The ‘Kindertransport’ story, while rich in emotion along with records and memories, has tended to concentrate on the familiar story of survival and the poignant timing of it all. But Harwich wasn’t simply a port of entry to allow trains to whisk these children down to London, to disappear from our region’s history for good. There are other stories emerging that are more locally relevant: the children who were held in the local holiday camp at Dovercourt, awaiting potential foster parents (and the camp Matron who objected to the criteria by which they were subsequently chosen); the other trains within the region that took children to alternative destinations like Lowestoft; and other stories that defy the familiar.
This is possibly the last major anniversary of the event in which some of those that took part in it are still alive. What’s more, at the end of a major four-year period of national commemoration of the First World War it is a dramatic reminder of what ‘the peace’ would lead to: how the Armistice of 1918, which we explore in our Surrender activities ( Link here to Surrender Page) would feed the monster of political extremism which forced out innocent men, women and children from their homes across Europe in the decades to come. And, this anniversary falls at a time when the humanitarian crisis spilling out of North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, means that migration is the issue of our age.
Of course, an influx of new people and new cultures can destabilise the social-fabric of communities, especially if they too find themselves socially, economically or geographically on the edge.
The Harwich Haven has been a place of entry and exit for a millennia and the phrase ‘Harwich for the Continent’ has a meaning well beyond its twentieth century origins as it was the home of the Mayflower (which transported a religious minority to a new life in the New World) and where Huguenots arrived to seek refuge from persecution in France.
This is, therefore, an ideal place in which to take the story of the ‘Kindertransport’ and engage audiences with a wider history of refugees as well.
Tired and alone, 8-year-old Josepha Salmon, the first of 5,000 Jewish refugees, arrives at Harwich from Germany, destined for Dovercourt Bay camp.
A German Jewish girl, one of several hundred who have arrived in Britain as part of the 'Kindertransport', at Dovercourt Bay camp, near Harwich in Essex, 1938.
A young refugee arrives at Dovercourt Bay Camp for Jewish children in Essex, 2nd December 1938.
A Kindertransport German ID Card, a rucksack brought with them by a refugee child, jewish boys playing football at Dovercourt camp, dinner time, a doll brought with them by a refugee child in 1938.
Two Etonian schoolboys teaching a group of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, the 'Kindertransport', to sing at Dovercourt Bay camp near Harwich.
German Jewish children at the seafront who have arrived in Britain as part of the 'Kindertransport', at Dovercourt Bay camp, near Harwich in Essex, 1938.
Some of the 5,000 Jewish and non-Aryan German child refugees, the 'Kindertransport', arriving in England at Harwich from Germany.