Atypical London: Speakers Corner and Kindertransport Memorial


It is impossible to go past the bronze sculptural group at the main entrance to the Liverpool Street railway station. Who are these kids with their suitcases?

This is a monument in honor of Kindertransport, a unique operation to save Jewish children. Nine months before the start of World War II, Great Britain adopted almost ten thousand Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the free city of Danzig.

On November 15, 1938, 5 days after Kristallnacht, British Jewish leaders addressed Prime Minister Chamberlain. They asked Jewish children to enter the UK - without parents and accompanying children - only. Permission to enter on temporary visas was given - in exchange for the promise of the "Movement for the Care of Children from Germany": not the British taxpayers will pay, but the "Movement".

However, help from the British was needed: temporary foster families were needed, not necessarily Jewish. After applying to the BBC, hundreds of applications arrived every day. At the same time, in Germany, around the clock, they compiled lists of children who were most at risk (for example, parents were already in a concentration camp or awaiting arrest). The dispatch was organized by the German businessman Wilfried B. Israel.

In Czechoslovakia, Nicholas Winton, a British stockbroker who single-handedly created a rescue organization, worked for wear and tear. He transported 669 children from Prague to England (his mother placed them in families, orphanages and hostels). The wife of the Dutch banker Gertrude Wismüller-Meyer and the rabbi Solomon Schonfeld acted in Vienna (he alone transported 300 children to England).

The last group of refugees was to leave Prague on September 3, 1939. On this day, Great Britain entered the war. The train, in which there were 250 children, simply disappeared, and no one else heard of its passengers.

However, thousands of lives were still saved. In London, in a difficult way (first to Holland, then by sea, then by train), the children arrived precisely here - at Liverpool Street Station. That is why the monument stands here.

Similar monuments - the same group of children - stand in Berlin, Holland, Gdansk and Vienna, all the way through Kindertrasnport. Frank Meisler, who sculpted them, is one of the saved. The ten-year-old sculptor also stood here on Liverpool Street. His parents died in Auschwitz. And Frank survived, became a famous sculptor and created these monuments.

Five children with suitcases (all that the Nazis allowed to take with them) are still in a strange city. They look around. They don’t know the language, they don’t know where and to whom they will get. All relatives remained far away and, most likely, will die. And millions of other children will die. But these are already saved.

Speakers Corner Location

It is located on the northeast corner of the park and is the English symbol of freedom of oratory. This is a platform for public and free expression on any topic. The history of this place is rather creepy. Initially, the gallows stood at this place. People came to see the execution and listen to the last speech of the executed. Then, in 1872, protesters began to gather here. A few years before, in 1855, a decree was issued and a ban on trade on Sunday was introduced. For the English workers this was the only day off. Riots and protests began. The public began to assert its right to "freedom of speech." Since then, holding mass meetings in the Speakers Corner has become a good tradition.

Such famous people spoke at this place: politicians Martin Luther King and Karl Marx, writer George Orwell. But Vladimir Lenin loved to stand in the crowd and listen to the speakers.

And now the place is very popular. At the same time, an atheist and a believer, a Christian and a Muslim, advocates of traditional family values ​​and lonely loners can speak there.

Discussions are almost always civilized. But the police are also on duty here. Indeed, despite the freedom of speech, there are a number of topics that are prohibited: obscenity, insulting the queen, incitement to disorder.

Monument to children

Another unusual attraction in London can be called a monument, which is located at the main entrance to the Liverpool Street railway station. He depicts a group of children with suitcases who are perplexedly looking around, because they do not know what awaits them further in this unfamiliar country .. These are Jewish children and they were rescued during Operation Kindertransport.

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For nine months, before the outbreak of World War II, Great Britain took over 10 thousand. children from Eastern Europe. Information on new and new arrived children was constantly broadcast on national radio. Hundreds of calls were received from caring British people wishing to shelter one or more small Jewish refugees. Those who could not be attached to families were sent to orphanages. Children were transported in a difficult way: first to the Netherlands, then by sea, and then by train. The last train with the children was supposed to arrive at the station in September 1939. But he never came ...

Frank Meisler is a sculptor who created a series of such monuments. Others are located in Gdansk, Vienna, Berlin and the cities of Holland. All the way through Kindertransport. He himself was one of these children. A native of Poland, whose parents died in the Auschwitz death camp. Frank grew up and became a world famous sculptor. The Kindertransport Memorial to Children is a visiting card of the master.

Organization and Management

On November 15, 1938, 5 days after the events of Kristallnacht, Broken Window Nights in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British Jewish leaders personally addressed British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Among other things, they asked the British government for permission to temporarily import Jewish children into the country without parents and other accompanying persons.

The next day, the British cabinet discussed this issue, and subsequently prepared a bill for submission to the country's Parliament. The bill stated that the government would waive some immigration requirements in order to allow unaccompanied children from infancy and up to 17 years of age into the UK.

No restrictions on the number of refugees have ever been publicly reported. It was originally planned to bring 5,000 children into the country, but when the Ministry of Colonial Affairs rejected a request to allow the import of 10,000 refugees into the British-controlled territory of Palestine, the plans were forced to be reviewed and the number of young refugees planned to move to Britain increased to 15 thousand.

