Renate Edler came to England form Germany on the
Kindertransport. She didn’t realise she was Jewish until half an hour before
she and her mother departed to Stuttgart for Christmas in December 1938. On 28
January 1939 she set off on a Kindertransport train to England.
Every child on the Kindertransport had to be sponsored to
the tune of £50.00 – the equivalent of about £3500 today. This was to pay for later repatriation. It
was absolutely essential that the children should not become a burden on the
state. There was a lot of poverty in the United Kingdom at the time and there
was a great fear that allowing adult refugees in would lead to anti-Semitism.
In Renate’s case it was likely that her own family paid
this. In other cases, various charities helped out. The Quakers played a huge
part in this - they sponsored many children and also provided people to
accompany them. If any German nationals accompanied the children and failed to
return, the Kindertransport would be stopped.
There was much confusion in Germany about who was allowed to
leave. Although the Nazi regime wanted the Jews out of Germany they did not
make it easy for people to leave. Evacuees needed an exit visa from Germany, a
passport, and an entry visa for the country they were going to. The British
authorities actually only required that the children carried their own ID card.
The children were only allowed one small suitcase, one piece
of hand luggage and 10 Reichmarks. Their luggage was scrutinised at the German
border by the SS. Also, most of the trains left on a Saturday – 28 January 1939
was also a Saturday – which was particularly difficult for orthodox Jews.
If the Germans were cruel, the Dutch were kind. Dutch women greeted the children at the
border with drinks of hot chocolate, cake, small gifts for the very young and
Most of the Kinder came in via Harwich and then Liverpool
Street Station in London – which is why the memorial to the Kindertransport is
there. At Liverpool Street it must have felt like a bit of a cattle market. They
waited there for people to collect them.
They still wore their label. Some children already had families to got
to – perhaps friends of the family of foster friends who had been found for
them – as some were taken to a camp and were collected alter by people who were
prepared to foster them. Again, we had a cattle market syndrome. Foster parents
would pick out the cutest looking children – or occasionally those who looked
as if they might be able to work hard. Renate was greeted by her uncles who had
already found a good foster home for her.
The United Kingdom rescued almost 10,000 Jewish and
Mischling children from Nazi Germany via the Kindertransport. This was far more
than any other country. Yet it was only a small number – 500,000 children died
in the Holocaust.
Many of the Kinder were not treated well. Even if they were
– and Renate was – they might not have been happy. The initial wave of
home-sickness may have included:
Missing central heating
Having to travel upstairs on a bus (though
because this was a novelty it may have actually been a treat!)
Missing the cosy German bedroll.
Having to sleep on oblong pillows instead of
Having to eat white bread they thought was
Not being able to speak English very easily.
What would make you the most uncomfortable, do you think, if
you suddenly had to go and live in a new country?
What would you miss most about where you live now?