‘We thought we were go­ing on an adventure’

In 1938, the first of the Jewish Kin­der­trans­port children evac­u­ated from Nazi Ger­many ar­rived in Bri­tain. Six of those refugees tell Stephen Moss about their es­cape – and the heartrend­ing sac­ri­fices of their par­ents

The Guardian - G2 - - News - Por­traits Andy Hall

Fri­day is the 80th an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht – the Night of Bro­ken Glass. The pogrom of 9 Novem­ber 1938 in Nazi Ger­many demon­strated to the Jewish pop­u­la­tion that their lives were in ur­gent dan­ger and they must leave if they could. But where to go? Other coun­tries were re­luc­tant to take refugees and adults were find­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get out, so Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions in Ger­many, Europe and the US at­tempted to res­cue children, per­suad­ing gov­ern­ments to take child refugees on tem­po­rary visas.

Ten thou­sand came to the UK, on trains and boats or­gan­ised by Jewish groups and other phil­an­thropic or­gan­i­sa­tions. This week, an ex­hi­bi­tion opens at the Jewish Mu­seum in Lon­don fea­tur­ing the sto­ries of six of the children who came to the UK from Ger­many as part of this res­cue ef­fort, which came to be known as the Kin­der­trans­port. The six are now in their 80s and 90s, and have made short films re­count­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences.

I vis­ited each of them in their homes and heard their re­mark­able, mov­ing, of­ten tragic tes­ti­monies. Some never saw their par­ents again; all suf­fered the pain of sep­a­ra­tion; some were so trau­ma­tised they couldn’t speak of what had hap­pened to them for decades af­ter­wards – not even to their children. But in each the light of de­fi­ance, hu­mour and com­mit­ment to life shines through. And each now goes into schools to talk to young peo­ple about what they and their par­ents suf­fered, tes­ti­fy­ing both as an act of remembrance to­wards their par­ents and also as a warn­ing to the next gen­er­a­tion that in­tol­er­ance, ha­tred and scape­goat­ing of mi­nori­ties are ever-pre­sent threats. shel­tered him from the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions for Jews in the 1930s, but re­calls see­ing brown­shirts – SA paramil­i­taries – parad­ing in the streets and once caught sight of Adolf Hitler pass­ing on a train.

On Kristall­nacht, a cold Novem­ber night, his fam­ily were marched down to the town square with other Jews while their burn­ing syn­a­gogues lit up the sky around them. Kosch­land’s fa­ther was taken away to the con­cen­tra­tion camp of Dachau, near Mu­nich. He was re­leased a few weeks later, and ap­plied for places on the Kin­der­trans­port for his son and daugh­ter, promis­ing that he and his wife would join them as soon as pos­si­ble. “A child takes a prom­ise like that not just at face value, but at full value,” says Kosch­land.

His place on the Kin­der­trans­port was ob­tained with the help of Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion B’nai B’rith, and, aged eight, he left Fürth in March 1939, trav­el­ling to Ham­burg and then tak­ing a ship to Southamp­ton – a picture of the ship, the SS Man­hat­tan, which brought 80 refugee children to the UK, adorns the wall of his liv­ing room. The only English he knew was one sen­tence his par­ents had taught him: “I’m hun­gry; may I have a piece of bread?” His sis­ter was al­lowed to travel soon af­ter­wards, board­ing with a fam­ily in south Lon­don, but did not see her brother

Bernd Kosch­land now and ( far left) in Ger­many on his first day at school

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