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Out of all the evil people in the world, it only takes a few good souls to stand up and do the right thing in order to make a difference. There are so many stories from wars about death and destruction of people’s homes, lives, and dignities. Wars have a unique ability to cloud the mind. They can make people do crazy things. They can make people do things that they would never think they were capable of doing. Wars can make you do the wrong thing, but they can also open your heart to doing the right thing.
Despite the fact that there was so much destruction caused by the dictators who ruled much of Europe during the time of World War two there were people who stood up against those evils. According to the Talmud, ‘whoever saves one life, saves an entire world. This Jewish saying, points out that if you can save one life you have saved an entire generation. This is because when you take away someone’s life, you take away their ability to fall in love, marry, and have children; therefore, destroying potential.
There were six million lives taken away because of the horrific acts that Hitler carried out Six million humans, six million people capable of creating the next generation of the world. Instead, their lives were cut short. It is vital that we remember those who survived this horrific incident and remember their stories. It is important that we tell the story of the Kindertransport so that their story can be remembered for future generations. The word Kindertransport comes from two words in German. Kinder means the children, and transport means to move or relocate.
This is exactly what happened to around 10,000 Jewish children living in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland during the Holocaust. The decision for the parents of these children to essentially give up their children in hopes that they might have a better life, must have been very difficult. Normally children were unable to decide on emigration themselves, and it was often only at the station that they realized they had to leave their parents. Emigration for them took place at the stage when a familiar environment with known people is a necessary requirement for development.
Moreover, children are always dependent on the help and support of others, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings. One of Britain’s tasks was how they were going to handle the influx of so many children entering their country. Living in Germany during the 1930s was already difficult enough, but being a Jew living in Germany was even more difficult. Jews were ostracized and persecuted because much of the propaganda that was being filtered throughout Germany blamed the Jews for the economic conditions of their country.
Hitler persuaded the German people that their problems would go away if the country was “free of Jews”. This type of anti-Jewish message sent waves of hate throughout Germany. In November 1938, the events of Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) escalated the persecution of Jews. It is hard for an event like this to not become known throughout the world. Indeed, many countries did hear about this event. Kristallnacht was a massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich on the night of November 9, 1938.
On November 9, mob violence broke out as the regular German police stood by and crowds of spectators watched. Nazi storm troopers along with members of the SS and Hitler Youth beat and murdered Jews, broke into and wrecked Jewish homes, and brutalized Jewish women and children. All over Germany, Austria and other Nazi controlled areas, Jewish shops and department stores had their windows smashed and contents destroyed. Synagogues were especially targeted for vandalism, including desecration of sacred Torah scrolls.
Hundreds of synagogues were systematically burned while local fire departments stood by or simply prevented the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings In July of 1938, there was a conference held in France. The United States was in attendance. The goal of the conference was to discuss the problems of the Austrian and German Jews. Between 1933 and 1941, the Nazis aimed to make Germany judenrein (cleansed of Jews) by making life so difficult for them that they would be forced to leave the country. By 1938, about 150,000 German Jews, one in four, had already fled the country.
After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, however, an additional 185,000 Jews were brought under Nazi rule. Many Jews were unable to find countries willing to take them in. Many German and Austrian Jews tried to go to the United States but could not obtain the visas needed to enter. Even though news of the violent pogroms of November 1938 was widely reported, Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs set up to assist the needy.
Other countries besides the United States also resisted the Jewish population. The Great Depression caused hard times everywhere and this created a mind set of resistance. One country, however, saw the need to invite Jewish civilians into their homeland, and that country was Britain. After the British government had been alerted by Jewish organizations to developments in Germany and particularly to the pogrom of November 9, 1938, there were several reasons for Great Britain to issue group visas for an unlimited number of children.
First, Great Britain felt a particular responsibility for the refugees from Europe in that Palestine was governed as a British protectorate, but in order not to endanger its diplomatic relations with Arab states Great Britain had announced strict immigration restrictions. Furthermore the government, seeing itself as a world power, hoped with this action to represent a role model which would encourage other countries to follow suit. Not least, the government was aware of its responsibilities to its own Jewish community and did not wish to evade them.
The people who advocated for the immigration of the German and Austrian Jewish people was the Religious Society of Friends. The government responded to their cause and agreed to help. However, the fundamental attitude to the Jewish refugees from Europe tended to be reserved. The outcome of the conference at Evian-les-Bains in July 1938 corresponded roughly with the British position towards the refugee question. Under no circumstances did the government wish to give the impression that Britain had opened wide its doors to allow even more refugees to enter the country.
It also wanted to avoid encouraging the German government to carry out further expulsions. The danger of provoking further persecution and expulsion of the Jewish population by adopting over-liberal refugee regulations was an argument which was constantly drawn upon both before the outbreak of war, and also during the war itself, to justify the British asylum policy. The decision to issue group visas for Jewish children reflected to a degree this attitude and was, moreover, relatively easy to carry out with the agreement of the British public.
Children aroused sympathy in the majority of the population and they posed little danger, at least in the short term, to the labor market. Moreover the children’s stay in the country was at first only planned to be temporary, for at the time of their arrival it was confidently assumed that they would either return to their home countries or would migrate to the U. S. A. or Palestine. Furthermore, it may seem strange from today’s perspective how casually children were separated from their parents through the visa regulations.
