Kindertransport Commemoration - 26 November 2018
Asked by Lord Dubs
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the decision to allow Kindertransport children to come to the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this debate. It is a chance to reflect on what the Kindertransport programme symbolises still today: Britain’s moral courage in the face of injustice; Britain’s compassion for people who suffer; and Britain’s belief in opportunity for all. These values are the very definition of what it means to be British and we would do well to remember and honour that.
I also pay tribute to the moral courage of those families who sent their most precious possessions—their children—to the UK in the hope and faith that they would find a better future. We heard Hilda’s story from my noble friend Lord Polak. I cannot begin to imagine the agony suffered by those parents who faced the cruellest of choices and made the greatest of sacrifices, never knowing when or if their families would be reunited. Most were not. What I do know is that those refugees, like many who came before and after them, grew up to be exemplary citizens. The Jewish community is the best of British; it has enriched this country and provided positive role-models for all immigrants, including the British Indian community, who look to the Jewish community for inspiration.
Like my Jewish friends, a large number of East African Indians were welcomed to this country when they were no longer welcome in their own home because they were cast as “different”. Like the Jews in 1930s Europe, British Indians in 1970s East Africa were singled out as scapegoats for society’s ills, and, as in the Jewish experience, many of my own people who were refused safe passage to other countries faced a terrible fate. However, the Jews were victims of the darkest chapter in humanity’s history: the Holocaust. We learned from the Jewish community in the UK that no matter how great the obstacles, how challenging the circumstances or how painful the past, the future is yours, and yours alone, to shape. The three greatest lessons that I learned from that community in my early days in the UK were these: be grateful for the opportunities you have been given; do not bear grudges or grievances; and never, ever take your freedom for granted.
Those precepts are important because they forge a path to integration. We should recognise that Jewish people did not integrate after they succeeded; they were successful precisely because they integrated. They did not see themselves as Jews who happened to live in Britain but as British Jews whose first loyalty was to the country that granted them protection. With loyalty comes responsibility. Jewish people embraced British values and worked hard because they knew that no amount of charity and sympathy would substitute the rewards of self-reliance—and by that I do not mean individual riches but the rewards to be had from benefiting the whole of society.
The number of Kindertransport children who went on to have distinguished careers is staggering. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin mentioned the refugee who came as a Kindertransport child and became an orthopaedic surgeon, in many ways saving his life. These refugees became not only scientists but pioneers of science; not only lawyers but campaigners for justice; and not only teachers but education leaders. If this is the contribution of 10,000 lives, imagine what the world lost from the 6 million souls who perished in the Holocaust. It brings to mind a passage from a Jewish prayer recited on Yom Kippur, which includes the words,
“our hearts grow cold as we think of the splendour that might have been”.
To this day, the former refugees maintain a deep sense of gratitude and determination to give back to the country that gave them a chance at a new life, and I know that many British Indians cast themselves in the same light. Yes, we are proud of our heritage and bonded to our customs and traditions, but first and foremost we are British. We are lucky to be British and we want to do the best for our country.
It pains me that we are commemorating this milestone at a time when Jewish people feel under threat, when we are seeing a backlash against immigrants in a climate of rising intolerance, and when millions of people around the world continue to suffer persecution. We must never lose sight of the compassion and humanity that this country stands for. The Kinder- transport legacy lives on through us all, and it is our responsibility to unite behind it, now and in the years to come.
The full debate can be read through the following like: