Monday, April 8, 2013
BRISTOL HOUSE – The Kindertransport + Giveaway
In BRISTOL HOUSE a character called Maggie Harris is modeled on the mother of an old friend who was brought to England from Germany as part of a WWII program known as the Kindertransport. This is the story of that remarkable program.
In 1934, as Adolph Hitler began his second year as the democratically elected chancellor, there were some 500,000 Jews in all of Germany. Less than 1% of the population, they were nonetheless highly visible because most lived in Berlin.
Hitler and his chief propagandist, Josef Goebbels, knew that nothing unites a people like a common enemy. They systematically began blaming German Jews (along with German Gypsies, an even smaller percentage of the population) for all the country's post WWI economic woes.
One after another the rights of German Jews were stripped away. They were forbidden to work in the Civil Service and then in a variety of other professions. They were denied the right to vote. They were forbidden to marry non-Jews. Soon they would be forbidden to send their children to state schools. Jews, the Nazis said, should go to Palestine. But the British, who were overseeing Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, refused to allow more Jews in for fear of upsetting the Arab population of the always explosive Middle-East.
Soon bands of black- and brown-shirted thugs – member of the paramilitary Gestapo and SA (storm troopers) – roamed the streets and attacked anyone suspected of being a Jew, while the civilian police and pretty much everyone else stood by and watched and did nothing.
Large numbers of German Jews tried to emigrate. They quickly discovered no one wanted them. As the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann put it: "The world seemed to be divided into two parts—those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter."
In August 1938 Jews with Polish sounding names were told they had to "return" to Poland. That country, however, refused them enterance. One night in October these so-called Polish Jews were rounded up, told they could take one suitcase of belongings, and trucked to the well-guarded Polish border and left in the cold and the rain. And there they stayed, without shelter or any sort of provisions. One woman managed to send a postcard to her seventeen-year-old son in Paris. "We haven't a penny. Could you send us something?"
The boy bought a gun and went to the German embassy and asked to see an official. He was shown into the office of one of the German diplomats and proceeded to shoot him three times in the stomach. The young assassin made no attempt to escape the French police. "May God forgive me ... I must protest so that the whole world hears..."
Three days later the diplomat died of his wounds. Goebbels declared: "…the Führer has decided that... demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered."
That night, November 9th 1938, thousands of men in civilian clothes – most were Gestapo or SA – took to the streets armed with clubs and axes. They broke the windows of every Jewish-owned business, ransacked Jewish homes, and destroyed and burned nearly two hundred synagogues. Some 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Some were beaten to death while their families were forced to watch. There were a number of suicides. All the shattered glass caused the riots to be called Kristallnacht (Crystal Night).
What the world would come to know as the Holocaust had begun.
Five days later the British parliament approved a rescue mission for German Jewish children. It was officially called the Refugee Children Movement. It was soon called the Kindertransport. Over a period of nine months desperate parents sent 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children, ranging in age from infancy to seventeen, to safety in Britain. The program ended on September 1, 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland and England declared war on Germany. By that time the Kindertransport had rescued Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. America in that same period made no such rescue attempt for children or adults, nor did it increase the availability of visas. Congress was dominated by men (there were no women in either the House or the Senate in those days) who were convinced it was imperative that the United States not involve itself in "foreign wars."
Check out other guest posts by Beverly on these blogs:
Booksie’s Blog, Sandie Kirkland
The Novel Life, Stacey Millican
2 Read or Not 2 Read, Marcie Turner
Maurice On Books, Jean Lewis
Book Matters, Teri Harman
Historical Fiction Connection, Marie Burton
Giraffe Days, Shannon Badcock
Devourer of Books, Jen Karsbaek
Thoughts in Progress, Pamela Purcell
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