Sunday, January 30, 2011


Gentle Readers,

I recommend an excellent documentary: Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.

During 1938 and '39, the Kindertransport allowed 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and Nazi-occupied countries to travel by train to England, where they lived -- sometimes in camps and youth hostels, occasionally to be used as servants -- but mostly with foster parents. Organizers accompanied the children on the trains, but if the organizers had not returned, the Kindertransport would have been stopped. Additionally, children were not allowed to take anything of value with them.

The aging children of the transport tell their stories themselves -- how their parents said, Don't worry, we'll join you soon; how some children were given the daunting task of finding employment for their parents as domestics (the only way for adults to get to England), and some kids actually managed to get their parents to safety; how many of the children cried themselves to sleep for years in a time when people didn't understand the emotional damage caused by separation and no grief counselors were standing by to help; how few of the children were reunited with their parents when the war ended because they had no parents. The majority of the children lost their families in the Holocaust.

I am ashamed that the United States accepted no additional refugees. Many countries reduced the number of Jews allowed to emigrate during the days leading up to the war and after the war began. Anti-Semitism ran rampant all over the world. England and England alone took in these children and would have taken more if the transport hadn't been ended by the beginning of the war between Germany and Great Britain.

Deborah Oppenheimer produced this outstanding film. Her mother was a Kindertransport survivor who was unable to tell her daughter what she had been through. Oppenheimer learned more about her own family through making the film. Listening to the DVD commentary on Into the Arms of Strangers is well worth your time as Oppenheimer and director Mark Jonathan Harris add their insights into the story and discuss the research conducted to make this 2000 Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary.

A story that stood out for me was that of Lory Cahn, who was a 14 year old on the train headed for England when her father could not bear to let her go and actually pulled her out of the moving train's window as he ran alongside on his crippled legs, the result of injuries incurred during World War I, when he fought for Germany. Young Lory was deported after a time -- but not to England. She went from concentration camp to concentration camp to concentration camp, until at last, her liberation. She weighed 58 pounds. Her mother had been killed, but her father survived. She seemed to bear him no ill will.

Oppenheimer and Harris ask toward the end of their commentary: Would you be able to let your children go? And would you take in a child if asked?

Taking in a child would be much easier for me than letting my children go. As much as I would want my children to be safe, I do not know if I could send them away into the unknown. And so many of us would probably be afraid but we would think: Things will get better. This will not last. Someone will stop this madness.

But of course, no one stopped the madness, not until Hitler and Germany were defeated.

And the war was not fought to save Europe's Jews.

What about you? Would you let your children go? Would you take in a child?

Something to ponder.

Infinities of love,


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