British Jews, terrified to enter Germany under these conditions, asked Quakers to send a group of investigators to find out what was happening. Quakers and Jews had been working closely together to help refugees from Nazi persecution escape Germany since 1933.
A group went from Britain, and a concerned group of Quakers also came over from America. There was talk of an offer of relief for Jews on the ground, but it quickly became clear that relief was not what was needed, but evacuation.
Ben Greene, one of the British group, reported:
“The Jews are therefore dominated by the one thought of getting out of Germany. Again and again they emphasize that they asked for nothing more than a camp and a crust of bread – only to get out of Germany at any price. They see only the possible effects of the present conditions (a) death in a few months or (b) the establishment of Jewish Labour camps by the authorities. Most of the Jews preferred the former to prospect of a so-called Labour Camp.” (Library reference: FCRA/17/6)
The reports gathered from the Jewish community in Germany by Quakers were of influence when Quakers accompanied the Jewish delegation who went to see Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare to plead the case for allowing immigration of children into Britain without the usual visa restrictions. They swayed the government and this planned immigration of German and Austrian Jewish children became known as the Kindertransport. Around 10,000 children were evacuated from Germany and Austria to Britain between 1938 and 1939.
Although Quakers were involved in helping Jewish lobbyists pressure the government, making arrangements for children on the ground in Germany and Austria, and also when they came to Britain, we do not hold a large amount of archive records relating to the Kindertransport in the Library. Minutes refer briefly to the undertaking but there are no detailed records. Although an important event in the history of the Holocaust, and an event Quakers are proud to have played some part in, for Quakers at the time, it was a small part of the overall work they had been doing to assist refugees since 1933, and which would continue into the 1950s.
The records of Friends Service Council, Germany and Austria sections, include a lot of correspondence about the situation in these countries at that time, including some of the reports after Kristallnacht. Read with hindsight they make even more chilling accounts than they must have done at the time.
When two of the American delegation met with an official they referred to as Counsellor Hendrichs (referred to later as Counsellor Henrichs) at the Foreign Office in Berlin, they told him they had decided relief work on the ground did not look necessary (rather that evacuation of Jews was needed), and Henrichs remarked:
“No and there will not be such need [for relief], as we – the Germans – will not let Jews starve.” (Library reference: FSC/GE/5/6)
The records of the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens (FCRA), formerly the Germany Emergency Committee (GEC), record how they helped refugees, predominantly “non-Aryan Christians” (Christians who had Jewish parents or ancestry) escape from Nazi controlled Europe 1933-1950. These records include minutes covering policy and organisation, correspondence with other agencies involved in refugee work, and a very small number of case files. Unfortunately the majority of case files for refugees were destroyed after the war. There is a name index which lists approximately 8000 adults helped to escape by the Quakers over this period. It generally does not include the names of children, including those on the Kindertransport. The index is not open for general research but applications can be made to access the information via the library enquiries email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have developed a new subject guide to help anyone who wants to undertake research into World War Two era refugees (c.1933-1950s) in our collections; it can be found as the featured resource alongside our other subject guides on this page: http://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/library/about-the-collections.
Please read the guide and get in touch should you wish further information or to arrange a visit.