The Quakers and Kindertransport
The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their work in relief and reconciliation. Founded in the 17th century it is categorized as a peace church with an emphasis on Christian pacifism.
Their contribution to saving the Jews of Europe has not yet been fully recognised.
There are several reasons for this.
Quakers do not seek the limelight. They are anxious to stress that work they feel able to undertake has been of modest proportion and is more concerned with personal relationships than large-scale operations.
Another reason is that the Quakers are essentially a collaborative organization – they accept group wisdom. In public service this way of working translates into a multi-agency approach, so that it is not always easy to discern the extent of the Quaker contribution. Nevertheless, what follows is an attempt to do precisely this.
The Quaker presence in Germany and Austria had existed since the First World War, when the Friends worked to ameliorate the hunger and disease resulting from that conflict. After 1925, the British and American Friends worked closely with the German Society of Friends, the German Quakers. Together they maintained offices in major cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, and renovated a large house in Bad Pyrmont which was run as a rest home and functioned as a convenient location for the German Yearly Meeting in the 1930s. Quakers were also active in other German cities such as Nuremberg, Hamburg, Frankfurt an der Oder, Cologne and Dresden, although their numbers in the thirties and during the war year were comparatively small – membership of the German Yearly meeting was a little over 200. There was also a Quaker office in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Bertha Bracey, an English Quaker working with young people in Nuremberg in the 1920s, became aware of the dangers of the Nazi philosophy. She alerted the English Friends to this danger, and was appointed to Friends House in London full-time to raise awareness in Great Britain. She became the Secretary of the Germany Emergency Committee which was set up on 7 April 1933, held its first meeting on 12 April and started functioning in Berlin in October of that year. At this time the main focus of the relief work was support for political prisoners and their families, but even at this comparatively early stage in the persecution of the Jews it was reported that a ‘large number of Christians who were of partly Jewish ancestry were also penalised as non-Aryans’. On 1 April 1933, the day of the boycott of Jewish businesses, Corder and Gwen Catchpool, British Quakers representing the Friends Service Council, visited Jewish shops in Berlin. For this act of support the family was put under house arrest and Corder detained and interrogated for thirty-six hours at Gestapo headquarters.
In London the German Emergency Committee (later renamed the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens) was based at Friends House where Bertha Bracey exercised outstanding leadership, presiding over a staff of 80 voluntary caseworkers who handled appeals for assistance from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. In February 1939 the Committee moved to Bloomsbury House, where it shared premises with other refugee relief organizations such as the Jewish Refugee Committee, the Church of England Committee for Non-Aryan Christians (founded by Bishop Bell of Chichester), the Catholic Committee for Refugees from Germany and the Refugee Children’s Movement.
Rebecca Carter-Chand, (from The Epoch Times, July22, 2010 ) a Canadian scholar from the University of Toronto, presented the current stage of her work on Christian minorities in Germany and their relationship with Jews during the Third Reich.
One of Carter-Chand's examples is the assistance that Quakers gave to Jews who were rounded up and held for deportation to work camps. In part due to their history of humanitarian service in times of crises, and in part due to their reputation as neutral, some Quakers were able to move relatively freely among Jews in holding areas. The Quakers provided food and moral support, and were also trusted envoys for personal correspondence.
Carter-Chand told of an account she found in her research of Quakers waiting on platforms near trains full of Jews for letters that were thrown out at the last moment. Letters sometimes included material wealth, which the Quakers faithfully delivered.
"That says a lot, that they were trusted to deliver not only letters but also money," said Carter-Chand of the Quakers.
|From 'Quakers in Britain'|
|George and Peter Summerfield|