Kindertransport

Frank Meisler was born into a Jewish family in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). He was evacuated from Germany by the Kindertransport in August 1939, travelling with 14 other Jewish children via Berlin to the Netherlands and then to Liverpool Street station in London.

Kindertransport Story

Introduction

The first Kindertransport arrived at Harwich, England on December 2, 1938, bringing 196 children from a Berlin Jewish orphanage burned by the Nazis during the night of November 9. Most of the transports left by train from Vienna, Berlin, Prague and other major cities (children from small towns traveled to meet the transports), crossed the Dutch and Belgian borders, and went on by ship to England. Hundreds of children remained in Belgium and Holland. The transports ended with the outbreak of war in September 1939.

One very last transport left on the freighter Bodegraven from Ymuiden on May 14, 1940 – the day Holland fell – raked by gunfire from German warplanes. The eighty children on deck had been brought by earlier transports to imagined safety in Holland. Altogether, though exact figures are unknown, the Kindertransports saved around 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. None were accompanied by their parents; a few were babies carried by children.

1933 – 1938 in the Reich

Immediately after Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933 his Nazi government launched a campaign of persecution against Jews. Within months, tens of thousands of Jews left Germany. But soon emigration slowed considerably as visas became impossible to obtain. In an effort to deal with the “refugee problem” – or more accurately, the issue of the Jews trapped in Hitler’s Reich, obviously suffering terribly, but unable to find countries willing to take them in and give them refuge – a conference proposed by President Roosevelt was held in the French resort town of Evian, attended by representatives from thirty one countries. The Evian Conference began on July 6, 1938 and lasted for eight days. In the end, despite grand proclamations, the Conference proved to be ineffectual, as most countries continued to refuse to accept new immigrants. After discussing a variety of potential settlement locations, the participants could only agree to meet again later.

The ferocity of pre-war persecution of Jews reached its pinnacle with the pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), when German and Austrian Nazis killed nearly one hundred Jews and subjected thousands more to violence and sadistic torture. 267 synagogues and community buildings were destroyed, tens of thousands of Jewish shops and homes were broken into and nearly 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent into concentration camps.

Rising to the Moment

In response to the events of November 9 and 10, the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed to members of Parliament and a debate was held in the House of Commons. The already existing refuge aid committees in Britain switched into high gear, changing focus from emigration to rescue. The British government had just refused to allow 10,000 Jewish children to enter Palestine, but the atrocities in Germany and Austria, the untiring persistence of the refuge advocates, and philosemitic sympathy in some high places – in the words of British Foreign Minister Samuel Hoare “Here is a chance of taking the young generation of a great people, here is a chance of mitigating to some extend the terrible suffering of their parents and their friends” – swayed the government to permit an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter the United Kingdom. It was agreed to admit the children on temporary travel documents, with the idea that they would rejoin their parents when the crisis was over. A fifty Pound Sterling bond had to be posted for each child “to assure their ultimate resettlement.” The children were to travel in sealed trains. The first transport left on December 1, 1938, less than one month after Kristallnacht; the last left on September 1, 1939—just two days before Great Britain’s entry into the war, which marked the end of the program. By that time, approximately 10,000 children had made the trip.

Kindertransport was the informal name of the rescue operation, a movement in which many organizations and individuals participated. Kindertransport was unique in that Jews, Quakers, and Christians of many denominations worked together to rescue primarily Jewish children. Many great people rose to the moment: Lola Hahn-Warburg, who set the framework of rescue in 1933 while still in Germany; Lord Baldwin, author of the famous appeal to British conscience; Rebecca Sieff, Sir Wyndham Deeds, Viscount Samuel; Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld, who saved close to 1,000 Orthodox children; Nicholas Winton, who saved nearly 700 Czech children; Professor Bentwich, organizer of the Dutch escape route; and the Quaker leaders Bertha Bracey and Jean Hoare (cousin of Sir Samuel Hoare), who herself led out a planeload of children from Prague; and many others. Truus Wijsmuller-Meyer was a Dutch Christian who faced down Eichmann in Vienna and brought out 600 children on one train, organized a transport from Riga to Sweden, and helped smuggle a group of children onto the illegal ship Dora bound from Marseilles to Palestine. She was the one who sped the last transport through burning Amsterdam to the Bodegraven in 1940.

Even after this, very few countries were willing to take in Jewish refugees. For this, the world at large bears guilt, the U.S. being one of the worst offenders. Until the start of World War II, when borders closed, Jews were allowed to leave (though they were not allowed to take out any possessions or money) and Jews trapped throughout the Reich struggled to find a country that would let them in.

Kindertransport Sculptures

Kindertransport is the name given to the rescue mission that began nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms.

In gratitude to the people of Great Britain and in commemoration of the 1.6 million children murdered in the Holocaust, four memorial sculptures were erected along the children’s route to safety.

THE FINAL PARTING

Standing at the Dag Hammarskjöld Platz – Dammtor Bahnhof
Hamburg • May 31, 2015

KINDERTRANSPORT – THE ARRIVAL • LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN

Height: 2.3 meters
This sculpture commemorates the arrival of the Kindertransports at Liverpool Street Station in central London, from which the children were sent to foster homes and hostels

KINDERTRANSPORT – THE DEPARTURE • GDANSK-DANZIG, POLAND

Height: 2.2 meters

Erected at the main Railway Station of Gdansk the sculpture depicts the departure of the Jewish children for Great Britain shortly before their families were deported and murdered in the Holocaust

TRAINS TO LIFE – TRAINS TO DEATH • BERLIN, GERMANY

Height: 2.25 meters

Standing at the Friedrichstrasse Railway Station this bronze sculpture commemorates 1.6 million children murdered in the Holocaust and 10,000 children whose lives were saved by being granted entry into England in 1938.

CHANNEL CROSSING TO LIFE • HOOK OF HOLLAND, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Height: 2.6 meters

Children awaiting embarkation at the ferry crossing from the continent to England. The final step which allowed them to escape from the hands of the Nazis.