85 years later, president hosts Kindertransport survivors, draws link to October 7

Herzog hails Holocaust survivors who were smuggled out of Nazi-controlled Europe; Hamas massacre forced one of them, Mirjam Szpiro of Kibbutz Zikim, to leave home a 2nd time

Walter Bingham (2nd right) with his daughter Sonia, President and First Lady Herzog, and Chaiman of International March of the Living, Samuel Roseman (left). (Haim Zach/GPO)
Walter Bingham (2nd right) with his daughter Sonia, President and First Lady Herzog, and Chaiman of International March of the Living, Samuel Roseman (left). (Haim Zach/GPO)

Dozens of people braved the miserable weather on Wednesday night to attend a ceremony at the President’s Residence commemorating 85 years since the initiation of the Kindertransport operation, alongside President Isaac Herzog and nine Kindertransport survivors.

Few of the attendees, including the children and grandchildren of survivors, would have been there in Jerusalem on the cold rainy evening had it not been for the Kindertransport, which smuggled nearly 10,000 children out of Nazi-controlled Europe to Great Britain via train and boat after the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9, 1938. The transports ended with the outbreak of war in September 1939.

The children who escaped were placed in British foster families, schools and hostels all over the country. They were able to grow up in peace and safety and, in the cases of those gathered around Herzog on Wednesday, move to Israel and establish homes in the Jewish state.

The survivors who attended the event, which was held in partnership with the Holocaust education program International March of the Living only three days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, were Mirjam Szpiro, Aliza Tenenbaum, Tova Gorfine, Henry Foner, Walter Bingham, Prof. Daniel Reis, Paul Alexander, Frieda Schalkowski, George Shefi, along with Barry Davis, the son of Ruth Davis, who died three weeks ago.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for early November, to coincide with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, but was delayed due to the Israel-Hamas war, which broke out one month earlier on October 7 when Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel and killed some 1,200 people — the most Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust.

Herzog noted the connection between the Holocaust and the horrors of the October 7 massacre: “We have with us survivors of the Holocaust… who to our great sorrow, were [also] witness to the horrors of October 7, and were once again, displaced from their homes. This day is about educating the whole world about the dangers of hatred and antisemitism in particular. We have seen where this can lead – and on October 7, we got a terrible and painful reminder.”

Kindertransport survivors and their families meet with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on January 24, 2023 at the President’s Residence. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“This is a truly moving event,” continued Herzog. “It is moving to see survivors after 85 years, to hear the personal stories of each and every one of you, and the Zionist story of each and every one of you. But it is especially moving because of the period in which we find ourselves. International Holocaust Memorial Day is not only about remembering the past, it is about our shared responsibility to the present and the future.”

To that end, three of the survivors traveled with the International March of the Living to retrace their journeys from Germany to the Netherlands and finally to England. The trip, which took place immediately after the atrocities of October 7, was filmed for a special documentary that was screened at the President’s Residence.

“The news and the horrific sights from Israel accompanied us all throughout the journey,” said Walter Bingham, who made the journey along with George Shefi and Paul Alexander. “We never dreamed that in our lifetime we would see such a terrible pogrom against Jews, and in the Land of Israel.”

Another of the survivors in attendance, Mirjam Szpiro, a member of Kibbutz Zikim, was among the tens of thousands of Israelis evacuated from their homes due to the war.

“We had been told we had to evacuate and suddenly I had déjà vu,” she said. “I was standing there, an 88-year-old woman outside her home, and I suddenly remembered the three-year-old girl I was. I didn’t remember these things before, the emotions, but suddenly I was back there. And this is the second time I leave my house.”

Szpiro has since been housed in a hotel with other displaced Israelis from her community. She hopes to return home soon. Herzog said that he and his wife would happily come to visit Szpiro in Zikim once she was back.

Mirjam Szpiro with President and First Lady Herzog and Chaiman of International March of the Living, Samuel Roseman. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“The generation of the Holocaust, those who saw with their own eyes the horrors of Nazism, we owe you a debt of gratitude for your resilience and hope,” Herzog told the survivors.

“We are here to say clearly, to you, dear children of the Kindertransport, we will never forget your heroism. We will never forget your bravery and resilience, and how you rebuilt your lives, and helped build the State of Israel. May the memory of the six million of our sisters and brothers be eternally etched on all our hearts.”

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