In the wake of the anti-Jewish riots on Kristallnacht, on November 21, 1938 the British government decided to allow unaccompanied Jewish children into England in an action called the Kindertransport (Children’s Transport). Desperate parents throughout Nazi Germany (including the annexed portions of Austria and Czechoslovakia, and Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland) applied to welfare organizations to take their children to safety. Between December 1938 and September 1939, about 10,000 Jewish children were sent without their parents to England.
Organized by British and Jewish relief organizations and Quaker volunteers, transports left by train from Vienna, Berlin and Prague, passed through Holland or Belgium and continued by ship to safety in Britain. The children were allowed to take only one small suitcase with clothes. Upon arrival, the children were sent to foster homes or hostels. The majority of the children would never see their parents again.
American efforts to rescue children were less successful, owing to popular anti-Semitic views in this country. About 1,000 Jewish children were rescued between 1933 and 1945. A bill to admit 20,000 Jewish refugees under the age of 14, proposed in February 1939 by New York Senator Robert Wagner and Massachusetts Representative Edith Rogers, failed to get Congressional approval. Asked for her opinion on the bill, the wife of the Immigration Commissioner, Mrs. James Delano Houghteling, a cousin of President Roosevelt, commented that the problem with the bill was “that 20,000 ugly children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.” Similarly, Britain rejected a proposal to permit Jewish children to emigrate to British-controlled Palestine.
An individual rescue operation undertaken by Nicholas Winton (born Nicholas Wertheimer in 1909), a British stockbroker, saved at least 669 more children from Czechoslovakia in 1939. For each child, Winton had to arrange a 50£ guarantee demanded by the British government to pay for the child’s eventual departure from Britain.
It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust.