In 1938 and 1939, nearly 10,000 children fleeing the persecution of Jews in Greater Germany (Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia), were brought to Britain on the Kindertransport ('children’s transports').
Despite attempts at the 1938 International Evian Conference to find countries willing to accept Jews hoping to escape persecution, strict limits continued to be placed on their numbers. Britain was reluctant to permit the entry of such refugees.
On 9 November 1938, the Nazis staged 'spontaneous' violence against the Jews throughout Greater Germany. This became known as Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass. Public opinion was shocked by these events, and after a parliamentary debate on refugees on 21 November 1938, Britain agreed to take in Jewish children, provided they would not be a burden on the state.
About half of the children who came to Britain were placed with families - both Jewish and non-Jewish - in foster homes, while others lived in hostels or on farms. The children’s experiences varied - many found support and affection from their carers; others were very unhappy. Most of these children never saw their parents again.
These objects belonged to six of the 9,354 children who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport.
1. Inga Pollak's Doll
Inga Jane Pollak (later Joseph) and her sister Lieselotte left Nazi-occupied Vienna on a Kindertransport in 1939. They settled in Falmouth, Cornwall. Inga took this doll, which she named Trixie, with her. The doll is dressed in traditional Austrian clothing and was given to Inga by her mother as a birthday present in 1938. Inga's mother and grandmother perished in, or in transport to, Minsk from Vienna on 28 November 1941.
2. Ruth Neumeyer's drawing
Ruth Neumeyer and her brother Raymond left Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport in 1939. Ruth lived with a family in Cambridge and she and her brother corresponded with their parents, Hans and Vera, who had remained in Munich. This drawing of Ruth playing the recorder with her foster sister was sent to her by her father, a composer and musical composition teacher, along with the sheet music for a duet he had composed. Neither Hans nor Vera Neumeyer survived the war.
3. Stephie Carola Leyser's Puppet
Stephie Carola Leyser (later Stephanie Kester) volunteered for the Kindertransport and left Germany for Britain in February 1939. This Siamese cat puppet was given to Stephie by her favourite uncle and accompanied her on her journey. It was one of the few items that she was allowed to select and pack for herself before leaving Chemnitz. Stephanie’s parents eventually immigrated to the UK, where her father was detained as a foreign national and sent to a civilian internment camp on the Isle of Man. He was released and reunited with his wife and daughter but died shortly after. Her mother lived until 1993.
4. Jochewet Heidenstein's Jumper
Jochewet Heidenstein (later Heiden) brought this jumper with her when she and her two sisters left Berlin on a Kindertransport in 1939. Jochewet recalls: 'My two sisters and I came with the Kindertransport to England. Before leaving, our parents bought each of us the same jumper. At times, the three of us would go together all wearing them.' The rest of their family did not survive.
5. Celia Horwitz's Exercise Book
Celia Horwitz (later Lee) left Hamburg, Germany, on a Kindertransport in December 1938. Once in the UK, Celia settled in East London. On 1 September 1939, her entire school was evacuated to Cockley Cley, a small village in Norfolk. This is a school exercise book she used during her time as an evacuee. Celia’s father died in 1941, but she was reunited with her mother in 1949.
6. Herbert Kay's ice skates
Herbert Kay (Koniec) left Czechoslovakia on a Kindertransport in June 1939. He brought these boots with detachable ice skates with him but had outgrown them by the time winter came. Herbert’s parents were killed in 1942 and he had no other relatives in Czechoslovakia after the war. Herbert’s foster family offered him a home in Scotland when it became clear that he could not return to Czechoslovakia. He became a British citizen in 1947.