Was your relative one of the thousands of children (or “Kinder” in German) rescued from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria in the run up to World War II? It is estimated that 10,000 children were evacuated from Europe through the Kindertransport, the British rescue action carried out nine months before the outbreak of war. This is a fascinating collection of digitised government documents relating to the Kindertransport operation, dating from 1939 to 1945, held by The National Archives. The records may reveal when and where your ancestor arrived in Britain. This is not a complete list of all the children rescued from Nazi occupied Europe, but the records give a unique insight into the experience of the Kinder from their arrival, between 1938 and 1939, to the end of WWII.
Each record includes an image and a transcript. The image is a digitised copy of the original record from The National Archives. The transcript is an individualised report of the information found within the original record. The type of records vary within this collection and so will the information found on each transcript. Many transcripts will include a combination of the following information:
Birth place or place of origin
Archive reference – to be used when browsing the Kindertransport records
We highly recommend viewing the record images in order to get the most out of this collection.
By viewing the image you may find additional information than what is provided in the transcript, such as:
Name of UK guardian
Address in the United Kingdom
Name of school your ancestor attended
Name of employer
Whether your ancestor left the UK and moved to another country.
When you select the image option, the link will take you to the first page of the document, in which your ancestor’s name appears. This is to provide you with an overall context of the document and to help you understand why your ancestor’s name is listed. Use the arrow to the right to move through the document.
The scanned material is a thorough representation of the central government files, which were transferred to The National Archives relating to Kindertransport. They are not the operational records of the project, and don’t represent a systematic or complete listing of all the children rescued over the period, because it was not a centrally organised or collated effort, but rather an emergency measure to allow unaccompanied children under the age of 17 entry to the UK. The most comprehensive list of the Kinder available has been created by the Association of Jewish Refugees. This list is available through the ‘Making New Lives’ website.
The Kindertransport was a British scheme to rescue Jewish children from Nazi occupied regions in Europe. The first of the Kinder arrived in December 1938. In 1938 conditions for the Jewish community in Europe were rapidly deteriorating through intimidation, segregation and violence. 9 November 1938 became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. In this collection there is a telegramme from Sir G. Ogilvie Forbes, a foreign diplomat, describing the night: ‘Anti-Jewish rioting on unprecedented scale broke out in Berlin late night on 9th November. All Jewish windows in the principal shopping quarters have been broken and their contents mostly looted. Three synagogues in Berlin are known to have been set on fire. Similar reports are coming in from all over the provinces and further synagogues have been burnt in Munich and Bamberg’ (FO 371/21696).
Following the events of Kristallnacht, Parliament debated on 21 November 1938 and agreed to allow refugee children to be temporarily homed in Britain. The British Jewish community and the Quakers advocated for rescuing vulnerable children and bringing them to Britain. Passport restrictions were waived. Refugee workers both in Europe and in Britain organised visas and transport for children up to the age of 17. There was no one, central organisation behind the rescue efforts. The various groups which did most to organise the rescue missions were:
The Jewish Refugee Committee
Central British Fund for German Jewry, re-named Central Council for Jewish Refugees in 1939
Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, re-named Refugee Children’s Movement in 1939
Society of Friends (the Quakers)
Children’s Inter-aid committee (which involved the Save the Children Fund)
British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia
As part of the rescue, each child had to have a guarantor in Britain to cover the £50 cost of the return trip (equivalent to £2,000 today). The Movement for the Care of Children in Germany, later known as the Refugee Children’s Movement took responsibility for those without a guarantor. Many children stayed with relatives or family friends. Those Kinder not fortunate enough to have contacts within Britain stayed in hostels, lodgings or holiday camps.
The first group of Kinder arrived 2 December 1938. Before leaving their parents, children were dressed in their best and were allowed to pack one piece of hand luggage and a suitcase. Some families tried to smuggle out the family valuables. That night, the Dundee Evening Telegraph reported, ‘Two hundred boy and girls arrived at Harwich today. Many of the children are fatherless and motherless, and retain vivid memories of the orphanage where they were sheltered in Berlin being fired above their heads. The refugees are to be provided for at a holiday camp at Dovercourt Bay near Harwich until accommodation can be arranged for them in private houses. Rucksacks over their backs and small handbags contained all the worldly possessions which they clung to as they trooped down the gangway more than two hours after the ship had berthed.’ Before they entered the country they received medical examinations and were deloused.
In September 1939 the Kindertransport ended with the outbreak of war. There were a number of reasons the scheme stopped: The Refugee Children’s Movement was running out of funds, unemployment was rising in Britain and there were growing concerns about bringing ‘enemy aliens’ into the country during a time of war. The records do not stop at the point of arrival in the UK. The Kinder continued to be monitored during the war years, with information on their financial maintenance and religious upbringing being recorded centrally. In 1943, the Guardianship (Refugee Children) Bill was created. The bill was written to mandate that all the refugee children were assigned a guardian in the UK. Prior to the bill the children’s parents were considered the legal guardians but unfortunately for many, their parents’ outcome was unknown or they did not survive. For the children in the care of the Refugee Children’s Movement, Lord Gorell was named as their guardian in England and their ‘tutor’ for children residing in Scotland.
