Kindertransport was the title given to the efforts made by the British government prior to the outbreak of World War Two to bring out of Nazi Germany and occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia Jewish children. Kindertransport was an attempt to remove these children from an increasingly perilous situation whereby war looked almost inevitable. During a nine-month period, 10,000 Jewish children aged between one and seventeen were transported to the UK. Though these children were separated from their families, many of them would have faced the same fate as their families if they had stayed. The vast majority of the Kindertransport children never saw their parents again. On arrival in the UK after a journey by train and boat, they stayed with British families – few could speak English – though some boarded at schools such as Oswestry in Shropshire.
In the immediate aftermath of Krystalnacht, many Jews were in real danger. The Nazi regime had given a green light to Nazi thugs to attack Jews seemingly at will and with no possibility of being punished for doing so. Those parents who could get their children out of Germany did so. In this British diplomats helped them. While the total number was small compared to the number of children who remained, it may be safely concluded that many of these 10,000 would not have survived the war and would have been victims to the Holocaust. The first of the children left Nazi Germany barely a month after Krystalnacht. The British government required a £50 bond per child to ensure their ultimate resettlement. The last group of children left on September 1st 1939. The declaration of war on September 3rd led to the end of the project.
A number of the children joined the armed forces based in the UK once they had reached the age of 18 effectively taking their fight back against Nazi Germany. It is thought that between 20% and 25% of all those involved in the Kindertransport project later left the UK and emigrated to America or Canada.
Marion Charles, then a nine-year old girl living in Berlin, took part in Kindertransport.
“On July 4th, 1939, eight months after Kristalnacht, I got up extremely early and went into the kitchen to say goodbye to my dolls. I was to be sent abroad under the auspices of the Kindertransport – a rescue operation that helped nearly 10,000 Jewish children escape Nazi rule and find new homes in Britain.
The authorities allowed the children to take only a small suitcase with them, so I could only take one of my dolls. My mother stood at the garden gate and waved goodbye to us. (Marion’s older sister accompanied her)
My father took us to the station. My sister and I were travelling with 200 other children and there was almost no time to say goodbye, as the parents were not allowed to wait for the train to leave. However, many of them – including my father – sped to the next stop in Berlin for one last glimpse of their children.
As the train pulled into the station, I saw my father coming to me, wanting to kiss me goodbye one last time. I leaned out of the window, about to kiss and stroke his face once more, when a group of SS men with large dogs and truncheons strode up to the train and pushed him and the other parents away from the train.
My father stumbled and a lady fell. I stayed as strong as I could, took one last look at my father as the platform receded, and prayed that I would see him and my mother again soon.”