Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis has told Kindertransport refugees that they are a source of “inspiration” at a time of rising antisemitism, as they gathered to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the rescue operation.
A ceremony was held to mark the occasion last Sunday afternoon at Liverpool Street Station in London, where many of the child refugees arrived in the UK before the start of the Second World War.
The humanitarian rescue effort, which ran between November 1938 and September 1939, gave 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, safe passage to the UK from Nazi-controlled territory in Europe.
The Chief Rabbi said the kinder (children) refugees were a “source of enormous hope and positivity, guidance and inspiration” while “war is raging in Israel”.
During the ceremony next to the Kindertransport memorial sculpture in Liverpool Street’s forecourt, he told the refugees: “From you we learn that there is light at the end of the tunnel of Jewish suffering and we can look forward beyond this war to an era of peace and harmony for all.”
The Chief Rabbi added: “At this very moment, when war is raging in Israel, and when there is a rise of antisemitism around the world, you are a source of enormous hope and positivity, guidance and inspiration for us – because from you we learn that good will triumph over evil.”
Father Francis Wahle, a Catholic priest of Jewish descent who arrived at Liverpool Street in January 1939 from Vienna, said his family “would not have survived” without Kindertransport.
Father Wahle, 94, now a retired priest of the Diocese of Westminster, told the PA news agency: “It’s important to treat the foreigner with love and welcome rather than as a nuisance and a threat.
“The idea that ‘migrants are coming here in hordes’ and things like that – that same atmosphere existed when we came here as well.”
He added that some people were opposed to the £50 cost of sponsoring each child refugee, which Father Wahle said “in those days was a horrendous sum of money”.
Father Wahle said: “There were people who thought they shouldn’t be invited at all.
“A lot of the well-to-do people here were very much against it, and even some of the Jewish community because they feared the influence it would have on them if these indigent poor people – because we had no support at all – were allowed in.”
Approximately 10,000 children were sent from their homes and families in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig to the UK during the Kindertransport rescue operation.
The ceremony was hosted by charities World Jewish Relief and the Association of Jewish Refugees.
Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said: “Today, we remember the bravery and heroism of the parents who sent their children to safety while their own futures remained uncertain and pay tribute to those children who made unimaginable journeys against the backdrop of oppression, displacement and war.
“Long may the kinder have the energy and opportunity to share their important eyewitness accounts which bear witness to where antisemitism can lead.”
Paul Anticoni, chief executive of World Jewish Relief, said: “During one of the darkest chapters of human history, the Kindertransport serves as an important reminder of the bravery and resilience of individuals whose lives were shattered by Nazi persecution.
“It was a truly moving ceremony, and an opportunity for so many, including Kind and their families, to pay tribute to all those who were saved, as well as those who were left behind.”