Kindertransport refers to the rescue and adaptation to a new way of life of about 10,000, mainly Jewish children who were sent between 1938 and 1939 by their parents as a last resort to countries such as Britain, Sweden, Holland, and Belgium to escape Nazi persecution.  The groundwork for the rescue program was laid by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF). Several organizations came together to help make the transport possible, including the CBF, its subcommittee the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, and the Society of Friends. The emigration of some of the Polish Kinder was arranged by an Anglo-Jewish group - the Polish Jewish Refugee Fund.

These children are collectively called the Kinder or individually they are known as a “Kindertransportee”. The rescued children came from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The Kinder came from a variety of social, economic, and political backgrounds:

  • Orthodox families – Orthodox Judaism teaches strict adherence to rabbinical interpretation of Jewish law and its traditional observances.
  • Assimilated families – Families which had adapted to the norms and values of the surrounding (non-Jewish) society.
  • Families who had converted to Christianity
  • Affluent families
  • Modest homes

Their parents also had a variety of jobs ranging from lawyers, to maids, businessmen, doctors, and mothers who ran the household. The Kinder had both Jewish and non-Jewish friends.

 Kindertransport Memorial, National Holocaust Centre and Museum

The Turning Point

The events of Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 brought a marked increase in anti-Semitic violence and persecution in Nazi Germany.

Jewish children were banned from attending German schools and their fathers were arrested and taken away to concentration camps such as Dachau. Jewish children were even rejected by their peers who used to regard them as friends.

Jewish parents queued outside different embassies to get visas for their families to escape from Nazi persecution. They would bravely send their children to foreign countries in the hope they would find safety. Some countries did not want to accept adults for fear of them taking people’s jobs. However, there was more sympathy towards the plight of the Jewish children. 

Verso of a certificate of registration issued to Grete Loewenstein who came to England on a Kindertransport in July 1939 (copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Greta Meier)

The Kinder packed many different objects both practical and sentimental. These included clothes, dolls, photographs, and religious objects. They all had to be packed into a suitcase that a child could carry.  The Kinder were not allowed to take valuables out of the country such as jewels, but some parents would hide them in their children’s clothing. 

Ruth Barnett’s original suitcase in the exhibition “The Journey”, National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Journey and Arrival

The children boarded trains from Germany, Austria, or Czechoslovakia to Holland where they were given a warm welcome and hot chocolate. Then they boarded a ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich in Britain. After this, they travelled by train from Harwich to Liverpool Street Train Station in London. Some Polish Kinder arrived in 1939 aboard the packet steamer Warszawa from Gdynia. There was also a transport that came by plane. 

Jewish children on their way out of Nazi Germany in December 1938 (copyright: Wiener Library)

The Kinder arrived in Britain tired after their long journeys. At Liverpool Street Station, the children were gathered together, and their foster families came to collect them.

Not all the Kinder found homes immediately. Many went to Dovercourt Refugee Camp where they were housed until further arrangements could be made.

Photo (left): Members of the first Kindertransport arrive in Harwich, England (copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

On 3 September 1939, all of the transports to Britain stopped – on this day, a train carrying over 200 Kinder was prevented from leaving its platform in Prague. The children did not make it to freedom.

Other Transports to Other Countries


The United States scheme differed from the British Kindertransport scheme because it was not government-backed like the British operation. The Wagner-Rogers Bill proposed an extra quota for refugee children to enter the States, but it never passed through Congress. Therefore, many of the children who found refuge in America were sponsored and cared for by various organizations such as the German-Jewish Children’s Aid (GJCA), individuals, or extended family members. There were other transports to the United States. These included the transports of British evacuee children in 1940 and the transports of children fleeing unoccupied France in 1941 and 1942.

The Antipodes

The transports to the Antipodes could be considered to be the second Kindertransport as many of the Kinder came via Britain and then travelled to Australia and New Zealand. Groups such as the Dunera Boys and the Deckston Children were resettled in these nations. The Dunera Boys set sail with other German, Austrian, and Italian internees on 10 July 1940 from the port of Liverpool and the ship docked in Freemantle on 27 August 1940. The boys were categorised as type B and C aliens and therefore on their arrival in Australia they were interned; they were later released. The Deckston children were privately funded by Max and Annie Deckston who brought 20 Polish children from Bialystok in two stages in 1935 and 1937.

