‘Kindertransport’ (evacuation of children from Nazi-controlled Europe)


Let them smile and play again


Save 1,000 Refugee Children on

‘Mothers’ Day’ is the day appointed for a great and special effort in support of the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees—to rescue another 500 Christian and 500 Jewish children. Please do your very best to make your local contribution a bumper one. There are still nearly 70,000 children in Germany—Christians as well as Jews—so persecuted that they are not even allowed to play in the public parks. Help to get them out—before it is too late!


from the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent (Yorkshire) of 10th May 1939



The noun Kindertransport designates a transportation made as part of an operation from 1938 to 1940 to evacuate children, mostly of Jewish confession, from Nazi-controlled areas of Europe to the United Kingdom, and this operation as a whole.

This noun is a borrowing from German Kindertransport, composed of Kinder, plural of Kindchild, and Transporttransportation (cf. kindergarten, from German Kindergarten, literally children’s garden, denoting an establishment where children below the age of compulsory education play and learn).

The first known use of Kindertransport in English is from The Youngest Pioneers, by Marian G. Greenberg, published in Survey Graphic, Magazine of Social Interpretation (New York) of March 1940:

While worldwide search is being made for havens for refugees, over 6000 young Jews from Europe have been given a permanent home in Palestine. The American chairman of Youth Aliyah, the international committee responsible for this work, tells how it was done, and what the future holds for these young pioneers.
When a new drive began in Germany against Polish and stateless Jews (those holding Nansen papers) in June and July, 1939, the victims remembered the previous year when Germany had ordered the expulsion of Jews having Polish passports. Then men, women and children had been pushed across the Polish frontier without food, money or adequate clothing; subsequently, as the number of refugees increased, Polish guards had forced them back upon the bared bayonets of the Nazis so that many perished in the No-Man’s Land between the two countries. Small wonder they preferred to leave their children in Germany rather than expose them to the terror of existence in No-Man’s Land in the hope that they might find refuge elsewhere.
These events aroused men of good will in all lands. In England, Lord Baldwin inaugurated the Fund bearing his name and gave impetus to a movement which in eight months brought nine thousand German, Austrian and Czech children to Great Britain. The Youth Aliyah wards among them are placed in special training centers where preparation for Palestine is furthered. A Youth Aliyah Training School with 160 children has been established at Whittingehame, Scotland, the ancestral home of the late Lord Balfour, which was made available by his nephew and heir, Lord Traprain. Other training farms have been established in England for four hundred and fifty young people.
The example of Great Britain and the Netherlands has been followed by other countries. Hundreds of Youth Aliyah registrants have been accepted “in transit” for Palestine by Denmark, Sweden, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
This summer, in Europe, I witnessed the arrival of a “Kindertransport” bringing these child refugees from Berlin to London. One hundred and twenty left the train at Liverpool Station—tiny children heavily laden with miniature knapsacks, youngsters of ten and twelve struggling with clumsy suitcases, and adolescents whose entire aspect gave the lie to their youth. For a moment I almost confused the scene with that of an American camp homecoming. But the illusion was quickly dispelled by a glance at the platform, barren of welcoming parents, and by a closer examination of the placarded train and its human cargo. I followed the children who were led off immediately to be sorted, stamped and consigned.
Many of the little ones were received by British men and women who, in advance of their coming, had generously offered them a home. It was not easy to find private homes for the older boys, most of whom were assigned to institutions and special camps until reemigration could be arranged—to what country no one could say. Neither jobs nor tools awaited their eager hands in the pre-war England of unemployment. Only the young girls were permitted to accept work and then only in domestic service. The look of passive resignation on the faces of these young people was tragic.
In contrast I turned to the eighteen Youth Aliyah children among them who had occupied one of the carriages in the transport and apparently had already constituted themselves into a firmly-knit, integrated society of comrades. Although from widely separated storm centers of central and eastern Europe their common ideal and the knowledge that after a short training period in Great Britain they would go to a permanent home in Palestine had sustained them. Nearly all of the eighteen children had been brought to England because they were “desperate cases.” Only a few spoke of their anxieties.

The following is from The Stage (London) of 8th April 1993:

Sarah is ready to shine

Sarah Shanson will get a chance to shine at the Soho Theatre next week when she takes on the role of nine-year-old German Jewish refugee Eva in Diane Samuels’ Verity Bargate award-winning play, Kindertransport.
With an ironic twist to the tale, it emerges that the 13-year-old actress’s grandmother had first hand experience of the situation. She came to England as a refugee at the age of 12 in 1939 and later discovered that both her parents had been victims of the concentration camps.
For Shanson, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, it will not be a stage debut. She has appeared in Carmen for English National Opera and recently won a Britten Pears singing scholarship.
A promising musician, she played the piano in three major recitals and at the North London Music Festival. She also plays flute and has sung for fellow pupils at the Henrietta Barnet School.
“I have many ambitions,” says Shanson. “I have always wanted to perform on the stage and show people what I can do. I love to sing and long to play a part in a musical. My other passion is acting. I love drama and enjoy putting myself in someone else’s shoes and turning into a completely different person.”

Sarah Shanson – Picture: Sheila Burnett


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