On December 2, 1938, the first of 10,000 unaccompanied children between the ages of two and 17 assembled in Berlin, Germany to begin a journey. The mostly Jewish children traveled to safety in the United Kingdom to escape the Nazis. We now know this rescue mission as the “kindertransport.”
The story of two boys who were on the kindertransport was told to me this past September during the Jewish New Year. It changed how I wanted to take on my new year. I share it now because a meaningful story never ends—it transforms you.
The boys were brought via kindertransport to an orphanage in London. One day, the director of the orphanage received word that the King of England would be parading in the streets and planned to stop near the orphanage. The children were ordered to clean the facility and themselves and prepare to be as polished, sweet, and quiet as possible when the King was among them.
When the day arrived, the children were ready and excited. As the King’s carriage approached, people cheered in the streets and the orphanage director reminded the children to mind their manners—their duty was to simply smile and wave. One little boy could not let the opportunity escape. As the King’s entourage stopped, he broke free from the line of well-behaved children and ran to the carriage, yelling, “Please, King, I must talk to you!”
The King noticed him and granted his request. The boy then explained that his parents were taken by the Nazis. He said missed them so much and all he wanted was to be with them again. The King asked the boy his name, patted his head, and sent him back to the now-fuming orphanage director.
After the royal visit, the boy lived in fear of what was sure to be the beating of his life by the orphanage director. He even feared deportation to the Nazis. When he was finally summoned to the office of the director, he opened the door to find his parents. They were released from a concentration camp under the order of the King of England. The family was united, safe, and free.
That story has been passed down not by the little boy who saved his parents, but by the little boy standing next to him. That child’s family was exterminated in concentration camps. He always regretted following the order to be still and quiet. If he had been the one to follow his heart, be brave, and plead to the King, maybe his parents would have been saved.
The Rabbi who told me the story then asked, “In the New Year, which little boy do you want to be?”
This New Year, I wish you courage, chutzpah, and much luck.