Kindertransport wasn't put on film until Schindler re-awakened interest

Nathan Abrams explores classic Jewish films and characters

THIS year is the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport.

To mark the occasion, a series of events, conferences and reunions are being held this month.

Surprisingly, these events have been little commemorated on film - not until Schindler's List (1993) awakened mass-market commercial interest in the Holocaust that is.

The first documentary on the Kindertransport appeared three years later in 1996 and three more have been produced in the years following.

The most well-known of these is Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000) by Mark Jonathan Harris, and Deborah Oppenheimer, whose mother Sylvia was on the Kindertransport.

A high budget-production, Into the Arms of Strangers blends documentary film material from the period, archival footage, including old photographs and letters, with on-camera interviews with survivors, foster-families, and rescue organiser Nicholas Winton.

The survivors are interviewed in static, quasi-photographic close-up, as they recall their childhood experiences.

Changes from black and white to colour and music are used to emphasise the differences between then and now, or alternatively to fold the past into the present, as the surviving Kindertransport tell their stories in an attempt to recapture their childhood perspective.

The survivors often recall warm, happy, idyllic, carefree childhoods in the pre-Hitler days of the 1930s.

The film opens with - and evokes - nostalgic images of the paraphernalia of a child's fairy-tale world of the past: toys, books and school items, a world that will soon be disrupted and overturned forever.

Scenes and reminiscences of birthday parties, playgrounds, winter ice-skating, summer fairs and walks reinforce the idea that somehow Weimar Germany was free of antisemitism; that Hitler and National Socialism were an aberration and intrusion into their world and antisemitism only then sprung fully-formed into their lives.

One survivor never recalls having felt different before.

Sudden cuts, accompanied by equally abrupt shifts in music - from nostalgic to ominous - mark the telling of Hitler's rise to power.

This is represented in a rapid succession of documentary material on the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia and Kristallnacht.

The archival images of Hitler and National Socialism are accompanied by the - often nave - child's view of these experiences, including name calling, bullying and school friends failing to turn up to a birthday party.

Shots of trains punctuate the films, functioning as the central symbol of escape as well as of death, as the Nazi transports travelled in opposite directions: eastwards towards death and westwards towards freedom.

The documentary closes with a happy ending, focusing on the survivors' own families, achievements and contributions to British life.

Nostalgic music plays as we see modern-day Parliament where a plaque commemorates the Kindertransport.

The last words we hear are: "There was a purpose to my life".

In the final sequence of the film, laid over black and white images of children playing, are the words: "The Kindertransport was an act of mercy not equalled anywhere else before the war. Nearly 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust."

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph