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The Heartbreaking WWII Rescue That Saved 10,000 Jewish Children From the Nazis

The Heartbreaking WWII Rescue That Saved 10,000 Jewish Children From the Nazis

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Parents gave their children advice and checked them over one last time. “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.

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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.

On December 2, 1938, the first Kindertransport arrived—200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that had been destroyed on Kristallnacht. On the way over the German-Dutch border, the train carrying the children was boarded by SS members who went through the children’s luggage. “As the SS men pawed through carefully packed clothes and toys,” writes historian Thomas J. Craughwell, “the children wept and shrieked in terror.” The children then sailed to Harwich, England on a ferry.

Orphans, homeless children, and the children of people in concentration camps were given priority on the transports, which lasted until as late as 1940. Many children were sent by their parents, too. Vetting of foster families was lenient when it happened at all. Some children headed to homes where they were abused or expected to act as servants.

Over time, the transports stoked increasing anti-Semitism in Great Britain. As fears of a German invasion grew, parliament passed legislation allowing the internment of “enemy aliens,” refugees thought to be pro-Nazi. “That many of the ‘enemy aliens’ were Jewish refugees and therefore hardly likely to be sympathetic to the Nazis, was a complication that no one bothered to try and unravel,” writes the BBC. Suspected enemies, among them teenage members of the Kindertransport, were incarcerated on the Isle of Man or sent to Canada and Australia. About 1,000, or one tenth, of the Kindertransport children were classified as enemy aliens.

The fates of the Kindertransport children varied dramatically. Some fought for Britain against the Nazis. Others reunited with family members after the war. But for most, the day they boarded the transport trains before World War II was the last time they ever saw their parents. For those who did reunite with their families, the transition was often difficult, and brought up complicated issues of familial assimilation, trauma, and even language.

Today, the Kindertransport looms large in Britain’s memories of World War II. But historian Caroline Sharples warns that it can be used as a way to glorify a country’s generous action without acknowledging the nuances of the actual situation—the adults who were turned away to die in the Holocaust, the traumatic experiences of children whose time in Britain was characterized by abuse and antisemitism, the mistreatment of so-called “enemy aliens.”

“For all of the popular fascination with the Kindertransport,” Sharples writes, “there remain a number of issues that need to be addressed more fully….the history of this scheme needs to be placed much more firmly within the broader, long-term context of British immigration policy.”

The story of the Kindertransport continues to evolve as survivor stories and historical revelations about the world’s reaction to the Holocaust are woven together. In December 2018, the Claims Conference, which negotiates with the German government for financial compensation for victims of the Holocaust, announced that Germany would make a one-time payment of about $2,800 to each surviving child of the Kindertransport.

“After having to endure a life forever severed from their parents and families, no one can ever profess to make [the survivors] whole,” a negotiator of the settlement, Stuart Eizenstat, told the Guardian. “They are receiving a small measure of justice.”

For survivors of the Kindertransport, their lives were forever altered by their flight from a hostile nation before the Holocaust.

Syndrome K: the fake WW2 disease that saved Jews from the Nazis

Although this was a time where tales of hope and salvation were few and far between, there are stories of individual people and groups who demonstrated extraordinary bravery to save lives. They were a glimmer of light during a dark time that resulted in few happy endings.

27 January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to mark this year’s commemoration, we remember one such story of hope and bravery. We remember the lesser-known story of Syndrome K, the fictitious disease invented by Italian doctors that fooled the Nazi’s and saved lives.

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Although the persecution of Jews in Italy has been somewhat overshadowed by the decimation of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe during WW2, between 8-9,000 Italian Jews died during the Holocaust.

Under the Italian Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in 1938, the country’s Jewish population had multiple laws passed against them restricting their rights. However, it wasn’t until late 1943, after the Fascist regime had collapsed and Nazi German forces had occupied the country that Italian Jews faced deportation to the concentration camps.

In September 1943, the now puppet regime of the Italian Social Republic, headed once again by Mussolini, began arresting and systematically deporting Italian Jews to the concentration camps of central and Eastern Europe. By March 1945, estimates suggest some 10,000 Jews had been rounded up and sent to the camps, with all but 1,000 returning home after the war had ended.

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On October 16, 1943, Nazi soldiers began a raid on a Jewish ghetto in Rome. A stone’s throw away from the ghetto was the ancient 450-year-old Fatebenefratelli Hospital, located on a tiny 270-metre long island in the middle of Rome’s Tiber River.

Under the direction of Professor Giovanni Borromeo, a man who’d previously refused to join the Fascist party, the Catholic hospital had already become known as a safe haven for Jews, allowing doctors like Vittorio Sacerdoti, a 28-year-old Jewish man who had lost his previous job due to his religion, to work under false papers in the hospital. Borromeo had also installed an illegal radio transmitter and receiver in the hospital basement, which was used to communicate with local partisans.

On the day of the 16th, the hospital opened its doors to all Jews seeking shelter from the Nazi raid. Borromeo knew the hospital was sure to be searched and so he, Sacerdoti and another physician called Adriano Ossicini, came up with an ingenious plan. They decided that any Jew who came to the hospital seeking refuge would be admitted as a new patient and declared to be suffering from a highly contagious and deadly disease known as ‘Il Morbo di K’, aka Syndrome K or ‘K’ Syndrome.

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Of course, this disease was not to be found in any medical textbook, as it was entirely fictitious. Ossicini had come up with its name, aptly naming the deadly disease after two very deadly men - Albert Kesserling, the German commander in charge of the Nazi troops in Rome, and the city’s SS chief of police Herbert Kappler, a man who in March 1944 would be responsible for the Ardeatine Massacre, a reprisal killing of 335 Italian civilians.

Doctors could now tell the difference between real patients and those seeking shelter. To aid in the ruse, rooms were also set up and said to contain sufferers of the infectious disease. All patients had to play their part as well and were advised to cough violently if a Nazi soldier came close.

When the Nazi’s came to search the hospital, they were warned about the highly contagious neurological illness, known as Syndrome K, whose symptoms included convulsions and paralysis and could lead to disfiguration and ultimately death. The plan worked and the soldiers dared not enter the building.

Dr Sacerdoti told the BBC in 2004, ‘The Nazi’s thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled like rabbits.

The doctors would then move the Jewish hideaways to various safe houses around the city. With the approval of Borromeo and of Father Maurizio, the prior of the Fatebenefratelli, Sacerdoti also had patients brought from the Jewish hospital in the ghetto to be better cared for at Fatebenefratelli, a courageous act that no doubt saved countless more lives.

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In May 1944, the Nazi’s did finally raid the hospital, but the ruse was so carefully executed that only five Polish Jews were caught hiding on a balcony. They would survive the war as Rome was liberated just one month later.

Although exact numbers vary from account to account, estimates suggest the doctors at Fatebenefratelli Hospital with their Syndrome K cover story saved the lives of somewhere between 25-100 Jews and political refugees, including the 10-year-old cousin of Dr. Sacerdoti.

After the war the Italian government bestowed many honours upon Professor Borromeo. In 1961, at the age of 62, he passed away in his own hospital. Some forty years later, those who had been sheltered by him alerted Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. As such, Yad Vashem posthumously recognised Borromeo as Righteous Among the Nations, an honour used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Just over 10 years later in 2016, the Fatebenefratelli Hospital would also receive an honour, being declared as a House of Life by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an American organisation dedicated to remembering and honouring acts of heroism during the Holocaust.

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To mark the occasion Ossicini, then aged 96, gave an interview to Italian newspaper La Stampa. ‘The lesson of my experience was that we have to act not for the sake of self-interest, but for principles,” he said. ‘Anything else is a shame.’

All those doctors who played a part in the Syndrome K deception knew they were risking their own lives one slip up could have cost them all dearly. Yet their extraordinary actions were a beacon of hope and salvation for their fellow citizens who were facing persecution from the Nazis.


On 15 November 1938, five days after the devastation of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass", in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British, Jewish, and Quaker leaders appealed, in person, to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain. [4] [ better source needed ] Among other measures, they requested that the British government permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents.

The British Cabinet debated the issue the next day and subsequently prepared a bill to present to Parliament. [5] That bill stated that the government would waive certain immigration requirements so as to allow the entry into Great Britain of unaccompanied children ranging from infants up to the age of 17, under conditions as outlined in the next paragraph.

No limit upon the permitted number of refugees was ever publicly announced. Initially, the Jewish refugee agencies considered 5,000 as a realistic target goal. However, after the British Colonial Office turned down the Jewish agencies' separate request to allow the admission of 10,000 children to British-controlled Mandatory Palestine, the Jewish agencies then increased their planned target number to 15,000 unaccompanied children to enter Great Britain in this way. [ citation needed ]

During the morning of 21 November 1938, before a major House of Commons debate on refugees, the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare met a large delegation representing Jewish, as well as Quaker and other non-Jewish groups, working on behalf of refugees. The groups, though considering all refugees, were specifically allied under a non-denominational organisation called the "Movement for the Care of Children from Germany". [6] This organisation was considering only the rescue of children, who would need to leave their parents behind in Germany.

In that debate of 21 November 1938, Hoare paid particular attention to the plight of children. [7] Very importantly, he reported that enquiries in Germany had determined that, most remarkably, nearly every parent asked had said that he would be willing to send his child off unaccompanied to the United Kingdom, leaving his parents behind. [8] (Whilst this was somewhat of an exaggeration – it was traumatic for the parents to send their children away into the "unknown" and for an uncertain time and traumatic for at least the younger children to be separated from their parents – the actual parting was managed well.)

Hoare declared that he and the Home Office "shall put no obstacle in the way of children coming here," consequently "to show that we will be in the forefront among the nations of the world in giving relief to these suffering people." Hoare made it clear that the monetary and housing and other aid required had been promised by the Jewish and other Communities. [7]

The agencies promised to find homes for all the children. They also promised to fund the operation and to ensure that none of the refugees would become a financial burden on the public. Every child would have a guarantee of £50 sterling to finance his or her eventual re-emigration, as it was expected the children would stay in the country only temporarily. [9]

Within a very short time, the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, later known as the Refugee Children's Movement (RCM), sent representatives to Germany and Austria to establish the systems for choosing, organising, and transporting the children. The Central British Fund for German Jewry provided funding for the rescue operation. [11]

On 25 November, British citizens heard an appeal for foster homes on the BBC Home Service radio station from Viscount Samuel. Soon there were 500 offers, and RCM volunteers started visiting possible foster homes and reporting on conditions. They did not insist that the homes for Jewish children should be Jewish homes. Nor did they probe too carefully into the motives and character of the families: it was sufficient for the houses to look clean and the families to seem respectable. [12]

In Germany, a network of organisers was established, and these volunteers worked around the clock to make priority lists of those most in peril: teenagers who were in concentration camps or in danger of arrest, Polish children or teenagers threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages, children whose parents were too impoverished to keep them, or children with a parent in a concentration camp. Once the children were identified or grouped by list, their guardians or parents were issued a travel date and departure details. They could only take a small sealed suitcase with no valuables and only ten marks or less in money. Some children had nothing but a manila tag with a number on the front and their name on the back, [13] others were issued with a numbered identity card with a photo: [14]

This document of identity is issued with the approval of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to young persons to be admitted to the United Kingdom for educational purposes under the care of the Inter-Aid Committee for children. [ citation needed ]

This document requires no visa.

Personal Particulars.

(Name Sex Date of Birth Place Full Names and Address of Parents)

The first party of 196 children arrived at Harwich on the TSS Prague on 2 December, three weeks after Kristallnacht, disembarking at Parkeston Quay. [15] [16] A plaque unveiled in 2011 at Harwich harbour marks this event. [16]

In the following nine months almost 10,000 unaccompanied, mainly Jewish, children travelled to England. [17]

There were also Kindertransports to other countries, such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer arranged for 1,500 children to be admitted to the Netherlands the children were supported by the Dutch Committee for Jewish Refugees, which was paid by the Dutch Jewish Community. [18] In Sweden, the Jewish Community of Stockholm negotiated with the government for an exception to the country's restrictive policy on Jewish refugees for a number of children. Eventually around 500 Jewish children from Germany aged between 1 and 15 were granted temporary residence permits on the condition that their parents would not try to enter the country. The children were selected by Jewish organisations in Germany and placed in foster homes and orphanages in Sweden. [19]

Initially the children came mainly from Germany and Austria (part of the Greater Reich after Anschluss). From 15 March 1939, with the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, transports from Prague were hastily organised. In February and August 1939, trains from Poland were arranged. Transports out of Nazi-occupied Europe continued until the declaration of war on 1 September 1939.

A smaller number of children flew to Croydon mainly from Prague. Other ports in England receiving the children included Dover. [20] [21]

Last transport Edit

The last transport from the continent, with 74 children, left on the passenger-freighter SS Bodegraven [nl de] on 14 May 1940, from IJmuiden, Netherlands. Their departure was organised by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, the Dutch organiser of the first transport from Vienna in December 1938. She had collected 66 of the children from the orphanage on the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam, part of which had been serving as a home for refugees. [22] She could have joined the children but chose to remain behind. [23] This was a rescue action, as occupation of the Netherlands was imminent, with the country capitulating the next day. This ship was the last to leave the country freely.

As the Netherlands was under attack by German forces from 10 May, and bombing had been going on, there was no opportunity to confer with the parents of the children. At the time of this evacuation, these parents knew nothing of the evacuation of their children: according to unnamed sources, some of the parents were initially even very upset about this action and told Wijsmuller-Meijer she should not have done this. [ citation needed ] After 15 May, there was no more opportunity to leave the Netherlands, as the country's borders were closed by the Nazis.

The children went through extreme trauma during their extensive Kindertransport experience. [24] This is often presented in very personal terms. The exact details of this trauma, and how it was felt by the child, depended both on the child's age at separation, and on the details of his or her total experience until the end of the war, and even after that.

The primary trauma was the actual parting from the parents, bearing in mind the child's age. How this parting was explained was very important: for example, "you are going on an exciting adventure", or "you are going on a short trip and we will see you soon." Younger children, perhaps six and younger, would generally not accept such an explanation and would demand to stay with their parents. There are many records of tears and screaming at the various railway stations where the actual parting took place. Even for older children, "more willing to accept the parents' explanation", at some point that child realised that he or she would be separated from his or her parents for a long and indefinite time. The younger children had no developed sense of time, and for them the trauma of separation was total from the very beginning.

