The rescue and adaptation to a new way of life of 9,354, mainly Jewish children who were sent between 1938 and 1939 by their parents as a last resort to countries such as Britain, Sweden, Holland, and Belgium to escape Nazi persecution. These children are collectively called the Kinder or individually they are known as a “Kindertransportee”.

Organising the rescue from a British perspective

There were a variety of different organisations who helped rescue, fund, and care for the Kinder. The groundwork for the rescue programme was laid by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF). This organisation was established in 1933 but it was a subcommittee within this organisation who would specifically focus on rescuing the children. This subcommittee was called The Movement for the Care of Children from Germany which was renamed as The Refugee Children’s Movement and today we have come to know this rescue scheme by its German name Kindertransports. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and The Polish Jewish Refugee Fund were other organisations who were instrumental in saving children’s lives. There were also 70 regional groups within Britain who later came together to form the umbrella organisation The Refugee Children’s Movement and by the end of the war there were around 175 local committees spread across Britain who were looking after the Kinders’ welfare.

However, there were other Jewish and Non-Jewish organisations who helped rescue those fleeing Continental Europe. These include;

Jewish Organisations

  • Hechalutz
  • B’nai B’rith
  • Youth Aliyah
  • Woman’s Appeal Committee
  • Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council
  • Jewish Refugees Committee

Non-Jewish Organisations

  • The Church of England Committee for Non-Aryan Christians
  • Catholic Committee for Refugees from Germany
  • Catholic Children’s subcommittee
  • The Riversmead Methodist Committee

Origins and Destinations

The children came from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Vienna, Prague, and Danzig. When they arrived in Britain, they lived with foster families, in hostels, in boarding schools, on farms, in convents, or with their extended family. These children were aged from infants to teenagers. They travelled mainly by train and by boat but a very small number travelled by plane. There were also later transports to America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and some of these transports went via Britain.

Life before the Kindertransports

The Kinder came from a variety of religious, social, political, and cultural backgrounds. For example, some came from Orthodox households, some were assimilated Jews who only attended Synagogue on High Holidays, while others were labelled as non-Aryans as they had converted to Christianity. Some of the Kinder came from affluent families while others came from more modest backgrounds. Likewise, the Kinder’s parents also had a variety of jobs ranging from lawyers, maids, businessmen, doctors, and mothers who ran the household. The Kinder also had both Jewish and non-Jewish friends.

The Turning point

The November Pogrom (Kristallnacht) was a turning point because it brought a marked increase in anti-Semitic violence and persecution. The Kinders’ parents queued outside different embassies to get visas for their families to escape from Nazi persecution. They would bravely send their children to foreign countries in the hope they would find safety. The Kinder were rejected by their peers and banned from attending Aryan schools. Some countries would be more sympathetic towards children than adults because children would not be a threat to the job market.

Organisations in Central Europe

The Kinder had to get permission to leave the country so their parents had to apply to the Reichsvertretung dur Juden in Deutschland (Federal Representation of Jews in Germany) located in Berlin, the Jüdische Kultusgemeinde (Jewish Religious Community) located in Vienna, and the Paul’s Association and Friends Service Committee also in Vienna. There was also a committee established to help those in Czechoslovakia which was The British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia.

The application process involved having to send an application and photo to, for example in Germany, the German provincial social worker who then forwarded it to Berlin. The parents had to sign a statement allowing the Committee in Britain to look after their children. Parents also had to state what religion their children had been brought up in. For example, were they Jewish Orthodox, Jewish Liberal, Non-Practicing, Protestant, Catholic, or Quaker. The Kinder also had to have a health certificate. This information was sent to London and then the permits were sent back to Germany and submitted to the police.

Of those who found shelter in Britain 7,482 were Jewish, 1,123 were Christian, and 749 were undenominational.

  • The first transport from Berlin departed on 1st December 1938
  • The first transport from Vienna departed on 10th December 1938
  • The 1st Winton transport left from Prague for Britain on 14th March 1939 but the first actual Winton transport left Prague for Sweden.
  • The last Winton train came on 2nd August 1939
  • The final group to leave Germany departed on 1st September 1939
  • There was also a transport that left the Netherlands for Britain on 14th May 1940
  • There were also transports of Polish children and they arrived in England in February and August of 1939.

What did the Kinder pack?

The Kinder packed many different objects both practical and sentimental. These included clothes, dolls, photographs, and religious objects. They all had to be packed into a suitcase that a child could carry. They were not allowed to take valuables out of the country such as jewels, but some parents would hide them in their children’s clothing.

Please click the image to view more information about the item.

The Journey and Arrival

Before the Kinder left they said their farewells to their loved ones and were given labels to wear around their necks and these labels correlated to their suitcase. The children boarded trains from Germany, Austria, or Czechoslovakia to Holland where they were given a warm welcome and hot chocolate. Then they boarded a ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich in Britain. After this, they travelled by train from Harwich to Liverpool Street Train Station in London. Some Polish Kinder arrived in 1939 aboard the packet steamer Warszawa from Gdynia. There was also a transport that came by plane.

I was studying at a school in Berlin when I was told I would be going on a journey, so I went home to say goodbye to my family. …It never entered my head that I would never see my family again. Bernard Grunberg Holocaust Survivor; Quote from Journeys

Who would look after the Kinder?

At Liverpool Street Station, the children were gathered together, and their foster families came to collect them. Not all the Kinder found homes immediately. Some went to Dovercourt Refugee Camp where they were housed until further arrangements could be made. The Kinder would be placed with different people from a variety of religious, social, political, and economic backgrounds. Some were placed with non-Jewish families and soon became aware of different British customs.

Whittingehame Farm School and The Millisle Farm are some examples of where some of the Kinder found refuge. These homes were also places where the children were taught agricultural techniques.

Life in Britain during the Second World War

Many of the Kinder experienced the Blitz and Evacuation. They had to adapt to a new way of life in terms of new schools, new families, new friends, new social customs, and new surroundings as well as different types of food. They also had to learn a new language, English. As the war progressed and fears of invasions rose the Kinder were classified as type B and C Enemy Aliens. Their identities became problematic especially those from Germany. Around 1,000 Kinder were interned on the Isle of Man. However, their identities would change yet again as they were then classified as Friendly Aliens. Their identities would shift from innocent refugee child, to Enemy Alien, to Friendly Alien, to Survivor, to then Citizen. Around 1,000 Kinder, when they turned 18, joined the Pioneer Corps of the British Army and 30 of them lost their lives.

The Kindertransports would continue during and after the Second World War

It is a misconception that the Kinder only came to Britain rather there were transports to other nations such as America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand that came via Britain. These children also had to adapt to new and strange lands, different customs, different cultures, and different surroundings. 

America - The United States scheme differed to the British Kindertransport scheme because it was not government-backed like the British operation. The Wagner-Rogers Bill proposed an extra quota for refugee children to enter the States, but it never passed through Congress. Therefore, many of the children who found refuge in America were sponsored and cared for by various organisations such as the German-Jewish Children’s Aid (GJCA), individuals, or extended family members. There were also two other transports to the United States. These included the transports of British evacuee children in 1940 and the transports of children fleeing unoccupied France in 1941 and 1942.

The Antipodes - The transports to the Antipodes could be considered to be the second wave of Kindertransports as many of the Kinder came via Britain and then travelled to Australia and New Zealand. Groups such as the Dunera Boys and the Deckston Children were resettled in these nations. The Dunera Boys set sail with other German, Austrian, and Italian internees on 10th July 1940 from the port of Liverpool and the ship docked in Freemantle on 27th August 1940. The boys were categorised as type B and C aliens and therefore on their arrival in Australia they were interned; they would later be released. The Deckston children were privately funded by Max and Annie Deckston who brought 20 Polish children from Bialystok in two passages 1935 and 1937.

La Hille Children – 1,000 children found refuge in Belgium but when Belgium was occupied by the Nazis these Kinder had to find safety yet again. Some of these children eventually escaped to America by illegally escaping into Spain and Switzerland while others were hidden in France. Although it is thought that many of the Kindertransport children survived 11 La Hille children/teenagers were murdered in Auschwitz and Majdanek.

Post-war transports – The children who had survived the camps needed shelter and care as many of their parents had been murdered. There was a group of children who under the care and help of Rabbi Schonfeld were brought to Britain after the war.

After the Second World War

The Kinder were in their teens when the war ended. They would have to find ways of supporting themselves, many went on to have careers, get married, and have families of their own. After the war many wrote letters to the Red Cross to establish what had happened to their loved ones. For some they would be reunited with their parents while others would never see them again. The Kinder have been instrumental in bringing this memory into the public sphere because they held the first reunions, they have written books, but they also give talks about their experiences to school children, adult learners, and the wider public.

Bibliography

Fast, Vera K., Children’s Exodus: A history of the Kindertransport (I. B. Tauris: London, 2011).

Turner, Barry, … And the Policeman Smiled: 10,000 Children Escaped from Nazi Europe (Bloomsbury: London, 1990).

Barnett, Ruth, Person of No Nationality: A Story of Childhood Separation, Loss and Recovery (David Paul: London, 2010).

http://www.kindertransport.org/default.aspx

Baumel, Judith Tydor, Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in the United States, 1934-1945 (The Denali Press: Alaska, 1990).

Grunwald-Spier, Agnes, The Other Schindlers: Why some people chose to save Jews in the Holocaust (The History Press: Port Stroud, 2010).

Jason, Philip K., Don't Wave Goodbye: The Children's Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom (Praeger: London, 2004).

Williams, Frances, The Forgotten Kindertransports: The Scottish Experience (Bloomsbury: London, 2014).

Reed W., Walter, The Children of La Hille: Eluding Nazi Capture during World War II (Syracuse University Press: New York, 2015).

Bentwich, Norman, They Found Refuge: An account of British Jewry’s work for victims of Nazi oppression (The Cresset Press: London, 1956).