The moving story behind the Kindertransport statues at Liverpool Street Station.
If you’ve ever used public transport in London, chances are you’ve passed through London Liverpool Street Station at some point.
Besides using the wide range of transportation options from several Tube lines to the direct train to Stansted Airport, you might have also stopped at one of its many shops and restaurants.
But have you ever taken notice of the unaccompanied children, travelling with nothing but a handful of personal possessions? And judging from the expression on their faces, having arrived in London for the first time, either looking full of bewilderment or slightly out of their depths.
Who are they and what is their story? And why are there two of such sculptures at the station?
Find out their backstory in this Secret London article about the special memorials to the Kindertransport at Liverpool Street Station.
It reveals the pivotal role of the station in the escape of thousands of Jewish children from mainland Europe during World War II.
Go straight to:
What was the Kindertransport?
Can you imagine being sent to an unknown country on your own as a child? Not to go on holiday, attend a boarding school or visiting relatives, but merely as an attempt to survive an upcoming war.
Carrying only a few of your belongings, shoved on a boat to a country you don’t know anyone nor speak the language of. And not knowing if you’d ever see your family and friends again.
Even for adults this would be a terrifying prospect, let alone for a child. And yet around 10,000 children lived through this frightening ordeal in the advent of World War II.
Still, they were the ‘lucky ones’ as they managed to escape Nazi-occupied European countries such as Austria and Germany. And it was all thanks to the efforts of the large-scale rescue mission called the Kindertransport.
This special operation was the direct result of the horrifying Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass). This refers to the events that took place in the night of 9 November 1938. In the dark of night there were thousands of simultaneous organised attacks on Jews all over Germany.
This series of violent attacks takes its name after the trail of broken glass in the streets as a result of the smashed up synagogues, Jewish businesses, homes, schools, hospitals and cemeteries.
Besides material damage there were sadly also human casualties. Not only were there 91 Jews killed, but an astounding 30,000 boys and men were also arrested, only to be sent to the gruesome concentration camps.
While initially reluctant to take in refugees, Great Britain agreed to temporarily give refuge to Jewish children under 17 years old. This would later be known as the Kindertransport, literally meaning: Children transportation.
- The Kindertransport took place from 1 December 1938 to 1 September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland.
- The children who were saved came from Germany, Austria Poland and Czechoslovakia.
- Leaving their home country by train, most of them arrived in the Netherlands. From there they took the boat to the UK.
- A relatively small number of the children went to other European countries such as the Netherlands, France and Belgium.
- Upon arrival at the British port, usually Harwich, the children’s long journey continued. Travelling by train yet again, they would arrive at London Liverpool Street Station.
- At the station they would eventually travel further to their final destination. The young ones would stay with (often non-Jewish) foster families while the older children were put in hostels.
- The British government didn’t pay for the children’s stay in the UK. They needed to have a sponsor.
- The relocation was intended to be temporary. It was always the plan for the children to return home where they’d be reunited with their families.
- In reality, most of their relatives who stayed behind never survived the war.
- Therefore, most children remained in the UK after the war and started their new lives here. Some did return back to their home country after the war. Very few of the children joined their relatives who had managed to flee to countries such as the US.
Where are the Liverpool Street Station Kindertransport statues?
Für das Kind – Displaced by Flor Kent
To commemorate this significant event, there are two Kindertransport statues at London Liverpool Street Station.
You can find the first one in the station concours. Upon exiting the Tube, you’ll find it immediately on your right-hand side.
Despite walking straight past it, most of the passers-by overlook it completely. In a way not so strange as the children and their single suitcase blend in perfectly with their environment filled with tourists and commuters.
This bronze sculpture of the sorrowful and despondent looking boy and girl were made by sculptor Flor Kent. Titled Für das Kind – Displaced, it was originally unveiled in 2003. However, it had a more prominent position in the station at the time and looked very differently.
Originally, the Kindertransport memorial only had the girl figure on it. Next to her on the plinth was a glass case which held some of the actual possessions brought to the UK by the Kindertransport passengers.
The inscription on the bronze plaque reads as follows.
