Eighty years after Kindertransport – descendants retrace route on bikes

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Eighty years after Kindertransport – descendants retrace route on bikes

Commemorative trip organised by World Jewish Relief sees 42 riders from Berlin to London, marking the route used by mainly Jewish children escaping Nazi Germany to safety in the UK

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Paul Alexander, 80, and his grandson Daniel, 14, who are both taking part in a commemorative cycle ride from Berlin to London to mark 80 years since the Kindertransport evacuation effort. Photo credit: World Jewish Relief/PA Wire
Paul Alexander, 80, and his grandson Daniel, 14, who are both taking part in a commemorative cycle ride from Berlin to London to mark 80 years since the Kindertransport evacuation effort. Photo credit: World Jewish Relief/PA Wire

Eighty years after the Kindertransport saved 10,000 children from Nazi Europe their descendants are about to retrace their famous journey – on bicycles.

Among the 42 riders from Berlin to London will be a man in his 80s who came to Britain on that famous rail link, placed in the hands of a UK-bound nurse by his mother when he was just 18 months old.

The group’s 600-mile journey, starting at Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport statue outside Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse Station on Sunday 17 June, is a commemorative Ride is organised by World Jewish Relief, whose predecessor organisation spearheaded the unique rescue effort in the late 1930s.

From Berlin, the group will head west, covering about 100 miles per day, before arriving at Meisler’s second Kindertransport statue at the Hook of Holland. From here they will board an overnight ferry to Harwich in Essex, where the children on the first Kindertransport train disembarked.

From Harwich they will cycle towards London Liverpool Street and arrive at the third Kindertransport statue outside the station on Friday 22 June. Several people who arrived as children on the Kindertransport will be waiting to welcome them.

On that first train, which arrived on 2 December 1938, was Salomon Robert Goldschmidt, the late father of Ian Goldsmith, who had no idea about his dad’s background until recently, when he accessed WJR’s archive when applying for German citizenship after Brexit.

The memorial Trains to Life – Trains to death 1938-1939 on the Dorothea-Schlegel-Platz at the Friedrichstraße Railway Station in Berlin-Mitte.

“They sent me 20 pages of records and photos by PDF,” Goldsmith told Jewish News this week, ahead of his participation in the ride. “I had no idea my father was on the Kindertransport. None. He and his brother boarded the first train to leave.”

Salomon and his brother, then aged 13 and 12 respectively, had been living in a Hamburg orphanage for five years by that time, records revealed.

Frank Meisler Kindertransport – The Arrival (2006) stands outside Liverpool Street station in central London

“His mother died and his father was mentally ill so unable to look after them. The WJR records were astonishing. One was a photo of my father as a child. Another showed their arrival at the port. It’s incredible. My sister and I knew none of this. He just didn’t talk about it.”

Goldsmith said the records had helped him find the house his father grew up in and even trace living relatives he never knew he had, including a famous Stanford biochemist whose seminal textbook Goldsmith had devoured years earlier. When WJR asked him if he wanted to participate in the ride, he jumped at the chance.

“It’s a thank you to WJR, not just for what they’ve done for me but for what they did for my father and uncle. On the ride I’ll be thinking about the journey they took, not knowing anything about where they were going. It must have been quite scary.”

Also riding will be Paul Alexander, who now lives in Israel.

His mother, who had already lost two children, bravely placed her only child in the arms of a volunteer nurse on a train bound for England when he was 18 months old.

Paul Alexander on his first birthday. Photo credit: World Jewish Relief/PA Wire

“No-one can imagine what was going through her mind,” said Alexander this week, as he prepared to set off on the journey with his son Nadav and 14-year old grandson Daniel, a triathlon athlete “who’s already taller than me”.

Alexander was born Paul Minikes, who took his middle name as his surname in later years while practicing law in the UK, before he made aliyah, moving to Herzliya, then Ra’anana. Speaking to Jewish News, a day before his father would have turned 120, he reflected on his family and reasons for riding.

“It’s my answer to Hitler,” he said. “Having survived the Holocaust, having a family, being successful, this is my victory. I won. When I heard about it, I said to myself: I’m going to do it by hook or by crook.”

He added: “It’s an opportunity for me to say thank you to the organisation that made it possible to leave Germany, and also to my parents, who had a lot of courage to put me on the train at that age, being an only child, having lost two children before me. You can’t imagine what was going through my mother’s mind.”

His Lithuanian father had been released from Buchenwald on condition that he left the country and came to Britain only to be interned under the Enemy Aliens Act. His mother managed to leave Germany on the day war broke out.

Documents belonging to Paul Alexander’s father Alfons, who spent time in the Buchenwald Nazi detention camp. Photo credit: World Jewish Relief/PA Wire

Alexander, who says he was “probably the youngest child to arrive on the Kindertransport,” was cared for in a children’s home for three years before being reunited with his parents. His mother, who later moved to Israel, lived to 93.

He says the ride will be “very emotional, but also a celebration,” adding that the timing of the event is also “poignant” because the statues’ sculptor Meisler, who himself arrived on the Kindertransport, passed away only two months ago.

Each rider will dedicate their effort to one of the thousands of children who were saved by the rescue mission, their profiles be made available on social media with information about where they came from and about the lives they went on to live.

After the riders finally reach London, there will be medal presentation from Sir Erich Reich, a welcome from World Jewish Relief, a thank you from the German Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires Tania Freiin von Uslar-Gleichen and kaddish led by one of the Kinder, Rabbi Harry Jacobi.

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