On the eve of the refugee debate in the House of Commons of Great Britain on November 21, 1938, Home Secretary Sir Samuel Chorus met with a large delegation representing various Jewish and non-Jewish communities acting on behalf of the refugees. Communities have joined together in an interfaith organization called the German Child Care Movement. The Minister of the Interior agreed to the introduction of an accelerated immigration process: travel documents were to be issued on the basis of lists of groups, rather than individual applications. The organization, in turn, promised to find homes for all children without exception. They also stated their readiness to fully finance Kindertransport and promised that not one of the refugees would become a financial burden for British society. Each imported child had a cash guarantee of £ 50 for the possibility of re-emigration: the children had to be in the country only temporarily.

Organization and management edit |Seven bronze children meet passengers daily at the Berlin-Friedrichstrasse station. On the one hand - as if lighter, with their heads held high, a boy and a girl walk with a suitcase and toys in their hands. On the other hand, five more lost, wilted children wander aimlessly, throwing useless luggage. It seems that these five have darkened with grief, they, like little old men, are slightly hunched over, and their gaze is directed downward: to look into the distance makes no sense - it does not exist, as there is no future.

This is a sculptural composition of the Israeli Frank Meisler, called "Trains of Life - Trains of Death" (German: Züge ins Leben - Züge in den Tod) and is dedicated to the Kindertransport rescue operation.

Kindertransport means separated families, broken destinies, mutilated memory and crippled souls. But most importantly, Kindertransport is more than 12 thousand saved lives of those who were destined for fate to suffocate in the furnaces of Auschwitz and other death camps.

Five days after the Jewish pogroms that swept through several European countries on the night of November 9 to 10, 1938 and went down in history under the name “Crystal Night”, a delegation of British Jewish leaders personally approached British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with a request for permission to temporarily import to the country of Jewish children without parents and other accompanying persons.

By that time, citizens of Jewish origin fell under the Nuremberg racial laws and were restricted in their rights. Many already understood - this is only the beginning, then it will be worse. And then the Jews decided that they should try to save at least the children ...

The British authorities granted the request, and the local press called on citizens to temporarily take Jewish children into care.

Operation Kindertransport. Arrival of Polish children of Jewish descent in London, February 1939. Photo: Bundesarchiv

In the early days alone, more than 500 families responded. Thus, Jewish children from Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the free city of Danzig found their salvation in the United Kingdom. Most of the children survived the war, but only very few were reunited with their parents, as often these children were the only survivors of their families destroyed by the Holocaust.

Every week for nine months, trains with three and a half hundred children left the station from Friedrichstrasse west, many of which after the war were left orphans and never returned to Germany. From here, in particular, the first train of Kindertransport left on November 30, 1938. The last one also left here - in August 1939. By that time, there were simply no free cars left in the country, the Wehrmacht was preparing for a big war.

To be more precise, the trains departed from the Schlescher Bahnhof station (now called Ostbahnhof), and on the Friedrichstrasse additional cars with children clung to them. Children were forbidden to leave the wagons along the route. The road to the port of Cuxhaven (Rotterdam) took a day and a half.

The Trains of Life - Trains of Death memorial (Züge ins Leben - Züge in den Tod) at the Berlin-Friedrichstraße station. Photo: Nikolay Myasnikov | Live Berlin

The initiator of the creation of the monument to the rescue operation, opened on August 2, 2008, was the Berlin organization Kindertransport 1938-1939. For many years, it has been led by a resident of the German capital Lisa Bechner (Lisa Bechner).

long ago, while studying in London, a young Berliner, in which, by the way, there is not a drop of Jewish blood, learned about Kindertransport from her teacher - in the spring of 1939 she was taken out of Germany to England as a child and grew up in a British family. Frau Bechner was amazed at her stories, but was even more surprised that she had never heard from anyone about Operation Kindertransport.

Lisa Bechner was so captivated by the topic that for many years she has been studying the history of this Jewish tragedy and is engaged in social activities related to perpetuating the memory of the rescue operation.

“We cooperate with eyewitnesses, arrange meetings in schools, I give lectures in various institutions, introduce people to the history of Kindertransport and its participants,” says Lisa Bechner.

As a rule, she says, these are very sad and incredibly touching stories. The youngest children sent to England were three months old, and the oldest were seventeen. Parents could send only one child from the family. The border guards searched the suitcases very intensively. Children had the right to take with them only ten Reichsmarks and some toys. Often border guards took away things from children, for example, albums with postage stamps and money ...

“In the future we want to organize night illumination of the monument,” says Frau Bechner. “And we are also considering a movie script on this subject - people should know and remember how it was.”

At the opening of the monument at the Friedrichstrasse station in November 2008 - 70 years after the departure of the first train - there were about a hundred surviving children and their descendants who survived until that day. By the way, another monument to the rescue operation, also authored by Frank Meisler, a native of Germany and a child of Kindertransport, stands in London at Liverpool Street Station - trains with rescued Jewish children came there.

Kindertransport sculpture at Liverpool Street train station in London. Photo: Wikipedia