Object of the Month – The Kindertransport Case
Object of the Month: Axel Landmann’s Kindertransport Suitcase The Object: Brown fibreboard suitcases may seem unexceptional as many readers and visitors may have owned one of their own, but this 1930s suitcase is an artefact of one of history’s finest rescue missions. It was carried by a nine year old boy named Axel Landmann in 1939, who as the son of a Jewish father in Germany was evacuated on the Kindertransport to Britain to escape the impending horrors of the Holocaust. Axel is still alive today and living in Northampton, and he recently visited the museum to borrow his old suitcase and told his story to a group of fortunate visitors. The suitcase shall be returned shortly and will be put on display within the museum. The Kindertransport: The first Kindertransport train arrived in Harwich, in Essex, on the 2nd December 1938 and over the next eighteen months, the allies managed to rescue approximately 10,000 Jews under the age of 17, including Axel Landmann. The children left their parents behind and travelled west to safety, often alone or carrying younger siblings. The last train left Germany on September 1st 1939 as World W ar Two began, and the final transports left the Netherlands for Britain in May 1940, when the Dutch Army surrendered. Once they arrived the children were sent to families, some of whom had sponsored them in advance, and children’s homes across the British Isles. Their experiences naturally varied and while some developed close bonds with their hosts others were mistreated. Many of the older teenagers joined the country’s labour force and, once they reached eighteen, joined the allied military forces. Although the British government initially expected them to return home, one element that most of the children shared was that they never saw their parents again and many, like Axel, remained in Britain. Anti-Semitism: Following Kristallnacht, or ‘Crystal Night’ in English, the British government finally agreed to allow thousands of German, Austrian and Czech Jewish children to relocate as refugees, on temporary travel visas. Kristallnacht was a series of co-ordinated attacks on Jewish-owned buildings, including their shops and synagogues, on the night of the 9th to the 10th November 1938 by Nazi paramilitaries. The violence occurred just six weeks after the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain infamously claimed he had achieved “peace for our time” with the Munich Agreement, following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. Although the Kindertransport managed to save thousands of children between 1938 and 1940, Nazi persecution of the Jewish community had been increasing since the party came to power in 1933, and the infamous Concentration Camps had already been established by 1938. Yet, for a number of reasons, including widespread anti-Semitism, other nations had previously refused to accept Jewish refugees. For millions of Jews the rescue mission was too little, too late. A success story: However, although the Holocaust remains one of the strongest cautions against passive acceptance of prejudice, the Kindertransport is a success story. Many British citizens worked, in groups such as the British Committee for the Jews of Germany, to campaign for and execute the rescue mission. One of those was Sir Nicholas Winton – the ‘British Schindler’ – who passed away aged 106 on the 1st July 2015. Winton saved 700 Czech children through the Kindertransport and began World War Two as a conscientious objector, and though he later served in the RAF, he continued his work as a humanitarian after the war. It is due to the brave work of individuals like Nicholas Winton that Axel Landmann is still able to tell his story in 2015, and that his suitcase is not one of the hundreds piled up in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
By Sophie Campbell.
Sophie is volunteering at the museum over the summer. She is between finishing an Undergraduate History Degree at Lancaster University and beginning a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds.