What was the Kindertransport?
The Kindertransport – German for children’s transport – was a concerted effort by the UK government to rescue German and Austrian Jewish children 9 months before, and up until, the outbreak of WWII in 1938.
Though the UK took in around 10,000 Jewish children, they had never set an upper limit on how many children they would rescue. Instead, the operation was forced to cease once the war began. Sadly, though some of the children were reunited with their parents, many of the children were not and became the sole survivors in their families following the Holocaust. In 2018, on the 80th anniversary of the rescue effort, the German government announced Kindertransport survivors would be eligible to receive a payment of €2,500.
How World Jewish Relief Helped Make the Kindertransport Happen
World Jewish Relief – under our former name The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF) – were instrumental in making the Kindertransport happen.
Immediately after Kristallnacht – “the Night of Broken Glass”, when Nazi rioters destroyed thousands of Jewish buildings and businesses – CBF founders Lionel De Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann, together with a small delegation of prominent British Jews, met with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to appeal for his help in rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis by bringing them to Britain. They proposed providing financial support, education and training and asked that the need for German travel documents and British visas be waived in order to expedite the mission.
Chamberlain wasn’t keen initially. However, his Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare raised it in Cabinet a few days later and Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, backed it, believing this positive action could bring America on board as allies against the Nazis. On 21 November the matter was raised in Parliament and an agreement was passed for an unlimited number of child refugees to be given temporary refuge in Britain as long as there was no recourse to public funds. A special travel permit would be issued to eliminate the need for formal documents. Sir Hoare commented during the debates: “I could not help thinking what a terrible dilemma it was to the Jewish parents in Germany to have to choose between sending their children to a foreign country, into the unknown, and continuing to live in the terrible conditions to which they are now reduced in Germany.”
With funding from the CBF; the Children’s Inter-Aid Committee and The Society of Friends – AKA the Quakers – immediately swung into action and less than two weeks later the first trainload of 200 children arrived. The organisations now banded together to become the ‘Movement for the Care of Children from Germany’ (MCCG) and oversaw the Kindertransport rescue effort. The Jewish Refugee Committee, a branch of the CBF, were to take children over the age of 16 and help them gain training and employment whilst the MCCG placed younger children with families. Between December 1938 and September 1939 10,000 children were brought to safety.
After the war, the MCCG was absorbed into the Jewish Refugee Committee who took care of any ongoing welfare needs of the Kindertransport children.
World Jewish Relief has digitised our historic archives from this period including thousands of individual case files for the children. The Kindertransport records detail the support we gave, from medical help to repairing shoes or providing cinema tickets, and outlines help provided with education, training and employment as well as ensuring the children received adequate religious education.