Translate Statistics into Individual People
Posted by Literary Titan
Part of the Family examines the experiences of the children who came to England from the Kindertransport during the Holocaust. I believe you delivered a compassionate view of this dark time in history. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Before this book, there was one document that attempted to set out in detail the Christadelphian involvement in the Kindertransport––and that was Dr. Chana Kotzin’s thesis that evaluated the reaction of a handful of Christian groups to the Jewish refugees in the 1930s. She was able to go through a lot of the correspondence that took place and really examine the refugee committee side of the Christadelphian involvement––but she was not able to look into the individual stories themselves and how the children lived when they eventually did come to a family. When I attended the Belfer Conference in 2015 at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the instructors emphasized 10 methodological principles when teaching about the Holocaust, and one of those standards very much resonated with me: translate statistics into individual people. History is not simply about statistics and generalities, but is rather about the lives of individual people. We constantly hear about the six million, and yet so often, the number loses its meaning, not simply because it is such a huge number, but because it is not focused on the individual. When the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust is mentioned, it should be remembered that these people were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. When we realize the individuality of the people that we are learning about, it makes them much more relatable and the lessons from their experiences become much more relevant and powerful for us. This was huge for me, and being a writer, lecturer, and teacher, I very much feel a responsibility to tell their stories. A number of the stories told in this book have not been recorded in any way before. As I interviewed the “children,” one of the major things that stood out to me was that they constantly used the phrase “I was part of the family.” Over and over, they emphasized to me that they felt loved and cherished. There were certainly exceptions, as there always will be––but I was amazed at the things that I heard from them. One man, whose story will hopefully be included in volume 2, when I asked him what he would say to the family that had housed him, if he could say one final thing to them, without hesitation, said “I love you.” Though he had not seen them for decades, he still felt that feeling very acutely and strongly––he had become part of the family. Thus, I began to ask myself why these people had such experiences–and the answer came out very clearly, as you mentioned in your review. The Christadelphian families did this and cared for these children because they felt a kinship and a love for the Jewish people. Their beliefs brought them to action––and for me, that was a very powerful statement about the importance of beliefs. In today’s world, it feels as though beliefs are often downplayed and that many are trying to put our the statement that doctrines and beliefs don’t matter––as long as someone is good. While I certainly stand for the idea of tolerance, I think that in attempting to all get along, we cannot lose the lesson that beliefs really do make an impact, and that they can influence us for good or for ill. Therefore, I hope that this book will not only inspire others to help one another, but will also encourage all of us to look at our own beliefs and ask ourselves what kind of influence our beliefs have on our own actions.
The Christadelphians were a small christian group who helped many children during this time. Do you think their compassion and determination were reflective of their religion or their personal moral character?
I think that the answer is certainly both. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a woman who had come to England from Germany––and who had actually lived with two different families after coming to England. I think her story helps to explain the way in which the Christadelphians acted both based off of their strong beliefs about the Jewish people, and also personal moral character: This woman told me that when she first came to England, she was chosen by a family and completely ignored. This was not a Christadelphian family––and the woman didn’t know what religion they were, if any. But, they brought her to their house, put her in her room, and never spoke with her. Eventually, she said, she went hysterical. She started screaming, banging on the floors, banging on the walls––because she had no interaction with anyone. Because of that experience, the Jewish refugee committee was contacted, and she was removed from that family. From there, she went to live with a Christadelphian family in Birmingham. She stated that the first day that she met them, they had a German/English dictionary and tried to talk with her.
When she got to the house, they tried to help her learn English––pointing at their dog and saying “Billy” (subsequently, she thought that all dogs were Billys…).
She stated that she felt like part of the family. I think that the dichotomy between her two experiences can show what life with Christadelphians could have been like if they had acted simply out of a belief that they should help the Jews. When the Jewish children came to England and lived with the Christadelphian families, they did not have to treat them like family members. They did not have to try to learn German. They did not have to tell them bedtime stories. They did not have to try to correspond with the child’s parents back in mainland Europe. But they did. I think that housing the children and in that sense “saving them” could have been considered enough to say “I helped the Jews.” But, the Christadelphian families, for the most part, out of their moral character, attempted not only to help the children, but to give them the best life that they could provide––just as they did with their own children. We were privileged enough to get together with a professional videographer and put together brief interviews (5 minutes each) with Mrs. Ursula Meyer and Mrs. Rella Adler. Both of them share how the treatment that they were given was as though they were daughters:
Part of the Family is not only well written but it’s also well researched. How much research did you undertake for this book and how much time did it take to put it all together?
