- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) - Felix Weil is only alive today because of the generosity of England, which took in European Jewish children in 1938-39.

A native of Frankfurt-am-Main, Mr. Weil told his harrowing story of escape as an 11-year-old at the annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance, held at Congregation Beth Israel, Tri-City Jewish Center.

“At 11, I lost the most precious gift that God gives us,” he said of his parents and sister, whom he had to leave behind on Aug. 10, 1939, on a train to freedom. Three weeks before the start of World War II (Sept. 1, 1939), Mr. Weil’s was the second-to-last train to escape Nazi Germany with Jewish children - among just 10,000 who were part of the Kindertransport program.

“That seems like a lot, but when you think of one and a half million children being murdered (in the Holocaust), it’s a very small amount of children,” he said. The United Kingdom was the only country in the world that offered to give refuge to Europe’s Jewish youngsters, Mr. Weil said.

The U.S. Congress considered legislation that proposed admitting 20,000 German refugee children, but opposition stopped it. Mr. Weil cited a remark by FDR’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration, who warned “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

The impetus was the infamous Kristallnacht (or “night of crystal”), on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when nearly 100 Jews were murdered and 30,000 more were sent to concentration camps. Seven hundred synagogues were burned down by Nazis, more than 7,000 Jewish-owned business destroyed, and the massive amount of shattered glass from windows of Jewish homes and shops gave the onslaught its name.

Part of the reason for that destruction was the fact Adolf Hitler wanted to see if he would face consequences from other nations, Mr. Weil said.

“Do you know what happened? Nothing,” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”

Many Jewish families sent their children (ages 2-16) via the Kindertransport to escape an oncoming catastrophe.

“To this day, I can vividly remember … our parents always told us, ‘We’re going to sell the home, sell our car, close the bank account, and we’ll be with you in a matter of five, six weeks,’” Mr. Weil said. “Of course, children believe their parents.”

But he was among the 9,000 of the 10,000 kids in Kindertransport to never see their parents again. Even German Jewish adults who accompanied the children to England (starting Dec. 2, 1938) had to return to Germany, likely killed by the Nazis, Mr. Weil said.

He learned that Oct, 19, 1941, the last contingent of remaining Jews in his town were sent to the Lodz ghetto in Poland for “liquidation,” meaning they would die in the camps. Of his long trip west, Mr. Weil said it “was a big adventure,” going to a new country, learning a new language, and being free from persecution.

The day he left, his mother was “sitting with tears rolling down her face,” he recalled. “This was going to be the last day she would ever see her son.”

Most of the transports left by train from Vienna, Berlin, Prague and other major cities, crossed the Dutch and Belgian borders, and went on by ship to England. Mr. Weil praised the Dutch people for taking risks by hiding Jews, taking them into their homes, and welcoming them during Kindertransport.

When he arrived in England, he didn’t speak much English; two words being “ice cream,” he said. He was taken in by a kind Christian family and stayed in England for the rest of the war. In 1945, an aunt and uncle brought Mr. Weil to the U.S., and he arrived April 12, 1945, the same day FDR died.

A year later, Mr. Weil was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent back to Germany, where he served 18 months with occupation forces, before coming back to America. He graduated from Kent State University and has lived in Dayton, Ohio, since 1950. He and his wife Frances have two children and a grandchild.

The fate of children during the Holocaust was addressed by other speakers Sunday. The Rev. Jay Wolin (of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation) read a remembrance from a survivor of Treblinka. In gas chambers, victims choked and died within 25 minutes.

“It was terrible to hear the screaming, the agony of the women and children,” Eliyahu Rosenberg had said, noting over 350 Jews were killed at a time.

Sam Rothbardt - of Pleasant Valley Junior High and winner of the “Children and the Holocaust” essay contest - read his essay on Holocaust survivor Jack Gruener.

Other speakers touched on horrendous life in a ghetto, mistreatment of blacks in the Holocaust, a rescuer of children, resistance of the Nazis, and remembered those in our area who were victims of Nazi persecution, escaped the Holocaust or survived it.

The Rev. Richard Priggie, of Augustana College, read from a Lodz Ghetto survivor, who described dead bodies, filth everywhere, and forced labor where the survivor, Bruno Helmer, saw a Nazi official take a little child, whose mother was there, and swing it against a wall, killing it.


Source: The Rock Island Argus, https://bit.ly/24CF8z7


Information from: The Rock Island Argus, https://www.qconline.com/index.shtml

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