Beginning in the mid-1930s, worldwide efforts were made to bring persecuted Jewish children out of Germany. As Hitler set his sights on conquest, the lives of boys and girls from other nations were put in the Nazis’ path.
Racing against time, the Kindertransport, initiated by religious and nonsectarian humanitarian groups in Britain, aimed at delivering as many German, Polish, Austrian and Czech children as possible out of Eastern Europe before it was too late: a bill passed in Parliament extended safe heaven, to the children alone. Between November 1938 and the September 1939 declaration of war in England, the transit and housing arrangements for 10,000 children and infants in Holland and Britain were coordinated by the Kindertransport committees.
Choosing to remove their families from danger, many Eastern European and German B’nai B’rith members hoped that British lodge members would care for their sons and daughters. The London women’s auxiliaries actually did supervise these children, arranging for accommodations in hostels or farms in the countryside. The Executive Committee in the United States contributed funds for food and clothing. B’nai B’rith would enable many of the older children to resettle in Israel.
Revealing this dramatic narrative through artifacts, dramatization, letters and oral histories, “Kindertransport – Rescuing Children on the Brink of War,” was curated and exhibited in 2018 by Yeshiva University Museum and the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. In July 2021, the display traveled to the Minneapolis American Swedish Institute, where it runs through Oct. 31. The show has been augmented in this venue with a separate exhibit, “The Story is Here,” about the refugee children who came to the Midwest in the 1930s, and an audio component that historically contextualizes the events covered in the show.
On view at the Jewish Museum in Vienna from Nov. 15, 2021, until April 30, 2022, “Without a Home: Kindertransports from Vienna” explores the fate of Austrian children who were sent to England, but also to Holland, France and Belgium, where many became Hitler’s victims. The exhibit also addresses the trauma experienced by the children, thrown in with strangers who were sometimes unkind or worse. They suffered from the long-term effects of parental deprivation, the loss of their childhoods and the guilt they felt at being alive. Today, the sons, daughters and grandchildren of Kindertransport members are actively involved in educating others about the Holocaust and learning about their parent’s memories.
Filmmakers Pamela Sturhoofd and Jessica van Tijin incorporate animation, historic World War II footage and interviews with Kindertransport survivors into their documentary “Truus’ Children,” celebrating the achievements and legacy of courageous Dutch rescuer Geertruida “Truus” Wijsmuller (1896-1978). Singlehandedly bringing children out of Germany from 1933, she led the Austrian Kinderstransport after Norman Bentwich, a B’nai B’rith leader involved with the rescue plan, asked her to meet with the infamous Adolph Eichmann. Thinking she would fail, he allowed her to take children between the ages of five and ten from Nazi occupied territories by train, beginning with a group of 600. Seemingly fearless, as well as formidable, Wijsmuller corralled everyone that she knew into assisting her, whether they were willing or not. Released in 2020, “Truus’ Children” garnered an overwhelming response during its Dutch television premiere in May. It continues to be viewed and discussed via various websites devoted to Jewish history and culture.
Sturhoofd and van Tijin have launched another project, an online digital online archive which will house all the research materials used in the making of “Truus’ Children,” to function as an educational resource and lasting tribute to Wijsmuller’s deeds.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: