Former Child Refugees, Rescued From Nazis In Kindertransport, Urge U.K. To Take Syrian Kids : Parallels The "Kindertransport" program of the late 1930s rescued hundreds of European children from the Nazis. Some former refugees, now in their 90s, want the U.K. to accept 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian kids.
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Former Child Refugees, Rescued From Nazis, Urge U.K. To Take Syrian Kids

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Former Child Refugees, Rescued From Nazis, Urge U.K. To Take Syrian Kids

Former Child Refugees, Rescued From Nazis, Urge U.K. To Take Syrian Kids

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In 1938, as Nazi persecution of Jews intensified, Britain's government passed emergency legislation to admit Jewish child refugees to the U.K. It was an effort known as Kindertransport. Some of those evacuees, now elderly, are lobbying the U.K. to do the same for young Syrian refugees in Europe. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.

(CROSSTALK)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: In a suburban London rowhouse, Karen Goodman leads me over to a tiny 94-year-old woman wrapped in blankets in the corner.

KAREN GOODMAN: And this is my mother, Margit Goodman.

FRAYER: When she was 17, Margit Goodman escaped to Britain from her native Prague just before the Germans invaded.

K. GOODMAN: Mom, can you remember the month you arrived?

MARGIT GOODMAN: I remember the date.

K. GOODMAN: The date - go on.

M. GOODMAN: The 5th of June, 1939. When I left, it was still a free country. It soon became occupied by the Germans.

K. GOODMAN: She left her mother and her father behind and her brother. They were put on trains to a concentration camp, and they were gassed there. So she was here alone. Nobody survived.

FRAYER: Margit Goodman was 1 of nearly 10,000 mostly Jewish children brought to the U.K. by the British government and Jewish aid groups through what became known as Kindertransport. Karen Goodman recently briefed members of Parliament on how the U.K. could rescue Syrian refugee children like the effort that saved her mother.

M. GOODMAN: I wouldn't be here now - saved our lives, didn't they?

FRAYER: Prime Minister David Cameron doesn't want to grant asylum to any Syrian refugees who've already traveled to Europe on their own as he explained in a rowdy session of Parliament last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID CAMERON: We shouldn't be encouraging people to make this dangerous journey. I think it's right to stick to the idea. We keep investing in the refugee camps and in the neighboring countries.

FRAYER: Cameron's ruling conservatives voted last week against allowing 3,000 Syrian children into the U.K. Dozens of Kindertransport evacuees have asked Cameron to change his mind, and he's said he's willing to admit some but wouldn't give a number.

LESLIE BRENT: My survival is entirely due to the extreme generosity of the British government in 1938, and the contrast of the present government is quite pathetic.

BRENT: Leslie Brent, now age 90, says Cameron is under pressure from right-wing anti- immigrant groups. Brent recalls the 1930s in his German hometown where anti-Jewish sentiment got so bad his parents sent him to an orphanage in Berlin.

BRENT: The director of the orphanage nominated me to leave on the first Kindertransport which left Berlin on the 1st of December, 1938, only a few weeks after Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass when Jewish shops and homes and synagogues were ransacked. And my parents had until then really believed that things would change for the better.

FRAYER: His parents and sister were later shot by the Nazis. Brent went on to serve in the British Army during World War II and later became a professor of immunology, contributing to work that won a Nobel Prize in 1960.

BRENT: I don't know anyone who came over on the Kindertransports who hasn't more than repaid the generosity of Britain in one way or another. And I have little doubt that these modern refugee children, if they came to this country, would act in the same way. Everyone thinks of them as a nuisance and a burden.

FRAYER: Brent says he is living proof of how mistaken that belief can be. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London.

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