Dozens of former child refugees who fled the Nazis on the Kindertransport will gather at Liverpool Street Station this weekend to mark 75 years to the day since the arrival of the first life-saving transport.
Special prayers will be recited and candles will be lit in memory of family members murdered in the Shoah during Sunday’s service, organised by World Jewish Relief – which as the Central British Fund for German Jewry played a key role in the rescue mission – with support from the Association of Jewish Refugees. The event will also be addressed by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Among those expected to attend Sunday’s service is Harry Heber, who was seven years old when he left his native Austria with his sister Ruth Jacobs. The 82-year-old said that his thoughts on Sunday “will be with those children who didn’t make it out of Europe and those Kinder who didn’t see their parents again”: “If it wasn’t for World Jewish Relief 75 years ago, I wouldn’t be here. It is a privilege to be able to commemorate the work that WJR and other organisations did to help save thousands of children.
Following the British Parliament’s vote to provide refuge to 10,000 unaccompanied children from occupied Europe in November 1938, the first Kindertransport left Berlin on the 1st of December carrying 196 youngsters, arriving in Harwich the following day. Many then went from there to Liverpool Street Station where they were met by foster parents. From that day until May 1940, thousands more children from Austria, Holland and Poland found refuge, but the vast majority would never see their parents again.
The ceremony marks the conclusion of a year of 75th anniversary commemorations that also included a reunion at JFS addressed by former foreign secretary David Miliband and a reception hosted by Prince Charles. Last week also saw the rededication of a commemorative plaque put up in gratitude to Parliament’s decision of 21 November 1938 to create the Kindertransport.
In paying tribute to the Kinder at the moving ceremony in Westminster, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow reflected on his own family’s migration to Britain and the huge strides that have been made in the protection of human rights since the Holocaust. Also present were Bercow’s predecessor Baroness Betty Boothroyd and Lord Alf Dubs, who was among the hundreds of children from Austria to be rescued by heroic diplomat Sir Nicholas Winton.
The pair were later joined by around sixty Kinder for a celebratory tea, which saw a chance reunion between the wife of a couple who had travelled from the US for the event and a British-based lady who had come to Britain on the same transport from Germany. Sir Erich, chair of the Kindertransport committee of the AJR – which organised the event – said: “This special occasion gives us cause to celebrate but also to recognise the significance of the debate that led to our rescue for which we, and our families, will be eternally grateful.”
The event came in the same week as a new plaque celebrating a popular London meeting spot for Jewish refugees from the Nazis was unveiled at a restaurant in Swiss Cottage. The tribute was placed at eaterie India Per Se on Northways Parade, the former site of the Cosmo restaurant where many refugees from Germany and Austria met while tucking into heimische continental cuisine. Among the refugees already honoured through AJR’s plaque project is Paralympics founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann.