Whoever Welcomes Me...


Kindertransport bronze statue in Liverpool Street Station, London

“Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

If you go to Liverpool Street Station and you happen not to be in a terrible hurry to catch your train (or like me, know that you have already missed it), you may notice, tucked away in an unobtrusive little corner, a sculpture in bronze of two small sad looking children - a boy and a girl - and a large suitcase.

And then you can look at it for quite a long time trying to work out what it’s supposed to be about. You will notice that the suitcase is really old fashioned, that the clothes are patched and ragged and that the boy is wearing a yarmulke – a skull cap typical of Jewish boys.
But eventually, you will give up and just do the sensible thing, which is to read the inscription which tells you that this is a memorial of the ‘Kindertransport’. And that is a story everyone should know.

As all the world now knows, between 1938 and 1945 something of the order of five and a half million Jews, plus three and a half million Catholics were murdered by people who regarded themselves as their spiritual and moral superiors. This was done in such secrecy that its full reality only became known when the invading allies over-ran the extermination camps.

And of those five and a half million, one and a half million were children.

I say that “all the world now knows”, but it took a long time for people to be convinced that such an evil could have been done as an instrument of state policy in a civilized Western European state. Even to this day, there are people who simply refuse to believe that human beings could really have perpetrated such an appalling crime against other people of their own species, race and nationality - and even against children.

But in this country there were a few people who saw it coming. Many of them were Jewish leaders in this country concerned for the fate of their co-religionists, but most of them were Quakers motivated by a simple love of humanity. They read and heard what the Nazis said, and they could imagine what would happen if the Nazis got the chance to put state-sponsored hatred into practice. Sadly, in history, the Holocaust was neither the first nor the last nor even the largest mass murder committed by men who - in the words of the Hebrew Bible - had lost respect for both God and man. And they knew that they must at least save the children.

After Kristallnacht, the 10th November 1938, when all over Germany and Austria, a state sponsored riot coordinated attacks on Jewish people, homes, businesses and synagogues, they knew that the did not have much time. So they petitioned the British government for a change in the law that would permit unaccompanied Jewish refugee children to be admitted to the United Kingdom.

They were successful and the first party of refugee Jewish children landed at Harwich docks on 2nd December, 1938, just three weeks after Kristallnacht, and took the train to Liverpool Street Station. And over the following nine months before the war began, ten thousand Jewish children were rescued.

When the war ended the great majority remained in Britain, and as adults made considerable contributions to Britain’s services, industries, commerce, education, science and the arts, for the defence, welfare and development of their country of adoption. Four of them were honoured with Nobel prizes.

Long after the war, one of the Quakers who had founded the Kindertransport movement was asked what really was ten thousand out of one and a half million - less than one per cent.
He replied, “It is ten thousand. In my dreams I hear one and a half million thanking me for the ten thousand.”

With all due respect to those who fought heroically against Nazism, never in the field of human peace-making have so many owed their lives to so few.

So if you should ever happen to find yourself in front of that statue in Liverpool Street Station, take a few minutes just to look at that little girl; look into her sad little eyes and pray.

Pray that we ourselves may never lose our love of God and of humanity.
Pray that such things may never happen on our soil.
Pray that we may always be a nation in which everyone has a place to rest their head.
And Pray that we may always be a nation which suffers the little children to come to us.

Paul O'Reilly SJ