Monday 1 December marks the seventieth anniversary of the first train carrying Jewish children away from Nazi persecution to leave Berlin. Quakers, who played a key role in this evacuation, will mark the anniversary with an event at Friends House in London, bringing together survivors and families who cared for the children.
The rescue became known as the Kindertransport. Nearly 10,000 children were saved, from the first train on 1 December 1938 until the last on the eve of war in September 1939. Many never saw their families again. Of the six million who died in concentration camps, a million and a half were children.
Ahead of the commemorative event, Rabbi Lionel Blue said: "If more people had acted like the Quakers there would not have been the bitterness that led to the Holocaust and the Second World War. I think of the relief work of Quakers in Berlin in 1918 when the children were suffering from malnutrition, rickets and TB and their work with the Kindertransport which was a light in the darkness at that time. I myself owe a lot to the Quakers. An accidental visit turned my values inside out and I found my way back to spirituality."
Susan Seymour, clerk of Meeting for Sufferings (the representative body of Quakers in Britain), said: "My mother's parents fostered Susi, a Kindertransport girl from Vienna. Eventually she introduced my mum to my dad who had been sent away from Germany in 1933. My aunt escaped through the Kindertransport as well. So I owe my existence to the Quakers' courageous response to the Nazis and fully support our concern for refugees and victims of intolerance and conflict today. We hope this event will pay tribute to those who survived and those who perished."
Quakers were involved at all stages in the Kindertransport. In London they joined with Jewish delegates in persuading the government to relax immigration requirements, making it easier to evacuate people from Nazi Europe. Quakers accompanied children on the long journey to safety and many families and Quaker schools provided homes.
Under the Nazis, thousands of Jewish people and others faced persecution and death. Many German Quakers took personal risks to help many to emigrate, hiding Jewish families, visiting concentration camps and sitting in solidarity with Jewish families while they waited to be deported. They sewed blankets into coats to face the cold in Poland. Quakers suffered for their non-violent solidarity, some were interned in prison camps, one was in Buchenwald for two and a half years.
The event at Friends House will include listening to the stories of those who came on the Kindertransport, poetry, music and lunch. Kindertransportees' stories will be found at www.quaker.org.uk/kinder