Jason Hensley who teaches Holocaust studies contacted this web site recently with this story.
Jason is the Principal of Christadelphian Heritage School, Los Angeles, California, USA …
“I really feel as though these stories of the Holocaust need to be preserved, so I’m thankful that we’ve been able to open up a Holocaust studies class at my location.”
Have you ever experienced a series of coincidences that simply blew you away? Or you have ever stepped back and looked at a long string of events and marveled at the way in which everything came together?
The research for Part of the Family – Christadelphians, the Kindertransport, and Rescue from the Holocaust has been just that type of experience. Though this book is a historical account of the way in which over 250 Jewish children were welcomed into Christadelphian homes and hostels as they fled from Nazi-occupied Europe, and though research into history rarely falls into place quickly, Part of the Family’s story is a bit of an outlier.
In 2014, I was invited by a friend to attend the Belfer Conference for Educators at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington D.C. The conference took place in July 2015, and was focused on how to teach about the Holocaust. One of the themes that it emphasized was the importance of individual stories – sometimes the stories get lost in the midst of the statistics. The Holocaust wasn’t simply the death of 6 million Jews, it was the death of 6 million Jewish individuals – individuals who were fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. Each of them having a unique story, and those stories should not be forgotten.
With that emphasis in mind, and growing up as a Christadelphian – a small Christian denomination with an emphasis on the promises made to Abraham, and thus an affinity toward the Jews – I began to wonder if there were any Holocaust stories and experiences that somehow connected with the Christadelphians in the United Kingdom.
At the time of the conference, I did a Google search, found out that Christadelphians had helped to house a few Jewish children during World War 2 as part of the Kindertransport movement, and then, since there were very few search results, thought that there was not much more to be found out about the subject.
Through an interesting chain of events, I stayed in contact with some of the instructors from the Belfer Conference – and in an email in December 2015, I mentioned that I would love to somehow get in contact with some of the Jewish children whose lives had been spared by escaping Germany on the Kindertransport and living with Christadelphians. From the initial Google search that I had done, I had the name of one individual.
The instructor suggested something that I had never considered: to check the white pages! Essentially, she suggested that I simply start cold-calling individuals – a thought which I did not relish at all.
So, for a month, I put the idea aside.
Finally, in January, 2016, I summoned the courage to call, and, though there were numerous entries for the name, I chose one that I thought might be correct and left a message along these lines:
“Hi, my name is Jason Hensley, and I am a Christadelphian. I think that perhaps you came to England on the Kindertransport and may have lived with Christadelphians in the 1930s and 1940s. If you did, I would love to hear more about your story. Please call me back.”
Amazingly, I received a call that evening saying that indeed, this individual knew of the Christadelphians, and they would be happy for me to interview them.
Thus began my journey.
From that point, I made contact with the family who this survivor had lived with in England – although the family now lives in Australia. That family then pointed me towards three other survivors who they knew about, and the project simply took off. Thousands of emails have been exchanged, letter after letter has been written, and dozens of international phone calls have been taken place. I’ve called England, Canada, Australia, Israel, Spain, and Sweden (and sometimes forgotten about the time difference – oops!).
Again, illustrative of the way in which so many pieces fell into place, at one point, on February 4, 2016, I interviewed a former refugee, named Charles, about his experiences. That very night, I independently stumbled across a letter written about him in 1939 (that he was unaware of!). Then, two days later, I received quite an unexpected email: it was from a Christadelphian in England named Simon. Simon had found a home movie that his father had made in 1939–and the movie involved footage of two Jewish refugees, who Simon did not recognize, or even knew if they were still alive. He thought that perhaps I would be interested to know about the film.
As I heard more details about the film, it suddenly came together who these refugees were: they were Charles and his sister–and I had just spoken to Charles two days prior. Indeed he was alive, and through this connection, the two families were reunited. As things turned out, the story, and its amazing coincidences, was documented by the BBC in a radio broadcast this last April: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b076prrp
Truly, this has all been quite an experience, and everything has come together amazingly quickly–from that first phone call in January to a book being published this last May. All in all, the Christadelphians housed over 250 Jewish children. I’ve been able to locate at least 35 of them. Part of the Family – Christadelphians, the Kindertransport, and Rescue from the Holocaust, Volume 1 shares the detailed stories of 10 of them.
