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Facing a Refugee Crisis, Should Britain Revive the Kindertransport?

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that Britain emulate the Kindertransport, which saved thousands of Jewish children from the Nazis.

Jas Chana
September 04, 2015
Children at a Syrian refugee camp in Sidon, Lebanon, in March 2015MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / Getty Images
Children at a Syrian refugee camp in Sidon, Lebanon, in March 2015MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / Getty Images

Europe is facing a migrant crisis. Countries are trying to decide how many refugees to take in from war-torn regions of the Middle East and Africa, against a backdrop of horrific migrant deaths.

Speaking on BBC2’s Newsnight, former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggested that the United Kingdom’s response to the crisis should take cues from the Kindertransport that saved thousands of lives during World War II.

Referring to shocking images of refugees crossing oceans and turning to human smugglers in search of safety, Sacks said that the images “take our mind way back to the Holocaust, and it is important to remember simple humanitarian gestures like the Kindertransport, which rescued 10,000 children in Germany.”

The Kindertransport was a series of convoys that transported thousands of children from Nazi occupied Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Austria to safety in the United Kingdom. One of the Kindertransport organizers was the “British Schindler” Sir Nicholas Winton, who managed to save the lives of 650 Czech Jewish children by forging documents and bribing officials. Winton died in July at age 106.

On Newsnight, Sacks said that while the Kindertransport saved “only 10,000 out of six million” they “lit a light in the darkest period of history.” He argued that British Prime Minister David Cameron has a moral responsibility to respond in a similar humanitarian manner to the thousands of displaced migrants: “I think 10,000 is a figure [of migrants] that we could handle, and it is a figure to which Britain would respond well. The churches, the religious groups, the charities, would all join in and we would be better for doing it.”

According to The Guardian, former British Home Secretary David Blunkett estimates that Britain could take in 25,000 people. To give some perspective, Germany has already taken in 800,000 refugees. Sacks said that he didn’t “think [Britain] can go that far, but the tradition of Britain being a place of refuge for those at risk of losing their liberty or their lives should guide us to being more generous rather than less so.”

Blunkett said that Britain should focus on the refugees coming “through Turkey, who have been persecuted and ejected from Syria.” He added: “we should concentrate on women and children.” According to The Guardian, the chief executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring, said that the UK should not lag behind other European countries in terms of offering “a haven to vulnerable refugees.”

Sacks’s comments come at a time when the British government has been hestitant in its response to the migrant crisis. Since the start of the criris, Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to grant 5,000 Syrian refugees asylum.

Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.