Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis lit the menorah for Chanukah at an event to mark the 80th anniversary of the first Kindertransport, held at Liverpool Street Station.
The event commemorated the arrival of the first train on December 2 1938, which carried 200 children from a Jewish orphanage near Berlin to Harwich, Essex.
Between December 1938 and September 1939, nearly 10,000 children, all travelling without their parents, were transported from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to safety in Britain. Many never saw their parents again.
Following a Jewish News campaign in 2015, the architect of the Kindertransport, Sir Nicolas Winton, was honoured with a special stamp issued by Royal Mail.
Sir Nicholas, often seen as the British Schindler, helped rescue 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He died in 2015 aged 105, and is remembered for organising foster families for many of the youngsters – but didn’t speak about his actions for half a century.
The German ambassador to the UK called for “vigilance” against the forces of antisemitism and xenophobia, speaking at the event in Hope Square near Liverpool Street Station. Envoy Peter Wittig said that amid the “blind racial hatred of the Nazi regime” the Kindertransport represented a “beacon of humanity in inhumane times”.
Reflecting on what he described as the “darkest chapter of German history”, Mr Wittig said that he was “deeply honoured and moved” to attend the ceremony and extended his thanks to Britain, World Jewish Relief and the Association of Jewish Refugees.
He also emphasised the need for countries and individuals to remain “vigilant” and “show moral courage” against what he called “the backdrop of the continuing rise of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia across the world”.
His words were echoed by Ruth Barnett who recounted her experience travelling to Britain from Berlin aged four and called for tolerance and kindness towards refugees.
“When I go into schools to talk to children, I assure them that nobody leaves their home in large numbers unless their home is not safe to stay in,” she said.
“The very least we can do, is meet them (refugees) with a little kindness and a little help.”
World Jewish Relief, formerly known as The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF), was instrumental in implementing the rescue programme.
Following the violence of Kristallnacht, CBF founders Lionel De Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann, alongside a small delegation of prominent British Jews, met prime minister Neville Chamberlain to appeal for his help.
Between 1938 and 1939, World Jewish Relief provided essential funding and education to the children and, in the subsequent years, continued to assist with their ongoing welfare needs.
During the ceremony, Chief Rabbi Mirvis lit the chanukiah for the first night of the festival of lights, before leading a rendition of maatzoor .
You won’t hear a more compelling version of #maatzoor this #Chanukah. Thanks @chiefrabbi for leading us, and the Kindertransport children and their relatives for being here at Liverpool St to commemorate 80 yrs since the first children arrived. #ChagSameach pic.twitter.com/GsEiruM6AL
— World Jewish Relief (@WJRelief) December 2, 2018
World Jewish Relief thanked him for leading a “compelling version of maatzoor” with the Kindertransport children and their relatives.
The chief executive of World Jewish Relief, Paul Anticoni, spoke of the “fantastic team” behind the event and praised the assistance of the Association of Jewish Refugees.
Mr Anticoni also spoke of the deep connection maintained between World Jewish Relief, the kinder and their extended families.
“Every one of the kinder has said to us, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here, you’ve saved my life and I want to be a part of your organisation,” he said.
Rafi Cooper, Director of Communications for World Jewish Relief said:
“It was an honour to share the commemorative event with the Kinder and their families. They are such a special group of people who have made outstanding contributions to British society. Their stories inspire World Jewish Relief’s work today, particularly in supporting people who have fled their homes with nothing and had to rebuild lives and livelihoods. The Kindertransport will continue to be a shining light for humanity and I look forward to the 90th anniversary celebrations!”
This sentiment was echoed by siblings Harry Heber and Ruth Jacobs. Both travelled on the Kindertransport train and were placed with various families throughout Britain, before reuniting with their parents, who arrived years later as domestic servants.
Mr Heber ultimately worked with World Jewish Relief for over 20 years, utilising his skills as an optician to provide more than 60,000 glasses for lower income Jewish children.
“We are so grateful to Britain that they welcomed us. But I am particularly grateful for World Jewish Relief without whom we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
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- Kindertransport 80
- Sir Nicolas Winton
- HE Peter Wittig
- Peter Wittig
- German ambassador to the UK Peter Wittig
- Association of Jewish Refugees
- The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF)
- Lionel de Rothschild
- Chaim Weizmann
- Paul Anticoni
- Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
- World Jewish Relief (WJR)
By Joe Millis