Having to learn a new language, in a country where the child's native German or Czech was not understood, was another cause of stress. To have to learn to live with strangers, who only spoke English, and accept them as "pseudo-parents", was a trauma. At school, the English children would often view the Kinder as "enemy Germans" instead of as "Jewish refugees".

Before the war started on 1 September 1939, and even during the first part of the war, some parents were able to escape from Hitler and reach England and then reunite with their children. But this was the exception most of the parents were murdered by the Nazis.

The older ones became fully aware of the war in Europe during 1939-1945 and its details, and they would understand and become concerned for their parents. During the later part of the war, they may have become aware of the Holocaust and the actual direct threat to their Jewish parents and extended family. After the war ended in 1945, nearly all the children learned sooner or later that their parents had been murdered. [25] [26]

In November 2018, for the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport Programme, the German government announced that they would make a payment of 2,500 Euros to each of the "Kinder" who was still alive (about $2,800 at the time). [27] Of course, this was only a symbolic token amount, but it represented an explicit recognition and acceptance of the immense damage that had been done to each child, both psychological and material. The damage had been done by Hitler and the Nazis, but the very different post-war German Government was making this payment. All details of the application process are given in the previous reference.

The Nazis had decreed that the evacuations must not block ports in Germany, so most transport parties went by train to the Netherlands then to a British port, generally Harwich, by cross-channel ferry from the Hook of Holland near Rotterdam. [29] From the port, a train took some of the children to Liverpool Street station in London, where they were met by their volunteer foster parents. Children without prearranged foster families were sheltered at temporary holding centres at summer holiday camps such as Dovercourt and Pakefield. While most transports went via train, some also went by boat, [30] and others aeroplane. [10]

The first Kindertransport was organised and masterminded by Florence Nankivell. She spent a week in Berlin, hassled by the Nazi police, organising the children. The train left Berlin on 1 December 1938 and arrived in Harwich on 2 December with 196 children. Most were from a Berlin Jewish orphanage burned by the Nazis during the night of 9 November, and the others were from Hamburg. [23] [31]

The first train from Vienna left on 10 December 1938 with 600 children. This was the result of the work of Mrs. Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, a Dutch organiser of Kindertransports, who had been active in this field since 1933. She went to Vienna with the purpose of negotiating with Adolf Eichmann directly, but was initially turned away. She persevered however, until finally, as she wrote in her biography, Eichmann suddenly "gave" her 600 children with the clear intent of overloading her and making a transport on such short notice impossible. Nevertheless, Wijsmuller-Meijer managed to send 500 of the children to Harwich, where they were accommodated in a nearby holiday camp at Dovercourt, while the remaining 100 found refuge in the Netherlands. [3] [32]

Many representatives went with the parties from Germany to the Netherlands, or met the parties at Liverpool Street station in London and ensured that there was someone there to receive and care for each child. [33] [34] [35] [36] Between 1939 and 1941, 160 children without foster families were sent to the Whittingehame Farm School in East Lothian, Scotland. Whittingehame was the family estate and former home of the British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration. [37]

The RCM ran out of money at the end of August 1939 and decided it could take no more children. The last group of children left Germany on 1 September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, and two days later Britain, France and other countries declared war on Germany. A party left Prague on 3 September 1939 but was sent back. [38]

A number of members of Habonim, a Jewish youth movement inclined to socialism and Zionism, were instrumental in running the country hostels of South West England. These members of Habonim were held back from going to live on kibbutz by the effects of the Second World War. [39]

Records for many of the children who arrived in the UK through the Kindertransports are maintained by World Jewish Relief through its Jewish Refugees Committee. [11]

At the end of the war, there were great difficulties in Britain as children from the Kindertransport tried to reunite with their families. Agencies were flooded with requests from children seeking to find their parents, or any surviving member of their family. Some of the children were able to reunite with their families, often travelling to far off countries in order to do so. Others discovered that their parents had not survived the war. In her novel about the Kindertransport titled The Children of Willesden Lane, Mona Golabek describes how often the children who had no families left were forced to leave the homes that they had gained during the war in boarding houses in order to make room for younger children flooding the country. [40]

Before Christmas 1938, a 29-year-old British stockbroker of German-Jewish origin named Nicholas Winton planned to fly to Switzerland for a ski vacation when he decided to travel to Prague instead to help a friend who was involved in Jewish refugee work. [41] Thereafter, he established an organisation to aid Jewish children from Czechoslovakia separated from their families by the Nazis, setting up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square. [42] He ultimately found homes for 669 children. [43] Winton's mother also worked with him to place the children in homes, and later hostels, with a team of sponsors from groups like Maidenhead Rotary Club and Rugby Refugee Committee. [38] [44] Throughout the summer, he placed advertisements seeking British families to take them in. The last group, which left Prague on 3 September 1939, was sent back because the Nazis had invaded Poland – the start of the Second World War. [38]

Winton acknowledged the vital roles of Beatrice Wellington, [45] Doreen Warriner, [46] Trevor Chadwick [47] and others in Prague who also worked to evacuate children from Europe, in the early stages of the German occupation. [48]

Wilfrid Israel (1899–1943) was a key figure in the rescue of Jews from Germany and occupied Europe. He warned the British government, through Lord Samuel, of the impending Kristallnacht in November 1938. Through a British agent, Frank Foley, passport officer at the Berlin consulate, he kept British intelligence informed of Nazi activities. Speaking on behalf of the Reichsvertretung (the German Jewish communal organisation) and the Hilfsverein (the self-help body), he urged a plan of rescue on the Foreign Office and helped British Quakers to visit Jewish communities all over Germany to prove to the British government that Jewish parents were indeed prepared to part with their children. [49]

Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld brought in 300 children who practised Orthodox Judaism, under auspices of the Chief Rabbi's Religious Emergency Council. He housed many of them in his London home for a while. During the Blitz he found for them in the countryside often non-Jewish foster homes. In order to assure the children follow Jewish dietary laws (Kosher) he instructed them to say to the foster parents that they are fish eating vegetarians. He also saved large numbers of Jews with South American protection papers. He brought over to England several thousand young people, rabbis, teachers, ritual slaughterers and other religious functionaries. [50]

In June 1940, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister ordered the internment of all male 16- to 70-year-old refugees from enemy countries – so-called 'friendly enemy aliens' (an incongruous term). A complete history of this internment episode is given in the book Collar the Lot!. [51]

Many of the children who had arrived in earlier years were now young men, and so they were also interned. Approximately 1,000 of these prior-kinder were interned in these internment camps, many on the Isle of Man. Around 400 were transported overseas to Canada and Australia (see HMT Dunera).

