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The Little Refugees

June 2024
1min read


THESE CHEERFUL YOUNG LADIES POSING ON the lawn of an English manor house give no sign of the harrowing journey they have made. At right is Sylva Avramovici, whose daughter Deborah Oppenheimer writes, “For nine months before the outbreak of World War II, Britain conducted an extraordinary rescue mission, known as the Kindertransport , which was unmatched by any other country at the time. It opened its doors to over 10,000 endangered children, 90 percent of them Jewish, from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. The children, ranging from infancy to age 17, were sent alone by their desperate parents and placed with strangers in foster homes and hostels throughout Britain. Most of them never saw their parents again. My mother was one of those children.

“She died in 1993, having rarely spoken about this time in her life. I’ve spent the last three years piecing the story together for a documentary film titled Into the Arms of Strangers , which will be released this fall. During my research I was able to locate women who shared my mother’s experience and who told me tales of her youth. They provided photographs and identified pictures that had lain jumbled in a box in our attic.

“This one was one of my favorites. It was taken in 1940 at Cockley Cley Hall, a manor house in Norfolk whose owners, Sir Samuel and Lady Roberts, sheltered a group of girls. When the Red Cross came to the local school and asked for help in the war effort, the young refugees designed and made their own uniforms and then went through the village asking for donations. They were eager to defeat the Germans, who had caused so much upheaval in their young lives.

“Sadly, the next time the Red Cross appeared in my mother’s life was when her parents’ names appeared on one of their lists of those who had perished in the Holocaust.”

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