Academic journal article Shofar

"It Is Usually She"; the Role of British Women in the Rescue and Care of the Kindertransport Kinder

Academic journal article Shofar

"It Is Usually She"; the Role of British Women in the Rescue and Care of the Kindertransport Kinder

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper examines the invaluable contributions of women volunteers to the success of the emigration and resettling of the Kindertransport children. The author portrays the work of the politician Eleanor Rathbone, the Quaker interventionist Bertha Bracey, the Headmistress of Bunce Court School Anna Essinger, three chairwomen of the regional and local committees of the Refugee Children's Movement (RCM), namely Greta Burkill, Professor Edith Morley, and Ruth Simmons, the RCM Treasurer Elaine Blond, Lola Hahn Warburg, a refugee herself, who intervened in the case of difficulties between Kindertransport children and foster parents, and Dorothy Hardisty, the general secretary of the RCM.

As with all large-scale social enterprises necessitating political and financial backing, the emergency immigration to Britain of nearly 10,000 child refugees from Germany and Austria, most of them Jewish, from December 1938 to August 1939, would have been impossible in the first instance without the backing of influential English men. The wealthy stockbroker Otto Schiff, Professor Norman Bentwich, the publisher Dennis Cohen, Sir Wyndham Deedes of the National Council of Social Service, Viscount Samuel, the banker Lionel de Rothschild, Members of Parliament Philip Noel-Baker and Major Victor Cazalet, the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, the former Prime Minister Lord Baldwin, and Sir Charles Stead, first executive director of the Refugee Children's Movement (hereafter RCM), all helped "bring to the organization the stamp of institutional legitimacy at the outset."(1) However, it was in the very nature of this particular project, focusing on the care of children and teenagers, that it would be women who would have to carry the essential responsibility in ensuring day-to-day success over ten years, or in certain cases bear the responsibility for failure. The organizing secretaries of at least eight out of the twelve Regional Committees of the RCM were women; in London all those in charge of the eight departments of Quaker refugee relief were women:(2) and in most of the thousands of private foster homes the de facto "head of the household" in wartime was a woman. And Mrs. Norman Bentwich and Mrs. Dennis Cohen also deserve acknowledgement for their part in initiating the whole undertaking together with the grande dame, Eva, Marchioness of Reading, née Mond.(3) This essay, therefore, instead of surveying the organizational history of the Kindertransport operation,(4) will highlight the essential work of some representative individual women behind the scenes. Most, of course, still remain nameless, while others were prominent in their time but have been largely forgotten since.

The Politician

Eleanor Rathbone, Independent M.P. for the Combined Universities, played an indirect but nevertheless vital role as the tireless champion of all persecuted refugees and would-be refugees, between 1933 and 1945. Time and again she stood up in Parliament to tackle the British government about its obstructiveness, its financial meanness and lethal delays, always pleading for a much more generous asylum policy. Beginning with the German victims of Nazi political and racist tyranny in 1933, she went on to champion the Basque child-refugees from Franco, the Communist and Socialist Sudetendeutsch and Czechs and then again more and more German and Austrian Jews. After Kristallnacht she co-founded the Parliamentary Committee for Refugees and backed the German Jewish Aid Fund. She lectured at universities on British refugee policy and published her "Personal View of the Refugee Problem" in The New Statesman and Nation on April 15 1939:

...never have I dwelt in such a Heartbreak House as the Refugee problem. It is just as though one stood hour after hour, day after day, with a small group of people outside bars behind which hordes of men, women and children were enduring every kind of deliberately inflicted physical and mental torture. …

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