Commemorating the Kindertransport – From Berlin to London by bike
In June 2018 a group of 42 cyclists retraced the over 900 km route that many children fleeing Nazi Germany had taken between Berlin and London in the late 1930s. The ride, marking the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, was such a success that World Jewish Relief is organizing a second ride. Register now!
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, the rescue operation that saw the evacuation of 10 000 mainly Jewish children – ranging from infants to teenagers – from Germany and Nazi occupied territories before the outbreak of the Second World War.
To commemorate the anniversary, last June forty-two cyclists hit the road to retrace the over 900 km route that many of the children had taken between Berlin and London in the late 1930s. The event was organized by World Jewish Relief (WJR), whose predecessor organization had spearheaded the original rescue effort.
Last year’s journey started on June 17th at Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport monument outside of Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse train station – the station where many youngsters said their final goodbyes to their families and friends as they boarded the trains that took them to safety abroad.
From Berlin the group covered approximately 100 km a day, heading west through Germany and Holland until they reached the Hook of Holland. There they boarded an overnight ferry to Harwich, where the children on the first Kindertransport in December of 1938 had disembarked. From Harwich the riders cycled towards London Liverpool Street, arriving at the Kindertransport monument outside the station on Friday, June 22. At their final destination, they were greeted by family and friends, as well as a number of Holocaust survivors who had fled Nazi Germany via the very same route that the cyclists had just completed.
Many riders had personal connections to the Kindertransport and were retracing their parents or grandparent’s routes to safety. For instance, Philip Harris’ grandmother, Ilse Newton, had made the journey from Berlin to Liverpool Street Station in June 1939 when she was just 16 years old. Completing the ride to honour the memory of his late grandmother, Harris started his cycling trip from his grandmother’s former apartment in Berlin – the same flat she would have left from when said goodbye to her Berlin home for the final time and took her place aboard the Kindertransport.
“That journey was the most significant I have ever made, and ever will make, in my whole life.
It enabled me to live a normal life with my parents, after we were reunited.” Paul Alexander
A celebration of Life
Another rider was 80-year-old Paul Alexander who now lives in Israel. Alexander was one of the youngest children to board a Kindertransport and arrived in the United Kingdom from Leipzig in July 1939 when he was just a one-year-old child. Last year he completed the ride with his son, Nadav, and his fourteen-year-old grandson, Daniel. When asked what doing the ride meant to him, Paul says, “For me, this is a culmination, a vindication and a celebration of my life. 79 years ago, I was sent as a child from Germany – which was a country of persecution and hatred – to a country [the UK] where I found freedom and safety. That journey was the most significant I have ever made, and ever will make, in my whole life. It enabled me to live a normal life with my parents, after we were reunited.”
Crossing Borders and Remembering the Past
Rebecca Singer, the Head of Communications and Community Engagement at WJR, also took the challenge. For her, the ride was an important way to honour the members of her family who had perished in the Holocaust. Reflecting on the ride as a whole, she recalls one of the most memorable moments for her and the other riders: “It was when we first crossed over the border from Germany into Holland. We had a Kindertransport Survivor who had come into the office and one of the memories he had spoken about was how well behaved all the children had been going through Germany, because they were so afraid of what might happen. He recalled that, as the train crossed the border, the German guards got off and the kids hung out the window and spat back at Germany as they drove into Holland. You suddenly realized what an immense feeling of freedom there was in passing that border.”
The second place that struck a chord with the group was when they set out from the Hook of Holland on the ferry to Harwich. “It was by being there physically,” Singer says, “That you really came to understand that these children were leaving the continent and their families behind. Many of the riders, especially those with personal connections to the Kindertransport, started to think about the parents and grandparents of these children. It must have been so hard to watch them go and know that you might never see each other again.”
For participants, the 2018 ride was an exciting, emotional, and exhilarating experience that brought together the historic significance of the Kindertransport with the stories of those whose lives it changed forever. The event also raised over £190,000 for the World Jewish Relief’s humanitarian programs in Eastern Europe.
Sign-up for the 2019 Ride
Given the success of last year’s event, the World Jewish Relief is already planning the 2019 Berlin to London Kindertransport Bike Ride from June 16– 21.
This ride will commemorate the last of the Kindertransport journeys that took place in 1939. The rescue operation came to a halt when the Second World War broke out on September 1, with the last train filled with children and youths departing Berlin for the United Kingdom that same day.
For those looking to take part in this meaningful challenge and raise money for an important cause,
the deadline to sign-up is February 15, 2019.
Further details on how to get involved are available online on the World Jewish Relief’s website.