Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

Kindertransport Memorial in Berlin

Monday, June 19th, 2017


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.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


My Daughter Anne Frank

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

“My Daughter Anne Frank” (Meine Tochter Anne Frank) is a docudrama that aired in February 2015 on German television. The highly acclaimed production is based on the world-famous diary written by Anne Frank, a Jewish teen, who kept a journal while in hiding in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Her diary was published in more than 60 different languages.

History of the Frank family

The Frank family went into hiding in 1942 when Anne′s older sister received a summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany. Anne, her father Otto, her mother Edith and her sister Margot immediate moved into sealed-off attic rooms in an annex at the back of Otto’s company building. Here the Franks were joined by the Hermann van Pels family, which included the Pels’ teenage son Peter, and Mrs. van Pels’ dentist. During the years the group spent in hiding Anne kept a journal. In August 1944, their hiding place was discovered, and everyone was deported to various Nazi concentration camps. Anne died from typhus in 1945 at the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. She was 15 years old when she died. A few weeks later, in April 1945, British troops liberated the remaining prisoners. Of the group of eight, only Otto Frank survived the holocaust.

My Daughter Anne Frank Docudrama

“My Daughter Anne Frank” is told from the perspective of Anne’s father, Otto Frank, although Anne is clearly the central figure of the film. The docudrama follows Anne’s life from her happy childhood to the hiding place in Amsterdam and finally to her death in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. At the heart of the film is the relationship between father and daughter. After he returns home from the extermination camp Auschwitz, Otto Frank is presented with the diary of his dead daughter. For the first time, he learns of her dreams of love, freedom and sexuality. Her writings plunge Otto into deep mourning but eventually also give him the courage to face life again. Otto Frank passed away in 1980.

The emotionally charged and moving production of “My Daughter Anne Frank” is said to stay close to the writings in Anne’s diary and includes historical footage and interviews with her surviving classmates.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Richard von Weizsaecker passed away

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Richard von Weizsaecker passed away on January 31, 2015. He was the sixth post-war President of Germany (of West Germany from 1984 to 1990; of the reunited Germany from 1990 to 1994). From 1981 to 1984 he was the Mayor of West Berlin. During his presidency, the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys were reunited.

Richard von Weizsaecker’s Life

His grandfather Karl had been the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg and had been ennobled in 1897 and raised to the title of Freiherr (Baron) in 1916. Born in 1920 near Stuttgart, Germany, Richard von Weizsaecker was the youngest son of Ernst von Weizsaecker. Richard’s father was a career diplomat who became a senior official in Hitler’s Foreign Ministry. Richard had two brothers and a sister. His oldest brother Carl was a physicist and philosopher and had worked on nuclear fission under Hitler. His middle brother Heinrich was killed in action during World War II. For the most part, Richard grew up in Switzerland and Scandinavia. He later studied philosophy and history in Oxford, Great Britain, and in Grenoble, France. During World War II, he served in the German Army. Following the war, he studied history and law in Goettingen, Germany.

Richard von Weizsaecker struggled with his country’s and his family’s past. His father, who had signed an order to deport 6,000 Jews to Auschwitz, was tried for war crimes during the Nuremberg trials. Richard interrupted his law studies to act as his father’s defense counsel; nonetheless, his father went to prison for his role in Nazi Germany. Richard von Weizsaecker also struggled with his own past. Many of the men who had tried to assassinate Hitler on July 20th 1944 came from his regiment. But he had not been one them. After the war, Richard went into business; he would not have anything to do with politics. He also served as president of a lay assembly of the Lutheran church whose teachings he quietly lived by.

Richard von Weizsaecker’s confronts the past

As President of Germany, he was known to stand for decency, dignity and goodness, and he played a leading role in helping Germany face up to its Nazi past. When Germany was reunited, many said that he was the best spokesman the country could have wished for.

In 1985, on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II, Richard von Weizsaecker gave a poignant speech in the Bundestag (House of Representatives). In the talk, he articulated the historic responsibility of Germany and the Germans for the crimes of Nazism. He called attention to the link between the Nazi takeover of Germany and the tragedies caused by the Second World War and said, “When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed they had not known anything about it or even suspected anything.” “We Germans must look truth straight in the eye – without embellishment and without distortion. . . . There can be no reconciliation without remembrance.”

Richard von Weizsaecker also suggested that younger generations of Germans “cannot profess a guilt of their own for crimes they did not commit,” and that forty years after their surrender in the war they had started, the Germans should face their crimes and their own destruction as honestly as they could. Only then would they understand that the day of their defeat was also the moment of their liberation.

My connection to Richard von Weizsaecker

I have no tangible connection to Richard von Weizsaecker. The only link that loosely connects us is a small chalet in Austria. As a child, I spent five weeks in that mountain cabin. It was there that I discovered my love for the mountains, their splendor and their serenity. My parents had arranged for me to join a group of orphans, lead by the orphanage’s owner. To finance a summer camp experience for her charges, the woman took a handful of paying children along. I was one of those children. For five weeks, we lived in the small chalet: no electricity, no kitchen, no shower facilities. But we hiked our hearts out and breathed in sunshine, beauty and solitude. It was formative experience for me (read “Camp Experiences” in my book, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom).

In the 1990s, my husband and I visited Austria and looked up the chalet and the tiny valley it was nestled it. It looked just the way I remembered. When I inquired about its owner, I was told that German President, Richard von Weizsaecker, now owned the chalet. Although we never met, at that moment I felt strangely connected to this man and wondered whether this peaceful spot had helped me to confront his past and to become the gracious man he was known to be.



For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.