And really, it’s their stories, not mine, that are the most important.
Thus, I’d like to share some of their experiences with you.
Ursula Meyer was born in 1924. She was fourteen when she left Germany and came to the Sawyers’ household. By that point, she had survived Kristallnacht, endured her father’s imprisonment in Buchenwald, and said a final goodbye to her family. After 1939, she would never see her parents again.
Nevertheless, in the Sawyer family, who were Christadelphians, she found great love and acceptance. In illustrating how much they loved her, she told an emotive story:
At one point, the Sawyers lived on the corner of the road in Birmingham. After the German bombing raids began, Birmingham was under blackout regulations: all lights had to be off and special curtains had to be put into the windows. Unfortunately, in this particular house, when a car drove by, its headlights lit up the the bay windows, and it looked as though some of the lights in the house had flashed on and then off.
One night, a home guard sergeant noticed this flashing from the Sawyers’ house. Convinced that this was some type of signal to the German air force, he broke down the door, and looked for the one who had been making the signals. Ursula was German – and so when this man burst into the Sawyer household and saw her, he was certain that he found the enemy agent. He was armed, and he was ready to shoot.
And that’s when something amazing happened. As the Home Guard officer prepared to pull the trigger, Norman Sawyer, the head of the house, Ursula’s foster father, stood in between the sergeant and Ursula and said,
“You shoot me first.”
Eventually, the situation was neutralized – but Ursula has never forgotten how her life was spared that night.
More details of Ursula’s story can be found in the book.
Rella Adler was born in 1931––and was only 7 years old when she fled from Vienna to Sheffield, England. She came alone, without her older brother, and all of her family, except one aunt who escaped to the United States, was murdered in the Holocaust.
Rella was taken in by Philip and Lilian Adams, a Christadelphian couple who were in their 50s. It was a unique situation, considering that because of their age, almost all of their children had already been married and had left the house.
Nevertheless, Rella related to me the way in which they loved her––and how much she appreciated the way in which she was brought up in their house.
Rella explained that when she first arrived at their house, all of seven years old, she cried all of the time. She cried because she didn’t know English. She cried because the English culture was so different than the Austrian culture. But most of all, she cried because she missed her family.
And yet, she wasn’t left to simply cry on her own. One poignant memory that has stayed with Rella is of a tea time that the Adams family shared with Rella. As was typical at the beginning of her time with them, she was crying.
Then, she noticed something unexpected: she wasn’t the only one in the room who was crying. Philip and Lilian were touched by Rella’s situation––and so not only did they provide a room for her, but they provided a family for her. They empathized with her pain and sought to do whatever they could to help.
Again, Rella’s detailed story can be found in Part of the Family – Christadelphians, the Kindertransport, and Rescue from the Holocaust, and, just as with Ursula, Rella was kind enough to do a video interview for this project.
These two stories are illustrative of the way in which so many of these refugees were treated. They were not simply taken into Christadelphian homes and then forgotten. Instead, over and over, those who were interviewed for the book echoed one another, stating,
“I was part of the family.”
Yet there is a question that remains unanswered: considering the tragic history between Christianity and Judaism, what made this obscure Christian sect act on behalf of the Jewish children? Was it simply for humanitarian reasons? Or was there more to it? Indeed, in addition to preserving their stories for future generations, this is a question that Part of the Family – Christadelphians, the Kindertransport, and Rescue from the Holocaust seeks to answer.
Two hundred and fifty Jewish children were rescued from almost certain death by a small Christian community. They became “part of the family.” Their stories of survival, triumph over evil, and hope should never be forgotten.
Indeed, they should be passed on from generation to generation so that the kindness of one Christian group towards the Jewish people, in the time when much of the world sought to close its eyes, should be understood, acknowledged, and emulated in the years to come.
Part of the Family.