Home      In Memory of the Six Million (2015)

IN MEMORY OF THE SIX MILLION

And all who gave their lives ahl kiddush ha-shem – to sanctify God’s Name

Skeptical, negative and increasingly hostile Western democracies repeatedly rebuffed urgent requests to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany while it was still possible to get them out. Despite that, humanitarian organizations, Jewish groups and courageous individuals – including diplomats from many countries, challenging their own governments’ prohibitions – as well as private citizens acting on their own, undertook successful efforts to rescue children.

Just after Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938, the British government lifted travel restrictions banning some categories of Jewish refugees, in particular permitting an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to come to England from Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, areas under Nazi control. Parents were not permitted to accompany their children. The British organizations and individuals sponsoring the program, called Kindertransport, had to guarantee each child’s care, education (and ultimate emigration from England to places unstipulated in the agreement) and post an initial £50 bond per child to ensure that the children would not become public charges. (To put it in perspective, the 1938 dollar equivalent of that sum was $250; in that year a new Ford Model A car cost $725 and a 1938 Morris Eight, a basic English 4-door sedan, cost less than £140. Annual income for the English middle class – the people most likely to take in the refugee children – ranged from £250 to £1000. In other words, £50 was a lot of money!)

The Kindertransports began in December 1938; the final transport left Germany on September 1, 1939,  75 years ago this month, the same day that German forces invaded Poland, beginning World War II. The final transport left the Netherlands on May 14, 1940, the day the Dutch surrendered to Germany. That freighter, carrying 80 children, was raked by machine gun fire from German warplanes.

The Kindertransports brought some 9,000-10,000 children, of whom 7500 were Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to Great Britain.

Private efforts to save European Jewish children have come to light only in the last decades. An English stockbroker of German-Jewish background, Nicholas Winton, inspired by the example of the Kindertransports, organized eight transports for the rescue of Czech Jewish children. The first departed on March 14, 1939, the day before the Nazi takeover of the Czech Lands (Bohemia and Moravia, most of what is the present-day Czech Republic), and the last on August 2, 1939. Winton’s efforts saved the lives of 669 children, but his work was totally unknown until 1988 when his wife discovered in their attic a scrapbook from 1939 with photographs and names of the rescued children and prevailed on him to make the information public. Since then, three films have been made describing his achievements. Honors have come to Winton from Israel, Czechoslovakia and Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth knighted him for his services to humanity. In 2009, twenty of the rescued children, now in their 80s, reenacted their 1939 journey across Europe to freedom. Their train was met in London by Sir Nicholas, then 100 years old.

As of March 4, 2015, when this memorial was prepared, Sir Nicholas Winton, MBE, is still alive at the age of 105, a great and humble man, a mensch. A monument by Flor Kent honoring him stands at the central train station in Prague. Another monument by Kent (shown here at right) is  at the Maidenhead train station 29 miles west of London. 

Four monuments to the Kindertransports were designed by Danzig-born Israeli sculptor Frank Meisler, who was one of the children rescued via Kindertransport when he was 10 years old: “The Departure,” in Danzig; “Trains to Life, Trains to Death,” in Berlin; “Crossing to Life,” in the Hook of Holland; and “Kindertransport-The Arrival,” in Hope Square in Liverpool Street Station in London. This photograph is of the London monument. On the sides of the monument are 16 bronze tablets bearing the names of the European cities from which the transports departed. An accompanying inscription reads:

CHILDREN OF THE KINDERTRANSPORT

In gratitude to the people of Britain for saving the lives of 10,000 unaccompanied mainly Jewish children who fled from Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939.

“Whosoever rescues a single soul is credited as though they had saved the whole world.” Talmud

We know of other examples of personal initiatives to save Jews. For example, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus of Philadelphia sailed to Germany in April 1939 expressly to rescue Jewish children, 50 in all, the largest single group of children permitted to enter the United States during the Holocaust. A member of Rabbi Patz’s New Jersey congregation authorized “hundreds of affidavits,” involving heavy financial obligations and extensive time commitments, that enabled members of his family to get out of Slovakia and come to America to safety. How many members of our Society were similarly involved in rescue efforts?

The children who were saved were only a miniscule number in light of the six million who were murdered, only a miniscule number in light of the million and a half children who were murdered. But each child who was saved was – is – a whole world, saved by brave individuals.

The extraordinary deeds of Nicholas Winton are now well-known. But there were many other brave individuals whose heroic acts will never be remembered. The last sentence of George Eliot’s Middlemarch applies most poignantly to them: “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Earth, do not cover my blood;
Let there be no resting place for my outcry!
Job 16:18

 

CITATIONS
“Kindertransport, 1938-1940,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Holocaust Encyclopedia online.
 
PHOTOGRAPHS
London: Robin Coupland
Prague: Luděk Kovář