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 blankets.
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 square ones.
· Having to eat white bread they thought was cake.
· 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?