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Kindertransport ‘Britons’ help today’s child refugees in Calais

Their parents and grandparents were rescued from Nazi Germany, now they are raising money to rescue unaccompanied minors in ‘the Jungle’


British beneficiaries of the Kinder-transport programme, the organised effort to rescue thousands of children from Nazi Germany, have begun raising funds to help the scores of unaccompanied refugee children stranded in Calais.

Almost 80 years after Britain sanctioned a mission to help children escape the antisemitic aftermath of Kristallnacht, Britain’s Jewish community is raising funding to evacuate at least 120 child refugees identified as having the legal right to be reunited with their families in the UK but who remain trapped in northern France.

Campaigners said their predecessors had relied on Britain’s generosity to flee the Nazis and that a sense of gratitude had motivated them to help vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees, many of whom are fleeing persecution.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, whose parents fled Nazi-occupied Europe and who has been instrumental in galvanising support for modern child refugees, said: “Both my parents were refugees at the age of 16: both fled Germany. My mother is very conscious that were it not for the generosity of others, and a standing guarantor to enable her to enter Britain, she would be dead. I would not have been born.”


His 93-year-old mother, Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg, who arrived in the UK months before the outbreak of the second world war, said: “I owe my survival to the generosity of those who gave the financial guarantees for me and my family to escape to Britain. I feel deeply concerned about refugees now, especially the children and young people.”

Within the Jungle camp in Calais, round 220 unaccompanied children have been identified as having the legal right to be reunited with families in the UK. Yet despite the UK government’s obligations under the EU Dublin Regulations, the Home Office has only rescued around 50, leaving 170 in limbo amid growing frustration over the government’s commitment to the issue.

Human rights groups warn that the children are prey to traffickers, particularly as the camp is scheduled to be demolished this autumn, a move that will probably force many to simply go missing. Britain’s Jewish community now hopes to raise enough to rescue all the unaccompanied children there who have a right to enter the UK.

The campaign, launched last Sunday on Facebook, has raised more than £50,000, with £15,000 more pledged. The overall cost per child of the legal process, transport and support requirements for reuniting each refugee with their family in the UK is £2,000.
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The campaigners are confident they can raise the required amount through Safe Passage UK, the charity organising the entry of unaccompanied child refugees to the UK. One of the campaign organisers, Jude Oppenheimer from Finchley, north London, said the reponse from the Jewish community had been instant and unequivocal, with an initial proposal to raise money sent to her extended family raising £2,000 in “five minutes”.

Oppenheimer said: “My great uncle and aunt were refugees in 1934 from Germany and my father came over to Britain after the Holocaust.

“So many have built a great life, amazing families and careers but for our parents and grandparents who came over as refugees it was Britain that gave them that opportunity and that made all the difference. It really does resonate.”

Charlotte Fischer, senior organiser for Citizens UK, the charity which is sponsoring the Safe Passage UK initiative, said: “In the 1930s, 10,000 Jewish children crossed Europe and gained safety in the UK because families here raised the money to sponsor them. As Europe faces another child refugee crisis, it’s amazing to see the British Jewish community so passionate about sponsoring today’s generation of children in need of protection and sanctuary.”


[Ed] How very helpful these people are…an example of ‘malign generosity’

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