Kindertransports

Kindertransports

During the nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War, 10,000 Jewish children were transported to Britain from mainland Europe. These were known as the Kindertransports, or children transports.

A delegation of British Jewish leaders first approached British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on 15 November 1938. A week later, a delegation of Jewish and non-Jewish groups appealed to Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare. The delegation was united under a non-denominational organisation called the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany.

The British government agreed to accept a limited number of unaccompanied refugee Jewish children under the age of 17. Travel documents would be issued for groups, rather than individuals, to speed the process. A 50 bond was required for each child (just over 2,000 in 2006) to finance their eventual return home.

The movement, later the Refugee Children's Movement (R.C.M), acted quickly. It sent representatives to Germany and Austria to establish selection and transport procedures, and priority was given to those children most in danger. In Britain, a radio appeal for foster homes broadcast on the B.B.C. Home Service generated some 500 initial offers. R.C.M. volunteers began visiting these potential foster homes to report on conditions.

The first Kindertransport from Berlin departed on 1 December 1938; the first from Vienna left on 10 December. After three months, the emphasis shifted from Germany to Austria. Transports from Prague were hastily arranged after the German army entered Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Transports of Polish Jewish children were arranged in February and August 1939.

Transport trains crossed into the Netherlands and Belgium then continued to Britain by ship. The first Kindertransport ship arrived at Harwich in England on 2 December 1938. They continued to arrive twice a week until June and July 1939, when they landed daily.

The outbreak of war forced Kindertransports to end. The last train left Germany on 1 September. The last transport ship left the Netherlands on 14 May 1940, the day that the Dutch army surrendered to Germany.

On arrival in England, children with prearranged sponsors were sent to London. The many who remained unsponsored waited in Dovercourt and other transient camps. Children were eventually dispersed throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Many Jewish and non-Jewish families accepted them despite the strain of wartime bombing and shortages.

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