Multi-faith leaders mark 85th anniversary of Kindertransport Jewish rescue amid rising antisemitism at home and abroad

3 December 2023, 18:22 | Updated: 3 December 2023, 18:28

Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis told Kindertransport refugees that they are an 'inspiration' as antisemitism rises across Europe as they gathered to celebrate the operation's 85th anniversary.
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis told Kindertransport refugees that they are an 'inspiration' as antisemitism rises across Europe as they gathered to celebrate the operation's 85th anniversary. Picture: Alamy

By Chay Quinn

Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis told Kindertransport refugees that they are an 'inspiration' as antisemitism rises across Europe as they gathered to celebrate the operation's 85th anniversary.

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A ceremony was held to mark the occasion on Sunday afternoon at Liverpool Street Station in London, where many of the child refugees arrived in the UK before the start of the Second World War.

The humanitarian rescue effort, which ran between November 1938 and September 1939, gave 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, safe passage to the UK from Nazi-controlled territory in Europe.

The Chief Rabbi said the kinder (children) refugees were a "source of enormous hope and positivity, guidance and inspiration" while "war is raging in Israel".

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During the ceremony next to the Kindertransport memorial sculpture in Liverpool Street's forecourt, he told the refugees: "From you we learn that there is light at the end of the tunnel of Jewish suffering and we can look forward beyond this war to an era of peace and harmony for all."

Father Francis Wahle during a a special ceremony to mark the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport, at Liverpool Street Station in London. Picture date: Sunday December 3, 2023.
Father Francis Wahle during a a special ceremony to mark the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport, at Liverpool Street Station in London. Picture date: Sunday December 3, 2023. Picture: Alamy

The Chief Rabbi added: "At this very moment, when war is raging in Israel, and when there is a rise of antisemitism around the world, you are a source of enormous hope and positivity, guidance and inspiration for us - because from you we learn that good will triumph over evil."

Father Francis Wahle, a Catholic priest of Jewish descent who arrived at Liverpool Street in January 1939 from Vienna, said his family "would not have survived" without Kindertransport.

Father Wahle, 94, told the PA news agency: "It's important to treat the foreigner with love and welcome rather than as a nuisance and a threat.

"The idea that 'migrants are coming here in hordes' and things like that - that same atmosphere existed when we came here as well."

He added that some people were opposed to the £50 cost of sponsoring each child refugee, which Father Wahle said "in those days was a horrendous sum of money".

Father Wahle said: "There were people who thought they shouldn't be invited at all.

"A lot of the well-to-do people here were very much against it, and even some of the Jewish community because they feared the influence it would have on them if these indigent poor people - because we had no support at all - were allowed in."

A speech on behalf of Alexandra Greensted, 91, who travelled to Liverpool Street on the Kindertransport from Prague aged seven in the summer of 1939, was read out by the grandson of her British foster parents.

David Carden, the grandson of Charlie Carden and Daisy Carden, said it was a "great honour" to give an address standing beside Ms Greensted, who he described as "my aunt Alex".

Ms Greensted, who was one of the children Sir Nicholas Winton helped rescue from Czechoslovakia, wrote in her speech: "I was fostered by a wonderful couple, Charlie and Daisy, who had four children of their own. I was welcomed into their family and lived with them until I left and married my dear husband, Peter."

"Both myself and my immediate family owe our lives to Sir Nicholas and for that I'm truly grateful."

Ms Greensted's father and two elder brothers who remained in Czechoslovakia were murdered at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

Before reciting the memorial prayer for martyrs of the Holocaust, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg read an extract from the Pearls Of Childhood by Vera Gissing, who escaped to Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1939.

BRITAIN-RACISM-HISTORY-RELIGION
BRITAIN-RACISM-HISTORY-RELIGION. Picture: Getty

Approximately 10,000 children were sent from their homes and families in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig to the UK during the Kindertransport rescue operation.

The ceremony was hosted by charities World Jewish Relief and the Association of Jewish Refugees.

Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said: "Today, we remember the bravery and heroism of the parents who sent their children to safety while their own futures remained uncertain and pay tribute to those children who made unimaginable journeys against the backdrop of oppression, displacement and war.

"Long may the kinder have the energy and opportunity to share their important eyewitness accounts which bear witness to where antisemitism can lead."

Paul Anticoni, chief executive of World Jewish Relief, said: "During one of the darkest chapters of human history, the Kindertransport serves as an important reminder of the bravery and resilience of individuals whose lives were shattered by Nazi persecution.

"It was a truly moving ceremony, and an opportunity for so many, including Kind and their families, to pay tribute to all those who were saved, as well as those who were left behind."

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