Rising to the Moment

Identification card issued to Inge Engelhard, a German Jewish refugee child, permitting her to be admitted to the United Kingdom under the care of the Inter-Aid Committee for children. Image courtesy of the USHMM

In response to the events of November 9 and 10, the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed to members of Parliament and a debate was held in the House of Commons. The already existing refuge aid committees in Britain switched into high gear, changing focus from emigration to rescue. The British government had just refused to allow 10,000 Jewish children to enter Palestine, but the atrocities in Germany and Austria, the untiring persistence of the refuge advocates, and philosemitic sympathy in some high places – in the words of British Foreign Minister Samuel Hoare “Here is a chance of taking the young generation of a great people, here is a chance of mitigating to some extend the terrible suffering of their parents and their friends” – swayed the government to permit an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter the United Kingdom. It was agreed to admit the children on temporary travel documents, with the idea that they would rejoin their parents when the crisis was over. A fifty Pound Sterling bond had to be posted for each child “to assure their ultimate resettlement.” The children were to travel in sealed trains. The first transport left Germany on December 1, 1938, less than one month after Kristallnacht; the last left on September 1, 1939 – just two days before Great Britain’s entry into the war, which marked the end of the program. By that time, approximately 10,000 children had made the trip.

Kindertransport was the informal name of the rescue operation, a movement in which many organizations and individuals participated. Kindertransport was unique in that Jews, Quakers, and Christians of many denominations worked together to rescue primarily Jewish children. Many great people rose to the moment: Lola Hahn-Warburg, who set the framework of rescue in 1933 while still in Germany; Lord Baldwin, author of the famous appeal to British conscience; Rebecca Sieff, Sir Wyndham Deeds, Viscount Samuel; Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld, who saved close to 1,000 Orthodox children; Nicholas Winton, who saved nearly 700 Czech children; Professor Bentwich, organizer of the Dutch escape route; and the Quaker leaders Bertha Bracey and Jean Hoare (cousin of Sir Samuel Hoare), who herself led out a planeload of children from Prague; and many others. Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer was a Dutch Christian who faced down Eichmann in Vienna and brought out 600 children on the first Kindertransport from Vienna on December 10, 1938, organized a transport from Riga to Sweden, and helped smuggle a group of children onto the illegal ship Dora bound from Marseilles to Palestine. She was the one who sped the last transport through burning Amsterdam to the Bodegraven in 1940.