black and white -- long line of children disembarking a ship
Children of Polish Jews on their arrival in London, Febr. 1939 (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Children of Nazi travel ban stand up for children of Trump travel ban

In one corner of the Jewish community, reaction to the Trump ban on immigration has traveled quickly. Almost as soon as the ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations entering the U.S. went into effect, an organization made up of mostly Jews who were rescued from the Holocaust via transport to Great Britain, and their descendants, circulated to its members a letter of protest addressed to President Trump. “We write to urge you to keep the doors open to refugees,” said the letter which was emailed by Melissa Hacker, president of the Kindertransport Association.

The letter, which reminded that “America has been defined by our generosity towards those who seek safe haven from oppression,” and asked the recipients to endorse it, connected with me as well, as my own grandparents, in a different era of troubles, had come here from Eastern Europe to escape anti-Semitism. The door, long held open, was closing, and I wondered how the community of child Holocaust refugees and their descendants would respond.

“We are getting a good response, out of around 600 members, 200 have already signed,” said Hacker, who I spoke with a few days after the letter was sent.

For Hacker, a second generation “kind” (singular of “kinder”), whose mother was rescued from Austria, the travel ban presented an opportunity to underscore how vital it is, especially for children, to keep the doors open. In the years before WWII, “Britain was one of the few counties that had taken action,” she said. As we spoke, I began to understand the experiences behind the letter and its tone of urgency, especially when she pointed out that one of the missions of the Kindertransport Association “is to help refugee children.”

“We are also extremely concerned about children fleeing violence in Syria and other countries in the Middle East. The suffering they have endured is staggering,” said the letter, which began as an initiative presented by Charles Pick of Northern California, also a second-generation kind.

Connecting to the plight of these children, the letter points out that “in the months just before the start of World War II, nearly 10,000 children were sent from Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. These children’s lives — our lives, and our parents’ and grandparents’ lives — were saved by the Kindertransport movement.”

Though the plight of Muslim children from Syria, usually perceived as an enemy of Israel, may be met by some with a shrug of indifference, rescued kinder and their descendants understand from their experience that action is necessary. “If the [British] government had not taken action, they would have been murdered, like many of their parents and siblings,” said Hacker, who made a documentary film completed in 1996, “My Knees Were Jumping; Remembering the Kindertransports.” 

If you, like me, were wondering what difference, if any, the Trump ban on immigration could have on those seeking to escape the upheaval or war, Hacker recalled the impact of needlessly low US immigration quotas for European Jews in the years leading up to WWII. “If the U.S. had opened their doors to Jewish refugees, many more would have been saved,” she said.

Urging the President to give today’s children at risk the same opportunity they had, the letter argues that kinder who settled in the U.S. include “two Nobel Laureates, many successful business people, film and theater professionals, teachers, artists, writers, doctors, and philanthropists.”

Hacker was also quick to point out that acceptance of the letter by KTA’s multi-generational membership has not been unanimous. Two members have made their objections known, saying that the initiative was “overreaching,” said Hacker, who felt that having a discussion with a member who was “diametrically opposed,” did lead, however, to a better understanding of each of their positions.

What will happen to the letter once all the kinder have had a chance to respond? (Kinder can also check in at kindertransport1@gmail.com) It will be sent to the President and other government officials, said Hacker. Through initiatives like this “we can be a strong moral voice,” she said.

Edmon Rodman
Edmon J. Rodman

Edmon J. Rodman writes about Jewish life from his home in Los Angeles and is the author of the weekly Guide for the Jewplexed on virtualjerusalem.com. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.