Following the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, the British government changed its immigration policy to allow Jewish children to enter the country, providing that charities could pay a £50 bond for each child as a guarantee that they would leave the country when the situation improved. The children’s parents were not allowed to join them unless they had the financial means to support themselves, so most children travelled alone on what became known as the Kindertransport (‘children’s transport’). Steven Mendelsson travelled from Breslau with his brother Walter.
The departure soon followed – emotions were at breaking-point. For us, two young lads, it seemed like an exciting adventure, a long journey by train and boat into a land of enormous opportunities. The rest of the family – all of whom came to the station to see us off – felt quite the opposite. I remember the tears and agony on their faces – parents, grandparents and others – waving us goodbye as the train pulled out of the station. The memory is still as vivid in my mind today as if it happened only yesterday…
In Harwich we were greeted by a band of ladies who hugged us, kissed us and embraced us for what seemed an eternity... The train from Harwich to London Liverpool Street station, the last leg of our tiring journey, took us through the East End of London. On either side we saw rows and rows of derelict houses with caved-in roofs. Some houses, apparently still occupied, had broken or boarded-up windows... We started to long for our parents to comfort us. But they were no longer there to take care of us: they were left behind in Nazi Germany.
This tremendous culture shock, the absence of our beloved, caring parents, the odd ‘refreshments’, the new, strange language, and, yes, even the differing weather, presented huge obstacles at first that we would have to overcome.
Steven and Walter were fortunate that their parents were able to raise enough money to come to Britain; they arrived just 36 hours before Britain declared war on Germany. However, most of the almost 10,000 Kindertransportees never saw their parents again.
Photo: Kindertransportees arriving at Harwich, 1938; Wiener Library
Testimony: Wendy Whitworth (ed.), Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story (Quill Press, 2003)