Kindertransport Memorial in Berlin


Kindertransport (children’s transport) is the German name for a rescue mission that began nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. Through this effort about 10,000 mainly Jewish children were able to escape from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Danzig and the Polish city of Zvaszyn. Many of the children were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.

Kindertransport Rescue Mission efforts

After the terrible events of Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, the British Parliament granted permission for Kindertransports to enter England. The first transports of 196 children left from the Friedrichstrasse rail station. Over the next ten months, ten thousand children travelled in this way through various railway stations in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig, Hamburg, Danzig, Koenigsberg, Vienna and Prague, leaving their families behind.

The first Kindertransport train to England left Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station on 30 November 1938. Most of the children on the train were from a Berlin Jewish orphanage that had been burned by the Nazis during Kristallnacht. Others were from Hamburg. The children arrived in Harwich two days later. They were allowed to take only one small suitcase, no valuables, and no more than ten marks in cash. Some children travelled with nothing more than a numbered tag on the front of their clothing and a tag with their name on the back.


The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

The Kindertransports were organized by Jewish communities, Quakers and non-Jewish groups. The Gestapo supervised the children up to the Dutch-German border. Then Dutch volunteers helped them board ferries from Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam, to the British port of Harwich. Once in England, the children were housed in summer camps or taken in by foster families. The Committee for Refugees coordinated the arrangements. Private donations paid for them. The integration of the children into British society was a mixed success. Some children were successfully integrated. Others were exploited as servants or neglected.

While most of the Kindertransports headed to Great Britain, some went to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The transports continued until Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and World War II broke out.

Selection of children for the Kindertransport

Many individuals and organizations in Great Britain and the Netherlands were involved in the Kindertransport rescue mission. In Germany, a network of coordinators worked around the clock to prioritize children at risk. These included children with a parent in a concentration camp, teens threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages and children whose parents were no longer able to sustain them.

Trains to Life – Trains to Death Memorial

Commemorating the Kindertransport, a close to life-size bronze sculpture Trains to Life – Trains to Death is located directly adjacent to Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse station. It depicts four boys and three girls. Five of the children look in one direction, two in the opposite way, reflecting the contrasting fates of the children. While many were deported to concentration camps, some were saved by the Kindertransport.


"Trains to Life - Trains to Death" Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin's Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

“Trains to Life – Trains to Death” Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Israeli Architect and sculptor Frank Meisler created the “Trains to Life – Trains to Death” sculpture in 2008 and donated it to the city of Berlin. He himself had travelled with a 1939 children’s transport from Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse to England. He created three other sculptures along the children’s route to safety: The “Kindertransport – the departure” memorial in Danzig, Poland, the “Kindertransport – the arrival” sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London and the “Channel of Life” memorial at Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam.


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