FÜR DAS KIND – DISPLACED
by Flor Kent
COMMEMORATING THE GREATNESS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES
Liverpool Street Station – London
Hlavní Nádraží Station – Prague
Westbahnnhof Station – Vienna
In tribute to all those who helped rescue 10,000 Jewish and other children
escaping Nazi persecution through the Kindertransport from Austria,
Czechoslovakia and Germany to the United Kingdom in 1938-9.
Liverpool Street Station was the main place of arrival and the meeting point
for the children and their sponsors and foster families.
In memory of the millions, including over one and a half million children,
who were killed during the Holocaust.
They will not be forgotten.
Dedicated 16 September 2003 – Rededicated 21 May 2011
by Sir Nicholas Winton
It was rededicated when the sculpture was altered, adding the boy and changing the glass case into a bronze suitcase, and moved to its current location.
Sir Nicholas Winton (1909-2015) was a British banker from German-Jewish descent who helped rescue hundreds of children, putting them on the Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia to Britain.
It’s moving and hopeful to see the power of individuals who are willing to unselfishly help others in such moments of crisis.
The Arrival by Frank Meisler
The second Kindertransport statue at Liverpool Street Station was made by Frank Meisler and installed in 2006. Called The Arrival, it’s located in the forecourt of the station on Liverpool Street.
The children in this sculpture look considerably different to those by Flor Kent. They don’t bear such sad faces and don’t appear abandoned. Instead, they actually look curious, hopeful and eager to start a new life. They even carry toys and a musical instrument with them. Not typical items you’d expect to pack in great haste at such a critical.
I can only imagine how traumatic the Kindertransport must have been for the children so seeing this positive slant to it, puts it in an entirely different perspective. One that celebrates life, hope and changes for new beginnings amidst death and destruction.
Interestingly, the sculptor, Meisler, was one of the Kindertransport children himself. As he states on his website ‘making the series of Kindertransport sculptures along his own personal route to survival, was very important for him.’
Numerous Kindertransport children would grow up becoming prominent notables. Some went to fulfil high-profile political roles or were even awarded the Nobel Prize. Others became celebrated artists such as the famous painter Frank Auerbach or sculptor Eva Hesse.
If you’re interested, you can find books and films about the Kindertransport. The story has even been adapted into plays. You can also read the gripping first-hand experiences online, such as these stories of Kindertransport children.
Kindertransport memorials across Europe
Frank Meisler’s series of Kindertransport sculptures is a pentalogy that follows his own journey from his hometown of Gdansk to London.
The story begins with The Departure with five children seen setting off on their journey. This Kindertransport memorial stands just outside of Gdansk Central Railway Station and was erected in 2009.
Following the narrative, there’s Trains to Life – Trains to Death which is located in Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, and was unveiled on 30 November 2008. The sculpture displays two groups of children, standing with their backs towards each other. Two shiny bronze figures represent the children who got saved. Unlike the five darker figures who symbolise those who were murdered by the Nazis.
The story continues with the heartbreaking scene of The Final Parting. This sculpture is located in Dag Hammarskjöld Platz – Dammtor Bahnhof Hamburg, Germany, and was installed in 2015.
At Hoek van Holland, a port near Rotterdam, the Netherlands, you can see the fourth scene of Meisler’s exodus. It depicts six weary youngsters, holding their luggage, eagerly awaiting the boat to England.
Then there’s the conclusion in London, ending the children’s initial journey and story with The Arrival at Liverpool Street Station.
If you’re interested, you can buy smaller versions of the sculptures from Frank Meisler’s web shop.
Missing from this story line is the British port of Harwich, but there are plans for unveiling a new sculpture here in the near future. This one wouldn’t be made by Meisler unfortunately as he passed away in 2018.
Related article you might enjoy: Impressive Holocaust memorials around the world
Also, Flor Kent has created several more Kindertransport sculptures across Europe in significant historical places.
After her first installation in London Liverpool Street Station, she expanded the series with installations in Vienna’s Westbahnhof Station (2008) and the Praha hlavní nádraží Central Station in Prague (2009).
Finally, after unveiling the second Kindertransport sculpture at Liverpool Street Station (2011), she also made another Für das Kind statue in Vienna (2014). This time for the Für Das Kind Museum.
Now tell me, have you ever travelled through London Liverpool Street Station? And did you notice the Kindertransport statues there?
Let me know in a comment below! Other thoughts are welcome too, I always love hearing from you ^-^
Thanks, Zarina xxx