Between November 1938 and the outbreak of the war, nearly 10 000 mostly German Jewish children were sent by their families to Britain, unaccompanied. Children of all ages, from infants to early teenagers, travelled on the Kindertransport trains across Germany and Holland, then ferries across the English Channel to Britain. Sending children to safety in this way was their parents’ last resort to ensure their survival. Only a few of the children spoke English, most had no family or friends in Britain and almost none ever saw their parents again.

Children left behind in a Jewish ghetto orphanage

The first Kindertransport ferries arrived in Britain in early December 1938 each carrying about 200 children. Thereafter, about two transports per week landed until June and July 1939, when they landed daily. The organisation which found accommodation for the children in Britain was called the “Movement for the Care of Children from Gemany” (later shortened to the “Refugee Children’s Movement”.) The Movement generally billeted or fostered the children with local families or settled them at orphanages or other institutions around the country.

Of the children who stayed in Europe after 1939, over a million were murdered immediately by the Nazis or deported to camps and killed or died there. There were some special childrens’ camps, but usually children were killed immediately because they had no capacity to work. In some camps, such as Auschwitz, children were the subjects of horrific medical experiments, after which they usually died or were killed. Twin and dwarf Jewish and Gypsy children were special targets for such abuse. In total, 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust.