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Sep 2001 Journal

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The Last Kindertransport

Sixty-one years ago, a small number of German and Austrian Jewish children were able to reach safety in Britain from German-occupied territory. They disembarked at Liverpool harbour on 15 May 1940 after crossing the Channel and moving northwards along Britain’s western coastline. An attempt to land on the south coast had failed as overzealous gunners, taking their boat - the SS Bodegraven - for an enemy vessel, had opened fire.

When puzzled British officials tried to talk to the children on arrival, they found communication difficult. The children spoke mostly in German, but one word, a name which to the officials’ ears must have sounded like Weesemuller, was mentioned again and again, and became the key to understanding their story. The name was that of Gertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, a courageous Dutch lady who had devoted her life to humanitarian causes. She was involved in Kindertransports from the beginning, travelled to Vienna in early December 1938 to meet with Eichmann and set up the first transport to the Netherlands and Britain for 600 children. Acutely aware of the implications for Jews of the German invasion of her country, she made a spur of the moment decision on 14 May 1940 to attempt, alone, to save as many children as she could. She organized transport, collected about 40 children from the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage and drove them to the nearby port of Ijmuiden, entrusting them to the captain of the Bodegraven, which departed for Britain that evening. Unfortunately she was unable to obtain more vehicles. A total of almost 2,000 children had to stay behind.

As very little is known about this last Kindertransport, it would be appreciated if Wijsmuller Kinder came forward to tell their story.
Edgar Flacker

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