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Judi's Journal 4-20-2012

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The Two Trains: A story of the Kindertransport 1938-39

By Judi Siegal

A mournful whistle in the night. Steam rising in a foggy mist. The clatter of wheels against a well-worn track. Children excited, others frightened, some holding treasured toys, some holding treasured memories. “Save us, save us, the whispered prayers cry as they waft off into the wind. Two trains traveling in the night, one heading to freedom, the other to despair.
At the twilight of the beginning of the Second World War, things were not good for the Jews of Germany and the occupied Nazi lands. The Jewish residents of these countries were stripped of their rights and were being rounded up and shot as part of the Nazi philosophy of virulent anti-Semitism and their domination as the Aryan race. To be a Jew anywhere in these occupied lands was dangerous and children were no exception.
After Krystalnacht in November of 1938 when Jews’ businesses were systematically looted, synagogues burned and lives ruined, it was clear that the danger for European Jews was increasing. To this end, the British government devised a plan to rescue as many children as possible from harm’s reach. The plan allowed one child from a family (how could a mother make such a choice?) for a surety bond of 50 British pounds to escape on a train called the Kindertransport. This train would take children from 1 to 17 years of age from Nazi infested countries to live with families in Great Britain.
Two trains traveled on into the night, one into the care of strangers, the other into the care of monsters.
The British government helped through diplomatic means to rescue these children. It has been estimated that at least 10,000 children were saved in this way and were thus denied capture by the Nazis. Had they remained in the occupied areas of Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria, they would have surely perished. Most of the children never saw their parents again. Most did not speak English. Between the traumas of losing parents, resettling in a foreign country and the threat of war, life for these children must have been very hard to bear.
Two trains traveled on into the night. One headed West to freedom, the other headed East to hell.
The first Kindertransport left a month after Krystalnacht. The last one left on Sept. 1, 1939, just as war broke out in Europe. The program was suspended and those children who remained faced an uncertain fate. Of those that arrived in Great Britain, many who came of age, joined the British armed forces as a way to fight back against their Nazi tormentors. It is believed that between 20 and 25 percent of those on the Kindertransport, emigrated to Canada or the United States.
Two trains traveled on into the night. One was reaching its destination; the other was reaching the Final Destination.
I once knew a survivor who was rescued on the Kindertransport. She was of Polish extraction and was placed with a family in Britain. She was about 10 at the time. At 17, she came to the United States and went to secretarial school. She later married and lived well in a Connecticut suburb. Last time I was in contact, she had moved to Lake Worth, Florida. I often wondered how hard it must have been for her losing most of her family and dealing with the horrors of war. Yet, Berta seemed to do well and was an excellent administrative assistant and was somehow able to bury her sorrow deep within the leaves of the book of her life.
On April 19, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, we will pause and remember the children who never made it to adulthood. We will remember those who saw their mothers raped, their infant siblings bayonetted or thrown like trash against walls, their fathers shot before them or starved to death. We will mourn the ones who might have found a cure for cancer, composed a symphony, or could have written beautiful poetry. We will mourn the innocent lives that were lost and sacrificed at the altar of hatred. Yes, we will mourn and we will remember.
Two trains traveled on into the night. One ended into the loving arms of those in This World, the other ended into the loving arms of those in the Next.
(While the Final Solution, the deportation and extermination of European Jews via trains to concentration camps did not begin until 1941, roundups had already begun during the time of Kindertransport. The train heading East was used for dramatic purposes. At the war’s end, an estimated 1.5 million children had perished in the Holocaust. A special memorial to them can be viewed at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.)
Source: various web resources.

Judi Siegal and her husband, Phil, live in Sun Valley.

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