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Jan 2000 Journal

Kinder story retold

INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, Warner Bros Pictures, Odeon Leicester Square and selected cinemas.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport is an American-made film documentary recalling the remarkable rescue in 1938 and 1939 of 10,000 children from almost certain murder by the Nazis, and the operation‘s dramatic impact on the lives of the children who were saved by being found refuge in Britain.

The narrative is related in the words of child survivors, rescuers, parents and foster parents, who tell of the dedicated people who brought the children to our shores, and of the astonishing fortitude and courage of the children themselves who left their parents behind them, in most cases never to be reunited.

Producer and moving spirit behind the film, Deborah Oppenheimer, though aware that her own mother was a Kind, knew little detail of her flight, so she undertook a vast amount of research to uncover her mother’s experiences. “My mother was of a generation in which you didn’t air your problems; you kept your suffering private,” said Oppenheimer. An outstanding creative team also included award-winning writer and director Mark Jonathan Harris, narration by celebrated actress Dame Judi Dench, and the splendid soundtrack music composed by Lee Holdridge, and many other skilled filmmakers.

Featuring among the key witnesses is Bertha Leverton, who had conceived and organised reunions of the Kinder in 1989 and 1999 and is co-author of a collection of Kinder stories entitled I Came Alone. Bertha was the eldest of three children of a Polish-German family from Munich. After arriving in England, and celebrating her sixteenth birthday at Dovercourt Camp, a family in Coventry took her in to be their maid. She related how, against the odds, she arranged for the family to take in her brother and younger sister as well.

A distinctive feature is the inclusion of rare archive film, researched by an authority on the sources of Holocaust related material, Corrine Colett, much of which had never previously been shown in public. Only the backing from a major film studio like Warner could provide the time and effort this necessitated.

Kindertransportee Zigi Faith, who left his home in Hamburg aged 10, found Into the Arms of Strangers to be poignant and moving, but that it glossed over the depth of animosity shown towards Jewish families by the Germans, “ninety percent of whom were Nazis, and whose normal greeting was Heil Hitler”, he recalled. Hermann Hirschberger, who unequivocally thanked England for having saved his life, praised the film for being “comprehensive and well done,” and for recounting both the good and the bad experiences of the Kinder in their new-found homeland.                                                 
Ronald Channing