Saturday, 1 October 2016
Where do the child refugees
find hope in Europe today?
In the rush-hour traffic through Liverpool Street Station, as commuters push their way through the crowds on their way and from the City of London, I am amazed how small groups of people still take time in the mornings and the evenings to stop in Hope Square, not to grab the ‘fast food’ at well-known outlet but to look at one of the outstanding Holocaust memorials in these islands.
This small plaza at the stop of the station steps is dominated by a sculpture of sculpture of five children, looking lost with their hastily-packed luggage, including one forlorn girl clutching her teddy bear, another clings onto her satchel, a small boy has a violin at his feet.
The memorial by Frank Meisler is 2.3 metres high and is made of bronze. It was unveiled ten years ago in 2006, and a dedication plaque reads:
Children of the Kindertransport
In gratitude to the people of Britain for saving the lives of 10,000 unaccompanied mainly Jewish children who fled from Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939.
“Whosoever rescues a single soul is credited as thought they had saved the whole world.” Talmud
Kindertransport is the name given to the rescue mission that began nine months before the outbreak of World War II.
To the sides of the statues, 16 bronze blocks carry place-names:
Cologne, Hanover, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Bremen, Munich, Danzig, Breslau, Prague, Hamburg, Mannheim, Leipzig, Berlin, Vienna
A plaque attached to the railway track behind the statues reads:
Frank Meisler, Arie Ovadia, 2006
On a nearby wall, a plaque explains the name of this plaza: ‘Hope Square, dedicated to the Children of the Kindertransport, who found hope and safety in Britain through the gateway of Liverpool Street Station.’ It was erected 10 years ago by the Association of Jewish Refugees, Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief, in 2006.
These ageless children in Hope Square gaze towards a future that, despite all pain and loss, must be ripe with possibility. Britain took in almost 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of these children was Frank Mesiler, who arrived at Liverpool Street in 1939 from Danzig (Gdansk) when he was a 10-year-old boy. He left with 14 other Jewish children.
In total, there were four Kindertransport journeys from Gdansk – Meisler’s was the last and his life was saved. German soldiers had already infiltrated what was then the Free City of Danzig on the day he left. Days later, his parents were deported and he would never see them again. They were sent to Auschwitz and died there.
The young Meisler continued his journey to Berlin, and from there he travelled to London, where he was met at Liverpool Street Station by two maternal aunt who would raise him.
After graduating in architecture, he worked with Sir Frederick Gibbons on substantial projects including Heathrow, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool and the mosque at Regent’s Park. He moved to Israel in the early 1960s and started sculpture as a hobby before changing professions.
His four-part Kindertransport project began when he was commissioned to make the Kindertransport-themed piece for Liverpool Street Station. The monument was unveiled by Prince Charles in 2006 and shows a group of pensive Jewish children standing with their luggage on railway tracks.
After his Liverpool Street sculpture was unveiled, he began working on a second commemorative piece at his departure point in Berlin. His piece at Friedrichstrasse Station, ‘Trains to Life and Trains to Death,’ shows a boy and girl with luggage, moving towards the train that would save them. They stand with their backs to a group of five other children whose fate was very different: in all, 1.6 million children did not survive the journey to freedom.
A third related group of statues, ‘Kindertransport – the departure,’ is at the main railway station in Gdansk. A fourth group, ‘Channel of life,’ is at the Hook of Holland in Rotterdam.
Frank Meisler worked on these projects with his long-time associate Arie Ovadia, and he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for his work on these memorials.
It was moving to spend time in Liverpool Street contemplating this sculpture as I think ahead to a planned visit to Auschwitz later next month [November 2016]. But it is a reminder of our failures in Europe once again, almost 80 years later, to respond to the plight of refugees from Syria. Where can the children of Aleppo, or Yemen, or Sudan find hope? Why does Europe not find the heart to respond to so many Syrian refugees who have no hope of embarking on a journey towards a future that we could ensure is ripe with possibility? Instead, today’s refugee children and their families are left in camps in Turkey, Greece and Calais, while Europe casts a cold eye on them, and turns its back.