I’m the grandson of a Kindertransport survivor. The decision not to help 3,000 child refugees depresses me

The cross-party amendment to the Immigration Bill was defeated today


Ever since I was a little boy, my grandfather, John, has told me about how he arrived at Liverpool Street Station with his brother Wilfred in 1939. The boys, aged 8 and 12, stepped onto the central London platform, leaving everything they had in Germany behind.

With nothing but each other and a small suitcase of worthless trinkets in their hands, they had to accept the cruel reality that they would most likely be separated from their friends and family for the rest of their life. It was surely an incomprehensibly heart-breaking realisation for a child to make.

Kindertransport-Meisler

These statues outside Liverpool Street commemorate those children who travelled to the UK on Kindertransport in the 1930s

Having lost nearly all faith in humanity after seeing local synagogues torched, businesses destroyed and Jews stripped of their citizenship, being warmly welcomed into the United Kingdom, however, provided them with some optimism about the human condition.

My grandfather and his brother soon settled in Berkshire. They were taken in by a loving family just outside Reading and were later practically adopted by Lord and Lady Sainsbury. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of the British government and many families in the UK, they were able to build successful lives for themselves.

The brothers went from being penniless orphans with a bleak future to writing for the Financial Times, owning a lucrative property business and producing successful litters of children, made up of a university lecturer, a professor of Immunogenetics and a parliamentary assistant – to name just a few of the victories.

To this day, my cousins all joke that these two very German boys – originally named Hans and Wolfgang –  became more British than the British. They became truly proud to be a part of our special nation.

Beneath this realisation lies a poignant consideration.

The brothers became ‘more British than the British’ because of their infinite gratitude to the British people. Without the government’s decision to let unaccompanied children into their country, their future could have ended up very differently. They acknowledged this, they appreciated this and they ensured that they would do everything they could to give back to those who had helped them.

This morning, I woke up to the news that a cross-party amendment to the Immigration Bill, which would have allowed 3,000 child refugees from across Europe to enter Britain, had been defeated. Labour’s amendment was rejected by 294 votes to 276. The bill, if it had succeeded, would have allowed penniless, hopeless and vulnerable children – like my grandfather and his brother – to start a new life for themselves in our outstanding country.

A plaque in the Commons commemorated those who travelled to Britain as part of the Kindertransport scheme

A plaque in the Commons giving thanks from those who travelled to Britain as part of the Kindertransport scheme in the late 1930s

My heart sunk as I realised that the Home Office’s calls to reject the bill had been successful and that these 3,000 children would remain homeless and hopeless.

The defence for the defeat was that allowing these children in would create a ‘pull factor’ that would encourage traffickers to send more children into Europe. In my mind, however, the real issue is a fear of the ‘other’, a suspicion that these children would be a burden to us.

This underlying rhetoric not only upsets me, it baffles me. The Kindertransport saved Nobel Prize winners, prolific authors, academics and even Baron Dubs, the inspiring man who tabled the failed amendment. Saving these children from a dismal future instilled a sense of national pride and gratitude in these individuals which made them anything but a burden to their host nations. We are now closing the door in the faces of children who deserve the chance of a better life.

As the MPs return to the safety of their comfortable homes, they should spare a thought for the 3,000 children – hungry, lonely and fearful – whom they have refused to sew into the fabric of Great Britain.