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Kindertransport in East Lothian

Imagine you are going on a journey to a far away country. You plan it, you research it, you feel comfortable and you are excited about what lies ahead. Now imagine you are a young child, separated from your parents, sent on a journey to a country you know nothing about, the food is different, the language is different, and you are sent to live with people you do not know. This was the bewildering prospect for over 10,000 Jewish children called the Kindertransportees who arrived in Britain to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews. The journey saved their lives.

November 9–10 1938 saw riots in German cities. These riots were orchestrated to destroy Jewish

Kindertransport Boys Farming

Kindertransport Boys Farming at Whittingehame House

livelihoods, and lives. Jewish homes, shops, businesses, community buildings and synagogues were ransacked and destroyed. The Nazis called that night Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Over 90 Jewish people died that night, many were beaten and tortured, and 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and transported to concentration camps. The events of that night resulted in a debate in the House of Commons and the British government agreed to admit an unspecified number of children into the country. The programme was called the Kindertransport. The children were admitted on temporary travel documents, with the aim that they would rejoin their parents when the crisis was over. Of course, many children never saw their parents again.

The first group of Kindertransportees left Germany on December 1, 1938, less than a month after Kristallnacht; the last left on September 1, 1939, just two days before Britain entered into World War II. In that time approximately 10,000 Jewish children came to Britain from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Whittingehame House

Whittingehame House

People from all social classes, denominations, and from different parts of the British Isles welcomed these children into their homes. Some children, like Stephan Brent, stayed with generous families who had offered to help (you can read and listen to his story here). Some children had prearranged sponsors in this country, others were sent to hostels or boarding schools. East Lothian played host to some of the Kindertransport children from Vienna and Germany at Whittingehame House, near Stenton. Whittingehame House was the birthplace and home of Lord Balfour, the British Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. Lord Balfour was a supporter of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and his nephew Viscount Traprain thought it a fitting tribute to his uncle, who died in 1930, to give refuge to these children. According to an article in the Haddingtonshire Courier in 1939 Whittingehame House was set up as a school to give the children all the necessary skills to establish their homeland.

Kindertransport Girls Camping

Kindertransport Girls Camping

The children were to be given general education, taught the English language, and educated in all aspects of agriculture, farming, forestry and gardening. They were also taught handicrafts and there is even a suggestion that a cobbler’s shop would be set up within the house, and that one of the rooms would be turned into a synagogue. The children were not restricted in where they could play in the grounds of the house, and it seems Lady Balfour dammed the river in the grounds of the estate to make an open-air swimming pool that became an ice rink in winter. The children even had their own Scout group and newspaper. The children seemed happy to have left behind the horrors of Vienna and Germany but not their parents, as they knew they might not see them again.

When Germany invaded the Low Countries in May 1940 some of the older children were classified as enemy aliens and were taken from Whittingehame House under armed guard to be held at Lingfield racecourse with other Germans who were Nazis. In August of the same year they were allowed to return to Whittingehame House after the Home Secretary revoked this order – yet another terrifying journey for the youngsters involved. However, their journey to East Lothian and other parts of Britain allowed their story to be told and preserved for future generations.

Read and listen to the story of a boy who came to Scotland as part of the Kindertransport, and who still lives in Haddington: Stephan Brent’s story.

Further reading

The Vow: rebuilding the Fachler tribe after the holocaust, Yanky Fachler, Trafford Publishing 2003. The story of two Kindertransport children, one of whom came to Haddington and was housed at Whittingehame House and went to Knox Academy – based on their journals. (Available at the Local History Centre library.)

Privy Council Registers for Scotland, pages 436-437/507.

Reminiscence & Notices of Ten Parishes of the County of Haddington by John Martine, edited by E J Wilson, Haddington, 1894, ‘Whittinghame’ pps: 38-57.

The Seven Ages of an East Lothian Parish – Whittingehame, by the Rev. Marshall B Lang, T.D., B.D., Minister of Whittingehame, with a Foreword by Lady Frances Balfour, (1858–1931), Edinburgh, 1929. 

Some Wikipedia references

Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought, (Random House Inc., 1991), 313.

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