As the camp internees reached the age of 18, they were offered the chance to do war work or to enter the Army Auxiliary Pioneer Corps. About 1,000 German and Austrian prior-kinder who reached adulthood went on to serve in the British armed forces, including in combat units. Several dozen joined elite formations such as the Special Forces, where their language skills were put to good use during the Normandy landings and afterwards as the Allies progressed into Germany. One of these was Peter Masters, who wrote a book which he proudly titled Striking Back. [52]

Nearly all the interned 'friendly enemy aliens' were refugees who had fled Hitler and Nazism, and nearly all were Jewish. When Churchill's internment policy became known, there was a debate in Parliament. Many speeches expressed horror at the idea of interning refugees, and a vote overwhelmingly instructed the Government to "undo" the internment. [51]

In contrast to the Kindertransport, where the British Government waived immigration visa requirements, these OTC children received no United States Government visa immigration assistance. Furthermore, it is documented that the State Department deliberately made it very difficult for any Jewish refugee to get an entrance visa. [53]

In 1939 Sen. Robert F. Wagner and Rep. Edith Rogers proposed the Wagner-Rogers Bill in the United States Congress. This bill was to admit 20,000 unaccompanied Jewish child refugees under the age of 14 into the United States from Nazi Germany. However, in February 1939, this bill failed to get Congressional approval. [54]

A number of children saved by the Kindertransports went on to become prominent figures in public life, with no fewer than four (including Walter Kohn, Arno Penzias and Jack Steinberger) becoming Nobel Prize winners. These include:

    (from Czechoslovakia), physicist (from Czechoslovakia), Israeli military officer and fighter pilot who served as air and naval attaché to the United States, assassinated under suspicious circumstances in Maryland in 1973. (from Germany), British painter (from Austria), Canadian chemist, businessman, and philanthropist (from Germany), British writer (from Austria), British cookbook author (from Germany), British immunologist (from Germany), British sociologist, historian and rabbi (from Germany), American professional, Olympic and international footballer (from Czechoslovakia), British politician (from Germany), British book illustrator and art teacher (from Germany), American political activist (from Germany), British hairdresser (from Austria), American mathematician (from Germany), British historian
  • Hanus J. Grosz (from Czechoslovakia), American psychiatrist & neurologist (from Austria), British mathematician (from Czechoslovakia), British mathematician (from Germany), American literary critic (from Germany), American artist (from Germany), actor (from Austria), physiologist (from Germany), American professor of German studies and poet (from Germany), Canadian musicologist and librarian (from Germany), Australian and German author (from Vienna), born Peter Schwarz in 1926, British artist (from Austria), American physicist and Nobel laureate (From Czechoslovakia), American geneticist (from Czechoslovakia), British poet (from Danzig), architect and sculptor (from Germany), artist and political activist resident in Britain and stateless by choice OBE (from Germany), British architect (from Austria), American costume designer for film and theater, created the Annie Hall look (from Austria), British sociologist (from Germany), American physicist and Nobel laureate CBE (from Austria), British journalist (from Austria), British entrepreneur (from Czechoslovakia), British film director (from Austria), British/American physicist prominent in the field of general relativity (from Czechoslovakia), architect, planner and author (from Germany), film director, producer and writer
  • Dr. Fred Rosner (from Germany), Professor of medicine and medical ethicist , CM (from Czechoslovakia), Canadian journalist and author (from Austria), artist (from Austria), American novelist, translator, teacher, and author of children's books, whose adult book Other People's Houses describes her own knocked-from-house-to-house experiences
  • Robert A. Shaw (b. Schlesinger, Vienna) British, professor of chemistry CH, DBE, FREng (from Germany), British businesswoman and philanthropist , (from Breslau, Germany—now Wrocław, Poland), American music critic (from Bad Kissingen, Germany) American physicist and Nobel laureate (from Germany), British law scholar (from Germany), American mathematics educator (from Czechoslovakia), Swedish TV producer (from Germany), American therapist and sex expert Wilhelm (from Austria), comic book pioneer [55] (graphic novelist, illustrator) [56] (from Austria), American computer scientist. [57] (from Austria), British theatre and television director. [58]
  • George Wolf (from Austria), American professor of physiological chemistry (from Germany), British sculptor

In 1989, Bertha Leverton [de] , who escaped Germany via Kindertransport, organised the Reunion of Kindertransport, a 50th-anniversary gathering of kindertransportees in London in June 1989. This was a first, with over 1200 people, kindertransportees and their families, attending from all over the world. Several came from the east coast of the US and wondered whether they could organise something similar in the U.S. They founded the Kindertransport Association in 1991. [59]

The Kindertransport Association is a national American not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to unite these child Holocaust refugees and their descendants. The association shares their stories, honors those who made the Kindertransport possible, and supports charitable work that aids children in need. The Kindertransport Association declared 2 December 2013, the 75th anniversary of the day the first Kindertransport arrived in England, as World Kindertransport Day.

In the United Kingdom, the Association of Jewish Refugees houses a special interest group called the Kindertransport Organisation. [60]

The Kindertransport programme is an essential and unique part of the tragic history of the Holocaust. For this reason, it was important to bring the story to public awareness.

Documentary films Edit

The Hostel (1990), a two-part BBC documentary, narrated by Andrew Sachs. It documented the lives of 25 people who fled the Nazi regime, 50 years on from when they met for the first time as children in 1939, at the Carlton Hotel in Manningham, Bradford. [61]

My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports (1996 released theatrically in 1998), narrated by Joanne Woodward. [62] It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. [63] It was directed by Melissa Hacker, daughter of costume designer Ruth Morley, who was a Kindertransport child. Melissa Hacker has been very influential in organizing the kinder who now live in America. She was also involved in working to arrange the award of 2,500 Euros from the German Government to each of the kinder.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000), narrated by Judi Dench and winner of the 2001 Academy Award for best feature documentary. It was produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, daughter of a Kindertransport child, [64] and written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Mark Jonathan Harris. This film shows the Kindertransport in very personal terms by presenting the actual stories through in-depth interviews with several individual kinder, rescuers Norbert Wollheim and Nicholas Winton, a foster mother who took in a child, and a mother who lived to be reunited with daughter Lore Segal. It was shown in cinemas around the world, including in Britain, the United States, Austria, and Germany, and on HBO and PBS. A companion book with the same title presents many more details, facts, and witnesses, expanding upon the film.

The Children Who Cheated the Nazis (2000), a Channel 4 documentary film. It was narrated by Richard Attenborough, directed by Sue Read, and produced by Jim Goulding. Attenborough's parents were among those who responded to the appeal for families to foster the refugee children they took in two girls.

Nicky's Family (2011), a Czech documentary film. It includes an appearance by Nicholas Winton.

The Essential Link: The Story of Wilfrid Israel (2017), an Israeli documentary film by Yonatan Nir. It includes a part that discusses the initiation and launching of the Kindertransport, in which Wilfrid Israel played a significant part. Seven men and women from very different countries and backgrounds tell the stories, of the days before and when they boarded the Kindertransport trains in Germany.

Plays Edit

Kindertransport: The Play (1993), a play by Diane Samuels. It examines the life, during the war and afterwards, of a Kindertransport child. It presents the confusions and traumas that arose for many kinder, before and after they were fully integrated into their British foster homes. And, as importantly, their confusion and trauma when their real parents reappeared in their lives or more likely and tragically, when they learned that their real parents were dead. There is also a companion book by the same name.

The End Of Everything Ever (2005), a play for children by the New International Encounter group, which follows the story of a child sent from Czechoslovakia to London by train. [65]

Books Edit

I came alone - the stories of the Kindertransports (1990, The Book Guild Ltd) edited by Bertha Leverton and Shmuel Lowensohn, is a collective non-fiction description by 180 of the children of their journey fleeing to England from December 1938 to September 1939 unaccompanied by their parents, to find refuge from Nazi persecution.

And the policeman smiled - 10,000 children escape from Nazi Europe (1990, Bloomsbury Publishing) by Barry Turner, relates the tales of those who organised the Kindertransporte, the families who took them in and the experiences of the Kinder.

