Book Reviews

The Jewish Children Transport from Germany to England 1938/39 History and Memory 
(Der Juedische Kindertransport von Deutschland nach England 1938/39 Geschichte & Erinnerung)
Rebekka Goepfert 

[German language, 217 pages]

Reviewed for H-Holocaust by Ester Golan <>, Jerusalem, Israel.


Review of a Remarkable Book

In this book Rebekka Goepfert took it upon herself to look behind the scenes of an almost saga, as has never been done before. As she mentions, until now there were some stories as told by children themselves and a number of research papers that have been published on the subject, such as the important work of Esther Judith Baumel and some others, but each looking only at certain aspects.  Since none of these authors make reference to each other, no theory or debate on the subject has taken place so far.  

Rebekka Goepfert tried to incorporate and combine as much of the information as she could get, using primary sources and materials, from archives, interviews with 26 children (Kinder) living in England, USA and Israel and numerous informal discussions with others who were involved in some way or an other. Because the subtitle is History and Memory. Rebekka Goepfert tried to integrate and interweave the personal stories with historical events as found in documents in the archives. The book is divided into 7 chapters and systematically moving from one stage to the next, using many subdivisions within each chapter. 

  1. Sources Interviews and Methodology 
  2. Life in the Third Reich
  3. British Refugee Politic and the Kindertransport
  4. Organization of the Kindertranport
  5. New Life in England 
  6. The War and its Consequences
  7. The Kinder transport in the Present

As an appendix, in order to give the reader a glimpse of the individual background of the children interviewed, there are short biographies, as well as a list of sources and references, autobiographic literature about Kindertransport and secondary literature. In this way one gets for the first time a peep behind the scenes, a comprehensive overall view which helps to realize, even if belated, what a complicated action saving of children was. She quotes (p.42) In view of the fact "that the world seemed to be divided into two parts - those places where Jews could not live and those where they could not enter" it is all the more remarkable that Kindertransport were assigned transit visa at a time when the whole world with few exceptions had closed its borders for Jews from Germany, and just as remarkable that parents had to stay behind, as England did not grant them entry visa. (p.45) 

In spite of the fact that German Jews were under pressure to leave Germany and Austria as never before, the British issued in May 1939 the White Paper, drastically cutting back and restricting immigration to Palestine.(p.48)  Evian-les-Bains conference called for by Roosevelt in the spring of 1938 did little to ease the situation for German refugees. Doors remained closed.

As a reaction to the November 1938 pogrom the Inter-Aid Committee for children from Germany, the Quaeker, Rabbi Schoenfeld & other groups increased their activity and after several reorganization the main body dealing with refugee children was to be known as the Refugee Children's Movement, RCM, and took on the major responsibility for Kindertransports. 

This was by no means an easy task. Funding, finding guarantees and families, Jewish as well as none Jewish or alternate accommodation for the sudden influx of transport after transport, placing and keeping track of the children, done almost all by volunteer workers. David Cohen, Norman Bentwich, Gertruida Wejsmuller- Mejer, Lola-Hahn Warburg to mention just a few of the many, we will never know how many, that made this unique rescue operation possible.

There is a description of the logistics of registration of the children, preparation at home, leaving, parting, crossing borders, arrival and placing in a new and unknown surrounding and all that this entails. Financing for their upkeep had to be ensured, as this was one of the condition for allowing the children to enter Britain, so that they would not become a burden to the state, neither take a work or university place of an English child. They were all meant to re-emigrate to
other destinations as soon as possible. 10 000 children out of a hoped for 50 000 had been brought over to Britain when war broke out. 

New arrangements had to be made. Some children were evacuated, while many of those over 16 were interned as Enemy Aliens. The RCM by now in Bloomsberry House, did its utmost to keep track and assist as best as they could. Employment was pretty restricted to agriculture and
domestic service. Youth-Aliyah and Hechalutz had several training farms. Some of the children that had been placed with Christian families converted, several of the older boys managed to join the armed forces. While some children were extremely happy in their new surrounding, others had a hard time to adjust and needed constant assistance. There are a few stories of family reunion after the war, but for most of the children the search effort ended with them being orphans. 

At a general assembly of the Refugee Children's Movement - RCM on 21. December 1948 the decision was taken to dissolve the Movement and pass all its remaining assets to the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation CBF where the files of the children as far as the exist are still being kept to-day. A short followup on Kindertransport at present tells where they are to-day, their relationship to their host countries, how they fared, a hint at their traumatic experience, the 50. Reunion of Kindertransport ROK in 1989 and Kindertransport Association in USA, about some selfhelp and second generation groups. Rebekka Goepfert dedicated this work to a little known capital of history and the 10 000 children that were saved. 

Being myself one of those children, I had often felt like a parcel, with a label attached, being dispatched from place to place, not knowing the why's or what for's. I left England for Palestine
in June 1945. Now for the first time somebody had tied all the threads together, put all the details into place, just like in a jig-saw puzzle, when suddenly the whole picture appears. The book is well laid out, reads easily and tells a remarkable rescue story. I hope it will be translated into English so that the second generation can read it by themselves. 

Jerusalem, August 1999 

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© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
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