Kindertransport 1938 to 1940 – An Introduction

By Till Lieberz-Groß, „Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt e.V.“

“It hurt to leave home.” (Kenneth Ward)

Many Kindertransport-Kinder were comforted with the promise that the separation from their families would be only for a short time. But very often it was for good: “I have got only one horrible memory of Frankfurt, the Central Station. There I saw my mother for the last time.” (Renata Harris)

The traumatic experience of many Kindertransport-Kinder, the bitter feeling of Überlebensschuld (survivor guilt) on the one hand and a deep disappointment of having been “abandoned” by their parents on the other hand, remained undealt with for decades, often even unknown and unnoticed. The children were forced to fight for a complete new life on their own – without any help of their families. There was no space for their sorrow, no place for commemoration. The project of establishing a Kindertransport-memorial draws upon this experience of life.

Memorial for the Kindertransport-Kinder and their families

In the encounters and interviews with former citizens of Frankfurt very often the request was made to establish such a memorial for the Kindertransport-Kinder and their families – as it has already been done in different other cities (e.g. London, Berlin, Hamburg). We would like to support this urgent request.

We got into contact with the City of Frankfurt and the Deutsche Bundesbahn. The idea is to establish a memorial in front of the Central Station or at least close to the Central Station. We sure do need political support but furthermore the support of the people of Frankfurt: We believe that a “Kindertransport” memorial would be a positive statement for the City of Frankfurt and its inhabitants regarding their attitude towards the Jewish history of Frankfurt and besides that it could be a sign for the intercultural awareness of Frankfurt today.

We want to commemorate the Kindertransport-Kinder who have been saved but at the same time honour those children and all the family members who could not be rescued – and thank those who helped the Kindertransport-Kinder to survive. And it could get people thinking of those young people who had to flee their country in our days because of wars and persecution.

“Save at least the children!”

At the beginning of the 20th century Jews were a natural part of German society. Many Jewish families could look back at a centuries-old ancestry. Due to this natural belonging to German society many Jews hoped that the Nazi nightmare beginning in 1933 could be put to an end very soon. But with the “Nuremberg laws” in 1935 it became obvious that the Jews should be separated from other citizens, that they should not be seen as Germans any longer – without any regard to their own attitude towards Jewishness or if they were German patriots and had even fought for Germany in the Great War (World War I): The Nazis defined who should be expelled from the society as “Jewish”.

Many families – by Nazi law now persecuted as Jews – tried desperately to emigrate but the international conference in Évian/France in July 1938 made it only too clear that almost no country was ready to allow a larger group of Jewish people to emigrate into their country. The November pogrom in 1938 revealed the dramatic situation of the Jewish population to the whole world. But even then only a small population succeeded in finding a country to escape to.

So many parents started to look for solutions to save at least their children. Although it seemed to be unendurable to separate it increasingly became the only option to transfer their children to a safe place abroad. But this option was not easy to achieve and many efforts did not prove to be successful. And all these efforts would have been in vain without those countries accepting at least the emigration of children.

Especially in the UK organizational structures were built up after the November Pogrom in November 9th/10th 1938 to rescue endangered children and young adults. In danger was the offspring of Jewish families, Christian-Jewish families and of so called “non-Aryan” Christian families (i.d. families who had converted/ been baptized) and a smaller group of children from politically persecuted families.

Due to the “Jugend-Aliyah”, founded by Recha Freier, groups of young Jewish people succeeded in making Aliyah, emigrating to Palestine (then under British mandate) and about 20.000 children and young adults (up to 17 years of age) could leave Germany and Austria via the so called Kindertransporte – much less than needed and had been possible…

The “Kindertransports”

The so called Kindertransporte left mainly from Germany and Austria, especially to the UK, the USA the Netherlands and France. About 20.000 children from Germany and Austria, and above that about 1000 – 2000 from Poland and Czechoslovakia could be rescued between 1938 and 1940. But compared with that number also those children have to be seen whose parents had wanted them to leave at that time which were about 60.000 children. The USA took about 5.000, Belgium about 1.600, France about 600, Switzerland about 260 children. The UK took most of the children, i.e. about 10.000.

Due to the British mandate in Palestine the British government was not ready to allow increased emigration into Palestine although a lot of Jewish families living there wanted to take refugee children. At the same time emigration to Britain was not welcome because the government was afraid of anti-Semitic reactions in Britain itself.

But in the course of events private initiatives of Christian and Jewish people started a discussion which eventually led to a debate in the British Parliament in November 1938 and a decision of the – initially reluctant – members of Parliament to allow the emigration of children and young adults up to the age of 17.

Crucial for this decision was the fact that the expense was not to be paid by the state but by the Jewish Refugee Committee, initiated by Otto M. Schiff (a London broker of German origin) and via sponsoring campaigns, e.g. initiated by Lionel de Rothschild and Simon Marks (Marks&Spencer) with their Central British Fund for German Jewry (founded in 1933), the Baldwin-Fund and the host families and homes/boarding schools.

Many of the other eligible host countries, e.g. Switzerland, followed a restrictive policy and took only a few children. Even the USA took much less children than needed and possible. The Netherlands took children but their possibilities were limited because of the invasion of the German army in 1940 but they tried to rescue those children already living in the Netherlands. Belgium and France also took children but again the invasion stopped further emigration; and here as well people tried to protect those endangered children already living in the country.

The organization of the “Kindertransports”

Because of the rare opportunities to leave parents had to decide at very short notice whether to send their children abroad on their own – always worrying that they could not see them for a long period or even for the last time: Emigration-formalities including a valid passport had to be dealt with; the most important things had to be packed into a small suit-case. And above all the preparations had to look like the preparations for a prolonged holiday – for the sake of the children who should not be worried.

And sometimes the families had to deal with the very difficult decision to accept an offer for a transport even if not all children of the family could get the opportunity to escape the Nazis.
The “selection” was mainly due to the “offers” in the countries which took Kindertransport-Kinder: Children between six and fourteen (max. seventeen), preferably girls. Only a few desperate families succeeded in “smuggling” toddlers into the transport. Kids with handicaps had no chance to be taken.

In the host country the children were placed all over the country – given to families or into special homes. Especially boys had to live rather in homes than with families, because it was obviously not as easy to find a host family for them. Girls were seen as less complicated and more adaptable and willing to give a hand in the household.

Regarding to reports the admission in their host countries differed a lot: From a warm reception and support for their education and future career to the exploitation as a “cheap” help. Speaking German was not done or at least not encouraged. Many children felt lost and left alone – overwhelmed because even siblings were normally not allowed at the same place.The contact to their parents at home became increasingly difficult. Additionally Orthodox children had the problem that very often they were not given the chance to fulfill their religious tasks.

Without the support of the transit countries (e.g. the Netherlands) and the host countries (especially the UK) the Kindertransports could not have succeeded. A lot of English organizations started even before 1938 rescuing endangered children, e.g. the Children’s Interaid Committee/Save the Children Fund, Refugee Children’s Movement, B’nai B’Brith and the Society of Friends, which played an outstanding role and were honoured for that with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.

“Kindertransports” leaving from Frankfurt/Main

The transports leaving from Frankfurt/Main did not only give children from Frankfurt the opportunity to be rescued. Since 1935 a lot of Jewish people had tried to escape from the countryside to the nearby big city or at least sent their children there. Especially Jews from rural areas, from villages and small towns, where life started getting unbearable very soon after the Nazis had come into power, sent their children to Frankfurt, living there with relatives or in different homes like the Orphanage in Hans-Thoma-Street/district of Sachsenhausen, the Israelite Orphanage in Röderbergweg/Ostend or at the Flersheim-Sichel-Foundation in Ebersheim Street/Eschersheim.

The Jüdische Wohlfahrtspflege (Jewish Social Services) of the Jewish Community in Frankfurt was in charge of the organization of the transports in the south-west of Germany. Frankfurt Central Station was the rail junction for the south-west area, e.g. “Kindertransports” coming from Munich. I want to mention here only two of the outstanding fighters of those days: Isidor Marx ( head of the Israelite Orphanage in Frankfurt) and Martha Wertheimer (journalist and social worker at the Jewish social services who accompanied several transports).

By now there are a lot of autobiographies and books about different aspects of research (see bibliography) – but unfortunately not as much about Frankfurt. Our project “Jewish life in Frankfurt” did a lot of interviews during the last decades: Some of these reports can be read on our website . But we are still working on further reports based on the interviews of about 50 “Kindertransport-Kinder” who have been invited by the City of Frankfurt during the last decades. And we furthermore try to get into contact with survivors and their supporting organizations. Every hint is welcome! Contact

But we know that there is still a lot of research before us, e.g. we did not find any lists of transportation leaving from Frankfurt Central Station – obviously most or all of them have been deleted (which has been confirmed for the lists of the Society of Friends which destroyed them because of security reasons).

We especially have to thank Helga Krohn for her research concerning the Kindertransporte leaving from Frankfurt: “Holt sie hier raus, bevor es zu spät ist” (“Take them away before it is too late”), 1999.

Helga Krohn, „Holt sie raus, bevor es zu spät ist“, in: Monica Kingreen (Hg.), „Nach der Kristallnacht". Jüdisches Leben und antijüdische Politik in Frankfurt am Main 1938 – 1945, Frankfurt 1999, S. 91-118.PDF 1,8 MB

Bibliography

Visiting Program 2017
In May a group of former citizens of Frankfurt and their descendants were invited to the city of Frankfurt, the former home of their parents or grandparents. The invitation of the city gave them the opportunity to see the sites of the grandparents`childhood and youth, visit their houses, the area they lived in, the graves of relatives and former schools. Reports and Pictures


See new biographies!


Kindertransport
In the encounters and interviews with former citizens of Frankfurt very often the request was made to establish a memorial for the Kindertransport-Kinder and their families. The “Projekt Jüdisches Leben in Frankfurt” supports this urgent request. Further Information


On the History of the Project
Jewish Life in Frankfurt see the new article at About us