Austerlitz (2001), by the German-British novelist W. G. Sebald, is an odyssey of a Kindertransport boy brought up in a Welsh manse who later traces his origins to Prague and then goes back there. He finds someone who knew his mother, and he retraces his journey by train.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000, Bloomsbury Publishing), by Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer, with a preface by Lord Richard Attenborough and historical introduction by David Cesarani. Companion book to the Oscar-winning documentary, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport with expanded stories from the film and additional interviews not included in the film.

Sisterland (2004), a young adult novel by Linda Newbery, concerns a Kindertransport child, Sarah Reubens, who is now a grandmother sixteen-year-old Hilly uncovers the secret her grandmother has kept hidden for years. This novel was shortlisted for the 2003 Carnegie Medal. [66]

My Family for the War (2013), a young adult novel by Anne C. Voorhoeve, recounts the story of Franziska Mangold, a ten-year-old Christian girl of Jewish ancestry who goes on the Kindertransport to live with an Orthodox British family.

Far to Go (2012), a novel by Alison Pick, a Canadian writer and descendant of European Jews, is the story of a Sudetenland Jewish family who flee to Prague and use bribery to secure a place for their six-year-old son aboard one of Nicholas Winton's transports.

The English German Girl (2011), a novel by British writer Jake Wallis Simons, is the fictional account of a 15-year-old Jewish girl from Berlin who is brought to England via the Kindertransport operation.

The Children of Willesden Lane (2017), a historical novel for young adults by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, about the Kindertransport, told through the perspective of Lisa Jura, mother of Mona Golabek.

    (2005) One of the Lucky Ones: rescued by the Kindertransport, Beth Shalom, Newark (England). ISBN0-9543001-9-X. -- An account of 9-year-old Robert from Vienna and his 13-year-old sister Renate, who stayed throughout the war with Leo Schultz OBE in Hull and attended Kingston High School. Their parents survived the war and Renate returned to Vienna.
  • Brand, Gisele. Comes the Dark. Verand Press, (2003). 1-876454-09-1. Published in Australia. A fictional account of the author's family life up to the beginning of the war, her experiences on the kinder-transport and life beyond.
  • David, Ruth. Child of our Time: A Young Girl's Flight from the Holocaust,I.B. Tauris.
  • Fox, Anne L., and Podietz, Eva Abraham. Ten Thousand Children: True stories told by children who escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport. Behrman House, Inc., (1999). 0-874-41648-5. Published in West Orange, New Jersey, United States of America. and Lee Cohen. The Children of Willesden Lane — account of a young Jewish pianist who escaped the Nazis by the Kindertransport.
  • Edith Bown-Jacobowitz, (2014) "Memories and Reflections:a refugee's story", 154 p, by 11 point book antiqua (create space), Charleston, USA 978-1495336621, Bown went in 1939 with her brother Gerald on Kindertransport from Berlin to Belfast and to Millisle Farm (Northern Ireland) [more info|Wiener Library Catalogue , British sociologist and author Escapes and Adventures: A 20th Century Odyssey. Lulu Press, 2008.
  • Oppenheimer, Deborah and Harris, Mark Jonathan. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000, republished 2018, Bloomsbury/St Martins, New York & London) 1-58234-101-X. . Other People's Houses – the author's life as a Kindertransport girl from Vienna, told in the voice of a child. The New Press, New York 1994.
  • Smith, Lyn. Remembering: Voices of the Holocaust. Ebury Press, Great Britain, 2005, Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, 2006. 0-7867-1640-1.
  • Strasser, Charles. From Refugee to OBE. Keller Publishing, 2007, 978-1-934002-03-2.
  • Weber, Hanuš. Ilse: A Love Story Without a Happy Ending, Stockholm: Författares Bokmaskin, 2004. Weber was a Czech Jew whose parents placed him on the last Kindertransport from Prague in June 1939. His book is mostly about his mother, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1944.
  • Whiteman, Dorit. The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of Those Who Escaped Before the "Final Solution" by Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA 1993.
  • A collection of personal accounts can be found at the website of the Quakers in Britain at www.quaker.org.uk/kinder.
  • Leverton, Bertha and Lowensohn, Shmuel (editors), I Came Alone: The Stories of the Kindertransports, The Book Guild, Ltd., 1990. 0-86332-566-1. , Let IT Go: The Memoirs of Dame Stephanie Shirley. After her arrival in the UK as a five-year-old Kindertransport refugee, she went on to make a fortune in with her software company much of which she gave away.
  • Frieda Stolzberg Korobkin (2012) Throw Your Feet Over Your Shoulders: Beyond the Kindertransport, a first-hand account of a child of the Kindertransport from Vienna, Austria (https://www.amazon.com/Throw-Your-Feet-Over-Shoulders/dp/1434930718)
  • Part of The Family – The Christadelphians and the Kindertransport, a collection of personal accounts of Kindertransport children sponsored by Christadelphian families. Part of the Family

On 1 September 2009, a special Winton train set off from the Prague Main railway station. The train, consisting of an original locomotive and carriages used in the 1930s, headed to London via the original Kindertransport route. On board the train were several surviving Winton children and their descendants, who were to be welcomed by the now hundred-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton in London. The occasion marked the 70th anniversary of the intended last Kindertransport, which was due to set off on 3 September 1939 but did not because of the outbreak of the Second World War. At the train's departure, Sir Nicholas Winton's statue was unveiled at the railway station. [67]

Jessica Reinisch notes how the British media and politicians alike allude to the Kindertransport in contemporary debates on refugee and migration crises. She argues that "the Kindertransport" is used as evidence of Britain's "proud tradition" of taking in refugees but that such allusions are problematic as the Kinderstransport model is taken out of context and thus subject to nostalgia. She points out that countries such as Britain and the United States did much to prevent immigration by turning desperate people away at the Évian Conference in 1938, participant nations failed to reach agreement about accepting Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany. [68]

Nicholas Winton and the Rescue of Children from Czechoslovakia, 1938–1939

Nicholas Winton organized a rescue operation that brought approximately 669 children, mostly Jewish, from Czechoslovakia to safety in Great Britain before the outbreak of World War II.

Nicholas Winton was born Nicholas Wertheimer on May 19, 1909, in West Hampstead, England, and baptized as a member of the Anglican Church by decision of his parents who were of German Jewish ancestry. He was a stockbroker by profession.

In December 1938, Martin Blake, a friend and an instructional master at the Westminster School in London, asked Winton to forego his planned ski vacation and visit him in Czechoslovakia, where he had traveled in his capacity as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. This committee had been established in October 1938 to provide assistance for refugees created by the German annexation of the Sudeten regions under the terms of the Munich Pact. Convinced that a European war was imminent, Winton decided to go. In Prague, Blake introduced Winton to his colleague, Doreen Wariner, and arranged for him to visit refugee camps filled to capacity with Jews and political opponents from the Sudetenland.

After Munich, Winton had been certain that the Germans would occupy the rest of Bohemia and Moravia before long. He had been alarmed further by the violence against the Jewish community in Germany and Austria during the Kristallnacht riots in November 1938. When he heard of subsequent efforts of Jewish agencies in Britain to rescue German and Austrian Jewish children on the so-called Kindertransport, an effort that eventually brought about 10,000 unaccompanied children to safety in Great Britain, Winton summoned a small group of people to organize a similar rescue operation for children imperiled by the impending German dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

Winton immediately established a Children's Section and, using the name of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, initially without authorization, began taking applications from parents at his hotel in Prague. As his operation expanded, he opened an office in central Prague. Soon, thousands of parents lined up outside of Winton's Children Section's office seeking a safe haven for their children.

