It’s an inhumane choice that no parent should ever have to face: leave a child with a complete stranger, so the child might have a chance to survive persecution and, ultimately, avoid being murdered—or keep the child and most assuredly risk his or her life.
But for tens of thousands of mostly Jewish families during World War II, this incomprehensible decision became one they were forced to make.
The Kindertransport was a British rescue operation that enabled 10,000 primarily Jewish children to escape the Nazis in the months leading up to the declaration of WW II. The initiative required a convergence of simultaneous efforts over a compressed time frame—speedy immigration policy creation, collaboration among diverse religious groups and, perhaps, most importantly, the bravery of individuals.
“A History of the Kindertransport” is the subject of the newest special exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. Running through Feb. 28, the exhibit is free with paid admission. On Sunday, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m. at the Museum, Dallas resident Magie Furst, a Kindertransport refugee, will tell her first-hand story at a special program.
“What do you say to a child that you, a mother, are about to confide to a stranger—a child you most likely will never see again?” asked Dr. Charlotte Decoster, Education and Public Engagement Coordinator for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, at a special lecture on Jan. 16 entitled “The Last Kiss: Parents Saying ‘Goodbye’ During the Holocaust.”
For parents who applied to participate in the Kindertransport, the special immigration initiative was the only option for their children to escape persecution and almost certain death as Jewish families were rounded up and deported, ultimately, to death camps, said Dr. Decoster, an expert in the study of children hidden and rescued during the Holocaust. In most cases, parents and their rescued children never saw one another again after the moment of separation, she said.
Through her research, Dr. Decoster, who is also an adjunct professor of history at the University of North Texas, where she received her Ph.D., discovered a painful process parents endured in separating from their children—from awareness of the option to save their children through coping with the aftermath of permanent separation from them.
At one deportation camp in southern France, where parents voluntarily turned 108 children over to Nazi resistance fighters who would see to the safety and security of the children, later research would reveal that 28 of the parents committed suicide.
“For the majority of parents who participated in the Kindertransport and similar child rescue efforts, they did what they thought was necessary—the hope of survival for their children and, by circumstance, their Jewish culture, heritage and religious practices,” Dr. Decoster said.
In most cases, rescued Jewish children were taken in by Christian families, including Catholics, and in some select cases Muslim families. While many of the children were allowed to practice Judaism, evidence reveals some efforts at converting the children to Christianity, Dr. Decoster said.
The Museum’s Kindertransport exhibit allows students to contemplate the event from the perspective of a child, offering them the opportunity to ask themselves the question—and leave behind their answers on a colored index card—“What treasured item would you bring?”
In the final analysis, the story of the Kindertransport, like many from the Holocaust, reflects themes rooted in the depravity of humanity and in its nobility, Dr. Decoster said. In the face of evil behavior that surely would have seen children murdered otherwise, “We saw Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities make a decision to act and do something to ensure the survival of children.”
Presenting sponsors for the Kindertransport exhibit are Ann Donald Zetley and Florence and Howard Shapiro in loving memory of Martin Donald. Community Partners include Catholic Charities of Dallas and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.
Tickets to the Feb. 2 program featuring Margie Furst are $5 each. Register online at DallasHolocaustMuseum.org or RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay at the door.
–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.