Difficulties and Challenges

Most Kinder could not speak English when they arrived, and were not acquainted with British customs. Often, they came from different social, political and economic backgrounds to their foster families. Some of the children also had to adapt to being brought up in Christian households.

Foster families were very supportive of the Kinder in the main, but occasionally used them as domestics. The Kinder quickly learned English and many threw themselves into their studies. Sometimes, however, they had to face hostility at school. 

Elisabeth and Lux Adorno pose with Mr. Hulford, their first foster-parent after arriving in England on a Kindertransport (copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Elisabeth Reinhuber-Adorno)

In the course of the war, which began in September 1939, the Kinder became double refugees when they were evacuated to the countryside to escape from the bombings.

For a second time, the Kinder had to adapt to:

  • being separated from adults
  • leaving home
  • relocating to unfamiliar surroundings
  • wearing labels around their neck
  • being placed in new schools 
 Copyright: Sue Wallace. CC BY-SA 2.0

The identity of the Kinder became problematic as war continued. Now, it was their nationality rather than their faith or race which raised concerns. They were categorized as type B or C enemy aliens and had to report to the local police station. The Nazis had stripped them of their identity as Germans, yet now it was their German background which led to fears there might be spies among them. Some Kinder were sent to internment camps, for instance on the Isle of Man.

During the Blitz and evacuation the Kinder shared many similar experiences to British children. This broke down distinctions between them. Kinder came to serve in the British armed forces, the nursing professions, in food production and in war-related industries. 1,000 Kinder, when they turned 18, joined the Pioneer Corps of the British Army. 30 of them lost their lives.

The identity of the Kinder developed from that of being a Jewish refugee and a foreign presence to being a welcome member of society. This identity would develop again after the war as many of the Kinder became British citizens.

The End of the Second World War

The Kinder became survivors not only of the Second World War, but also of the Holocaust. But this was not the end of their story.

The Lake District Holocaust Project tells the story of the Windermere Boys, three hundred child Holocaust Survivors, who found new homes in Britain after the war.

Four members of the orphans’ transport to England known as "The Boys" pose on a city street (copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Erica & Joseph Grossman)

After the war there were other transports of children that reached British and Swedish shores. These children had survived the concentration camps and the ghettos. They would find new homes in Britain and they too had to adapt to a new way of life.

Reunion and Return

After the war, many of the Kinder received naturalisation papers declaring them to be British citizens.

Many wrote letters to the Red Cross and other organisations to try to find out what had happened to their families. For some, these answers would take years to come. Some Kinder were later reunited with their parents.

Others were contacted by those who had survived and told what had happened to their loved ones. Many of them had not survived.

A memorial “Stumbling Stone” in Heidelberg outside the home in which the Durlacher family used to live: the Durlacher children were brought to Britain on the Kindertransport, but their parents were later murdered in Auschwitz (copyright: Gerd W. Zinke. CC BY-SA 3.0)

Since the late 1980s, the Kinder have held regular reunions to remember what happened to them, and their families. Britain was late in remembering the Kindertransport. It was the Kinder themselves who were at the forefront of remembering this rescue operation.

The Kindertransport is regularly remembered on Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain. Thus in 2014, when the theme was “Journeys”, the experience of Kindertransportees was one of the topics. Memory of the rescue has been incorporated into the British national narrative of the Second World War.

A small number of Kinder travelled back to their lands of birth immediately after the war, but many would not return until they were adults who had children of their own.  For some of the Kinder this journey would be on their own initiative as they wanted to retrace their family heritage. Others were invited by their former home city or town.

The Winton children reenacted their Kindertransport journey on 1st September 1939 with their families. They travelled from Prague by steam train to Hook of Holland, then to Harwich, and finally they boarded a British train to Liverpool Street Station. They arrived on 4 September and were met by their rescuer Sir Nicholas Winton.