Winton returned to London to organize the rescue operation on that end. He raised money to fund the transports of the children and the 50 pound per child guarantee demanded by the British government to fund the children's eventual departure from Britain. He also had to find British families willing to care for the refugee children. By day, Winton worked at his regular job on the Stock Exchange, and then devoted late afternoons and evenings to his rescue efforts. He made a great effort to raise money and find foster homes to bring as many children as possible to safety.

The first transport of children organized by Winton left Prague by plane for London on March 14, 1939, the day before the Germans occupied the Czech lands. After the Germans established a Protectorate in the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, Winton organized seven further transports that departed by rail out of Prague and across Germany to the Atlantic Coast, then by ship across the English Channel to Britain. At the train station in London, British foster parents waited to collect the children. The last trainload of children left Prague on August 2, 1939. Rescue activities ceased when Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war in Germany in early September 1939.

The total number of children rescued through Winton's efforts is not yet certain. According to a scrapbook he kept, 664 children came to Great Britain on transports that he organized. In the research compiled for the documentary “The Power of Good: Nicholas Winton,” aired on Czech television in 2002, researchers identified five additional persons who entered Britain on a Winton-financed transport, bringing the official number to 669 children. The available information indicates that some children who were rescued have not yet been identified.

After the war, Nicholas Winton's rescue efforts remained virtually unknown. It was not until 1988, when his wife Grete found a scrapbook from 1939 with all the children's photos and a complete list of names of those rescued that Winton's rescue efforts became known. Winton since received a letter of thanks from the late Ezer Weizman, former president of the State of Israel, and was made an honorary citizen of Prague in the independent Czech Republic. In 2002, Winton received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to humanity.

Efforts by the Yishuv

The Yishuv (Jewish settlement in Palestine) sent 37 parachutists into Europe to aid Jews under Nazi oppression. The Nazis caught and shot seven of the parachutists, including Hannah Szenes (in Hungary), Haviva Reik (in Slovakia), and Enzo Sereni (in Germany).

The Yishuv also organized "illegal" immigration to Palestine, in an ongoing operation known as Aliyah Bet. Zionist groups, especially their youth components, facilitated the migration of both individuals and small groups from Vienna, Berlin, Prague, and Warsaw, among other places. Initially, the Aliyah Bet ships left from Greek ports. Later, the main route was by boat down the Danube River, via the Black Sea, to the Mediterranean. These voyages, which became more difficult once the war began, were carried out under the auspices of two rival political organizations in Palestine: the Labor Zionists and the right-wing Revisionists.

Despite the dangers, 62 such voyages were carried out from 1937 to 1944. From January 1939 to December 1944, 18,879 Jews reached Palestine by sea. Some 1,393 documented travelers are not known to have reached Palestine and may have drowned en route.

After World War II, the Jewish Brigade Group and former partisans organized the Brihah, the mass exodus of 250,000 refugees to Palestine. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency of Palestine provided substantial aid to Holocaust survivors in displaced persons camps.

The Forgotten Story of a Dutch Woman Who Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazis

Geertruida “Truus” Wijsmuller, a Gentile born in the Netherlands, is the subject of newly released documentary that relates her efforts to rescue Jews from Europe on the eve of World War II—most importantly her role in arranging for the Kindertransport, in which a large number of Jewish children were brought from Germany and Austria to Britain. In 1938, Wijsmuller walked into the office of Adolf Eichmann, then the German official in charge of getting Jews out of Germany, and made a proposal, as Francine Wolfisz writes:

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The Heartbreaking WWII Rescue That Saved 10,000 Jewish Children From the Nazis - HISTORY

The children in these photographs were all rescued by the Kindertransport.

From left to right: Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Fox Photos/Getty Images Fred Morley/Getty Images

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.9, WHST.6-8.2, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, RI.6-8.9, W.6-8.2, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Time, Continuity, and Change • Individual Development and Identity • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Global Connections

The Children Who Escaped the Nazis

A heroic effort saved thousands of Jewish children from hate-fueled violence in the years before the Holocaust. Read one young survivor’s story in this runner-up entry to the 2020 Eyewitness to History contest.

As You Read, Think About: What can we learn from talking with people who have experienced historical events?

On December 2, 1938, a ship docked at Harwich, England. Among its passengers were 196 children, all traveling without their parents. Clutching the few things they had with them, they stepped down the gangplank into a strange new country—and a new chance at life.

Less than a month before, the orphanage where they’d lived in Berlin, Germany, had been burned down by Nazis. The horrific act was part of a shocking night of violence and destruction against Jewish homes, schools, businesses, and synagogues throughout Germany, as well as in Nazi-controlled Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. (Czecho­slovakia is now two separate countries, Czechia and Slovakia.)

The attacks that took place on the night known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) set off alarm bells throughout Europe (see “Key Moments,” below). There was no longer any doubt that Germany’s Nazi government was intensifying its hostile actions against the Jewish people of the continent.

Flames consume a synagogue after a Nazi attack during Kristallnacht.

In the wake of Kristallnacht, the British government agreed to take in and protect Jewish children from Nazi-controlled areas of Europe.

Between December 1938 and May 1940, a series of rescue efforts known as the Kinder­transport saved the lives of some 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, fleeing from Nazi threats. (Kinder is German for “children.”)

But the parents and other loved ones of those children had no choice but to stay behind. Few of them survived World War II (1939-1945). The rest are among the 6 million Jewish people killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

What led to the crisis that made the Kindertransport necessary? In January 1933, Adolf Hitler became Germany’s leader. He and his Nazi Party had risen to power in part by tapping into prejudice against the country’s Jewish residents, falsely blaming them for Germany’s severe social and economic troubles after the nation’s loss in World War I (1914-18). That type of prejudice (known as anti-Semitism) had long existed in Europe. But once in control, Hitler focused the full power of his government on wiping out all Jewish people.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nazis march at a 1933 rally in Nuremberg, Germany.

Nazis: Members of a political party led by Adolf Hitler from 1921 through the end of World War II (1939-1945). The Nazis sought to dominate Europe and destroy the Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism: Hostility toward and prejudice against Jewish people. It can range from one person’s unfair treatment of another to large-scale cruelties by a society. The most extreme example of official anti-Semitism was the “Final Solution,” the Nazis’ plan to systematically murder all of Europe’s 9.5 million Jewish people. By the end of World War II, 6 million had been killed—two-thirds of the continent’s Jewish population.

It started with a series of new laws that restricted which jobs Jewish residents could hold, where they could live, and what they could study. Soon Jewish citizens had to carry cards that identified them as being of Jewish heritage. Failing to obey such laws could get a person beaten, arrested, or imprisoned.

By 1938, tens of thousands of Jewish people had fled Germany—but were finding fewer and fewer safe places to go. In July of that year, nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and France met to discuss the “refugee problem.” Swayed by their own anti-Semitic suspicions and fears, officials denied most Jewish refugees permission to cross their borders.

But that November, following Kristall­nacht, British leaders changed course. A rescue operation was quickly organized, with the first Kindertransport group leaving Germany on December 1.

At the height of their power, Nazi Germany and other Axis nations dominated Europe. Opposing them were Allied nations, including the U.S.