However, for a large section of British society, who could look back on a long tradition of boarding schools, it was completely normal for children to grow up from an early age away from their parents. Understanding the precarious situation that these German-Jewish children faced is very hard to comprehend. It is important that actual survivors tell their stories. The children had to adjust to life in Britain and their experiences are valuable to understanding the difficulties that they encountered. No parent wanted to send their children away, but parents had some hindsight on the dangers that were beginning to surface upon them.
Norbert describes the situation as follows: “My parents faced a terrible dilemma, a dilemma no parent of small children should ever have to face. [My parents were] convinced that we could not leave Germany in the foreseeable future, so they decided to send me, at age eleven, to safety”. The first boat left Berlin on December 1, 1938. The children boarded special trains, and then boarded a ship where they arrived in England, then took another train to London. Ruth described the night before she left: “The night before my departure, both my parents gave me a blessing.
That is, they laid their hands on me and said a prayer commending me to God’s care: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord look kindly upon you and be gracious unto you; The Lord bestow favor upon you and give you peace. There was little else my mother and father could do. I can imagine their thoughts and emotions” Saying goodbye to a parent with the uncertainty of what was to happen was troubling for many children. Another survivor Tom Berman of the Kindertransport, documented his feelings before he left in a poem.
The end of the poem describes what it was like leaving his home country: “Leather suitcase from a far-off country, Czechoslovakia, containing all the love parents could pack for a five year old off on a journey for life. ” Once they arrived in Britain, they Kinder had to adjust to their new lives. Many of the young children stayed with foster families. If they were unable to be cared for they were sent to hostels or boarding schools. Many organizations and individuals assisted in settling the Kinder in the United Kingdom, including the Refugee Children’s Movement, the B’nai B’rith, the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council, various youth movements, the Y.
M. C. A., the Society of Friends, and many other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. Private gifts of money, bedding, and clothing were received as well as offers of foster homes and houses for possible group homes. Many of the Quakers who were involved in petitioning these children’s arrival sought after these children and became foster mothers and fathers to many of the children. Many families, Jewish and non-Jewish, opened their homes to take in these children. Many of the children were well-treated, developing close bonds with their British hosts; however, others were mistreated or abused.
A number of the older children joined the British or Australian armed forces as soon as they reached eighteen years of age and joined the fight against the Nazis . While many children recount the fact that they were safe, being in Britain was still an adjustment. “Neither of my foster parents spoke German, and adjustment was quite difficult… I attended a two-room schoolhouse. All the children knew I came from Germany and they called me Nazi, a world I understood all too well. None of the children wanted to make friends with me. “
World War two lasted from 1939 to 1945 and was a long and devastating conflict that involved many countries. More than fifty-five million people lost their lives. The world had never seen such a big or deadly war. After the war ended, no one had expected that the Kinder would need to stay in Britain forever. By this time, there were not very many young children, and some had even become adults. Re-uniting with their families seemed virtually impossible. Many people believed that these children were never going to find their family members again.
A recent survey by the Association of Jewish Refugees, however, reveals a more positive outcome. The study found that even though approximately two-thirds of the Kinder did not see their parents again, one-third of the children came to Britain with a sibling and about two-thirds of the Kinder found other relatives after the war. Many of those who were unable to re-unite became British citizens. Many people in Britain should be considered heroes. Even though this story seems tragic, it is important to note that many lives were saved because of the brave acts of the citizens of Britain.
Without them supporting these children, they may not have had a change to grow up and recount their story. Many of the accounts that are told to help them cope with everything. One survivor has written a poem to help him retell and comfort others who went through the same thing.
He ends his poem with these words: “And that’s basically my story and that’s basically there I mean there are other things that happened in England and so on but that is really the story of the Kindertransport the story of German Jews And I’m very glad to tell you this because let’s be true if my parents hadn’t been very brave to part with their only child and send it away cause I’m sure they knew that they might never see me again you all wouldn’t be here” ——————————————– [ 2 ].
Hodge, Deborah. Rescuing the children: the story of the Kindertransport. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2012 5. [ 3 ]. Hodge, 8 [ 4 ]. “The Evian Conference. ” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www. ushmm. org/outreach/en/article. php? ModuleId=10007698 (accessed April 17, 2013). [ 5 ]. Harris, Mark Jonathan, and Deborah Oppenheimer. Into the arms of strangers: stories of the Kindertransport. New York: Bloomsbury Pub. :, 2000.
21 [ 6 ]. Hodge,16 [ 7 ]. Harris, 22 [ 8 ]. Norton, Jennifer A. , Mona L. Siegel, and Sacramento University. The Kindertransport: history and memory. London: Nick Hern Books, 2010. 35 [ 9 ]. Hodge 18. [ 10 ]. Norton 39 [ 11 ]. Hodge, 22 [ 12 ]. http://www. kindertransport. org/voices/berman_poem_suitcase. htm [ 13 ]. http://www. kindertransport. org/history04_Britain. htm [ 14 ]. Hodge 38 [ 15 ]. “AJR: Kindertransport. ” AJR: Welcome to The Association of Jewish Refugees. http://www. ajr. org. uk/kindertransport (accessed April 17, 2013). [ 16 ]. David I. Hanauer, Living the Kindertransport: A Poetic Representation.