Exhibition focusing on historic effort that saved thousands of young lives on view at American Swedish Institute

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Exhibition focusing on historic effort that saved thousands of young lives on view at American Swedish Institute
Kindertransport – Rescuing Children on the Brink of War.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- Kindertransport – Rescuing Children on the Brink of War, a major exhibition on view July 22–October 31, 2021, at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, illuminates the story of the Kindertransport (German for “Children’s Transport”). This astonishingly successful rescue effort brought about 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Great Britain and other countries, including Sweden, between 1938 and 1939.

The exhibition explores the children’s difficult and often heartbreaking journeys through original artifacts, audio testimonies and moving personal stories. The regional debut of this exhibition is accompanied by The Story is Here, developed by ASI, which features the experiences of Midwest families impacted by the Kindertransport.

Kindertransport– Rescuing Children on the Brink of War is brought to life by objects that the children took with them, such as a necklace and letters between parents and children, tied to a series of dramatic stories that link the exhibition’s materials to the era’s broader context. At its core are topics that are still familiar from today’s headlines: anti-Semitism, record numbers of refugees, the separation of families, immigration and dislocation.

Kindertransport was created and organized by Yeshiva University Museum and the Leo Baeck Institute – New York|Berlin. It is being collaboratively presented in Minnesota by the Greenberg Family Fund for Holocaust Awareness at Beth El Synagogue, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), and ASI. It was exhibited previously at the Center for Jewish History in New York and Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan.

“The Kindertransport that saved thousands of Jewish children was a remarkable feat of courage and act of righteousness. Today, its significance is only magnified as the world faces a refugee crisis that includes tens of millions of children,” commented Rabbi Alexander Davis, of partner organization Beth El Synagogue.

Bruce Karstadt, President and CEO, American Swedish Institute, said, “We are deeply honored to collaborate with JCRC, a previous partner, Beth El Synagogue and other organizations for this exhibition that not only shares the stories of a historic rescue of children but also delves into issues that are at the foundation of ASI’s mission—the still-relevant migration experience, ASI’s ongoing connections to Sweden and our commitment to be a welcoming place for all.”

The exhibition is being displayed in ASI’s Osher Gallery and Turnblad Mansion, telling about the Kindertransport, chronologically and thematically, including historical background leading up to the transport between 1938 and 1939. Most of the unaccompanied children were between ages 5 and 16. Parents were suddenly faced with gut-wrenching decisions. Should they send their children away and perhaps never see them again, or stay together to face a dire future? The majority of Kindertransport children never saw their parents again, as most of those left behind were murdered in the Holocaust.

Unique to ASI and located on the Mansion’s Level Two is The Story is Here, a supplemental exhibition with accounts from three local, Midwest families of Kindertransport survivors: Siegfried Lindenbaum, Kurt Moses and Benno Black. Their legacies live on today; their stories are here in Minnesota.

Some children were transported with their siblings. Minneapolis local Beth Gendler shares her father Siegfried Lindenbaum’s experience, “My dad was 9 years old when he and his 7-year-old brother Manfred traveled together from Poland to England. They arrived on August 29, 1939, only three days before the Nazi invasion of Poland. Sadly, the next boat never arrived for their sister Ruth; she was later killed in Auschwitz.”

Kindertransport has long been recognized as one of the most successful organized rescue efforts of Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Sharing this history is critically important today. Philip Greenberg, of blessed memory, and his family established the Greenberg Family Fund for Holocaust Awareness at Beth El Synagogue to ensure the future of Holocaust education in Minnesota. Greenberg believed, “With the survivors becoming fewer and fewer, we need to hear the stories and become witnesses. We have the responsibility of passing them on to future generations so history does not repeat itself.”

“After Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), conditions worsened daily and nearly all German and Austrian Jews realized there was no future in their native countries,” wrote Steve Hunegs, Executive Director of JCRC. “Jews seeking refuge throughout the world…were often thwarted in their efforts. The admission of the approximately 10,000 Kindertransport children into various countries, including Britain and Sweden, was a rare humanitarian governmental act in those desperate times. Ultimately, the Final Solution would consume more than a 1.5 million Jewish children.”

Among the personal items on display are a suitcase used by Robert Suchmann on a Kindertransport from Vienna in December 1938, a necklace with the Star of David sewn into the lining of a coat, worn by Ruth Birnholz on a Kindertransport from Vienna on January 12, 1939; and a monogrammed tablecloth brought by Elsbeth Gaertner from Mainz on June 6, 1939. Fearing that they would not be reunited with their children, some parents packed marriage trousseau items for their young daughters. Among a rich array of documentary materials and personal correspondence are a confidential report on the Kindertransport, published by the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany in July 1939; a facsimile of a Red Cross Letter from Erna Stein, in Prague, to her daughter, Gerda Stein, in England, October 20, 1942, shortly before her deportation to Theresienstadt and subsequent death at Auschwitz.

“The objects presented in the exhibition,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, former director of Yeshiva University Museum, “packed for the children by parents who must have imagined the real possibility that they would never see their children again, reveal conscientious and forward-looking efforts to preserve the emotional, spiritual and professional lives of their children.”

Kindertransport–Rescuing Children on the Brink of War, on view at the American Swedish Institute through October 31, 2021, will be complemented by an ambitious series of curatorial talks and public programs on topics that resonate with the exhibition’s themes. Details can be found on ASI’s website.

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