Over the next nine months, thousands of Jewish parents made the heart-wrenching decision to send their children away in order to save them. Hundreds of volunteers took on the perilous task of smuggling groups of kids from collection points in the cities of Berlin, Vienna, and Prague to seaports, then by ship or boat across the English Channel to Britain (see map, above) .

Then, on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded neighboring Poland. World War II had begun.

A few more rescue efforts succeeded after that, but the war effectively ended the Kinder­transport. With German planes bombing British vessels in the English Channel, it became too dangerous to ferry kids across.

Charlotte Keiderling was one of the children who owed her life to a Kindertransport rescue. Born Charlotte Berger in Austria in 1931, she shared her story last year in this interview by eighth-grader Kyla Page.

Courtesy of the Keiderling family

Charlotte Berger (second from left), in 1939

Kyla Page: How old were you when war was declared? Do you remember that time?

Charlotte Keiderling: The actual war started in September 1939. I’d turned 8 in July. But life definitely changed before that, especially when Hitler invaded Austria in March of 1938.

We felt the change because we were Jewish. It was absolutely bizarre how people welcomed Hitler to Vienna. They gathered to yell as a big parade of soldiers, horses, and tanks came along. People thought Hitler would make everything right again after World War I. One evening, there was a knock on our door and a Nazi asked my father to clean the pub across the street. My father refused.

I don’t remember much as a little child, but I do remember Kristallnacht, when Nazis and others killed dozens of Jews, also ruining Jewish businesses and synagogues.

So when my parents heard that the prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, had agreed to take in 10,000 children up to age 17, they decided I should go. It was a hard decision for my parents—sending their only child into an uncertain future—but they did it. [They told me that when I got to where I’d be going] I would live on a farm, and, as a child, I was excited about that.

The forgotten haven: Kent camp that saved 4,000 German Jews

It is a near-forgotten chapter in 20th-century history: the rescue of thousands of Jewish men from the Nazis, brought to a camp on the outskirts of the medieval town of Sandwich in Kent as darkness fell across Europe.

The Kitchener Camp rescue began in February 1939, and by the time war broke out seven months later about 4,000 men – mainly German and Austrian Jews – had arrived by train and boat. Although the story of the 10,000 Jewish children brought to the UK on the Kindertransport is well known, the Kitchener Camp has received much less attention.

“It’s not even well known in [UK] Jewish communities,” said Clare Weissenberg, who has curated an exhibition that opens at the Jewish Museum in London on 1 September.

On 2 September, a blue plaque will be unveiled in Sandwich in the presence of descendants of the rescued men, as well as the son and daughter of two Jewish philanthropist brothers who ran the camp.

An overview of Kitchener Camp near Sandwich, Kent. The large tent was donated by the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, and it is believed it was used as a synagogue. Photograph: Courtesy of the family of Erich Peritz

Among those present will be Paul Secher, whose father, Otto, arrived in May 1939.

“My father didn’t talk about it very much,” said Secher. “I sensed it was a painful subject for him. He managed to escape but his parents and a sister didn’t. The burden must have been immense.”

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, when Jews and their property were violently attacked, about 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and taken to Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps.

The Central British Fund (CBF), a Jewish aid organisation in the UK now known as World Jewish Relief, persuaded the British government to admit some refugees. Adult men were brought to the UK on condition they would not be granted UK citizenship, they must not work, and they must emigrate onwards to the US, Australia and elsewhere.

The CBF organised transport and rented a derelict army base at Richborough, near Sandwich, to house the men. Their first task was to transform the site into a small town. They built or refurbished 42 accommodation huts, shower and toilet blocks, two synagogues, a medical clinic, a post office and shops. A 1,000-seat cinema was constructed with money donated by Oscar Deutsch, the founder of the Odeon chain.

The men were not interned they could request a pass to leave the camp. They played football against local teams, visited nearby beaches, and some illicitly worked for cash on Kent farms. Nine editions of a newsletter, the Kitchener Camp Review, were published.

At the time, the population of Sandwich was 3,500. The arrival of 4,000 refugees could have been overwhelming but they were largely welcomed. Hundreds of people attended concerts performed by refugee musicians, and local children visited the camp to play table tennis.

The men expected their families – parents, siblings, wives and children – to follow them to the UK. Some women were granted “domestic service visas” enabling them to escape the Nazis, but arrivals abruptly ended with the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939.

Nearly all Kitchener men were categorised in tribunals as “friendly aliens”, with the words “refugee from Nazi oppression” stamped on their papers. “Enemy aliens” were interned.

After the start of the war, 887 Kitchener men enlisted in the Pioneer Corps. But after the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940, public opinion turned against German-speaking refugees, who some suspected of being spies or saboteurs. Those not serving in the war effort were interned or deported to Australia and Canada. The Kitchener Camp was closed.

A quartet practising. Refugee musicians gave concerts for the locals. Photograph: Courtesy of the family of Franz Schanzer

Weissenberg began investigating the camp’s history after she “inherited [my father’s] German suitcase. I saw references to the Kitchener Camp and thought, ‘What on earth is that?’”

She set up a website and began collecting stories and memorabilia from descendents of Kitchener men. “Often they hadn’t talked about it. Many of the men lost wives, children, parents – survivor guilt is a huge thing. Many families didn’t know much about the history,” she said. “As a child [of Holocaust survivors], you knew . not to ask, almost to protect your parent.”

An exception was Lothar Nelken, who had been a judge in Germany before being stripped of his position under the Nuremberg Laws and interned in Buchenwald concentration camp. “He wrote a diary throughout the war. I grew up knowing about his experiences in Buchenwald. He never kept secrets, he shared his memories,” said his son, Stephen.

On Thursday 13 July 1939, Lothar Nelken wrote: “At around 9pm we arrived in the camp… We were welcomed with jubilation. After supper we were taken to our huts Hut 37/II. I chose an upper bunk. One hut sleeps 36 men. The beds are surprisingly good. One sleeps as if in a cradle.”

In 1973, Clare Ungerson discovered a plaque in Sandwich, “but the wording was very strange, referring to refugees from Nazi oppression”. The daughter of a German Jewish refugee, Ungerson “realised it must refer to Jews, but I’d never heard of this camp”.

After she retired, she researched and wrote a book, Four Thousand Lives, which is being reprinted this month. In terms of the terrible history of the time, the Kitchener Camp may be a small detail she said, “but it’s not small to the many descendants of Kitchener men, who would not exist if those men hadn’t been rescued”.

The exhibition, entitled Leave to Land: The Kitchener Camp Rescue 1939, will run until 8 September. Through it, said Ungerson, documents and memorabilia kept safe by families for 80 years “will now see the light of day to tell a story that for too long has been relatively unknown”.

Frank Harding, a trustee of The Association of Jewish Refugees , which played a role in funding the exhibition, said: “It is with great pleasure that we are recognising one of the lesser known acts of rescue of Britain’s Second World War history, the remarkable story of the Kitchener Camp through which 4,000 lives were saved. It is recognition too of all those who were involved in its conception and establishment and of those refugees who came here, many of whom went on to serve in the Pioneer Corps.

This article was amended on 28 August 2019 to add a quote from the Association of Jewish Refugees.


Having been a ‘student’ of World War 2 history for many years, having studied the Holocaust narrative for somewhat less, and having just recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz, and now a first-time poster on this site, I can now clearly see why the so-called ’God’s Chosen People’ fight so very hard to keep this silly tale alive.

