The Kindertransport exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills features artifacts from Metro Detroit Kinder.
By Jonathan Mark, New York Jewish Week and Stacy Gittleman, JN Contributing Writer
Photography by Anthony Lanzilote
As Churchill would later say, it was not the beginning of the end, but it was the end of the beginning. The first five years of Hitler were horrific enough, yet, in 1938, the screw turned all the tighter. Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland almost doubled the Jews under the Nazi flag, to more than 400,000.
Before long, Jews in Vienna were on their knees, scrubbing sidewalks with toothbrushes. There was international hand wringing over Hitler’s mistreatment of Jews, but when Germany, in July, offered German Jews to any country that would have them, 32 nations, meeting at the French spa of Evian, politely declined. In November came Kristallnacht, with winter closing in.
Well, if the German Jews were being abandoned, was there mercy, somewhere, for the children?
Committees and organizations, mostly Jewish but not only Jewish, in various international capitals offered plans that culminated in what became known as the Kindertransport.
England (primarily), Holland, Belgium, France and Switzerland agreed to lift visa requirements for children younger than 17, if the advocates for the children would assume all costs and responsibility, and the children would each have enough money for a return ticket to Germany; after all, this would be a temporary solution, if that.
The children were expected to go back where they came from. (In the United States, a Senate bill to accept 20,000 Jewish children failed in 1939 and 1940, with wartime European countries no longer a viable destination.)
Relics of this haunted but rarely examined chapter of the Holocaust are now on display in “Kindertransport — Rescuing Children on the Brink of War,” a collaboration of the Yeshiva University Museum and the Leo Baeck Institute. The exhibit opened in New York in November 2018 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of Kindertransport, the operation that rescued 10,000 refugee children from Nazi-occupied Europe in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
The exhibit is now on display through Dec. 31 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills.
Emotional and thought-provoking, the exhibition explores the story of this rescue effort through moving personal stories, artifacts and engaging media. It asks viewers to consider the painful choices parents had to make, entrusting their children to strangers in order to save them. The exhibit also offers a glimpse into the challenges the children faced — moving to a new country, learning a new language and navigating a foreign culture without their parents to guide them.
“We are fortunate to have Kinder in the Detroit area who have shared their artifacts and stories with us for this exhibition,” said Holocaust Memorial Center CEO Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld. “The incredible humanitarian work of Sir Nicholas Winton (a British humanitarian who set up his own organization to save 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children) and many others to save the lives of these children is a testament to the power of the human spirit and the choices that were made to save these young lives.”
What to Expect?
Each child could bring one suitcase, some suitcases bigger than they were. What would a child bring? What would a parent pack? No one knew how long the crisis would last. How does a parent write a goodbye or a guide to the unknown?
One mother packed items for a marriage trousseau, a pin cushion, a monogrammed tablecloth and towels. Eva Goldmann, 15, practical, packed a German-English dictionary, while her mother sewed “Eva Goldmann” name tags onto all her belongings. Ruth Wachen, mother of Helen, 6, and Harry, 8, packed shoes and clothes that were a size too big; after all, the children were growing, who would take Helen and Harry shopping when they outgrew what they were wearing?
Hannah Kronheim of Cologne carried an olivewood spice tower for Havdalah, her reminder that God “separates light from darkness … and Israel from all the other nations.”
Miriam Lewin, 60, a member of the Kindertransport Association, was at the opening of the exhibit in New York. The association is comprised of the Kinder of 1938-39; their children, known as the KT2s; and the grandchildren, the KT3s. With many of the original Kinder now in their 90s, it is up to the KT2s and KT3s to be the guardians of the legend. Lewin says, “I made a series of videos for teachers about how to use a book about the Kindertransport, The Children of Willesden Lane.”
Southfield couple Dr. Henry and Roselind Baum, now both in their 90s, were saved by the Kindertransport and met at a youth orphanage during the war. They said they were not lucky because their family members did not survive, but they are very lucky to have had three children and 22 grandchildren. They’ve lost count of the number of great-grandchildren.
The exhibit includes a glass case with artifacts from their childhood. Roselind was born in Wurzburg, Germany. At the HMC, she pointed to a small Book of Psalms opened to a page of Psalm 56 that contains the passage: “God is with me, I will not fear, what can man do to me?”
There is also written in Hebrew: “In remembrance on the first day of Iyar, 1939: May God watch over you on this journey as well. Your Father: Asher Berlinger.” Roselind was 11. “That was the last memory I had with my parents; my mother pressing this book into my hands as I boarded the train,” she said.
