Monday, February 28, 2011
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport: written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris
In the months before the official start of World War II, through an act of Parliament England agreed to provide temporary residence to Jewish children from European countries on the continent and to place them with British families. 10,000 children escaped to England in an operation called the Kindertransport and were cared for in England before, during and in some cases, after the war.
This moving and very informative documentary consists of interviews with eleven surviving adults who were part of the Kindertransport and through their own words we hear about life before the threat of war, their parents’ decisions to send them to England on the Kindertransport, their parting from their parents as they boarded the train, their placements and how they worked out, and what happened when the war was over. Also, through interviews we get the perspective of one of the mothers of a former Kindertransport child. And we also hear from one of the English foster mothers.
Knitting the interviews together is footage from newsreels of the time, some of classic World War II scenes – people saluting Hitler, people using the London Underground train platforms as bomb shelters, bombs landing on British cities like Coventry, Jews being rounded up, Jews being liberated from the camps – but also movies of the children of the Kindertransport playing soccer, writing letters to their parents, reading, sleeping and eating in the hostels.
As the former Kindertransport children talk, we see photos of them from before the war when they led normal lives without a hint of what was to come. They talk about the anguish of separating from their parents, of their parents’ assurances that their stay in England would be only temporary. Because it was difficult for their parents to get visas out – countries had strict quotas – and normally you had to be sponsored by someone in the country you were trying to get to – they took advantage of this opportunity to get their children out.
Many of the children became real members in the families in which they were placed. Others were moved from family to family.Parents wrote frequently to bolster their childrens’ spirits, but once war broke out communication became brief and infrequent. Most stopped hearing from their parents and a few said that because they listened to the news they both did and did not know what not hearing from their parents meant.
When the war was over only a small number had parents who had survived. And of those whose parents did survive, reunions were often fraught. For example, Kurt Fuchel reports that in 1938 he was 10 years old when he had been placed in England. He was not reunited with his parents until 1947 when he was nineteen.
Two men who are interviewed about their part in working on the Kindertransport are singled out in this movie for special praise: Norbert Wollheim a German Jew who was asked to lead an effort in Germany to get this massive transfer of children underway, and Nicholas Winton, a British citizen, who did everything in his power to facilitate the arrival and placement of children from Czechoslovakia.
To watch a nine-minute Canadian Broadcasting Company video that focuses on Nicholas Winton's role in rescuing Jewish children in Czechoslovakia and to arranging to get them to England, click here.
To read an article published in 1912 about a recent Kindertransport reunion click here.
Former children on the Kindertransport interviewed and where they were from:
Lorraine Allard – Forth, Bavaria, Germany
Lory Cohn – Breslau, Germany
Hedy Epstein, Kippenheim, Germany
Kurt Fuchel – Vienna, Austria
Alexander Gorbulski (Gordon) – Hamburg, Germany
Eva Hayman – Celakovice, Czechoslovakia
Jack Hellman – Tann, Germany
Bertha Leverton - Munich, Germany
Inge Sadan - Munich, Germany (Bertha Leverton's sister)
Ursula Rosenfeld – Quackenburg, Germany
Lore Segal – Vienna, Austria – Franzi Groszmann – her mother
Robert Sugar – Vienna, Austria
Norbert Wollheim – rescuer
Nicholas Winton – rescuer
Mariam Cohen – Kurt Fuchel’s foster mother.