Saving the Children
In 2001, the documentary “Into the Arms of Strangers” won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature.
This is the story of the KINDERTRANSPORT, or children’s transportation, which led to the rescue of over ten thousand Jewish children, transported from Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia during the Nazi era. The subtitle of this movie is “Stories from the Kindertransport”.
A play, called KINDERTRANSPORT, concerning these same events, was written by Diane Samuels. Poorly conceived and badly acted, the play was recently shown in Buffalo and led to some discussion concerning this newly discovered feature of German and Polish atrocities.
The story of the movie and the play concerns the 20,000 Jewish children transported to England so as to avoid Nazi murder.
There are several experiences included in the book and the movie. These experiences depict children who never saw their parents again as well those who were reunited after World War II but were so alienated from their biological parents that this feature of the documentary heightens the tragedy of this aspect of the Holocaust.
The effort to bring the endangered
children to England was the outcome of the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, leading to
the establishment of the INTERAID COMMITTEE FOR CHILDREN FROM GERMANY.
This committee was authorized by the British Parliament to bring 10,000 children
to Britain after a major address by Philip Noel-
Subsequently, another 10,000 entered England through “loopholes” in the legislation. One of the conditions imposed on these children was that they would leave the country once the danger to their lives was over. However, only about 2,000 did so, as they left for the United States after the war. The others remained in England when it became clear that their parents had been murdered.
These efforts to rescue children were not limited to Great Britain. As early as 1932, just before the Nazi takeover, Recha Freyer, a German Jewish teacher and pianist, organized “Youth Aliyah”, which sought to bring young adults and children to live in pre-independence Israel. The initial impetus for this movement was that many Jewish young adults had already lost their employment before January 1933 because of religious bigotry. The organization taught young people agricultural skills so that these city people could join a “kibbutz”, i.e. a collective farm in Israel.
The first of these agricultural workers left Germany in 1934, a year after Hitler became dictator. When Israel became independent in 1948, 30,353 young adults and children from many European countries had come to Israel, sponsored by the Youth Aliyah movement. This number included over five thousand who had come between 1934 and 1939 almost exclusively from Germany, and over nine thousand who came during the war years from numerous European countries.
Despite its commendable success, Youth Aliyah has been criticized by historians on the grounds that it was so burdened with bureaucracy that many lives were lost as the European branch bickered with the Jerusalem branch over whether British regulations should be observed and nothing be done illegally. Further argument concerned whether prior selection of candidates for immigration should be used to determine who was fit to come, the refusal of the Jerusalem office to finance children to come to Israel, and the refusal of the British government to issue an adequate number of immigration certificates.
Over the years, Youth Aliyah has helped Russian and Ethiopian children to come to Israel. These children are housed in youth villages, as they have no other home.
Recently, Youth Aliyah has taken in native Israeli children from Israel itself. These children come from “disadvantaged” homes and have become involved in drugs.