Her parents’ attempts to leave Germany were not successful and they were among the last Jews from Schweinfurt to be deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp on Sept. 21, 1942. Ultimately, they were sent to Auschwitz and both perished.
Roselind arrived in England with 200 children. As a sponsored child, her foster parents were predetermined. She went to live with an Orthodox Jewish family with three children of their own. There, she endured the war, including several occasions where she and her foster family evacuated during the German bombings.
After a while, she voluntarily went to live in a youth hostel that housed other Kindertransport youth. There, she met Henry. After the war, Henry moved to the United States and, with a cousin’s help, Roselind got sponsorship and immigrated in 1948. The couple were married in 1949.
On the walls of the exhibit are enlarged texts from the Baums that explain the terror they felt at getting separated from their families and their understanding of the weighty decision Jewish parents needed to make: Stay together and take their chances of surviving or sending their precious children, some as young as 7 months, away alone so they can live. “It’s mind-boggling … the idea that parents are willing to send their children away into a strange place, to strangers and give them up, and say, ‘No, it’s better for you to go and live than to be with us and die,’” Henry said. “Imagine yourselves, if you are parents and you have children, and you must make that decision right now. Today, tomorrow. Could you do that?”
Henry had strong words for today’s generation of Jews in the midst of global and national anti-Semitism on the rise.“My parents said it could never happen,” Baum said. “Saying it can never happen here are some of the most dangerous words we can say. We must take a good look at what is happening in this country, especially who is getting elected into our House of Representatives.”
Ellen Kahn’s Story
Ellen Herz Kahn of Franklin and her sister Margaret were born in Krefeld, Germany; later their family moved to Berlin. Their father, Walter, imported fine fabrics. The girls went to synagogue with their mother, Erna, on Saturdays. Both blonde, they were once stopped by a newspaper photographer who wanted to snap their picture as an example of “beautiful Aryan children.”
After Kristallnacht, Kahn’s parents decided to send their daughters on the Kindertransport.
Days before she boarded the train, Kahn said her parents threw her a goodbye party, where friends and family signed a book similar to the autograph books grammar school children would sign in America.
The book is on exhibit in a glass case. The pages have been enlarged, laminated and are accompanied by English translations of farewells from friends and family. Later, the family would be reunited in America, thanks to Detroit Jewish leader Fred Butzel, a family member.
“I was one of the fortunate ones,” Kahn said. “I went and then my sister came a week later. My father knew a family outside of London that would take us in. We had a place to go and I knew not many children did. We lived for nine months with a wonderful loving family. My mother said we would be together again. I was 11, and I believed her. Nine months later, we were together as my parents left Berlin one week before the war started. We waited in England until our visa to America was secured.”
Hans Weinmann’s Story
Retired engineer and Kindertransport child Hans Weinmann of West Bloomfield has long been a docent at the HMC. His story is documented there and by the Shoah Foundation and the Kinderstransport Association.
Weinmann was born in 1926 to a middle-class family that had been in Vienna since the 1880s. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria. He was kicked out of his school because he was Jewish.
On Kristallnacht, Weinmann witnessed his father’s arrest by two Gestapo agents. His father was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp but was released two months later with the specific requirement that he leave the country within 90 days. Weinman believes his father was released because of his army service; he was decorated and wounded during World War I.
In the exhibit is a document issued by the Austrian government expelling Jewish students from non-Jewish schools. Next to it is a bus pass issued to Weinmann by the Austrian government so he could take a cross-town bus to attend a Jewish school.
Weinmann remained in England for one year. By 1939, his parents had been able to immigrate to New York. At 14, he made the trip from London to New York alone. The voyage on a British ship through the U-boat-infested Atlantic took over a week due to the zig-zag course of the ship.
Since 1986, he has volunteered as an HMC docent. Unfortunately, he said many students are still ignorant of WWII history and the Holocaust. Some have never met a Jew.
“I was recently asked by a student where my horns were,” said Weinmann, who has also lectured about the organizations and individuals that made the Kindertransport possible.
“I explained to this student that, though I had blue eyes, I was not considered a person who should live at that time.
I tried not to get angry. As one can see, there is still much work to do in educating younger
generations about the Holocaust.”
New York Jewish Week Associate Editor Jonathan Mark wrote the first part of this story in early December 2018, shortly after the Kindertransport exhibit debuted in New York.
“Kindertransport — Rescuing Children on the Brink of War” is open Sunday through Friday and is free with museum admission ($5-$8) or membership. A docent-led tour is available at 7 p. m. Monday, Dec. 16. Space is limited. RSVP by calling (248) 553-2400, ext. 145. For hours and more, go to holocaustcenter.org.