Monday, November 1, 2021

The Kindertransports: Nearly 10,000 Children Saved from the Nazis

by Cindy K. Stewart

The tragedy of Kristallnacht, Night of the Broken Glass, took place in Germany, Austria, and the Nazi occupied areas of Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) November 9-10, 1938, when the Nazis damaged or destroyed 1000 synagogues and 7500 Jewish businesses, sent 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps, and beat 90 male Jews to death. These events shocked the world; however, many countries, including the United States, only permitted a small percentage of Jews to immigrate, regardless of guarantees of financial support from relatives, friends, and acquaintances in those countries.


Kristallnacht - Destroyed Synagogue
Courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Shortly after the events of Kristallnacht, a delegation of prominent Jews in England met with Prime Minister Chamberlain and requested that he allow young German children and teenagers to temporarily enter Britain, retrain, and re-emigrate at a later time. The Jewish representatives were most concerned about teenagers threatened with arrest and those already in concentration camps. The Jewish community guaranteed financial support for the refugee children and teens.


Jews Arrested during Kristallnacht
Courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

As a result, the British government gave permission for unaccompanied refugee children under the age of seventeen years to enter the country and didn’t announce a limit to the number of children who would be admitted. Jewish and non-Jewish agencies assured the British Home Secretary that they would meet the financial needs of the refugee children, apart from government funds, and the children would only stay temporarily.

The non-Jewish groups joined together and formed the non-denominational Movement for the Care of Children from Germany (later called the Refugee Children's Movement, RCM). Agents of the organization went to Germany and Austria and set up the selection, processing, and transportation plans.
The 1st Kindertransport from Germany
A representative of the Jewish refugee agencies met with Jewish leaders in Berlin, and volunteers gathered the names of the most endangered children- “teenagers who were in concentration camps or in danger of arrest, Polish children or teenagers threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages and those whose parents were too impoverished to keep them, or those with parents in a concentration camp” (Cesarani).

Through radio broadcasts, the BBC Home Service appealed to the British people to provide foster homes, and five hundred people answered the call. Jewish and not-Jewish volunteers visited the homes of these potential foster parents and reported on the conditions.

Gertrud Levy - Courtesy of
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Several hundred immigrant applications were sent from Germany to London each week, demonstrating the urgency of the situation. British volunteers processed the applications, many of them working around the clock, grouping the children in lists and sending travel arrangements to the parents and guardians in Germany.

The Nazi government allowed the refugee children to take only a small amount of money out of the country, but some parents placed valuables in their children’s luggage. The parents told their children that the separation was only temporary, but many children became angry and felt rejected, while others were excited about the journey. The children later felt guilty for these responses.

The first Kindertransport left Berlin by train on December 1, 1938. The first transport from Vienna left ten days later. The trains traveled across Germany and into the Netherlands and Belgium. At the border crossings, German guards terrified the children by “rifling” through their luggage. The children boarded ferries at the hook of Holland and sailed to Harwich or Southampton, England. After delivering the children to England, the German adults who had accompanied them returned to Germany as required by arrangements made between England and Germany. One of these adults lost his own wife and child to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and suffered as a laborer in the same camp.


Austrian Kindertransport Refugees
Courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Frank Meisler Kindertransport - The Arrival
at Liverpool Station, London
Courtesy of Creative Commons

For the first three months, most of the Kindertransports were from Germany, but later the number of transports leaving Austria increased. Nicholas Winton, a 29-year-old stockbroker from Britain, witnessed the plight of the refuge children in Czechoslovakia and organized Kindertransports from Prague. Many of these children had fled with their families from Germany, Austria, or the Sudetenland and were living in squalid refugee camps. After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in March of 1939, the transports continued, but all came to a halt after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Hundreds of children waiting to leave Nazi-occupied territory could no longer escape. Most of them did not survive the war.

Close to ten thousand lives (70% Jewish) were spared through the Kindertransports. The majority of these children never saw their parents again. Some of the rescued teens eventually joined the armed services and fought to free their homelands from the vicious grip of the Nazis. Many remained in Britain after the war, but others emigrated and settled in various countries around the world. We will share their stories in the coming months.


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Resource:

From Introduction to Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer (Introduction by David Cesarani)

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Cindy Stewart
, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical romance author, writes stories of hope and love. Her first manuscript was a 2020 finalist for the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award of Excellence, placed second in the North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of forty years. Their married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren live only an hour away. Cindy’s currently writing two fiction series set in WWII Europe.


4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing. A friend of mine is a first generation American. Her parents fled Germany after Kristallnacht.

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  2. Thank you for your post. I look forward to reading some of those stories.

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  3. And some try to say these things never happened. The plight of these children and what happened in the concentration camps is a lesson we need to remember. I see the world beginning to view Christians and conservatives as the Nazis did the Jews. I'm looking forward to the stories you'll share, Cindy.

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