Kindertransport (also Refugee Children Movement or “RCM'”) is the name given to the rescue mission that took place nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig.
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…more than a thousand Kindertransporte refugees served in the armed forces,
among them some three hundred girls.
Thirty lost their lives.
The Jewish Brigade was composed of ardent Zionists who carried their missionary zeal through the displaced persons camps of Europe. It seemed like home to Henry Schwartz, though it came as a surprise to find that he was not immediately accepted.
“…I was an Austrian and they didn’t want me, I became an Englishman and they didn’t trust me, so what was left? I had to become a Jew! So when the Jewish Brigade came up I was just about the first volunteer. When we went out to Italy in the Brigade I discovered that anybody who wanted promotion had to be born in Palestine. I thought, ‘I can’t win.’”
After V E day:
“You couldn’t get any parcels sent to you from home. All the parcels went to the displaced persons camp – where there were only Jewish people. It was the only time there was Anti-Semitism. We used to pick up boys who were illegal immigrants, put them in British uniform, issue them with a pay-book and send them off to Palestine.
It was fantastic.
We were near Antwerp and the Flemish were a very anti-Semitic group. They showed a newsreel in a cinema of American troops going into a displaced persons’ camp and attending Jewish religious service, and the audience started laughing. Well, they didn’t laugh any more because we broke the cinema up – nobody laughed at the Jews when the Jewish Brigade was there.
There was another incident I remember. We used to have a group of seven (they were real thugs – one of them was a Spaniard who used to appear in the music-hall as a tough guy. I think people used to stand on his chest), and we were at a dance (this was in Holland) and one of our boys went up to a girl and asked her to dance. She was sitting with a Polish soldier and she said she couldn’t dance. When asked why not, she said her boyfriend told her not to dance with Jews. There were thirteen in hospital that night.
We were absolutely feared. It was a different type of Jew from what I have ever met before.”
Discipline in the Jewish Brigade was of a sort unknown in any conventional army:
“A colonel found one of his junior officers; a major, cleaning shoes while his batman sat talking to him. The colonel was outraged. He threatened the junior officer with a court martial. The major said: ‘Do you know what happened to your predecessor? Let me tell you. One day he went into the storeroom and there were no reserve arms, so he asked where they were. When he couldn’t get any answer, he lost his temper and shouted that all Jews were liars and crooks. So a deputation went to the brigadier and said, ‘Remove him in two hours or we will bring him back in a coffin – what is it to be?’ So he was removed. The major cleaning the shoes said: ‘This is the Jewish Brigade – forget your discipline. We are both from the kibbutz and we have decided that one day I am the batman and the next day he is. Don’t interfere. When we are on duty fighting, I am the major and he is the batman, but when it comes to cleaning shoes, we are both in the kibbutz. So either you accept it or do what the other bloke did and leave, because this is the Jewish Brigade.”
After the War:
There was no going back. Even the few Kindertransporte veterans who were reunited with their parents felt a natural revulsion against returning to the homes of their early childhood. Aside from the wish to block out unhappy memories, those who had spent their formative years in Britain were ill-equipped to make a living in Germany. Many could no longer speak German.
So what did happen to the ten thousand? The RCM personal files are frustratingly incomplete. No attempt was made to keep contact with those who, by age or marriage, put themselves beyond the reach of the Guardianship Act. The entries signing off each ward leave the reader wanting more than the news that this girl is hoping to be an engineer.
The nearest the RCM came to trying to find out what had become of their charges after they had emerged from puberty was in March 1950, when they carried out a follow-up survey on a random sample of one hundred youngsters (the first ten files of each of the first ten letters of the alphabet). Of these, a surprisingly high proportion (sixteen per cent) turned out to be Christian, although whether by birth or conversion is not made clear. More interestingly, only thirty had re-emigrated, with fifteen going to America, seven to Israel, four to Australia and another four elsewhere.
…And the Policeman Smiled
10,000 Children Escape from Nazi Europe
Bloomsbury Publishing