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The Kindertransport: What Really Happened - A fuller picture of how Jewish children were brought to Britain during the war

The British government does not emerge well from this retelling Nicholas Winton’s scheme to save the lives of hundreds of children

The Kindertransport: What Really Happened
Author: Andrea Hammel
ISBN-13: 9781509553778
Publisher: Polity
Guideline Price: £15.99

This Autumn’s Toronto Film Festival saw the preview of the movie One Life, starring Anthony Hopkins, which will be on general release in January next year. The film tells the story of Nicholas Winton who helped save the lives of hundreds of Jewish children by arranging their escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to Britain in the months leading up to the second World War. Winton remained silent about the lives he saved in the so-called Kindertransport for most of his life, haunted instead by the children he was unable to save. The film reviews have lauded One Life as a moving tribute to a humble humanitarian and a sparkle of light in one of history’s darkest chapters.

The Kindertransport: What Really Happened by Andrea Hammel aims to dig deeper and remind the world that the story does not quite sparkle as brightly as some, particularly successive British governments, have wished to portray.

Hammel explores three aspects of the Kindertransport that are generally overlooked, and which give a more comprehensive picture of what really happened.

First, aside from allowing unaccompanied children to enter the UK without a visa, the UK government did not provide any financing or play any role in the organisation and implementation of the Kindertransport. Instead it was left to volunteers and charities to raise funds, organise and implement the scheme.

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Second, parents were not allowed to accompany their children. Many of the parents who, in desperation, sent their children alone to Britain in a bid to save their lives, were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust.

Third, Hammel describes how general attitudes at the time, including the requirement to find foster homes for every child refugee, meant that generally only “100% healthy” children were selected. If reports on the applicant suggested any additional needs, such as physical disabilities, learning difficulties, chronic illnesses or mental-health problems, their application had little chance of success.

Of the estimated six million Holocaust victims, about 1½ million were children. Given this unimaginable horror, Nicholas Winton’s silence after the war was perhaps not only due to his undoubted humility. It may also have reflected his recognition of the magnitude of the evil he had played his part in confronting.

Ian Hughes is author of Disordered Minds: How Dangerous Personalities are Destroying Democracy