This is what really happened to the children of the Kindertransport
Posted on December 23, 2023
The story of the 10,000 children is seen as a tale of British compassion, but a new book claims the reality was more nuanced
The story of the 10,000 Jewish children — to whom Britain decided to give a home 85 years ago last month — has produced countless books, films and memorials. Etched into the national consciousness, the Kindertransport is widely seen as a heroic tale of escape, survival, and a noble British tradition of generosity and compassion towards those in need.
Many of the Kinder suffered multiple trauma, both before and after their arrival in the UK. They had experienced antisemitic persecution by the Nazis first-hand. “I shrink against the privet hedge, trying to be invisible,” one refugee, Edith Militon, recalled of her journey to and from school. Another, Beate Siegel, remembered seeing her father’s bloodied shirt after he had been attacked by stormtroopers, while Ruth Oppenheimer talked of the hours she and her sister spent “shivering of cold and panic” as they hid in the family car on Kristallnacht. Their rescue was near miraculous.
But, argues German-born academic Andrea Hammel in a new book, many Britons don’t grasp some of the most crucial – and perhaps less laudable – aspects of the Kindertransport.
Combining scholarly rigour with an array of stories about the children and their families, The Kindertransport: What Really Happened aims to correct the “rose-tinted view” that has long prevailed, says its author.
Hammel, the director of the University of Aberystwyth’s Centre for the Movement of People, doesn’t deny that Britain’s rescue of thousands of children from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia was the biggest and most successful effort of any such scheme. And she is clear that any criticism of the limitations of the Kindertransport doesn’t detract from the key role played by the British public.