Academic journal article Shofar

Class as a Factor in the Social Adaptation of the Kindertransport Kinder

Academic journal article Shofar

Class as a Factor in the Social Adaptation of the Kindertransport Kinder

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Personal interviews with and written accounts by eight former members of the Kindertransport enable a consideration of the issue of class and religious affiliation when matching Kindertransport children and host families. The authors also investigate issues relating to the reception of the children in Britain such as public antisemitism. They conclude that social class had more bearing on the adaptation of the Kindertransport children than did religion and language.

Personal oral interviews and written accounts form the basis of this paper, which considers the actual event of the Kindertransport through the lives of eight people who traveled this long and emotional journey to freedom more than 50 years ago. It focuses on a relatively small group of people and examines their personal experiences in relation to the general broad sweep of history. What can these people's experiences tell us about the Kindertransport? What can be learned about the big picture from the smaller pictures of the personal history? To what extent did social class have a bearing on these people's experiences? The smaller picture validates one person's life and is a particular account of an historical event. It is only by the particular that we can begin to understand historical events. It is, in effect, history from the bottom up, an oral history and account of an event that took place. To these eight people the Kindertransport was not just an historical event but became the very core of their lives.

Official files, personal testimonies, letters and diaries, retrospective memoirs, and film recordings have all been valuable resources. Although some of the surviving Kinder interviewed had published their own memoirs, it was important to ask questions after reading their accounts. In examining the differing experiences of these children, we look at how they responded to the challenge of a different social and cultural milieu. This rescue brought nearly 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain and represents one of the greatest humanitarian events of the 20th century. The oral history and experiences of these eight Kinder is personal to them; they cannot speak for all the 10,000 children who came here during those nine months.

At this stage it is pertinent to say that oral reminiscences are highly subjective and emotive and because of this historians in the past have been wary of using personal histories as a way of looking at past events. However, Sitzia, citing Thomson, asserts that the unreliability of memory can be seen as a resource that "challenges dominant histories by bringing out hidden histories."(1) Laub also argues the case for testimony or oral accounts over complete historical truth.(2) Although he is particularly referring to Holocaust testimony, the same ideology applies to any testimony around traumatic events. Documented historical troths differ from personal testimonies, which offer a voice to hidden histories.

Social Class in the Jewish Community in Germany

Social class is a contested concept; categorization of people into different social classes is always problematic. This is particularly true of the Jewish communities: both the ones the Kinder came from in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia and the communities they went to in England. The Kinder interviewed came from working-class Polish Jewish families and from assimilated, academic, and cultured German Jewish families. The environments they encountered in Great Britain also varied by class and by religion. Their experiences as refugees differed considerably in terms of their acculturation and engagement with the wider community. In this paper we suggest that social class was a major contributing factor to the successful assimilation of the Kinder or to its failure.

The refugee children interviewed came from differing class backgrounds. For example, David Jedwab and Harry Bibling were children of working-class Polish immigrants who had come to Germany and Austria around the time of the First World War (Ost Juden -- Eastern European Jews). …

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