They had arrived at Liverpool Street Station on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War, scared, shy children, with labels around their necks, clutching battered suitcases and favourite toys, and often not speaking a word of English.
On Sunday, some of those same children gathered again at Liverpool Street for a ceremony to mark 85 years since the arrival of the first Kindertransport train.
This time the former Kinder, many of whom were rescued from Austria and Czechoslovakia by Sir Nicholas Winton and his team, were, with their extended families, the guests of honour as nearly 200 people remembered their arrival in Britain, and paid tribute to those who had brought them, fostered them and in some cases adopted them.
The ceremony was held under the joint auspices of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) and World Jewish Relief (WJR), the latter being the successor organisation to the wartime Central British Fund, which was the main body involved in bringing the children to the UK and placing them with families. The event took place at the station’s Hope Square, next to the Kindertransport statue sculpted by artist Frank Meisler, himself a Kind from Danzig.
Henry Grunwald, KC, president of WJR, told the crowd that the first 150 children had arrived in London on December 2 1938. “Over the next nine months, almost 10,000, mainly but not entirely Jewish children, were saved. Their journeys through Europe ended here at Liverpool Street Station — this is where their new life began”.
Mr Grunwald recalled the “anguish” which must have been suffered by the parents putting their children on those trains, “sending them into an unknown future”. Today, he said, the Kindertransport “continues to inspire WJR” in its work in 23 countries around the world “both within and beyond the Jewish community, to alleviate the suffering of those of all faiths, and none”. Mr Grunwald added: “We say proudly, in the 1930s we saved refugees because they were Jewish. Now, we save refugees to help them because we are Jewish”.
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis paid warm tribute to the Kinder — “for what you have done and what you continue to do. You rebuilt your lives. You guarantee that today there are hundreds of thousands of descendants of your parents, who so bravely sent their children to their freedom and their safety. You transferred darkness into light. You brought hope and positivity to a world which was so very fragile at the time”. When there was war raging in Israel and a rise in antisemitism worldwide, he said, the Kinder were a source of “guidance and inspiration. From you, we learn that good will triumph over evil”.
David Carden, grandson of Charlie and Daisy Carden, who fostered seven-year-old Alexandra Greensted when she arrived from Prague in 1939, read a moving testimony from Mrs Greensted, whom he referred to as “my aunt Alex”.
Alexandra Greensted, whose father and two elder brothers were murdered at Auschwitz, commented: “It is deeply moving to be back at Liverpool Street Station, 85-years after the Nazis tore my world apart and I was given the chance of a new life in Great Britain. Standing side by side with fellow Kindertransport refugees, I’m filled with gratitude for the brave actions of many and the tens of thousands of lives that were saved and a great sadness for those we had to leave behind.”
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of the Masorti movement, recited El Maale Rachamim and the assembly was also addressed by Lord Pickles, the Prime Minister’s special envoy for post-Holocaust Issues. Guests also heard excerpts from a letter sent by the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.