Kindertransport: The Saving of 10,000 Jewish Children From Nazi-Occupied Europe
When you think about World War I and World War II, the stories that usually come up are ones about people making both incredible and harrowing journeys — soldiers traveling into hostile war zones or innocent people being shuffled into concentration camps — and these journeys come to represent a huge element of the human condition. One journey that few remember, however, is that of the kindertransport.
In late 1938 and early 1939, about 10,000 Jewish children were taken from Nazi-occupied Europe to Britain in what was later called the "kindertransport". Many of the children were uprooted from their homes during the Hanukkah holiday and had to travel without their parents — some got to travel with their siblings if they were lucky.
The Nuremberg Laws first passed by Nazi Germany in 1935, played a large role in ostracizing German Jews from their country. The laws were some of the first that formally excluded the Jewish population from German life, like stripping them of their citizenship and outlawing marriage between Germans and Jews.
The kindertransport project came just nine months before the start of World War II. Most of the children who were sent by train to the United Kingdom were from Germany and Austria. Later in the war, children from Poland and Czechoslovakia were also brought to the United Kingdom.
Some of the displaced children were either sent into foster care or schools, while others were sent to hostels and farms. Many of the children ended up being the only people in their families who survived the war.
The kindertransport rescue effort started just a few days after the Night of Broken Glass. Jewish leaders in Britain appealed to the UK Prime Minister to temporarily allow Jewish minors to enter the country without their legal guardians. The British Cabinet debated the issue for just a day; before long they were accepting infants to teens as old as 17 to take the train into the country.
A special task force in Britain was assigned to inspect the homes of families who wanted to take in the refugee children. Th task force didn't interview or question the motives of the foster families, they simply made sure the homes were clean and that the families seemed normal.
The government had to prioritized the kids based on several factors. Teens and children in concentration camps, Jewish orphans, Polish kids who were being threatened with deportation, and children whose parents were now too poor to care for them are prioritized for transport. Additionally, children who had at least one parent in a concentration camp were allowed to leave their home country.
Throughout the 9-month rescue mission, thousands of unaccompanied kids came into the UK. The final transport came from the Netherlands; 74 children boarded a passenger freighter that would end up being the last to leave the country freely for the remainder of the war.
In 2013, the event was commemorated at St. James' Palace in Britain. Survivors gathered to reunite at the bittersweet event, and many were able to share their stories about leaving their country at such a young age.
Because they could only leave with one tiny suitcase, many of the children only brought along a single memento of home other than their essential clothing. Some carried dolls in traditional Austrian clothing, others brought drawing pencils, a sock puppet, and ice skates.
The One Thousand Children was a similar rescue mission during World War II that brought around 1,400 children from Nazi Europe to the United States. The OTC, however, wasn't nearly as organized as the kindertransport. In 1939, one senator tried to pass a bill to admit nearly 20,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into the country, but Congress declined the bill.