Grandchildren of "The Boys" Created Archive on Their Grandparents' Experiences #holocaust #unitedkingdom
Jan Meisels Allen
“The Boys”, the young men and women who arrived in Britain after liberation in 1945, grandchildren put together an online archive about their grandparents’ experiences. For a list of the names of “The Boys” see: https://45aid.org/history/who-are-the-boys/the-boys-story/
The Boys arrived in the UK on a scheme organized by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF), now World Jewish Relief. The CBF had previously managed the rescue of 10,000 mostly Jewish children in the pre-war Kindertransports.
It was Leonard Montefiore, a wealthy philanthropist, who masterminded the plan to bring The Boys to Britain. The scheme he devised was the forgotten final chapter of the Kindertransport.
In May 1945, Montefiore travelled to Paris to meet with the heads of Jewish organizations. Before returning home, he wrote to the CBF’s chairman Anthony de Rothschild outlining a scheme to bring ‘a few hundred children from Bergen-Belsen or Buchenwald’ to Britain.
The British government approved his proposal and granted permission for 1,000 child survivors to be brought to the UK. At this point it was believed that no more than 5,000 Jewish children in central and eastern Europe had survived the Holocaust, and those would be cared for in Allied and neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland, so the Home Office’s offer of 1,000 visas was a fitting response.
That said the offer of help from the British government was not without conditions. The children had to be aged 16 years or under and would be only granted permission to stay in the UK for two years. They were not to cost the taxpayer a penny and the CBF was to be financially responsible for the entire cost of looking after them. The money to do this was to be raised privately. It was later stipulated that only children who had been in concentration camps would be admitted to the UK although the age limit was raised to 18 in 1946.
While in Paris, and later in London the following month, Montefiore met with Joe Schwartz, the European director of the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, the JDC. Schwartz was convinced that there was no future for the Jewish people in central and eastern Europe and was keen that the survivors found a new home. For this reason, although the Holocaust had occurred across Europe, the overwhelming majority of The Boys came from these areas.
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the organization responsible for the care of refugees, felt that it was against the rights of the child to send them to other countries.
UNRRA staff also saw that the children had developed relationships with aid workers and other child survivors, which were vital for children who were the sole survivors of their families and thus they were hesitant to break such bonds.
There was also the question of where these children themselves wanted to go. After the end of the war, survivors who were placed in displaced persons’ camps were asked to register where they would like to be resettled. The overwhelming majority of the children, who were to become the Boys, said they wanted to go to Palestine, as did many Jewish survivors.
The British, who were in control of Palestine at this point, had put in place severe restrictions on the number of Jews allowed to settle there in the 1939 White Paper and these remained in place after the war. Many of the Boys said that, when offered the possibility of going to Britain, they chose to come, as it seemed an option that would eventually take them to Palestine.
The boys arrived in five groups, between 1945 and 1948 — and a first surprise for the young researchers was that in fact there were more than 200 girls among the 700 plus orphaned Holocaust survivors..
The economic situation in Britain after the Second World War was extremely difficult and the CBF found raising money a challenge. As a result, although the British government had offered visas for 1,000 children, the CBF could only finance just over 700 child Holocaust survivors. Montefiore believed it was more important to care for The Boys already in the UK properly, than to provide inadequate care for hundreds more. Montefiore firmly believed that the child Holocaust survivors needed to be cared for in a Jewish environment.
Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, however, continued to look for child Holocaust survivors in eastern Europe and he brought a number of groups of children to Britain. Many of these children became close friends of The Boys and the CBF frequently paid for their up keep. In 1948, Schonfeld brought a group of 148 children from Czechoslovakia. The CBF allocated 21 of these children visas from the original 1,000 quota and they became the fifth group of The Boys.
The new project — the result of painstaking research by the Third Generation, the grandchildren of the survivors — includes profiles of each one of the Boys, a map of the places where they were born and grew up, and pictures of all the hostels which housed them after their arrival in Britain.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee