by Eddy Behrendt, Founder and President Emeritus
Originally published in Kinder-Link (Fall 2000)
They say “The road to success starts with the first step.” The first step for the KTA was an idea conceived in the belly of a plane on the way home from London.
In the Summer of 1989, while flying home from England, I reflected on two reunions of Kindertransport Holocaust survivors that had just taken place in London. One was a three-day meeting in Harrow, and the other a one-day affair that took place in the Albert Hall. Both meetings were successful, each in their own way, very emotional and even traumatic, at least for me. They changed my life.
Until that time I had rarely thought or spoken about the early experiences of my childhood, and knew of no one else who had fled the Holocaust to England on a Kindertransport. At these meetings I had met many people with similar background stories and even some that came to England on the same train as I. It was all very impressive, and one could not help but be moved. I wept for the first time in many years.
While thinking about all this during my flight home, I knew that it could not stop there for me. But what more could be achieved? Another Kinder reunion, only this time in the States? No, there needed to be far more! Not just hugs, kisses, talk and memories. While such actions were very important, I did not think that people were prepared to accept just that and then return home without ever having further contact with each other. There should be more permanence, involving our families and our children. Also, perhaps we could aid needy children throughout the world as we had once been helped.
It was time to remember the past, to reunite once more, and to help others. With those three objectives clear in my mind, I confidently started the project. It would mean extra work, but it really shouldn’t be all that much. How wrong I was!
First of all the work involved was extremely hard, and took most of my free evenings and weekends for a very long time. There were several obstacles and disappointments along the way, and of course there were costs as well. At the time, I knew no one who could share the work and expenses, but that was not going to stop me.
I contacted Bertha Leverton, the Kindertransport child from Munich, then living in London, who had created the U.K. reunion and asked for the names and addresses of the American and Canadian Kinder who had participated there. My request was denied on the basis that it would not be legal to supply Americans with such information. That was my first shock; others were soon to follow. I contacted several of the major Jewish organizations, explained my project, and asked for help. How naive I was! Most either ignored me completely or openly laughed at me. Several had never even heard of the Kindertransport. Hadassah, for example, in a brief unpleasant note wrote that they had no money to spare, that the idea should be shelved and that instead I should spend my time and money working on behalf of Israel. I was stunned at all these negative responses since I was only looking for a couple of thousand dollars to pay for advertising, postage, etc. In the end it didn’t matter. I doubled my efforts, paid the expenses myself and continued on my own.
The first positive sign came from the ADL, which, while not donating cash, did offer me free advertising in their newsletter. Finally the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles offered both their strong encouragement and help, for which I will always be grateful. While they too did not donate any money, they offered to place ads and articles in their magazines and newsletters all over the country. I obviously accepted their offer and they proceeded to do this in their own name rather than in mine, since it was so well known. Their ads asked Kinder to correspond or contact them directly. This they did and all these communications were then automatically forwarded on to me. They also asked their New York office to work directly with me, which it did. All this helped tremendously, and I would estimate that nearly 50% of our original membership came through this method. I responded to each and every one of the letters and explained my idea about forming a KTA in North America. It was quite a job and took time, but it was well worth it.
Then the time came for the next step, if the organization I had in mind was to really get off the ground. To me that meant forming a Board of Directors, as well as writing and distributing a newsletter. Accordingly, I wrote to each of the New York area Kinder looking for volunteers, and asking them to explain what talents they might be able to bring to the Board. The response was good and there was no difficulty picking appropriate members. Since I did not know anyone, I had to choose individuals on my own gut reactions. Either I was very lucky or every individual who had written to me was good, because in no time we had assembled a great team of Kinder. At the time, I was also pleased to have met a Kind who had a sound publishing background and who showed strong interest and enthusiasm to edit a newsletter. Unfortunately he suddenly disappeared with no explanation and left us in the lurch. Although I was disappointed that a Kind would do such a thing, there was now no alternative other than to write the newsletter myself (no word processors at the time). I did just that for a while, but then we found the editor who still runs the newsletter to this day. She did and still is doing a wonderful job, and we should appreciate her hard work and dedication. Similarly, the present Treasurer still holds that position from day one, ten years, and there is no one who has given more of herself to the KTA than she. The KTA is indeed fortunate to have these and other such members.
Of course the time came where I wanted to include one or more of our children, the second generation, but who? In the meantime, a second generation Kind had contacted me in order to obtain some information for a history project she and her brother were working on as a surprise for their parents. I met several times with her and in the process persuaded her to take an active part in the KTA. That completed my second priority, although my third, to aid needy children throughout the world, took longer to come to fruition. That too now appears to be working well.
There was one thing left that I still wanted to accomplish: a reunion of Kinder who were living in North America. The Board and I, together with some spouses and friends, worked extremely hard and put in many hours, as a result of which we put together a wonderful and very successful reunion in the Catskill area of New York. Many more people than we had anticipated actually showed up. So many, in fact, that we ran out of space and several Kinder were forced to stay in the hotel next door. I was very pleased and proud of what we had accomplished, and thankful for the support we received from so many members. The reunion was one that many of us will long remember.
So there you have it. The birth of the KTA in brief. There are so many more facts and anecdotes I could tell you about that period, but that will have to wait for another day.