A momentous day that kickstarted the Kindertransport

World Jewish Relief, formerly known as The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF), was instrumental in making the Kindertransport happen, alongside other organisations.

Eighty years ago today a six man Jewish delegation*, including CBF founders Lionel De Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann, went to meet Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and plea for his help in rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis.

Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s Chief Executive says this event informs everything the organisation does now: “We are incredibly proud of our founders and the crucial role they had in orchestrating the Kindertransport, the rescue of almost 10,000 children from Nazi Europe. The Central British Fund had worked tirelessly since 1933 helping people to leave Germany and they recognised Kristallnacht as a critical turning point. Over the next three weeks they did everything they could to persuade the British government to help save the children and with the help of our community, put up initial funding to get the rescue effort underway.

We were there for the children when they arrived and we continued to support them as they established new lives in the UK. The history of our organisation and its role in the Kindertransport is a vital part of our identity and informs everything we do today, whether that is supporting the world’s poorest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe or helping refugees and people affected by war and persecution.”

On 14th November 1938, just days after Kristallnacht, CBF founders Lionel De Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann, together with a small delegation of prominent British Jews (Lord Samuel, Lord Bearsted, Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph Hertz and Neville Laski) met with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to appeal for his help in rescuing 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, himself a Quaker, raised it in Cabinet a few days later where Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, backed it, believing this positive action could bring America on board as allies against the Nazis.  

On 21st November the matter was raised in Parliament and an agreement 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. With funding from the CBF; the Children’s Inter-Aid Committee and The Society of Friends (Quakers) swung into action and less than two weeks later on 2nd December 1938, the first trainload of 200 children arrived at Harwich.

The organisations now banded together to become the ‘Movement for the Care of Children from Germany’ (MCCG) overseeing the 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 records from this period including thousands of individual case files for the children who came on the Kindertransport. The 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.

*Lionel De Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann (World Jewish Relief founders), Lord Samuel, Lord Bearsted, Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph Hertz and Neville Laski

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