The British-Austrian Jewish journalist Hella Pick, a Kindertransport child who arrived in Britain in March 1939, was the guest of honour at an event in Vienna to mark the 85th anniversary of the legendary railway rescue project.
Ms Pick spent the war in the Lake District and went on to have a distinguished career in journalism, largely on the Guardian.
The event was held at the residence of UK ambassador Lindsay Skoll, herself the granddaughter of a Kindertransport refugee.
The first train carrying 600 Jewish child refugees — organised by Dutch resistance hero Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer — departed the Vienna West railway station on 10 December 1938, nine months after Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria.
Between then and May 1940, when the final Kindertransport left the Netherlands, around 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were brought to the UK.
Skoll described the Kindertransport as an “offering of love, sanctuary, and refuge” at one of the darkest hours of European history.
It was also a “turning point in personal and family histories”—including her own. Her grandmother, born in Germany, found sanctuary in Vienna as a child before making it out on one of the last Kindertransport trains and settling in the north-east of England.
Her grandmother kept this a secret until almost the very end of her life, her outlook having always been, the ambassador said, “to be as unremarkable as possible—not to stand out”.
Hella Pick addressed the traumas that the Kindertransport children experienced, saying the experience of being uprooted and moving from one country and culture into another left her with feelings of “loss and insecurity” that proved hard to shake.
Though she has visited Austria regularly since the end of the war, first as a tourist, then as a journalist, it is only in the past few years, she said, that she has begun to feel at home in Vienna
During Skoll’s time as ambassador, commemoration of the Kindertransport has taken on a new centrality.
This is not only because of Skoll’s familial connection to the Kindertransport but also because of a recognition that the time during which Kindertransport children will be able to attend public gatherings and tell their stories is drawing to a close.
Last March, the embassy unveiled a blue plaque honouring the memory of British officials and Anglican clergy who saved thousands of Jews by issuing travel documents and baptismal certificates that allowed them to escape Nazi persecution.
Mike Karp, chair of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said that his organization had seen membership grow by 180 people last year. This included many second and third-generation Holocaust survivors keen to keep their parents’ and grandparents’ stories alive for future generations, he said.
The event was attended by the president of the Austrian parliament Wolfgang Sobotka, American ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and representatives of the local Jewish community including its president, Oskar Deutsch.
Sobotka, who has taken a special interest in antisemitism and issues of Jewish concern in recent years, used the occasion to comment on events in the Middle East, stating “the lessons of the past are still important today” including “a need to confront antisemitism in all its forms”.
He added: “Antisemitism is a threat to the free world and our democracy.”