By Sarah Hartmann, Artistic Apprentice
Kindertransport, or Children’s Transport, was a rescue effort to aid Jewish children refugees in escaping Nazi Germany to seek asylum in Great Britain. The British Government permitted the program to move forward following the violence of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which took place across Greater Germany on November 9, 1938. Several aid committees, including The British Committee for the Jews of Germany and the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany (later renamed the Refugee Children’s Movement), combined their efforts to transport children out of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. The British Government agreed to issue temporary travel visas to children under 17 with the assumption that they would eventually be able to return to their families. Organizations and private individuals assisting the refuge effort funded the travel and care of the children, including a guarantee of 50 pounds intended to later assist in their re-emigration to Germany.
The first Kindertransport left Berlin on December 1st, 1938 carrying almost 200 children from an orphanage that had been destroyed during Kristallnacht. The train stopped in Holland, where the children boarded a ship to ferry them to England. They arrived in Harwich on December 2nd. The first transport from Vienna left on December 10th. Children travelled on their own, infants often being cared for by older children. Those who had sponsors awaiting their arrival were permitted to travel straight to London. Children without sponsors stayed at a camp in Dovercourt Bay until a family or home could be found to take them in; almost half would find foster homes across Great Britain. The children who weren’t taken into foster homes were placed in hostels or group homes. Older children often found work in Britain at factories, farms, or in private homes.
Once Great Britain entered the war in September of 1939, the Kindertransport effort ended, with the last known transport leaving Berlin on September 1, shortly before Britain’s official declaration of war on Germany. Around 1,000 children were interned by the British government as enemy aliens in 1940, several being transported to Australia on the Dunera. Some of these “enemy aliens” were eventually released, and many of the young men joined the war effort to fight in Britain’s Armed Forces.
Over the course of the nine-months that Kindertransport had been in operation, almost 10,000 children had found refuge in Britain. Few of them were ever reunited with their parents, many of whom perished in the atrocities their children had escaped.
My mother, Lisa Jura, was my best friend. She taught my sister, Renee, and me to play the piano. We loved our piano lessons with her. They were more than piano lessons—they were lessons in life. They were filled with stories of a hostel in London and the people she knew there. Her stories were our folklore, bursting with bits and pieces of wonderful characters who bonded over her music. Sitting at the piano as a child, I would close my eyes and listen to her lilting voice and imagine her world. She always believed “each piece of music tells a story.” Her legacy has inspired my music and my life. I pass along her story in the hope that it may enrich the passion and music that lie in each of us.