The emergence of the Kinder Transport is an important part of this story. In 1939, as the war in Europe was looming, the Kinder Transport – or children’s transport – appeared as an organized rescue effort to get as many children out of Nazi controlled territory as possible. Not surprisingly, they were predominantly Jewish.
But this was for children only. No parents or adults.
It had transpired about nine months before the outbreak of WW2, when the British Government took on the responsibility of getting as many children as possible out of Germany and other countries under Nazi control, and into relative safety of the United Kingdom.
This is the true story and inspirational legacy of one little girl, who fled the Nazis in 1939, but fortunately ended up in Scotland, where she lived the rest of her life.
The little girl’s name was Dorrith Sim. She was seven years old when she became one of the thousands of children who made up Kinder Transport. All of them were fleeing the Nazis!
Some of the children, like Dorrith, were fortunate enough to be taken in by British or Scottish families, while others ended up in hostels, schools, and even farms.
But the Brits put no limit on the number of children that they would bring into the English Commonwealth.
However, once the War actually began, the Kinder Transport could no longer function, and was forced to stop. But, by then they had rescued somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 refugee children. And given all of them new lives in the United Kingdom.
But the sad reality, in so many instances, were the rest of the family members. Those who remained behind. Tragically, so many of those refugee children were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust.
In November 1938, on what became known as “Kristal Nacht”, or “The Night of Broken Glass”, the Nazis began burning and looting anything Jewish, like their shops, their homes, their synagogues, and even their books and personal possessions.
For many German Jews, like, Dorrith and her family, the Oppenheims, it became a deadly warning to get out of Germany.
At the time, the Oppenheims were living in the German town of Kassel, when the Nazis destroyed much of it. Many buildings were burnt to the ground including Dorrith’s school, and a nearby orphanage.
Living through those horrors was bad enough for the Oppenheims. But then having to live afterward with the ever worsening persecution and restrictions that the Nazis continued to force on the Jews, was more than than they could bear. So, as their first step in getting out, they chose to get their daughter out of the country, and send her on the Kinder Transport to the relative safety of the U.K.
But seven year old Dorrith would be traveling alone to a country she’d never been to before, nor did she know anyone there, or speak the language. However, she was fortunate enough to be found by a loving Scottish family, who took her home to Edinburgh, where they lived.
And here, her good fortune continued, because this “luck of the draw” not only allowed her to start a new life in a foreign country, but it finally gave her a chance to find the peace and acceptance that she never had as a Jew in Germany.
And this is where she spent the rest of her life, but much of it devoted to keeping the history of the Holocaust alive, for others to learn.
One of the most significant results of her historical endeavors was a book she wrote, which she titled, In My Pocket. It was her story, focused on what happened to her after she left her parents in Kassel, and started her new life, beginning when she got on the Kinder Transport.
In it, she explains how, as a 7 year-old Jewish girl, she had to flee from Germany, all alone. And then to live with an unknown Scottish family, and never see her parents again. It’s a sad story, but also an uplifting one, because it is also about her rescue, and how she finds happiness in her new life.
From a child’s point of view, she describes what being on the train to Holland and the boat to England were like. But she all also talks about the small kindnesses from strangers, while traveling, alone. Also the generosity of her new Scottish family, and her acceptance by the new friends she made in Scotland.
Since Dorrith knows no English when she begins her journey, she starts with “I have a handkerchief in my pocket.” Then each time she learns a new word, she puts it in her pocket. “I have a dog in my pocket,”, “I have an apple in my pocket,” or “I have a teacher in my pocket.”
A sweet and wonderful story on so many levels. But it’s also a story about refugees, displaced people, and survival. As a result, it has taken on new meaning in our world of today!
Because there are so many parts of our current world that still haven’t learned from history, once again there are millions of refugees out there, right now!
As a result of its parallels, Dorrith’s book is creating a new perspective, as it relates to our world of today, with its refugees, and immigrants, but with the focus on children. It’s doing this by raising awareness, empathy, and understanding, within some of our very disparate cultures, while at the same time, motivating people to help.
As a result, many teachers, scholars, and empathetic people have already found that Dorrith’s simple narrative has taken on a new level of importance. But only after answering the questions: Can a story like this be read to children without overwhelming them? And would a story like this resonate with them?
