From November 1938 to September 1939 around tenthousand teenagers and children from Austria, Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig were part of a rescue mission that should save them from the impending Holocaust. The mission known as Kindertransport – the German word for children transport – took predominantly Jewish children to places in Great Britain. To hostels, schools and farms.
Hellfried Heilbut from Lower Saxony in Western Germany was one of them. Only 12 years old, he was brought onboard of one of the trains heading to the Netherlands where a ship took him to the UK.
“I was the only one in the train that wasn’t howling like a dog,” Heilbut tells the transatlantic diablog. His parents had prepared him for the journey. Told him they will follow. Knowing they could not. Hellfried Heilbut’s father, a well-known journalist, was later murdered in Auschwitz.
At his nothern England boarding school Hellfried Heilbut found what he had not had at his German school. Friends. Back in his hometown he was insulted. As “Drecksjude,” as he says. With his 73 classmates at boarding school he shared the same experiences: Writing limited letters of only 25 words to his family. Receiving bread and tea from women in the Netherlands where the Kindertransport train stopped. Until today the group of school mates gathers for frequent meetings.
“I never had officially said ‘thank you’ to my parents,” Hellfried Heilbut today says with regret. Describing his father and mother as very strong, since they gave him a positive feeling before bringing him to the train.
The last known boat of the Kindertransport left the Netherlands on May 14, 1940. On board were 66 children. It was the day the Dutch army surrendered to Germany after Rotterdam was bombed.
After the war Hellfried Heilbut returned to Germany, worked as a seaman and met his brother and sister again – and his future wife Helga. She now travels with him to schools where Heilbut speaks about his experiences as one of the children on board of the Kindertransports.