One hundred and fifty: a number simultaneously enormous and tiny. One hundred and fifty Czech Jewish teenagers left behind everything and everyone — the lives they’d known, their parents, their siblings, their grandparents and aunts and uncles.
One hundred and fifty Czech teens, selected by the Jewish Agency’s Youth Aliyah and the Denmark branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, were taken, in October 1939, to Denmark, then scattered across the countryside in foster homes. One hundred and fifty Jewish teens were sent to work on farms; they were cared for, they were loved, but they were also, understandably, desperately afraid for those they left behind.
For a time they received mail. And then the mail changed: It became 25 word telegrams, missives sent via the Red Cross, weak assurances that everything at home was okay. What did that even mean? There was no time to think. And then the kids were on the move again.
Some, as the Nazis closed in on Denmark, were ferried by Danish fishermen — along with Danish Jews — to Swedish safety. Others were taken overland by bus and train, then boat, then train again, over weeks, and through six countries, to be resettled on youth kibbutzim in Palestine.
As word trickled out of Europe, as the news of the camps and of the genocide came to them in Sweden and Palestine, they understood what being a part of that 150 had meant. Most of them never saw their families again; the youth aliyah had become their brothers and sisters, their cousins and aunts.
We have all heard of the thousands of children sheltered by the British, some 10,000 kids brought out of Vienna and Berlin, Czechoslovakia and Poland, in the days before the doors to free Europe slammed shut. But for 75 years, few knew the story of this forgotten Czech Kindertransport to Denmark. In October, a reunion was organized by a Czech journalist named Judita Matyášová. A book by Matyášová is now in the works, as is a film by her. And finally these survivors are speaking.