, but not too sad. “There was laughter and crying and one last hug,” recalled social worker Norbert Wollheim. The Jewish children, clutching their possessions, then walked toward the train to become child refugees in England. Their parents stayed behind.

The parting may have been understated, but its consequences were not. For most of the children who left Germany in scenes similar to the one Wollheim recalled, it was the last time they ever saw their parents. They were part of the Kindertransport, or children’s transport, a rescue effort that brought Jewish children to England in the lead-up to the Holocaust.

“We couldn't even foresee, we couldn't surmise for a moment that for many or most, it would be the last goodbye, that most of those children would never see their parents again,” Wollheim recalled in an oral history.

Between 1938 and 1940, about 10,000 Jewish children made their way to Great Britain on the Kindertransport. But though the rescue is widely seen as one of the only successful attempts to save European Jews from the Holocaust, the reality was much more complicated.

The idea for the Kindertransport came after Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogrom in which tens of thousands of synagogues, homes, and businesses were destroyed in November 1938. Life had been getting harder for Jews under Nazism, but Kristallnacht represented a turning point. After the violence, Jewish parents began desperately searching for ways to get themselves—and their children—to safer countries.

That wasn’t easy. The United States, Great Britain and other countries had strict immigration quotas and repeatedly refused to change their policies to help Jews under threat from the Nazi regime. At the 1938 Evian Conference, 32 nations had met to discuss what to do about the increasing number of Jewish refugees. But Great Britain, France and the United States had all left without committing to change their policies.

Kristallnacht, however, brought more attention to the plight of Jews within Germany and its territories. When public opinion in Great Britain turned, the British government finally shifted its policy toward refugees. If English refugee aid organizations would agree to pay for the care of refugee children, Britain agreed, it would relax its immigration quotas and allow Jewish children age 17 and younger to immigrate.

There were catches: The children couldn’t be accompanied by parents or any adults, and would have to leave the host country once the refugee crisis had ended. At the time it was inconceivable that within a few years most of Europe’s Jewish population would be murdered.

It took a major mobilization effort to get the children to Great Britain. Guarantors—people who agreed to pay for the children’s upkeep—had to be found for children who wanted to immigrate. (The government refused to use state dollars to support the children.) Usually, foster families were friends or family members in Britain, but they were also solicited in newspaper advertisements. “Please help me bring out of Berlin two children (boy and girl), ten years, best family, urgent case,” read a characteristic ad.

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I read a great book about this story called Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. Tragic and inspiring at the same time.


I read a great book about this story called Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. Tragic and inspiring at the same time.

I believe there was a movie as well, no?

It's quite a story - Pity more people aren't made aware of it. The sort of thing that probably ought to be taught in school.

At least we can all make sure that our children are aware.