LONDON — “It was the festival of Hanukkah. The transports left in the evening… the authorities didn’t want the population to know what was going on. So, after we lit the candles my father blessed us and then we made our way to the station,” says Ruth Jacobs, who, together with her brother Harry Heber traveled by Kindertransport from Vienna to Britain in December 1938.
Although a bewildering and traumatic experience — the siblings, then 10 and seven, were initially separated — theirs was a relatively fortunate story. Ruth’s foster family eventually took in her parents as domestic help and they arrived in Britain in August 1939. Their grandmother with whom they had lived in Austria perished in Auschwitz.
On Sunday, a short but significant ceremony was held in Hope Square at Liverpool Street Station in London to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport to the UK.
Just weeks after Kristallnacht, the first train carrying 198 children left Berlin on December 1, 1938, arriving at Harwich Port on December 2. Some of the children continued onward, finally reaching Liverpool Street Station before being transferred to their new foster homes.
The Kindertransport operation rescued almost 10,000 unaccompanied, mostly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Children were placed in British foster families, schools or hostels all over the country. The transports ended with the outbreak of war in September 1939
World Jewish Relief, together with the Association of Jewish Refugees, organized Sunday’s commemorative event. Founded in 1933, WJR — formally known as the CBF (Central British Fund for German Jewry) — was the charity largely responsible for instigating the Kindertransport.
Despite the chilly weather, the outdoor service was attended by 150 guests, predominantly Kinder and their families including two people who had arrived on the inaugural journey to Liverpool Street, and the UK chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.
Henry Grunwald, the president of WJR, read out a speech on behalf of the secretary of state for communities and local government, the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles. In it he reiterated the duty of the British government to ensure that the horror of the Holocaust is not forgotten.
Pickles emphasized the immense contribution the Kinder have made to British society and acknowledged the work of the Quakers in the rescue effort, as well as the numerous Christian families who took in children.
Appropriately, the event took place adjacent to the Children of the Kindertransport sculpture created by artist Frank Meisler, who was also rescued by the Kindertransport. Representing hope and tolerance, it was erected in 2006.
Sixteen of the now-elderly Kinder were invited to light memorial candles on the sculpture, on top of milestones which commemorated the names of the many towns and cities from which the Kindertransport had departed. It was a dignified ceremony designed to remember the families who were left behind and subsequently perished, as well as honor and give thanks to the people who had enabled new lives and families to flourish in Britain.
Two of those lighting the candles were Ruth Jacobs and her younger brother Harry Heber.