By Eric PICKLES, MP and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Some 75 years have passed since the first 198 Jewish children escaping Hitler’s regime boarded a train to Liverpool Street Station. Fleeing from the rising tide of German anti-Semitism, embarking on a long, tiring journey, and torn from their families, the kinder arrived on the platforms and docks of Britain to start a new life.
As some of the kinder and their families gathered around Frank Meisler’s kindertransport statue in Liverpool Street Station on Sunday, it remains a journey we must all remember today.
The resilience shown by the young children of 1938 has not faded, and neither has the British spirit, which ushered 10,000 children into homes in the far reaches of Scotland to the bustling streets of London.
Although every kinder has experienced a loss that binds them all, leaving their families behind, they each have a unique story to tell. No fewer than four kinder have received the Nobel Peace Prize. We gained a treasured film–maker in Karel Reisz. Doctors, academics and soldiers. Ann and Bob Kirk, two kinder, met each other later in life through a youth group and went on to get married and have a family.
The fact these achievements are born out of such adversity is a wonderful tribute to the many qualities of the Jewish faith. Arriving in a foreign land, having to learn a language and carve out a new life cannot have been easy, to say the least. Nothing will replace the family to which you are born, and I am sure that not a day passed when the kinder didn’t think about their families back in Germany, Austria, Poland or the Czechoslovakia.
But in staying here, these brave people contributed to the fabric of British life. Whether rich or poor, many British families understood the plight of the kinder. The parents of Richard Attenborough adopted two kinder sisters – taking the number of children in their family to five. The Sainsbury family took in 25 Jewish refugees.
The families who opened their doors to the Jewish refugees were not only Jews, but also Christians and Quakers. By coming together, these faiths ensured the kinder were able to live a life free from persecution. That principle is what guides much of the work we do in communities today, bringing faiths closer together. It shouldn’t just fall to survivors and their families to make sure that the horror of the Holocaust is never forgotten. The government has a duty to pass on the lessons learnt, too.
One of the most searing ways to remember the Holocaust is through the Auschwitz and Birkenau trips arranged by the Holocaust Education Trust. The Trust takes schoolchildren to see first-hand where so many people met their fate.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust helps us to remember all those who have been lost to genocide around the world. The Anne Frank Trust uses Anne Frank’s diary to teach people about the dangers of intolerance. Other projects such as the recently launched Together in Service brings faith communities together on different projects.
The more we understand of our neighbour’s religion, the less likely we are to draw lines in the sand. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the horror of the Holocaust is never repeated. Few kinder returned to their home country. While nothing will replace the memories of their early life, I hope that this is an acknowledgement of the accepting society in which they found themselves. And that for many, Britain is a place they can call home.
As Bob Kirk once said of the kinder: “We are all survivors”. In many ways they were the lucky ones. The kinder have given a voice to the many children who did not board a train. The kindertransport anniversary is also a reminder of the millions of children across the world today, of all religions, who only wish they had a similar chance of freedom.
Britain will be forever grateful for the kinder’s contribution and I personally pledge to do what I can to ensure we do not forget.