Children rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton, Prague 2007 (copyright: Hynek Moravec. CC BY 3.0)

Memorialising and Remembering

The Kindertransport memorial outside Liverpool Street Station in London is a permanent tribute to the presence of the Kinder in this country 

This memorial was created by Frank Meisler and it is connected to four other sculptures across Europe, creating an international memorial network. These sculptures show the moment when the Kinder were uprooted from their home country and transported to foreign lands. They track their journey to safety – a journey which distances them more and more from their lands of birth. The sculptures are called “The Final Parting” (Hamburg), “The Departure” (Gdansk/Danzig), “Trains to Life – Trains to Death” (Berlin), “Channel Crossing to Life” (Netherlands)and “The Arrival” (London).

Photographs relating to the Kindertransport need to be understood in historical context. Some of the Kinder still have photographs of themselves and their families taken before they came to Britain. Newspapers from the late 1930s and 1940s use a recurring image of a tired little girl holding onto her doll. By contrast, later images of the Kinder with their foster families highlight how they were adapting to a new way of life.

Exhibit at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum’s exhibition “The Journey”. The photographs show Kindertransportees as children, or as adults, inviting us to think about the stages in their lives

Kindertransportees, often late in life, wrote memoirs about their experiences. An example is Edith Milton’s The Tiger in the Attic (2007). Several well-known fictional works include reference to the Kindertransport, such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989), and W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz (2001). One of the most moving novels about the Kindertransport is Alison Pick’s Far to Go (2010).

Copyright: Headline Publishing Group

How Will These Memories Live On?

Who will remember the Kindertransport when there are no more Kinder to tell their stories?

  • Memory is preserved at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum.
  • Schoolteachers and schoolchildren preserve the memory, for instance through the creation of art works.
  • Kindertransportees pass down memories of their experiences to their daughters and sons, known as the “second generation”. Second-generation Kindertransportees often speak about these memories in public.

Wider Contexts

The history of the Kindertransport sits within wider contexts such as:

  1. The history of the persecution of minorities;
  2. The history of emigration, immigration and exile;
  3. The history of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust;
  4. The history of testimony and memory;
  5. Narratives of the Second World War

The British national narrative of the Kindertransport suggests that Britain stood alone in rescuing the Kinder. It suggests that the nation was immediately welcoming to the new arrivals. However, although the efforts of the British government and the British people were remarkable, life was not easy for the Kinder in Britain, some of whom were even interned.

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. Hungary, Central Europe, 6 September 2015 (copyright: Mstyslav Chernov. CC BY-SA 4.0)

Remembering the Kindertransport can sensitise us to other refugee crises, such as in Syria. Politicians sometimes compare British policies towards Syrian refugees with the Kindertransport. Is this appropriate? Does the comparison conceal more than it reveals? 


Imagine what it would be like to leave home suddenly, without your parents, and travel to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language…

If you had to pack your most important belongings into one suitcase, what would you take with you?

Why, in Britain, do we remember the Kindertransport? Why is it important to remember it, and how should it be remembered?

How might the experiences of the British, the American, the Swedish, the Belgian, the Australian, and the New Zealand Kinder be similar and different?

Why do we tend to mainly focus on the transports to Britain rather than other transports to other countries?

Further Reading


Judith Tydor Baumel, Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in the United States, 1934-1945 (The Denali Press: Alaska, 1990)

Alan Gill, Interrupted Journeys: Young Refugees from Hitler’s Reich (Simon & Schuster: Sydney, 2004)

Agnes Grunwald-Spier, The Other Schindlers: Why Some People Chose to Save Jews in the Holocaust (The History Press: Port Stroud, 2010)

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

Frances Williams, The Forgotten Kindertransports: The Scottish Experience (Bloomsbury: London, 2014)


Eliza Graham, The One I Was (Moreton Street Books: Charleston, SC, 2014)

Linda Newbery, Sisterland (Definitions: London, 2003)

Alison Pick, Far To Go (Headline Review: London, 2010)

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz (Penguin Books: London, 2011)

Jake Wallis Simons, The English German Girl (Polygon: Edinburgh, 2011)

Marilyn Taylor, Faraway Home (The O’Brien Press: Dublin, 2013)