Kindertransport: The Rescued Jewish Children from the Nazi Germany, 1938-1939

Kindertransport (German for “Children Transport”) was a nine-month rescue program by the British Government started in the late-1930s. It rescued thousands of children under 17, primarily Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Danzig’s free city (Gdańsk) by relocating them to the United Kingdom. After the German Pogroms of November 9-10, 1938, the program began when they attacked Jews and confiscated their properties. The program ended when World War II started; however, children were rescued until 1941.

Following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, tens of thousands of Jews fled the country. However, as acquiring a visa became increasingly tricky, emigration began to slow. A delegation from 32 countries met for ten days in Évian-les-Bains, France, starting on July 6, 1938. The Évian Conference achieved little despite grand proclamations. There were discussions of possible settlement locations, but most countries remained unwilling to accept new immigrants. In response to the British Jewish Refugee Committee’s calls for action following Kristallnacht, the British Parliament held a debate in the House of Commons on November 21, 1938.

The British Empire occupied Palestine in 1917, and it was a part of their colonial empire at that time. So they decided to send these Jewish immigrants to Palestine. The decision to allow an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 into the United Kingdom was influenced by several factors: the advocacy of refugees, growing awareness of anti-Jewish atrocities in Germany and Austria, and immigration sympathies among some high-ranking Britons. Each of these children had to post a £50 bond to “ensure their ultimate resettlement” since they were assumed to reconnect with their parents after the crisis passed. They were given temporary travel documents. The first transport left Germany less than one month after Kristallnacht, on December 1, 1938. It brought 196 Jewish children from a Berlin orphanage destroyed on November 9 by the Nazis. During their extensive Kindertransport experience, the children experienced extreme trauma. The specific details of the child’s trauma and how it was experienced depended on his age at separation and the details of their experience until the end of the war and even afterwards. The younger children had no developed sense of time, and for them, the trauma of separation was total from the very beginning. The second cause of stress had to learn a new language in a country where the child’s native language was not understood.

In the aftermath of the war, children from the Kindertransport had great difficulty reuniting with their families in Britain. There was a flood of requests from children seeking to find their parents or a surviving family member. Many of the children were reunited with their families by traveling to far-off countries. Others learned that their parents had not survived the war.

Mona Golabek describes in her novel about the Kindertransport titled The Children of Willesden Lane how the children who had no families left had to leave the homes they had acquired in boarding houses in order to make room for younger children flooding the country. Future Nobel laureates Arno Penzias and Walter Kohn were among the children saved by the Kindertransport, along with many others who, despite losing everything, became prominent scientists, politicians, and artists.

#1 A camp leader rings the dinner bell for refugees at the Dovercourt holiday camp, 1939.

#2 Some of the first unaccompanied child refugees to arrive in England as part of the Kindertransport. December 2, 1938.

#3 Jewish refugee children on their arrival in London on the Warszawa.

#4 German-Jewish girl Helga Samuel is met by a Kindertransport agent upon arriving in Harwich. December 2, 1938.

#5 A refugee is met by a Kindertransport agent, 1938.

#6 Travel documents for children rescued in the Kindertransport, 1939.

#7 Young refugees of the first Kindertransport after their arrival at Harwich, Essex, in the early morning of 2 December 1938.

#8 A young refugee arrives at the Dovercourt holiday camp, 1938.

#9 Young refugee Max Unger arrives at the Dovercourt holiday camp.

#10 Josepha Salmon, 8, arrives at Harwich on her way to the Dovercourt holiday camp.

#11 A German refugee studies English at the Dovercourt holiday camp. December 17, 1938.

#12 A refugee takes a much-deserved rest after arriving at the Dovercourt holiday camp, December 17, 1938.

#13 A German Jewish girl, newly arrived at the Dovercourt holiday camp, 1938.

#14 Refugees at their accommodations in England. 1938.

#15 Refugees are served lunch at the Dovercourt Bay Holiday Camp near Harwich in Essex.

#16 Two Etonian schoolboys give singing lessons to a group of Jewish refugees at Dovercourt holiday camp, 1939.

#17 A refugee plays soccer at the Dovercourt holiday camp.

#18 Miss W. Herford leads refugee children on a walk at the Dovercourt holiday camp, 1939.

#19 German-Jewish teeangers serve lunch at the Dovercourt holiday camp.

#20 A refugee rings the dinner bell at the Dovercourt holiday camp, 1938.

#21 Jewish refugees eat lunch at the Dovercourt holiday camp.

#24 Refugees rest after arriving safely at Dovercourt holiday camp, 1938.

#25 Four of a group of 250 refugees arrive at Southampton on the U.S. ocean liner “Manhattan.” Of the 250 refugees, 88 were unaccompanied children, 1939.

#26 11-year-old Otto Busch of Vienna with Mr. and Mrs. Guest, his host family in England.

#27 Refugees play on the grounds of Dane Court Farm, which Sir Edmund Davies has turned into a school and refuge, 1939.

#28 Jewish refugees at Harris House in Southport, Lancashire.

Jewish refugees at Harris House in Southport, Lancashire.

The house was forced to close in 1940 as the British authorities believed that refugees over the age of 16 could be a security risk.

#29 Refugees arrive in England aboard the American ocean liner “Manhattan.” 1939.

#30 Flor Kent’s memorial at Liverpool Street station, relocated to the station’s concourse in 2011.

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Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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