The Kindertransport: deconstructing British saviourism then vs now

Almost exactly 80 years ago, on 2 December, a life-saving train settled in Harwich, England. The train brought with it approximately 200 orphans from Berlin, Germany whose orphanage had been destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogrom less than a month before. They were to be the first of around 9,000-10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children brought to the UK. Two of those children were Henry and Ingrid Wuga.

Ingrid, then Ingrid Wolff, bid goodbye to her parents when she was 14, never knowing if she would see them again, and was taken by Kindertransport to Liverpool. After a few weeks, she began work as a Nanny. She was treated kindly but did experience resentment for her German identity.

Many of the Kindertransport children never saw their parents again, but miraculously Ingrid’s parents took refuge in West Kilbride, near Glasgow, where Ingrid went to join them in 1941. It was the Glasgow refugee centre which gave her the confidence to become a dressmaker during the war and also where she met Henry.

Henry’s life too took on a very different course after the Kristallnacht pogrom. Arriving in Glasgow after a traumatic and arduous journey, Henry was 15 and a half years old and was sent straight back to school. He then worked his way up to Head Chef at the Beresford Hotel on Sauchiehall Street, and later set up his own kosher catering business with Ingrid. At the refugee centre, they both participated in a politically active choir and performed across Scotland.

Together they integrated into Scottish society and participated greatly within their community, as they still do today, talking to local schools about their story.

The histories and stories of those who experienced the Kindertransport are individual, traumatic without exception, but very necessary. In the same months, we commemorate the British saviour of children refugees while 11 Jewish people are shot dead in a Pittsburgh Synagogue and thousands of refugees across Europe are suffering and homeless. The rhetoric of ‘Never Again’ becomes harmful when it is only rhetoric and the term becomes an identification with action. It is unjust to reflect on the Kindertransport in an indulgent reassurance that Brits will always sit on the right side of history. Remembering Britain’s role in the Holocaust as the saviour justifies our inaction now, redirects the attention elsewhere, and is an injustice to the full history of the Holocaust. What we can learn from the Kindertransport is how effective some help can be – how life-saving and life-changing one train can be to the course of a child’s life.

To support refugees coming to Scotland today, visit: http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/support_us/ways_to_donate

 

Image: slgckgc via flickr.com

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