More than 80 years after Jewish children in Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia said goodbye to their parents and boarded trains and ships bound for England, survivors of the Kindertransport are receiving recognition in the form of payment.
In an agreement reached by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, otherwise known as the Claims Conference, and the German government, the estimated 1,000 living people who were forced from their homes in the wake of Kristallnacht will receive a one-time 2,500 euro (nearly $2,900) payment from the German government, according to Claims Conference Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat.
“We realize it’s symbolic and no amount of money could ever reconcile the trauma they suffered,” Eizenstat, who lives in Chevy Chase, said. “But these people never got paid, nobody ever recognized the special psychological trauma through which they went. They’ve had this very special psychological burden and now they’re at least receiving a bit of recognition.”
Eizenstat, who after serving as President Jimmy Carter’s domestic affairs adviser went on to serve in the Clinton and Obama administrations, has been negotiating for the Claims Conference since 2009. He also serves as a special adviser on Holocaust issues for President Donald Trump.
It’s estimated that about 10,000 children were transported to safety in Britain during the nine months leading up to the outbreak of World War II. The German government at the time had allowed the evacuation of children, but many of them never saw their parents again.
“No one can imagine the pain on train platforms as the Kindertransports began and the extraordinary steps these parents took to give the opportunity for life to their children — a life those children led without mothers, without fathers, and in many cases, without family of any kind,” Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider said in a statement.
Eizenstat said that every round of negotiations with the German government is challenging. He was last in Berlin with Schneider in November to finalize the agreement on Kindertransport survivors.
“We said, ‘Look, it’s the 80th anniversary and at a time when there’s not only Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism throughout Europe, but also your own politics has seen a rise in nationalist forces, it’s important to make this recognition,” Eizenstat said.
“The negotiations are very tough, but I’ve been doing this almost 10 years now, and a lot of the time I’m negotiating with people who weren’t even born when the war was going on. But they genuinely feel an obligation to address their history.”
He added that in all his time negotiating for the Claims Conference, the vote to approve the agreement is always unanimous in Germany’s legislative body, the Bundestag.
The Kindertransport Fund will open Jan. 1 and immediately begin processing eligible applications, according to a statement from the Claims Conference. The organization will also begin making calls to eligible recipients to inform them that the payment is available. Even if Kindertransport survivors have received compensation from other settlements, they’ll still be eligible for the one-time payment.
Eizenstat said that Germany has paid out more than $80 billion to roughly 60,000 survivors of the Holocaust in more than 75 countries.
The Claims Conference was founded in 1951 to negotiate and disburse payments. According to the statement, it will disburse more than $350 million in 2019, including the payments to Kindertransport survivors.
“The stories of the Kindertransport are absolutely heart-wrenching. To its great and lasting credit, Britain agreed to accept young children,” Eizenstat said. “But you had parents coming to the train stations relinquishing their babies, their infants, their young kids, putting them on the train not knowing if they’d ever see them again. And the fact is almost none did.”