Academic journal article Shofar

"Invisible" Children; the Selection and Integration Strategies of Relief Organizations

Academic journal article Shofar

"Invisible" Children; the Selection and Integration Strategies of Relief Organizations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Through evaluating files maintained by Jewish emigration agencies and British relief organizations that coordinated the Kindertransports and accommodations for children in exile in Great Britain, the author demonstrates that, in striving to accomplish the rescue of as many children as possible and provision of the best possible care for them after their arrival, certain strategic considerations were not abandoned. The Jewish emigration agencies -- here the welfare office of the Viennese Jewish Community -- wanted to be sure not to endanger an extended refugee program for children by placing children with adjustment problems on the Kindertransports. Therefore children were chosen according to their expected ability to integrate into a new environment.

The Refugee Children's Movement, too, aimed to integrate the children as discreetly as possible into British society. One hoped thereby to prevent an increase in antisemitic and anti-German resentments against refugees.

In autobiographical accounts by former Kindertransport refugees, one encounters time and again their wonderment as to why they, of all children, managed to flee. Very few know all the connecting links behind their own story: they tell of relatives or friends in England who provided a guarantee, they speak of people to whose protection they owe their lives. By far the greater part of former child refugees consider their rescue to have been a matter of providence.

It will be shown here that -- beyond the chance occurrences that played a role in every emigration -- there are clear explanations as to why a particular child could flee to England and another not; the availability of a British guarantee was not the only requirement. The Kindertransports were arranged according to a basic pattern that conclusively matched the picture of Jewish emigration from Germany with that of the British refugee politics.(1) With all the requirements that the children had to fulfill for emigration, a special character of childhood exile emerges: Children could not prove their suitability as immigrants through funds or job qualifications; they had to meet other criteria. An examination of the entire emigration from Germany reveals that every country that accepted refugees kept its own interests foremost in mind, and this naturally had an impact on the the Jewish emigration agencies in Germany and annexed Austria and on the relief organizations in the receiving countries.(2)

While memoirs are intrinsically valuable, ultimately documentary records are more revealing when it comes to explaining how children were chosen for the Kindertransport and what plans of action the refugee organizations followed. The decisions -- which few knew meant the difference between life and death -- took place behind closed doors, as is usually the case in bureaucratic matters.

Files are extant for organizations that were in charge of the children in Germany and Austria, as well as for the Refugee Children's Movement (RCM) on the English side. Occasionally there are also reports from individuals who took part in organizing the Kindertransports, which also provide answers to the questions at hand.

However, due to the state of the sources -- only for Vienna do extensive and detailed, if somewhat incomplete, documents(3) still exist regarding the emigration of children to England -- it is necessary here to limit the discussion to the case of the Viennese Jewish Community (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, or IKG). At least a quarter of the children rescued through the Kindertransport to England were sent off by the IKG. The criteria on which the "Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland" (Central Representation of the Jews in Germany) -- which organized the Kindertransport together with the welfare departments of the Jewish communities in the "Altreich," -- based its decisions remains an open question, just as does the question of whether various relief organizations assisting "non-Aryan" Christians(4) -- Christian or non-affiliated children of Jewish descent -- to leave for England, set priorities in the choice of children that differed from those of Jewish relief organizations. …

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