A compassionate, detailed account of a little-known corner of World War II history.
The triggering incident of Hensley’s gripping debut work is Kristallnacht, the infamous anti-Jewish pogrom conducted in November 1938 in Germany, ostensibly in retaliation for the alleged murder of a low-ranking German diplomat by a Jewish boy. Nazi officials and mobs shattered shop windows, rousted hundreds from their homes, and later rounded up tens of thousands and sent them to concentration camps. The inciting incident made it impossible for the international community to continue to ignore the Nazi persecution of German Jews, and one outcome was a program called “Kindertransport,” in which German Jewish parents sent thousands of children to live with foster families in England. Approximately 250 children found themselves in the homes of Christadelphians, members of a small Christian sect whose philanthropy toward European Jews was of long standing. Hensley’s historical narrative centers on 10 kids and relates their stories in exhaustively researched detail. He also relates the equally touching tales of their parents, who made unthinkable sacrifices for the chance of giving their children futures. One set of parents, for example, sent a note to the foster parents: “You, as gentle people, will understand what it means to send beloved children into a strange world. How much pain and tears are in this.” Hensley effectively tells of the many displaced children, who knew neither the language nor the ways of their new homes and who almost invariably ended up being the only surviving members of their biological families. The author conducted extensive interviews with the Jewish survivors and the Christadelphians who took them in, and he accompanies this invaluable oral history with black-and-white photos that help to bring the stories to life and give them personal immediacy. Overall, this book lays out its history, and especially its Christadelphian aspects, with carefully controlled dramatic energy.
An invaluable illumination of small acts of astonishing bravery and generosity in the darkest days of war.