This month marks the 75th anniversary of the first Kindertransport, described as “one of the great humanitarian missions of modern times”.
Most of the 10,000 children rescued from the clutches of Nazi Germany never saw their families again. As adults, the kindertransport children would go on to make incredible contributions to the world, including four Nobel prizewinners. Their eyewitness testimony and willingness to share their stories has a special resonance for children who can experience history as it happened to other children.
We were very fortunate that our Sisterhood president, Gale H. bought her mother Lore Jacobs to talk to some of the RFARS students as part of their Holocaust studies. Lore was rescued from Germany on a kindertransport. Her visit made a strong impression on the students. She described living through Kristallnacht, the terrifying feeling as the Nazi intimidation increased and the experience saying goodbye to her parents as a 13 year old and never seeing them again. Not only could they listen to her experience and ask questions but she also bought an album of photographs and other documents that enriched the presentation.
For more about Lore Jacobs check out the CBC news article on her story here.
Many thanks to Lore for sharing her story and to Gale for arranging the visit.
As an adult listening to the story, one is especially moved by the loving kindness of strangers, especially the Methodists and Quakers, who took it upon themselves to take in a Jewish child from another country at a time when there were strong anti-Semitic sentiments in British society in general. These individuals took the leap of extending themselves personally in sharing their home, and also made sacrifices financially as each host family was required to provide a significant financial sum as a guarantee. The sum was 50 GBP, about $450 in today’s money, at a time when the median annual income was worth around $3000.
Eyewitness testimony is so important and powerful in keeping memory alive and transmitting experience down the generations. We are told “Remember when you were a slave in Egypt”, but how does one accomplish “memory”? When this was mentioned last Pesach my youngest replied indignantly “but I was never a slave in Egypt!”. Being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and share experience vicariously is greatly facilitated by personal contact.
I used to be concerned that our children would not have the opportunities to talk to Holocaust survivors in a direct fashion. But not any more. We are fortunate that through the work of historians and others, more individuals who were very young during the war are being put in touch with their past and able to provide a living witness to this period. Additionally, we have new types of testimonies emerging from the perspectives of the generation that bridges direct experience of the Holocaust to the present. The movie Nicky’s Family, a documentary about Nicholas Winton by the Slovakian director Matej Mináč, vividly connects the lessons of the history to the present day using the actions of Nicholas Winton as an inspirational figure for ethical behavior. Another example is the utterly remarkable and moving testimony of Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger as he recounts his personal struggle to understand history as the son of a Nazi Wehrmacht officer.
I would be very interested to hear from other parents about how they approached the subject of their children’s Holocaust education.