Remembering the Kindertransport, by Dr Isabel Wollaston

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Friedrichstrasse side with flowers (July 2013)

The late 20th/early 21st century has witnessed the creation of a growing number of public memorials to the Kindertransport. In 1999 a plaque was unveiled at the Palace of Westminster ‘in deep gratitude to the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom for saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish and other children who fled to this country from Nazi persecution on the Kindertransports 1938-1939.’ Two parallel, even rival, series of memorials have emerged, by sculptors Flor Kent and Frank Meisler. Should they notice, visitors pass by Kindertransport memorials by Kent at Liverpool Street Station, Westbahnhof (Vienna, 2008), The Holocaust Centre (Beth Shalom), as well as one at Hlavni Nádraži station (Prague, 2009) celebrating Nicholas Winton’s role organizing similar transports of children from Czechoslovakia to the UK. Meisler charts his journey from his hometown Danzig (Gdansk in present-day Poland, Kindertransport – the Departure, 2009); to Berlin (Trains to Life, Trains to Death, 2008); the Hook of Holland (Channel Crossing to Life, 2011), and Liverpool Street Station (Kindertransport – the Arrival, 2006). Indeed, Liverpool Street is now home to three memorials, with Meisler’s in pride of place in a plaza on the upper concourse renamed Hope Square in 2006 (dedicated ‘to the Children of the Kindertransport who found hope and safety in Britain through the gateway of Liverpool Street Station’), with Kent’s sculpture originally located here (2003) first removed, then relocated in revised form on the lower concourse. 

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Fur das Kind – London (June 2011)

 

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Meisler sculpture – Liverpool St Station

 

 

 

 

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Winton memorial – Prague Station (April 2012)

 

A week on Sunday (01.12.13) Hope Square and the Meisler memorial will provide the setting for a Memorial Service organized by World Jewish Relief and the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport. Further memorials to the Kindertransport and to Nicholas Winton can be found in Harwich and Maidstone. The story of the Kindertransport also features in the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, and the Jewish Museum, London, where, intriguingly, it is part of the Holocaust section of the permanent exhibition on Anglo-Jewish history (History: A British Story) rather than its Holocaust Gallery. More controversially, it is the focus of The Journey: Children of the Holocaust, an exhibition at The Holocaust Centre (Beth Shalom) which opened in 2006 (sponsored by the AJR) and is unique in being designed for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11; the controversy lying in seeking to educate children of this age about the Holocaust, usually considered the preserve of Key Stage 3 and above). 

This proliferation of memorials bears witness to the significance now attached to the Kindertransport, something very evident this summer in both the commemorative events taking place and the press coverage they attracted. Such overt public commemoration and celebration is in stark contrast to past decades when the Kindertransport were a marginal or forgotten footnote in British national memory and memories of World War II. It is entirely appropriate that the Kindertransport should be remembered and celebrated, but that celebration should be tempered by realism, by recognition that they were an exception in British immigration policy in the 1930s and 1940s, rather than the rule; an initiative by individuals and organizations rather than the state (most of whom, unlike Nicholas Winton, remain in the shadows, largely forgotten rather than celebrated today), and that the experiences of the Kinder once they arrived in this country varied considerably, with not all being welcomed, and some being exploited and/or maltreated.  

Resources:

The Kindertransport section of Frank Meisler’s website: www.frank-meisler.com/kindertransport.html and Frank Meisler, On the Vistula Facing East (London, 1996) 

Flor Kent.com: http://www.artbust.com/artbuy/FKent/index.html; and Peter Berthoud, Monumental children return to their saviour at Liverpool Street (29.05.11): www.peterberthoud.co.uk/tag/flor-kent/  

The Journey, Holocaust Centre, Laxton, Nottinghamshire, http://holocaustcentre.net/the-journey/ 

The AJR Journal, the KT Newsletter, the Kindertransport survey (Making New Lives in Britain), available online via the AJR website: www.ajr.org.uk/kindertransport  

Bertha Leverton (ed.), I Came Alone: The Stories of the Kindertransports (Brighton, 1996) 

Andrea Hammel and Bea Lewkowicz (eds.), The Kindertransport to Britain 1938/39: New Perspectives, Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Volume 13 (2012), (Amsterdam, 2012), particularly Caroline Sharples’ essay on ‘The Kindertransport in British historical memory’.

Dr Isabel Wollaston is a Senior Lecturer in Jewish and Holocaust Studies at the University of Birmingham.

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