The answer, of course is, “YES”. It was important for her to tell children what happened to her as a little girl. She wanted them to learn what it means when people are excluded. Or they are shunned or persecuted because of their religion, their heritage, their nationality, or the color of their skin. That’s because she always felt that children should be able to put themselves in the shoes of those who have suffered, and become aware of this kind of discrimination and persecution in their own everyday lives.
This is where my friend, Eli Rabinowitz comes into the picture. He and his wife, Jill, started a not-for-profit group called WE ARE HERE! Foundation, based in their home town of Perth, Australia, back in 2018.
The objective is to promote Human Rights and Social Justice, by getting people involved in the processes. (You will learn more about Eli in the Epilogue, below.)
In 2022, he learned from a a friend in Los Angeles, about an art teacher/librarian, from Hofgeismar, a German town near Kassel, Dorrith’s home town.
Her name is Julia Drinnenberg, and ironically, she runs a regular two-day program for 9- to 11-year-old school children, who come to her class in the Stadmuseum, to read and discuss In My Pocket. They also have creative activities related to Dorrith’s story, and the life and times in which it took place. But here the children also create arts and crafts pieces based on their own emotional reactions to her story.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Scotland, where Dorrith lived the rest of her life, the “Scottish Jewish Archives Center” welcomes school children of all ages. But here the teachers run their own classes.
Generally, the children here are focused on the historical significance of the Kinder Transport, with emphasis on Dorrith, herself. But of course they also read In My Pocket, while discussing what is happening with refugees today, and other related issues.
Classes in Glasgow also study material that belonged to Dorrith, which she and her five children have made available to the Center, over the years. These includes documents such as visas, letters, and photos, in addition to clothing, and other artifacts.
Because Dorrith, in her adult life, was also a writer for BBC Radio in Scotland, there are recorded interviews with her, along with other stories that she wrote, which are also available to all groups and classes at the Center.
Eli’s 2022 connection with the German art teacher, Julia Drinnenbergin, recently led he and his wife, Jill, to bring their own adaptation of the In My Pocket project to their museum in Perth, Australia.
Their children’s workshops are being presented by their WE ARE HERE! Foundation at the WA Museum Boola Bardip*.
Their first two-hour class for 9- to 11- year-olds was just a few months, in March, with three more scheduled for the rest of the year.
Every class will be followed by a creative arts and crafts workshop, with all materials provided by the Foundation. The children decorate their own calico pockets with designs inspired by the story, In My Pocket. They take home their pockets, along with a certificate of participation, and a free mini copy of In My Pocket.
While aimed at 9- to 11- year-olds, this beautifully illustrated book affords children of all ages, and adults as well, a new perspective on the current situation of child refugees and displaced people. In the words of the Foundation, “It is also a wonderful introduction on how to be an upstander, and not a bystander.”
For those of you who would like a copy of In My Pocket, it’s available at Amazon Books, for $7.00.
Footnote: The museum’s name, WA Boola Bardip, means, “many stories”, in the Aboriginal language of the territory, in which the museum sits; (WA or Western Australia)
My friendship with Eli Rabinowitz, who you just met, began last year after a long distance phone call. But before that call I got a “to whom it may concern” type email. Not though my regular mail, however. Instead it came from “Vimeo”, the place where I store my film, For the Life of Me. An email utility that only functions when people have seen my film but don’t know how to reach me otherwise.
As I learned later, he saw the film at the urging of a friend of his, who had seen it earlier on the internet. He was obviously impressed enough that he wanted to set up a phone call to discuss the film’s historic value, and his ability to guide possible future placement.
I was dubious at first, as I had been scammed recently. But he also sent me supporting material about who he is and what he does. And I was amazed. This guy is seriously involved in Jewish history and genealogy, and well placed enough to do be able to do something about it . . . on an international level. You’ve already seen that from the work he’s done with In My Pocket, and his WE ARE HERE! Foundation.
But then, in a later phone call, he asked me if my film was in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. When I told him that it wasn’t, he connected me with a curator he knew at the museum. Then once the curator saw the film, he want it plus many of my family’s historical photos and artifacts to go with it.
Now, because of Eli, my film, For the Life of Me is permanently in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, DC, where it exists for the rest of the world to see. Thank you Eli, you are truly a “Mensch”!