by Bracha Turner.
“Anyone can find something meaningful in the Holocaust” said E. Randal Schoenberg, board chair of the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust. On Tuesday evening, December 9th, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust presented a reading from Michelle M. Gold’s book ‘Memories That Won’t Go Away, A Tribute to Children in the Kindertransport.’ The event, sponsored by RVW Consulting, explored the lives of the 10,000 children that England protected from the reality of annihilation.
After the violence of Kyrstallnacht in November 1938, European Jewry recognized the danger of living in anti-semitic countries. The Kindertransport was the organized transportation of Jewish children from Nazi Europe between the years 1938-1939. When parents realized they could not rescue themselves with their families, they gave their children to the Kindertransport as a step to safety. Some parents were later able to join their children in England, but they were in the minority.
The author, whose own mother was among the children rescued and sent to England, relates her mother’s story along with the stories of hundreds of other children. All the children were between the ages of 2 and 17 years and came from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Poland. They traveled to Great Britain by train alone, not knowing if they would ever see their parents or relative again. Although the majority of the ‘survivors’ are still alive, most don’t regard themselves as survivors and thus the healing process of grieving and exploring their history has never experienced a complete outlet.
As a museum docent, Gold’s research was conceived by an artistic ceramic exhibit hosted by the museum in which she collected pictures of survivors. Her research took four years and encompassed a breadth of documents and stories that she found in libraries, synagogues, organizations and individual families throughout the world. The resulting book is an exposition of an often overlooked story of hope within the Holocaust.
For 50 sterling pounds (equivalent to about $80 today but expensive in those days) paid to the state as a guarantee for each child, the children did not know how much their parents often sacrificed to save them. Money was raised quickly. Funds were required on the theory that it would prevent the children burdening the state until they were reunited with their parents, as was optimistically anticipated at the end of the war.
The readings portrayed the deep emotional bond between parent and child, as well as the pain of parting against a backdrop of anti-semitic terror. Even when they arrived in England, it was not an easy place to call home because the children found little sensitivity for their cultural or religious needs. Besides the trauma of leaving their parents, they had to cope with fear, the absence of protection, the difficulty of learning a new language, chores and domestic work (which was expected in exchange for accommodation). Others lived in hostels or orphanages. Sometimes, the children were so young, that they had no understanding why they were being sent away. Many recalled stories of seemingly safe, happy childhoods free from anti-semitism or discrimination prior to leaving their families.
One of the more acclaimed rescuers of the children was Nicholas Winton, an English civilian who, along with his friends, visited Prague while on a skiing trip and after seeing the camps decided to help. Over the next year he brought 669 children to England, by asking the government for the conditions which permitted unsupervised children for entering England. And then getting together the necessary documents. Soon, Winton and his friends believed that their politicians couldn’t be relied on and felt they knew more of what was occurring in Eastern Europe than the government. In an interview which was screened in the museum following the book reading, Winton quoted a German philosopher “We’ve never learned anything from the past.” The reason why history repeats itself, he asserted, is that the world can never change, “until people decide, irrespective of religion, to live by the standard of ethics and compromise.”