A tribute to the British people for saving the lives of thousands of children from Nazi terror through the Kindertransports.
Memorial to Nicholas Winton at Prague Central Station
The Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”) was an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.
On 15 November 1938, five days after the devastation of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed in person to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain. Among other measures, they requested that the British government permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents.
The British Cabinet debated the issue the next day and subsequently prepared a Bill to present to Parliament. That Bill stated that the Government would waive certain immigration requirements so as to allow the entry into Great Britain of unaccompanied children ranging from infants up to the age of 17, under conditions as outlined in the next paragraph. No limit upon the permitted number of refugees was ever publicly announced. Initially the Jewish refugee agencies considered 5,000 as a realistic target goal. However, after the British Colonial Office turned down the Jewish agencies’ separate request to allow the admission of 10,000 children to British-controlled Palestine, the Jewish agencies then increased their planned target number to 15,000 unaccompanied children to enter Great Britain in this way.
On the eve of a major House of Commons debate on refugees on 21 November 1938, Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare met a large delegation representing various Jewish, Quaker and other non-Jewish groups working on behalf of refugees.
The groups were allied under a non-denominational organisation called the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany. The Home Secretary agreed that, to speed up the immigration process, travel documents would be issued on the basis of group lists rather than individual applications. The agencies promised to find homes for all the children. They also promised to fund the operation and to ensure that none of the refugees would become a financial burden on the public. Every child would have a guarantee of £50 sterling to finance his or her eventual re-emigration, as it was expected the children would stay in the country only temporarily.
During the war years many Kindertransport children served in the British armed forces, the nursing professions, in food production and in war-related industries. Several thousand remained in Britain when the war ended, and as adults made considerable contributions to Britain’s services, industries, commerce, education, science and the arts, for the defence, welfare and development of their country of adoption.
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