Documenting The Other Kindertransport

Judith Matyášová Races To Preserve Survivors' Stories

Documenting Their Stories: Dan Yaalon left Czechoslovakia in 1939. He went to Denmark where he stayed until 1941 when he left for Palestine. Now he lives with his family in Israel. He is pictured here with Judith Matyášová.
Courtesy Judith Matyášová
Documenting Their Stories: Dan Yaalon left Czechoslovakia in 1939. He went to Denmark where he stayed until 1941 when he left for Palestine. Now he lives with his family in Israel. He is pictured here with Judith Matyášová.

By Sarah Wildman

Published December 19, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In 2009, a group of school children in the Czech town of Velký Beranov was doing research for a project called “Neighbors Who Disappeared” — an effort to get kids to understand all those who are missing from their towns, their cities, their world. Together the kids discovered the strange, melancholy story of Helena Böhmová: She had sat for a portrait, in a photography studio, in 1942. Böhmová never returned to pick up her picture, but the photographer had saved it for her and wondered about her fate. The children told the story to the national Czech newspaper, Lidové Noviny; the photo ran with the story, which assumed that all who had known Böhmová had been deported and murdered. But actually, one cousin had survived.

Helena Böhmová “was my cousin,” Susana Federer wrote to Judith Matyášová, the author of that story. In her letter, Lederer explained that she had been chosen from among three sisters to go on a children’s transport to Denmark. She was the only member of her family to survive. It had been, she said, a Sophie’s choice for her mother. Subsequently, she lost touch with her friends from the transport. Could anyone help her track them down?

Matyášová, 32, quickly became obsessed with the story of these forgotten kids. She is desperate to capture the stories of the “children” of the Czech Kindertransport before those stories are lost. She has spent the past few months traveling, starting from Prague and heading to Israel, to Denmark, to Sweden, interviewing not only as many of the children themselves that she can find, but also those that sheltered them. She has given interviews to Danish and Swedish papers, and tracked down the families that took in the Jewish teenagers.

Matyášová’s goal is to make this project a book, a film and a series of articles. But she is also strapped for cash and can’t quite figure out why no one sees how dire the need is, how there is no time to waste writing grant proposals when eyewitnesses are 89 and 90 and a few months may mean the difference between a first-person account and death.

“One hundred and fifty people spent three years together,” Matyášová explained on a recent brisk October morning in Prague. “And then in 1943 they escaped to Sweden, and after the escape they did not see each other again. You couldn’t have such a big group; you had to hide them. So from 1943 they escaped to Sweden every person by boat and they lost contacts for more than 70 years, and I started to search them all around the world and I found some 30 of them.

In October, she arranged a reunion for the 30 — who flew in from South Africa, from Canada, from Prague. “Our team of the nonprofit organization Czechs Abroad has been searching for these survivors all around the world, since January 2011,” Matyášová explained. “All research work, all travels, documentation, all filming has been paid out of our own pocket. There [has been] no time for grants, no long-term finding of sponsors. Time is running out, and now is the last chance to save this unique story. If we wait, the story will die. We have only weeks, perhaps months, to find the ‘children.’”

“Interesting story. Good luck,” she said, imitating what sponsors have said to her. “We really appreciate the moral support, but unfortunately it is not enough. Without financing we cannot continue, and we cannot preserve this story.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.