Rescue Operation for Jewish Children from Nazi Germany. The "Kindertransporte" of 1938-1939

Elaboration, 2017

9 Pages



1. Pogroms of 1938 – The “Night of Broken Glass”

2. Kindertransporte

3. World War II

4. After the war

5. Sources

6. Appendix

“The train moves on and I see my first windmill. I am pleased that they are real and not just in story books. I must tell my mother, I think. And then it hits me – I won’t be seeing her to tell her these things.” [1]

1. Pogroms of 1938 – The “Night of Broken Glass”

In April 1933, only a few weeks after the victory of the Nazi party in the general election, a call for a general boycott of Jewish businesses was issued by the Nazis.[2] Members of the SA distributed leaflets and painted yellow Stars of David and anti-Semitic slogans on shop windows: “Germans, defend yourselves, don’t buy from Jews!”[3]. Anti-Jewish legislation with the aim of completely excluding Jews from the economic, social and cultural life in Germany would soon follow.

On November 9 in 1938, open violence broke out against the Jewish population in the German Reich. These pogroms which were euphemistically called “night of broken glass”, as if only a few shop windows of Jewish businesses had been broken. The Nazis wanted it to appear as an outbreak of spontaneous anger of German citizens about the murder of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish man on 7 November 1938 but in reality it had been meticulously prepared and organized by the Nazi administration and party organizations.

The pogroms lasted for two days, 250 synagogues were burned down as the fire brigades and police stood watching, thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, Jewish facilities like hospitals, schools and cemeteries were attacked and devastated, dozens of Jews were killed and thousands were humiliated and injured.

After the pogroms thousands of Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, limitations on the free movement of the Jewish population became more and more severe. Jews were more or less barred from public life, children were expelled from public schools, a system of complete segregation of the entire Jewish population was introduced.

2. Kindertransporte

On November 15, 1938, a few days after the pogroms, a delegation of British Jewish leaders appealed in person to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain requesting, among other measures, that the British government permit the temporary admission of children and teenagers from Germany and from countries occupied by Nazi Germany who would later return to their native countries. The Jewish community promised to put up guarantees for the refugee children.[4]

Neville Chamberlain was not very sympathetic to the situation of the Jews in Germany. But On 8th December, 1938, Stanley Baldwin, a former Prime Minister, made a radio broadcast calling on the British government to do more for the Jews in Nazi Germany. "’Thousands of men, women, and children, despoiled of their goods, driven from their homes, are seeking asylum and sanctuary on our doorsteps, a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest... They may not be our fellow subjects, but they are our fellow men. Tonight I plead for the victims who turn to England for help... Thousands of every degree of education, industry, wealth, position, have been made equal in misery. I shall not attempt to depict to you what it means to be scorned and branded and isolated like a leper. The honour of our country is challenged, our Christian charity is challenged, and it is up to us to meet that challenge.’"[5]

Six days later Chamberlain announced that the government would allow a total of 10,000 Jewish children[6] to enter the country. However, their parents would have to stay in Germany and could not accompany their children, as the British government feared that this would lead to the the arrival of large numbers of refugees and to too much pressure on the labour market, considering the already high numbers of unemployed people. The idea first had been to send these children to Palestine but due to strict restrictions of emigration to Palestine, this request was rejected by the British Colonial Office.

The British government also stated that Jewish refugee organizations in Britain would have to pay for the costs and would have to find homes for the children.

This is how the “Kindertransporte” mainly from Germany and Austria began. On November 25, 1938, the BBC Home Service radio program aired a public appeal for British citizens to volunteer foster homes and quickly more than 500 offers were received. Volunteers founded the “Movement for the Care of Children from Germany” to prepare for the arrival of the Jewish children.[7] In Germany, a network of organizers was established and these volunteers also worked around the clock to make priority lists of the most imperiled teenagers who were in concentration camps or in danger of arrest, children or teenagers threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages, those whose parents were too impoverished to keep them or those whose parents had already been sent to a concentration camp.

Special trains from Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Frankfurt and Prague took children to Hoek van Holland, from where they reached the English coast by ferryboat and went on to Liverpool Street station in London.[8] Children could only take with them a small suitcase with some personal things and not more than ten marks in money. Some children only had a piece of cardboard around their neck with their name and a number on it.

The sculpture named “Children of the Kindertransport” in front of Liverpool Street Station in London where most of the children arrived reminds us today of the thousands of volunteers in the British population who supported the rescue operation with donations or who welcomed children to their homes.[9]

The first transport with about 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that had been destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogrom departed from Berlin on December 1, 1938 and arrived in Harwich on December 2, 1938.[10] Some children were welcomed by their foster parents, but the majority were sent to camps, hostels, farms or other facilities that could accommodate groups of children. For the first three months of the transports, the children came mainly from Germany and then the emphasis shifted to Austria. In March 1939, after the German army entered Czechoslovakia, transports from Prague were hastily organized and transports of Jewish children from Poland were also arranged in February and August 1939.

The BBC broadcast a report of the situation of the Jewish children and newspapers also ran articles about the Kindertransport asking for help for the children. Former Prime Minister Lord Baldwin called for financial help in an article in the Times which led to an overwhelming response and over £200,000 in donations.[11]

The last group of children from Germany departed on September 1, 1939, the day the German army invaded Poland and provoked Great Britain, France, and other countries to declare war. About 10,000 children were sent to safety in Britain, 9,000 of whom would never see their parents again.

The idea was to put the children in foster families, preferably Jewish, middle-class and well-to-do. In reality, contrary to the anti-Semitic assumption that all Jews were wealthy, “the average Jew was the average Englishman”[12], furthermore Jews were a small minority of under one per cent of the population, so it was not very realistic to think that the Jewish community could take care of 10,000 refugee children.

But many families, Jewish and non-Jewish, welcomed children warmly and they were soon integrated into their new families. Some children, mostly girls, were however exploited as cheap workers. The main problem of almost all children at the beginning was that they didn’t speak any English. So at first sign language was their only means of communication.

As the winter of 1938-39 was extremely cold, children who were placed in (summer) camps suffered terribly from the cold. Because of the beginning of World War II many children had to stay in the Netherlands and in Belgium and when the Germans invaded these countries most of them were deported to the death camps.

3. World War II

When the Second World War began in 1939, Germany became enemy territory and the Kindertransporte suddenly stopped. Nicholas Winton, a London stock-broker who organized the transport of children from Prague remembers: “Within hours of the announcement [of the German attack on Poland], the train disappeared. None of the 250 children aboard was seen again. We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling.”[13]


[1] Turner, p. 3

[2] compare:


[4] cp.: jewishvirtuallibrary

[5] spartacus-educational

[6] for exact numbers - see Appendix 1

[7] Salewsky, p. 19

[8] Picture of a sculpture by Frank Meisler, himself a Kindertransport child, showing a group of children who have just arrived. Other sculptures by Meisler can be found in Berlin, Vienna and Gdansk in Poland. Photograph by the author;

[9] cp.:

[10] cp.:

[11] Salewsky, p. 20

[12] Turner, p. 108


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Rescue Operation for Jewish Children from Nazi Germany. The "Kindertransporte" of 1938-1939
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Nazi Germany, Jews, children, rescue operation, Great Britain, Kindertransport
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Bernd Müller-Knospe (Author), 2017, Rescue Operation for Jewish Children from Nazi Germany. The "Kindertransporte" of 1938-1939, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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