I have to admit to being extremely ignorant about many of the harrowing details of the Nazi invasion of so many countries and the Holocaust – especially the child victims of it – for no other reason than that I find it very, very distressing so I rarely watch or read anything about it.
This is because I once watched a film called Sophie’s Choice which was about a woman who had to choose which of her children – her son or her daughter – to allow a Nazi to take away from her and supposedly kill, and it so deeply disturbed me, even though it was well over ten years ago that I saw it, I can recall it in almost every detail.
So, it was with trepidation that I watched last night’s Kindertransport Story which is part of the Passover Festival of programmes, and I was both right and wrong to fear it…
Yes, there were times when it physically pained me and brought me to tears to hear what some of the children had been through but equally, it was one of those programmes that can restore one’s faith human nature when you hear of the kindness many of the children who escaped the Nazis found in Britain. Some however were not so lucky.
In case you didn’t see it, the programme recounted the events surrounding the Kindertransport which took Jewish children out of Nazi occupied countries during the WWII. The programme focused on Lord Richard Attenborough – whose parents were among those who responded to the urgent appeal for British foster families – as well as first hand accounts from some of those children, who are now of course in their eighties.
Richard’s parents took in two young European refugee girls and three Kindertransport children who became part of their family and his tearful recollections of those times was exceptionally moving.
The Kindertransport Story marked the 70th anniversary of the unique British rescue mission to save nearly 10,000 – mostly Jewish – children from the Nazis and in it, Dorothy, Otto and Edith – all from Vienna and now in their eighties – told their moving stories.
They described their memories of the violent persecutions of the Jews under Hitler, and how their desperate parents strived to acquire the necessary papers to send them away to Britain on the precious few places available on the Kindertransport trains. Little did the children realise that when they said their last goodbyes to their distraught parents on the railway platform, they would never see them again.
However, Dorothy, Otto and Edith consider themselves to be among the “lucky ones” as a million and a half other children died during the Holocaust.
Lord Attenborough aptly summed up why his parents chose to help as they did by using an oft quoted but very true saying, “The easiest way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” and how right he is.
One of the Kindertransport survivors featured was Otto Deutsch and – of all the harrowing accounts we heard from the other survivors – I’ve chosen to concentrate on him for this review because his story alternately made me laugh and cry… what a brave and lovely man he is.
Otto affectionately recalled the kindness of the family who took him in; the Ferguson family lived in Morpeth, Northumberland, and he recounted how they struggled to understand his Austrian accented conversation with them. One of the few light-hearted moments in the programme came when Otto remembered how the father of the family said to him, “Ah dinnae know what yer talkin’ aboot man”
But sad recollections were aplenty and one from Otto was in his vivid description of how the kindly Ferguson family had tried to locate Otto’s parents and his sister only to receive the news from the International Red Cross that they were almost certainly dead.
Otto told how he tried to “put on a brave face” in front of the family but once he was alone, “The tears came as if they would never stop.” As did mine, and it got worse when we heard how the parents of the Kindertransport children were told by the Nazis that if they or their children showed any emotion on departure, the children would be offloaded from the train and forced to remain with their parents.
Otto’s mother knew that she wouldn’t be able to hold back her tears as the train set off, so instead of watching him until the last possible second, she had to turn her back on Otto and the train so that she didn’t risk him being offloaded. It’s a memory that’s haunted Otto all his life, and undoubtedly did his mother too. As a parent, it’s almost impossible to imagine her pain as that train pulled away.
The Kindertransport trains brought almost 10,000 children to Britain in all, each in possession of the £50 required for their “support” in their new country.
Some of the children were put in hostels, some were used as cheap labour, some were doubtless abused in many ways but some were lucky enough to be taken in by loving foster families such as the Attenborough’s and the Ferguson’s.
This was most definitely harrowing viewing but I’m not sorry I watched it; it does no harm to be reminded of the horrors that many people have had to live through, especially at a time when financial hardships and troubles of that ilk may make us feel depressed and hard done by… until you hear stories like those of the Kindertransport children.
It makes worries about paying the bills a little less significant when you put yourself in the place of either the children – full of fear and desperately homesick in countries where they couldn’t speak the language and were totally alone – or their parents who without doubt knew that as those trains pulled away, their children faced God knew what fate and that they were most likely never going to see them again.
It certainly put many of my life’s problems and minutiae into perspective…