This year marks 80 years since British communities began to take in what eventually amounted to 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe between 1938-1939. These pioneering efforts, initiated by the British people with the support of their Government, would come to be known as the ‘Kindertransport’.
Spurred on by campaigners and committed individuals such as Nicholas Winton, refugee aid committees and public opinion the British government eased immigration restrictions for Jewish refugees. British authorities agreed to allow an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter Great Britain from Germany and German-annexed territories such as the Czech Republic.
It was down to individuals and communities across Britain to guarantee payment for each child’s care, education, and eventual emigration from Britain. In return, the British government agreed to allow unaccompanied refugee children to enter the country.
The first 200 children arrived in Harwich, Great Britain, on December 2, 1938. Most transports left by train from Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and other major cities in central Europe. Children from smaller towns and villages traveled from their homes to these collection points in order to join the transports.
The favored children were those who were considered to have an urgent case because their parents were in concentration camps or were no longer able to support them, as well as homeless children and orphans.
The last transport from Germany left on September 1, 1939, just as World War II began.
80 years on there are child refugees in Europe who still need safe passage. If Britain could do it then, Britain can do it now. Together let’s build on the legacy of the Kindertransport.