The guides at Auschwitz (mine claimed to be Polish, but was surely Israeli too) pour on the cloying emotion with a heavy hand, a good dose of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and ‘gaslighting’ to boot.

If summoned to be a witness in a murder trial, one would not be permitted by any judge to bring hearsay into the courtroom, but this is all they rely on when it comes to the Holocaust, because facts and forensic evidence do not support it. The hearsay isn’t even vaguely convincing, and they know it. They are losing the grip on the narrative it is thus only a matter of time before the ability to maintain the illusion slips from their grasp. Thanks internet, we couldn’t have done it without you!

This is why they need laws against stating the blatantly obvious. Because truth, quite simply, does not fear investigation. Facts and science needs no laws or taboos in order to sustain them. Lies, on the other hand, do.

As Nicholas Kollerstrom stated in his recent book, Breaking The Spell, “science cannot exist where doubt is a crime”. Mr Kollerstrom’s book is rather comprehensive and excellent, in my humble opinion, collating data from multiple sources – and I have increased both my knowledge and my future reading list greatly as a result. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of the Holocaust ‘revisionist’ scholars, on whose shoulders I consider myself fortunate to have been permitted to stand, in order to comprehend this whole morass more clearly.

Thank you furtherglory for all the sterling work you have done, and are currently doing, here. Your name belongs among them.

I hope I shall live to see the day when the truth shall be openly known, and lies openly mocked for what they are.

Comment by Mr. Wiggly — June 14, 2015 @ 9:15 am

Were you required to have a guide on your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau? I had a guide on my first visit in 1998, when I was the only person there, besides my guide. On my second trip in 2005, I went by myself to the camp on two separate days.

Okay. Once again I’m lost. As I’ve noted in the past,I’ll listen to both sides if y’all wish to answer. You’ll forgive me,but this one is confusing. It called this in here a ,”rescue mission”. Okay,what are they being rescued from? Holocaust? What uncle Adolph got on the horn to Churchill and said,”we’re gettin ready to fry these bastards. You wanna take 10,000 off my hands”. Maybe he told Winston ,” I’m gonna start WW2 in a few months and I want the kids to be safe. By the way I’m gonna bomb the living shit outta the UK.” Maybe he was on a tight budget. Only had enough money for 6,000,000 jews exactly. This whole thing makes no sense. You send 10,000 kids outta of the country and the world is not gonna say anything? If he hated jews so bad,why sweat 10,000 kids? In the grand scheme of things,what are 10,000 gonna mean when bumping off 6,000,000? What about all these countries that said no to taking in the jews from Krautland? I don’t give a shit what history says,people knew a lot more than what history said they actually did. This is really a mind f**k here. Proof history has too many contradictions and loose ends

Comment by Tim — June 13, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

The arrangement of the KINDERTRANSPORTS had been achieved by the cooperation between Jewish leaderships in the Hell of Germany after the KRISTALNACHT pogrom and that abroad in a the phase of Shoah when the Nazist still urged emigration. The cruel phases of the Shoah started in Poland with beginning of WWII and in Germany, Austria, Bohemia.Moravia and other states under occupation with September 1941 after stop of emigration. Does someone regret that Jewish Children could got in safety and survive? I am looking for answer.

And just how does that lame explanation serve the Holohoax’s narrative?

There were far more than 10,000 Jewish children that survived their gassings. Apparently. Or there would not be such a money making circuit for all of them to this day.

Comment by BMan — June 13, 2015 @ 10:51 am

I have just recalled a fact to be recorded in Shoah History. Your comment is only of bad taste and, at least, heavily unpolite.

“Does someone regret that Jewish Children could got in safety and survive? I am looking for answer.”

There are about 6 billion goyim who would likely say yes

The above comment shows Antisemiitism and hatred.

“Does someone regret that Jewish Children could got in safety and survive?”

Not at all. As I hate England, I’m very happy that England was able to get 10,000 ‘pieces of luck for England’ and their offspring. The way England improved since the 1940’s proves that more Jews is always a great opportunity.

Comment by hermie — June 13, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

Herr Hermie! You show once again Antisemitsm and hatred.

“Herr Hermie! You show once again Antisemitsm and hatred.”

I agree with you on that one.

Appropriate use of the word this time…

Comment by hermie — June 16, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

I’m gonna see if I can book Caesars Palace for next month. You 2 can get in the ring,put the gloves on and go it. I’ll get Judge Mills Lane to ref the match. “Let’s get ready to rummmmmble!”

Comment by Tim — June 16, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

Comment by hermie — June 17, 2015 @ 10:34 am

It’s the truth. Two of you are gonna tear each other’s heads before too long

Comment by Tim — June 17, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

Maybe Woofie is a Zionist, Tim. Antisemites and Zionists can often get along quite well. They both agree on one crucial thing: there is a Jewish problem that can be solved only by removing Jews from Gentile societies and by sending them far away.

Comment by hermie — June 20, 2015 @ 1:48 am

That’s what I try to tell other people. You two get to the point to where your discussions become so heated,that you’re ready to tear each other’s throats out. The two yall are of the firm belief that your view on the subject,is the right one. I say great ! Far out! I admire you two. Yall scrap like a couple mountain lions,but yall two are gentleman enough to allow the other to present his case.

Comment by Tim — June 20, 2015 @ 9:52 am

I’m not sure that Wolfie would allow you and me to present our case if he was able to prevent us from doing it. His comments on the laws against ‘Holocaust denial’ and all the things that he calls “antisemitism” (i.e. any inconvenient truth or criticism about Jewry, Israël and Israël’s founding myth aka the “Holocaust”), are quite clear about that. The Holohoax has generated a whole bunch of hyper-aggressive Jews believing that Jewish survival depends on their ability to monitor and castrate the White Gentile world.

Comment by hermie — June 20, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

You ain’t gonna want me on your team. Like I always say,I’m still trying to figure all this out. I take answers from both sides. In all fairness I’ll admit I’ve been given a few answers ( and after I research the answer),that tend to favor the jews. They’re not answers that will prove or disprove their case. They’re just answers that give me the opportunity to see all this from another angel.

Comment by Tim — June 21, 2015 @ 11:18 am

There’s NO money in saying ANYTHING nice about the Germans.

All the money is in spreading hatred of them, their children, and their grandchildren. It’s the best way to get Germany give Israel billion-dollar submarines. The Israelis’ in turn, take good care of their sayanim.

The Jews are having great fun with their Holocaust story. The last time that I was at Auschwitz in 2005, I was appalled to see young Jewish men and women laughing and making jokes about the Holocaust.

Well, there you have it — The best prof showing that the ”chosen ones” of today, they ALL KNOW that the fairy-tale “ho£o€au$t” is just the biggest scam ever in the human history.
They laugh because they have made this never-ending-money-maker-machine force the White man to pay billions every year to them….

Comment by April53 — June 13, 2015 @ 11:00 pm

Germany is now an estimated leading partner of European Union and German work is highly apreciated worldwide. When stuying Shoah history – fact, context, background .- I learned very much just from …. German scholars What the h… will You say now

“Germany is now an estimated leading partner of European Union and German work is highly apreciated worldwide. ”

Watch the video: The Most Powerful, Shocking, Best Photographs of World War II (August 2022).