"We were very lucky"
In the early 1950s after graduating high school, John Rosen left England for America, where he was soon drafted into the Army and later started his own advertising business. Before living in England, he was forced to leave behind his parents, his home country and nearly everything he knew, but he considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Starting in 1938, the German government forced Jews to leave the country. On Nov. 9 of that year, the violence escalated, which stemmed largely from anti-Semitism, or hatred and discrimination against Jews. Synagogues and Jewish-owned stores were destroyed. Around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested.
Rosen said it was after that when “things really got bad.”
Grand Valley State University’s Mary Idema Pew Library had a full multipurpose room on Tuesday when students and community members listened to Rosen, a Kindertransport survivor, speak about his World War II experiences. The Frederik Meijer Honors College hosted the event in honor of the 75th anniversary of Kindertransport, which saved 9,354 children from the horror of the Holocaust.
Seventy-five years ago, Rosen was part of the British initiative to remove thousands of Jewish children from Germany. Rosen explained that Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was the turning point.
It was after Kristallnacht that the British government decided to help the children, who Rosen called “innocent bystanders of a political war.” Between December 1938 and August 1939, trains transported thousands of children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to England, where they were sent to various homes.
“We had no idea what was happening,” Rosen said. “We had to move to another country to live with other people who spoke another language. We were scared and we were crying, but we were very lucky.”
Most of the children would never see their parents again, Rosen said, but he and his brother were “very lucky.” His parents were able to obtain a work visa that allowed them to escape Germany and go to England to be with their sons.
He said one thing a lot of people might not realize is that the parents of the Kindertransport children deserve the credit. He expressed his appreciation for what they did for him and others like him.
“All I can do sometimes is think about the people who helped me,” Rosen said. “It is beyond my comprehension to understand how parents could send their children away. The true heroes were the parents.”
Rosen also spoke about the problem that many Jews had at the time, which was believing the horror would not happen to them.
“They thought they were German first and Jews second,” he said. “You’re always a Jew first.”
Those who want more information following the event can visit GVSU’s exhibit, “A History of the Kindertransport,” on display in the library’s exhibition room until Nov. 24.
The GVSU theatre will also perform Diane Samuels’ “Kindertransport” starting Nov. 15. For more information, call 616-331-2300 or visit gvsu.edu/theatre.