Howard woman to tell a story of secret charity

March 10, 2003

The important thing to communicate is that it was a secret.

"Nobody knew about the Kindertransport to America. It was kept quiet because it was such a horrible time during which America was so isolated and so anti-Semitic that anything that would appear in the news media would work against helping the children," said Trudy Turkel, who will tell the story of the Kindertransport this week at the Miller branch library.

Turkel, who lives in Ellicott City, is a volunteer with the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, where she is a German translator. In 1938, at age 14, her parents put her on the Kindertransport to America to escape the Nazis, and she sailed with a group of eight Jewish children to New York.

"I was one of the older children. There were children there from 5 years on," she said. "You can imagine, they couldn't read or write and they were going into a strange place without anybody. They didn't know what to expect. But the younger they were the less worried they were. They didn't know that anything could go wrong. The groups were very small so we wouldn't call any attention to somebody bringing us over."

Her sponsor was a social service organization in St. Louis, where she went to live with a foster family. "The call went out from Jewish organizations to try to rescue children, [and] they responded," Turkel said. "In 1934, [the Nazis] were glad to get rid of us. The trouble started in Kristallnacht [a large, coordinated attack on Jews in the German Reich] in 1938, the day after I landed in America."

Even now, Turkel's voice is joyous when she recalls her arrival. "The first thing I did was buy a package of cigarettes. And the Statue of Liberty greeted us," she said.

The American Kindertransport, which operated from 1934 to 1945, saved about 1,250 children; the British Kindertransport lasted 10 months and saved 10,000, Turkel said.

Her father, convinced that his family would never escape together, sent Turkel's 5 1/2 -year-old brother on the Kindertransport to England; he sent her older sister to what was then Palestine. Turkel, the middle child, kept in touch with them all. Her parents arrived in America in 1941.

"I may tell you that 90 percent of the children [from the Kindertransport] never saw their parents again," she said. "It's a very difficult thing for an adult in the 70s, as we all are now, to talk about these things. ... I kept saying to my father and mother, `I could never have done that, give my children away like that.' And they said, `Oh, yes you could - if you had to.'"

Turkel will speak at the Miller branch library, 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, at 7 p.m. Thursday. Registration is required. Information: 410-313- 1950.

The program is co-sponsored by One Thousand Children Inc., a nonprofit organization documenting the American Kindertransport. Information: www. onethousandchildren.org.

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