In the months before the start of World War II, 10,000 mostly Jewish children were saved on a “Kindertransport” or children’s transport. Now these “children” are making their voices heard to fight for current refugees hoping to come to America.
Ilse Melamid was 11 years old when she saw her family for the last time. The young Jewish girl fled the Nazi terror in Vienna to England in 1939.
Hearing about President Trump’s controversial Muslim travel ban painfully reminded her of that time.
“It was like a fog descending,” the 89-year-old New Yorker told the Forward. “It really did bring back a memory of how I felt when I was first rejected form my school and I was walking down my home street, and I realized that I was surrounded by hostility. The feeling of being turned against without cause.”
Now Melamid is part of a letter campaign that is being organized by the Kindertransport Association (KTA), a survivor group based in North America.
The KTA prepared an open letter that is currently being signed by survivors and their descendants and will be sent to the White House and Congressional offices next week.“The Kindertransports saved only 10,000 children, a small number compared to the 1.5 million children who were murdered,” the letter reads. “Yet the children who were saved were able to go to a friendly country not through luck, contacts or subterfuge, but through the will of the British people and their elected leaders.”
“This demonstrates that, even in the worst of times, actions can be taken to save lives,” the survivors write.
Children are always the most vulnerable during times of crisis, and the ones who need help the most. A 2016 Unicef report found that almost half of all the world’s refugees are children.
The survivor groups hopes that the Kindertransport success story will show that taking in refugees is good for a country.
Among the 2,500 Kindertransport children who eventually came to America are “two Nobel Laureates, many successful business people, film and theater professionals, teachers, artists, writers, doctors, and philanthropists,” they say in the letter addressed to President Trump. “We write to urge you to give other children at risk the same opportunity.”
The letter campaign was started by Charles Pick, the son of a Kindertransport child, from California.
“We want to lend our voices as people who have experienced being refugees,” said Melissa Hacker, the president of the KTA. “We want our country to hold to their humanitarian values and not close their doors.”
It’s not the first time the KTA took action to help child refugees. In 2014, they advocated for legal and humanitarian aid to unaccompanied children from South and Central America being held in detention.
But this time, they hope to do it on a larger scale, so they enlisted the help of HIAS, a Jewish refugee aid and advocate group.
The letter campaign is just the first step the survivor group is taking to make their voices heard. In the following months, they want to organize a trip to Washington, D.C., to speak to elected officials.
“We are grateful every day for the chance we were given to survive and thrive,” the letter ends. “And [we] urge you to keep the doors open to refugees.”
The KTA hopes that not just their members, but also other survivors who were saved by the Kindertransport will sign the letter. (If you or your parents or grandparents were on a Kindertransport and you want to sign the letter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. She is a graduate journalism student at New York University, where she studies as a Fulbright scholar. She also holds a B.A. in Jewish history from the University of Munich.
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