The ultimate goal was to reunite the children with their families after the war, but after the devastation in Europe and the Holocaust this was only rarely possible. For some we find in the records, they went on to employment in Britain, emigrated to USA or Palestine or returned to their homelands.
To explore the records further we have created an additional option: “Kindertransport Browse,” to enable you to read through all the historical documents from start to finish.
Below is a list of the different types of government records available within the collection. We have also included some of the events or issues discussed within those papers, but not every account is recorded here and there is more to explore.
War Cabinet (CAB) – Includes records relating to the drafting of the 1943 Guardianship (Refugee Children) Bill and a copy of the drafted bill.
Foreign Office (FO) – Reports and correspondence which deal with the Jews in Danzig and emigration of children from Danzig and expulsion of Jews from occupied Poland. Reports of the work of refugee workers in Poland and Germany including the Society of Friends (Quakers). Dispatches from the Embassy in Rome regarding the position of Jews in Italy. Letters regarding the entry of refugee children into the UK. Proposals to send some refugee children to the US.
Home Office (HO) – Correspondence about the refugee children’s education and traineeships. Papers from the Aliens Department. Discussion of the plight of the German Jews and financial assistance for the refugees from the government, organisations and private sources (such as the Baldwin Fund). Reports of the rates of maintenance paid by the government for children boarded out with schools, families, lodgings or other institutions. Guardianship of refugee children. Children in the care of the Czechoslovak Refugee Trust Fund. Refugee children applying for the Girl Guides warrants.
Education (ED) – Correspondence about refugee children continuing into higher education or technical training and its funding.
Health (MH)– Reports on the refugee camp at Dovercourt including menus, descriptions of accommodation and activities organised for the children. Concerns over religious upbringing. Inspection visits to Dovercourt. The medical condition of refugee children from Germany.
Security Service (KV) – Miscellaneous papers from the Enemy Aliens’ Tribunal 1939-1942.
The experience of the Kindertransport was dramatic, especially for small children, being separated from their parents, travelling to an unknown country where they didn’t speak the language and less than a year later being labelled ‘Enemy Aliens.’ However, many thrived in their new country and were able to create new lives for themselves. Many of the children from the Kindertransport contributed greatly to the societies that they joined. Some joined the military when they became of age, others succeeded in education and a few went on to win Nobel Prizes in later life. Here are the stories of two Kinder whose records are found within this collection.
Marianna Elsley (nee Josephy) – Travelled to England in January 1939. The records show that Marianne departed from Hamburg on 30 January 1939 and arrived in Southampton on the SS Washington on 1 February 1939. She was taken into the care of Mrs. Carter then Miss Coutauld, who paid her expenses. Marianna has published two books about her experience. The first, ‘A Chance in Six Million,’ describes her experience of coming to England. The second, ‘Voice in the Night,’ is a collection of letters and messages from her parents.
Han Hirsch - Han Hirsch was born in Vienna on 17 September 1924 and his family moved to Velden am Worthersee when he was 9 months old. By March 1938 German troops had entered Austria and swastika flags appeared. Anti-Semitism became more prevalent and even Hirsch, who was not aware that his father was Jewish, could not help but absorb some of the language used by the Nazi propaganda. Soon Hirsch became classified as a ‘Mischling’ or a Half-Jew. The family began to make arrangements to emigrate to America but, after Kristallnacht, Han was instead transported by the Quakers, along with 70 other boys, to England. He recalls, ‘We had numbers on strings round our necks. When we arrived in Harwich, I remember the beautifully served cups of tea with milk.’
Han Hirsch appears in the records in 1944 after the passing of the Guardianship (Refugee Children) Act. Lord Gorell of the Refugee Children’s Movement was named as his guardian because Hirsch had no relatives in the United Kingdom.
Before war was declared, Han was able to communicate with his parents, but once the war began all communication stopped. He did not see his parents again until after the war. ‘I left my mother as a 14 year old child and saw her again as a grown man of 23.’ Han received a Certificate of Naturalisation and, with his British passport, he remained in England. Han’s story is available on the Quakers in Britain website (http://www.quaker.org.uk/andrea-hirsch-my-fathers-story ).
To discover more about these stories and for further information about the experience of the Kinder visit the Kindertransport Association website (http://kindertransport.org/default.aspx) or the Quakers in Britain website (http://www.quaker.org.uk/category/tags/kindertransport ). The National Archives Education Department also offers a podcast on Kindertransport by Ela Kaczmarska (http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/kindertransport-britains-rescue-plan/).