1938: Post-Kristallnacht lobbying of the British government
Kristallnacht - also known as the night of broken glass - took place on 9 November 1938. Jewish shops, buildings, and synagogues were destroyed throughout Nazi-controlled territory. Homes, schools, and hospitals were also targeted in the pogrom. Ninety-one Jewish men died and thirty thousand arrested and taken to concentration camps.
The violence of Kristallnacht signalled that Jewish people were in immediate danger. A consortium of British Jews arranged for six Quaker volunteers to travel to Berlin to observe the immediate situation.
During this period, Bertha Bracey met with Wilfred Israel in Berlin. He introduced her to the heads of Jewish women's organisations from across Germany. These meetings were crucial to the success of the Kindertransport.
The Berlin report concluded that unaccompanied children should be granted entry into Britain. It was given to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who refused the request.
I ask you to come to the aid of victims not of any catastrophe in the natural world, nor of flood, nor of famine but of an explosion of man's inhumanity of man.- Stanley Baldwin, radio appeal, 1933
In response to Chamberlain, a joint Quaker and Jewish delegation met with the Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare. The government's response was to: 'give the necessary visas and facilitate entry into this country'. The lobbying was successful and the government announced it would permit an unspecified number of children to enter the UK.
The children were labelled 'transmigrants' and a fifty-pound bond was required for each child. On 8 December, Stanley Baldwin issued a radio appeal to the British public. Baldwin's public compassion for the children helped wider public support grow.
Getting the word out across Europe
A network of Quaker and refugee organisations issued statements in many communities in central Europe. Parents were able to register their children for the transports in various offices. These offices issued travel papers which allowed the children to pass to Britain through the Netherlands.
Quakers and the Refugee Children's Movement sent notices to cities from Stuttgart to Prague. Jewish Community Centres were also crucial to getting the news of the transports to parents and communities. The large Jewish communities in Prague and Vienna were key in coordinating the evacuation of children from these areas. Within days of the announcement, thousands of children had signed up to leave on the first transports.
Trains packed with children left European cities bound for the Hook of Holland on 1 December 1938. Quaker volunteers chaperoned each stage of the journey to ensure the safety of the children. The British government assured the safety of the transports, but not the children:
“The Nazis made sure the journey was humiliating and terrifying. Trains were grimly sealed. Parents were sometimes not permitted to say goodbye in public. The children had to take trains to Holland so that they would not “sully" German ports. Their luggage was torn apart by guards searching for valuables." (Taylor, 2010)The first trains departed on 1 December 1938, travelling for over a day to reach safety. The first train brought 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin which had been destroyed during Kristallnacht. When the trains began to arrive in London they were met by Quakers at Liverpool Street station. Here the children were given food and accommodation was arranged for them.
Children were rehomed with Quaker families and communities throughout the country. There were anywhere from 120-250 children on each transport, in total ten thousand refugee children made the journey.
Work in local Quaker communities in Britain
Throughout the 1930s, Ayton Quaker School (one of twelve Quaker schools in England) accepted refugees from Germany and occupied territories. In 1935, the school was a refuge for forty children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. By 1938 this number had increased substantially.
Ayton became known as an established destination for scholars fleeing persecution. Scholarships were arranged through refugee aid organisations including the Germany Emergency Committee. Hans Reichenfeld, one of the children to arrive in 1938, was one such refugee helped by this process. Hans would later become a pioneer of geriatric psychiatry in Canada.
Dovercourt Holiday Camp
Dovercourt Camp near Harwich, was visited by Lady Marion Phillips of the Women's Voluntary Services in January 1939. The holiday camp was taken on by Quaker and Jewish groups as a lodging for newly-arrived children. The organisations paid for all provisions at Dovercourt, agreeing that Butlins would provide the food.
Phillips reported the children seemed "wonderfully happy, considering all they had been through." Other visitors remarked that "the heating, clothing, sanitation and health were good". The consensus was that refugee children were well looked after in this first accommodation.
Anna Essinger and Bunce Court School
Anna Essinger, the headmistress of Landschulheim Herrlingen school in Baden-Wurttemberg, raised funds from British Quakers to purchase Bunce Court in Kent.
Essinger was placed under Nazi investigation in April 1933 when she was denounced for refusing to fly the Nazi flag and swastika at the school. Essinger informed the parents of her desire to move the school to England and received permission to evacuate 65 children with her. The old school was seized by the Nazis and used to house Jewish seniors who had been forcibly relocated from Wurttemberg.
When the Kindertransports began Bunce Court and Kent Quakers took in as many of the refugees as possible. When the transports stopped in 1939, Bunce Court continued to take in refugees on scholarships. Orphaned children who had survived Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, and Czestochowa were brought to Bunce Court in 1946. Over 900 children passed through the school before its closure in 1948.
Cheadle Hulme hostelCheadle Local Meeting in Merseyside opened the first refugee hostels for Kindertransport children. Hostels later opened across the north west of England in Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, and Southport. Despite the strict enforcement of 'alien' restrictions many children were able to study and young adults found work.
Hilde Rujder, who had travelled to Britain in 1938, remembered her time in Liverpool succinctly. "The Quakers had no conversionist intent in this relaxed hostel, [when] in the evening the residents would gather in the lounge to solve the problems of the world". Hilde later enrolled at Liverpool School of Art and regularly attend Cheadle meetings.
Bloomsbury House training schemes
Supporting the 60,000 Jewish refugees in Britain was also an immediate concern. Refugees were often destitute and, whether classified as enemy aliens or not, all required support. A Quaker response to this was to form the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany.
The team rapidly expanded and the Palace Hotel on Bloomsbury Street, London was purchased to become Bloomsbury House. Multiple refugee organisations set up training schemes to help and register refugees. By 1945, the overwhelming majority of refugees were self-supporting.
End of the Kindertransport
The Home Office ceased the Kindertransport on 30 August 1939. The declaration of war against Nazi Germany immediately stopped all collaboration. A letter sent to the Dutch Government wrote that a transport of children crossing the Netherlands would not be admitted to the UK that same day. The children on the train were turned away at the Dutch border and returned to Germany. A further three hundred travel documents were invalidated in Berlin.
Within hours of the Home Office letter the transports ended completely. No further refugee children were evacuated to Britain in this way.
Post-World War II Germany
The end of the war did not stop the work of Quakers in Europe. The need for aid relief continued to grow and work continued to help those who had survived the war. The Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC) joined teams entering liberated concentration camps. Thirty relief aid volunteers worked in Brunswick and Goslar in Germany. Those based in Brunswick entered Bergen-Belsen to provide medical aid and support to the Red Cross teams.
The FWVRC made frequent appeals to British Quakers for support. A lot of work was done to prevent forced repatriation. The FWVRC volunteers viewed their role as a duty. As one member stated:
"Our inspiration lies in Christ's words that by 'feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick' we give expression to our love for God himself. And providing that we remain faithful, always remembering that it is in his power that we work, we may become a channel through which his love comes into the world."