For Jewish News December 2018
In a unique agreement, the last survivors of the Kindertransport — the 10,000 children who came to Britain in 1938 from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia — are to receive one-off compensation payments, as a result of prolonged negotiations between the Claims Conference and the German government.
Greg Schneider, executive vice-president of the Claims Conference, said that an estimated 1,000 Kinder were thought still to be alive. “They would be between 80 and 100 years old today,” he said. Half the Kinder are believed still to be living in the UK, with the rest spread throughout the US, Israel, Canada and Australia.
Mr Schneider said that each Kind would receive €2,500, (£2245.98) out of a total fund of €2.5 million. But, he added: “There is no cap on the fund, so if there turn out to be more than 1,000 people eligible, everyone will still receive €2,500”.
The Claims Conference has spent years negotiating with the German government for payments for the Kinder, some of whom, it is acknowledged, did receive some payment in the 1950s. Additionally, the Kinder were included in a variety of other payments such as pensions and help with home care and welfare. They remain eligible for these new payments.
But Mr Schneider said that the Kinder, currently marking the 80th anniversary of their historic journey to Britain, had never received anything to compensate for “lost childhood and the psychological trauma they endured, and we hope that people will take it as a validation of that suffering”.
He said that throughout the negotiations he had been thinking about the parents of the children. “Imagine, having to put your child on a train, and in some cases pick one sibling rather than another, put on a brave face and wave goodbye, knowing that you would almost certainly never see your son or daughter again. It is simply heartbreaking.”
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, the Claims Conference special negotiator, said: “This payment comes at a time when we are commemorating 80 years since these children took their fateful journey from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. After having to endure a life forever severed from their parents and families, no-one can ever profess to make them whole; [but] they are receiving a small measure of justice”.
The Kindertransport Fund will open on January 1 2019 and begin processing eligible applications.
In 1939, three brothers — Jacques, aged 11, Oswald, aged 10, and little Erich, just four years old — were waved off a Vienna station platform by their parents, Schapse and Mina Reich. Jacques went first, followed on a second train by Oswald and Erich.
The boys did not know it, but they were never to see their parents again. And Erich — now Sir Erich — made a new life in Britain, but says he has no memories at all of his parents, what they looked like, or life at home in Vienna.
What he does know is that for the 10,000 children and young people who came to Britain on the Kindertransport, life would never be the same again. And the news this week that the German government had agreed a payment to the surviving Kinder “came like a bolt out of the blue” to Sir Erich, who chairs the Kindertransport committee at the Association of Jewish Refugees.
“It’s not a life-changing sum of money,” he told the Jewish News, “but it is very important because it is a recognition of what the Kinder went through. They left their warm homes, their loving parents, to live in a country where the language and culture were different and alien”.
The young Erich was too young to attend school with his brothers and so was sent to foster parents in Dorking, ending up with a couple who were themselves refugees from Sudetenland, Emily and Joseph Kreibicz. “For six or seven years I lived with them, I went to church — until I was found by my elder brother, Jacques, and then I became Jewish again, overnight”.
Asked if he planned to do something specific with the money, Sir Erich said he would like to buy an antique from before the war, to serve as a memory to his parents. Sadly, he said: “The money is welcome, but it is too late for some of the Kinder”.