Oddly enough, I began the research for this book last December. I was simply blown away at how well things came together. Ursula Meyer was the first person that I was able to contact, and we conducted our interview on January 19th. From there, the project just came alive. I had Christadelphian families from all over the world contacting me to tell me that a Jewish refugee had lived with them throughout the war. One of my major rules, however, is that I don’t write about someone and publish it unless I can get their approval for what I have written. And thus, hearing about all of these Jewish children that had lived with Christadelphians presented a problem––how to contact them? A number of Christadelphian families had kept in contact with the Jewish children, and so they could actually get me in touch with them, but in other cases, once the Christadelphian parents passed away, and sometimes the children, the younger generation only knew that their family had housed a refugee, but sometimes didn’t even know their name. Attempting to find the refugees and interview them about their experiences was simply amazing. I’ve called all over the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I’ve had conversations with people in Israel, Australia, Spain, and Sweden. Yet, perhaps one of the most exciting experiences was when I was presenting on the Christadelphians at a meeting of Kindertransport survivors, and one of the men seated at my table explained that he come to this very meeting because he had lived at Elpis Lodge, the hostel set up in Birmingham by Christadelphians! I had no idea––and here I had been having lunch with him! This book came together in a matter of months––something which still astonishes me. Yet at the same time, as things kept coming together, I found myself working at it all the time––often getting up at 4:30, just because I was so excited that another survivor had emailed me, and so I couldn’t sleep anymore.
Part of the Family is the first volume in a series. What will the next volume be about and what will the whole series encompass?
Lord willing, I hope to have the second volume finished this December, as well as an audiobook for this first volume at the end of August. The goal of the entire series is to tell the individual stories––and thus, my hope is that I can keep contacting survivors and their families to tell about their experiences when they were saved from Hitler by coming to England and living with Christadelphians. Thus, volume 2 will be more stories, and so will volume 3. I currently have about 35 testimonies that I would like to write!
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In 1938 and 1939, via a movement known as the Kindertransport, thousands of Jewish children were taken from Nazi-occupied territories to safety in Great Britain. They came to a new family, a new country, and a new life. Approximately 250 of these children were sponsored by Christadelphians, a small Christian group. Often the Holocaust is considered in terms of statistics: how many perished and how many were affected, so much so that at times the individual stories are lost in the numbers. This series examines the experiences of the individuals who came to England as children, and lived with Christadelphians. Ten of these child survivors, and their families, participated in the effort to bring about this first volume. These are their stories.
Posted in Interviews
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Part of the Family
Posted by Literary Titan
Jason Hensley has taken a very difficult subject, filled with darkness and sorrow and brought forth a glimmer of light. There have been many history books written on the Holocaust from many perspectives, but Hensley has taken a fresh approach to the subject. Anyone studying this period of history knows the horrors that awaited the Jews under Hitler but few history books talk about the children that do survive. Even fewer talk about the people that made it so children of Jewish families could have a chance at life. Hensley’s focus in Part of the Family is on the children that were taken in by the Christadelphians families and their stories. Part of the Family is not your traditional history book filled with facts, rather it gives you a brief overview of who the Christadelphians are, and than a collection of mini biographies of some of the children. This is also the first book in a collection that Hensley is working on to fill the gap in this area of history.
Part of the Family gives a brief overview of who the Christadelphians are, and what they believe. It does not go deeply in-depth to make this a history of religion, rather just enough to give the reader an overview of the mindset of the families that foster these Jewish children. It documents the lives of nine children and their experiences with the Kindertransport. The families are not just from Germany, included are also families from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Poland. The general format of the biographies are: brief overview of the climate that the children were born into for their time/location, the decline of their families situation, the Kindertransport, meeting their new families and their life with them, than after the fact. Hensley tries to give as much information on what happened to the families of these children, in some cases the children are reunited years later, however in most cases, the families do perish at the hands of the Nazis.
In describing the Christadelphians Hensley makes sure to emphasizes that despite their devote and very structured Christian beliefs, none of the families ever forced or pressured the children to convert. They lived with the families as if they were their own children, participating in all the activities, including daily bible readings and attending meetings with the family. However, none were forced to be baptized into the Christadelphians faith. While some did ultimately choose that path, it was of their own choosing when they were near adulthood. For the families that took in the Jewish children, this quote seams to sum up the way they treated the foster children, “Perhaps, then, one of the most important questions to ask ourselves is how our own beliefs affect our actions – and whether these beliefs are truly influencing our actions for good” (Hensley, 2016, p.182). This mentality of showing the children kindness and good in the world despite all the misery they had faced, influenced them all in positive ways. The children in this collection all went on to have fulfilling lives of their own and often kept in touch with their foster families.
This book gives a compassionate overview into this period of history. It shows that there are good people out there that do things simply because it’s the right thing to do. These are not children that went on to be famous or necessarily do great things, they are every day kids that suffered deeply and came out on the other side to make a life for themselves. Overall a great supplement to the standard history texts on the Holocaust and the start of a great project by Hensley to bring these stories to light.
Pages: 442 | ISBN: 1532740530
Posted in Book Reviews, Five Stars
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