The Kindertransport:

… saving Jewish children from certain death

Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were sent to the UK between 1938 and 1940 under the Kindertransport effort to save them from death by the Nazis. Many never saw their parents again.

Visit the upcoming exhibit at Ottawa City Hall

By Marion Silver

Imagine that you are the child bravely saying, “Goodbye, Mommy. Goodbye, Daddy,” not knowing when you would see them again. Imagine that you are the parent saying goodbye to the child, not knowing if you would see them again. That was the plight of more than 10,000 Jewish parents who entrusted their children into the hands of Sir Nicholas Winton and other rescuers and their teams.

This operation, which came to be known as the Kindertransport, began in December 1938, nine months before the outbreak of World War II, and ended in May 1940. Sanctioned by the British government, the Kindertransport saved Jewish children living in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and offered them refuge in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this rescue operation could not be extended to the parents, many of whom would perish in the Holocaust.

This relatively brief moment in time will be commemorated in Ottawa when For the Child/Für das Kind opens at City Hall on October 17 and runs until the end of the month.

Timely and relevant, the exhibit provides a powerful connection to today’s reality by exploring what it means to be a refugee, an experience shared by many newcomers to Ottawa. It provides powerful connections to ongoing issues which people today, especially students, will undoubtedly recognize, including the lived experience and impact of being a refugee and the damning consequences of antisemitism and discrimination.

The exhibit, organized by the Vienna Memorial Museum, is presented in cooperation with the Embassy of Austria and the British High Commission, with the assistance of Mayor Jim Watson. Included are 30 photographs of objects the children took with them on their journey omore than 80 years ago. Each shows an original suitcase containing objects carried by a child as they travelled into an unknown future. In many instances, the objects represent the last physical contact a child had with their parents.

The title in German, Für das Kind, is taken directly from objects contained in the suitcase belonging to Pauline Worner (nee Makowski). Imprinted on three coat hangers are the words, Für Liebe Kind, Dem Braven Kind, Für das Kind – for dear child, the good child, for the child.

While public awareness of the Kindertransport has grown, especially as the courageous efforts of people like Sir Nicholas Winton have come to light, the impact on the children themselves has only recently been explored.

Shelli Kimmel’s mother, Annemarie, who lived in Vienna, was fortunate to have been saved through the Kindertransport. An Ottawa resident, Kimmel recounts what her grandmother, Elsa, who was later murdered by the Nazis, wrote in a final letter to her daughter: “You were the best child and you have done for me all you could do. In the year 1939, only a few days prevented me from being with you.” It is heartbreaking to think how close Elsa came to escaping. Kimmel poignantly describes how as she was growing up, Annemarie never spoke of her departure from Vienna, what it meant to her, or how she felt about it. Kimmel has always wondered whether her mother did not want to burden her children with her past, or was she desperately trying to forget it?

Phil Emberley is the son of Kindertransport survivor Dieter Werner Eger, who was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Phil says: “I would strongly encourage you to explore this exhibit. The story is both uplifting and heartbreaking, as many of these children would never be reunited with their parents; at the same time, many went on to lead extraordinary lives. There are many parallels to current events, wherein innocent children have been displaced due to war.”

The Ottawa-based Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship develops educational programs that promote knowledge and understanding of the history and legacy of the Holocaust. The Centre recently prepared a free lesson plan for Ottawa educators that links students learning about the Holocaust and anti-racist education to the exhibit. Educators are encouraged to bring their students to the exhibit. Admission is free during normal operating hours at City Hall.

Marion Silver is a member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship

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