Narratives about the persecution of children during the Holocaust have generally received little attention compared to other more adult narratives of the Holocaust, but over the past two decades more and more work has focused on the stories of childhood during this period. There was no uniform way for children to survive the Holocaust. Child survivors survived due to many different reasons. Some were hidden during the war, some survived due to the Kindertransports, and some children survived the camps. There are commonalities though between what child survivors experienced in terms of being rejected by their peers, having to adapt to new situations, and how after the war they waited to hear news about what had happened to their parents and other family members.

Children in the camps

1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust but remarkably some children survived the camps, some were hidden and some were even born in the camps. When the Americans liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945, they found that about 900 children had survived thanks to the protection afforded to them by adult prisoners.

Conditions for the children in the camps were very harsh and many went hungry (the SS described them as “useless eaters”). These children also had to sleep in bunks and had no schooling. When the children were liberated many were not well enough to travel so had to stay until they were treated. Some children who had survived Auschwitz concentration camp were brought to the Lake District to regain their strength and health but also to be treated for tuberculosis. Some of the children kept the Star of David that they had to wear on their clothes while others kept items that they had found in the camps. Few had photographs of their families to bring with them when they were liberated from the camps.

Hidden children

Many brave individuals risked their lives to hide children. These children were hidden in many countries throughout Europe in annexes, on farms, in basements, in attics, in orphanages, and in convents to name but a few places of hiding. Likewise, some children were not hidden in one place only, but had to change hiding places so not to be discovered. They were either hidden on their own, with their parents, with other family members, or with people they hardly knew.

Quote: ‘It wasn’t much fun in our hiding places because we weren’t allowed out in the daytime. We had to stay quiet and not make a noise. .. Life seemed even worse than in the ghetto.’ Simon Winston; Holocaust survivor, Quote from Journeys

People involved in anti-Nazi resistance were instrumental in finding hiding places for Jewish children during the war and moving them to safe houses. Hiding Jewish children during the war meant risking one’s life, but some were willing to help. Many children experienced feelings of loneliness and made up stories to entertain themselves. They had to be very quiet sometimes, and listen to the instructions of the adults around them so that they wouldn’t be discovered. Many were not allowed to venture out on their own either as this was a great risk to their safety. Children were also very frightened and bewildered while in hiding. Some children when they arrived in Britain after the war brought with them objects that they had managed to keep with them while in hiding such as photographs of their family members. 

These objects belong to Simon Winston who was hidden as a child.  


The Kindertransports to Britain saved around 10,000 children’s lives between 1938 and 1939. These children experienced being uprooted from their homes in Continental Europe and journeying to Britain where they found new homes. They came from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Vienna, Prague, and Danzig. They travelled to Britain by train and by boat but a small number came via plane. The most well-known route involved boarding trains from Germany, Austria, or Czechoslovakia to Holland where the children were given a warm welcome and hot chocolate. Then they boarded a ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich in Britain. After this, the Kinder travelled by train from Harwich to Liverpool Street Train Station in London. On arrival, the Kinder were met by their foster families or they were taken to places such as Dovercourt. These reception camps looked after the children until a foster home could be found for them. While in Britain some Kinder experienced evacuation and the Blitz, they had to adapt yet again to new surroundings, new people, and new schools. The objects that the Kinder brought with them were both practical and sentimental. These objects symbolise survival but also shed light on their lives prior to being transplanted to new and strange lands. The Kinder found new homes throughout Britain and many remained here after the war. Some, however, emigrated to other countries such as America and Israel.

Refugee children

Refugee children faced many difficulties when they arrived in Britain. Some refugees emigrated prior to the outbreak of war between 1933 and 1939, others emigrated during the war itself, while others came to Britain after the fall of the Nazi regime. These pre-war and post-war child refugees may have experienced the war differently as some may have come physically closer to the camps but they all had to learn English, adapt to British customs, and adapt to new surroundings such as different schools when they arrived in this country. Their journeys to Britain also differed as some came by boat, some by plane, and some by train. They also came from all different countries and spoke different languages. Refugees did not all find shelter in Britain. Some went to America, for instance, while others went to Palestine. However, Britain’s White Paper policy in May 1939 imposed a limit on Jewish entry into Palestine because of growing tensions between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Moreover, host nations did not always greet the refugees with open arms as many restrictions were placed in their way; generally, however, most were more sympathetic towards the plight of children. Some refugees brought many objects with them while others had to leave many of their precious belongings behind in Continental Europe. Some of these items would be returned to them after the war, but for many only their memories remained, because the physical objects were either lost or stolen from them.


Reiter, Andrea, Children of the Holocaust (Vallentine Mitchell: London, 2005).

Kokkola, Lydia, Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature and Culture (Routledge: London, 2009).

Fast, Vera K., Children’s Exodus: A history of the Kindertransport (I. B. Tauris: London, 2011).

Turner, Barry, … And the Policeman Smiled: 10,000 Children Escaped from Nazi Europe (Bloomsbury: London, 1990).

Howard, Greenfeld, The Hidden Children (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1993).

Hodge, Deborah, Rescuing Children (Tundra: New York, 2012).

Dwrok, Deborah, Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe (Yale University Press: London, 1993).