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September 29, 2018
challenge event

A personal reflection on a 600 mile bike ride


Large group of cyclists dressed in cycling jerseys posing for photo

A personal reflection on a 600 mile bike ride

By Rebecca Singer, Head of Communications and Community Engagement, World Jewish Relief

Rebecca website

On a warm Sunday morning in June a group of 42 cyclists gathered by Frank Meisler’s statue dedicated to the Kindertransport which stands outside Friedrichstrasse Station in central Berlin. They were about to set off on a 600 mile bike ride to commemorate 80 years since the Kindertransport and somehow I found myself amoung them.

I had been training for this journey for many months which meant long Sundays away from the family, late night turbo sessions on the bike in the back garden, early morning jaunts to Regent’s Park and an incredibly supportive husband who took childcare worries off my hands. But although most of us had anticipated how physically difficult it was going to be, we may have underestimated the emotional impact the following days would have and the strength of support from people at home.

World Jewish Relief organised the ride because our predecessor The Central British Fund (CBF), alongside other faith organisations, helped arrange and fund the extraordinary rescue effort which saved 10,000 children from Nazi Europe between 1938 and 1939. Our route would trace the journey made by the children on the trains – following the tracks across Germany and into Holland. We would catch the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich before finishing at London Liverpool Street, the final destination for many of the children before they were sent to their new homes.

Before we set off from Berlin, representatives from the British and German governments urged us to speak openly about our cause and reminded us that our ride was a ride for tolerance. We heard from a Rabbinic student about the importance of remembering through a physical act and how we’d be carrying the weight of history on our shoulders. The sunglasses we were wearing couldn’t disguise the welling of emotion that swept over the group.

Then we were off. Over the following 6 days we cycled. In sunshine and in rain. The winds blew – sometimes up to 40 mph – but there was no stopping us! And whilst the ride was demanding and challenging, the terrain was generally flat – apart from one very welcome hilly day – and the cycle paths and roads in Germany and Holland were a delight.

As we continually crossed or caught site of the train tracks we were reminded of the children who had left their homes and families and were heading for a foreign land. Crossing from Germany into Holland felt significant as it was at this point that the children would have been able to start feeling a sense of relief at their escape from Nazi Germany.

Some of the riders had a direct connection to the Kindertransport and over the 6 days we heard about how their parents or grandparents had escaped and about the life they made for themselves in the UK. One of the cyclists, Paul Alexander, was just 19 months old when his mother put her only child into the arms of a stranger to be taken to safety on the Kindertransport. Now 80 years old and living in Israel, he cycled alongside his son and grandson as a celebration of his life.

Every rider was paired with a Kind and as one of only two women cyclists it was wonderful to be able to dedicate my ride to commemorate the journey made by two extraordinary women, Rosie Rosenberg (née Feingold) and Marion Marston (nee Dreyer), whose grandchildren speak glowingly about them. Rosie was 13 years old when she arrived in December 1938 from Vienna. She came from a large chassidish family but after coming on the Kindertransport she never saw her parents again. She was a passionate Zionist and made Aliyah with her husband Johnny in 1981 where they lived for the rest of their lives. She had 3 sons, 10 grandchildren and many great grandchildren who live in Israel and England. Her grand-daughter says “she was a warm and caring Savti who has a beautiful voice and loved to cook delicious food.”

Marion was 14 years old when she arrived in March 1939 from Halle, Germany. With blonde hair and blue eyes she was never the target of anti-semitism but she knew her friends weren’t as lucky. A family friend in England asked the CBF to find Marion a family and got her a place on the Kindertransport. Marion’s father was able to come to the CBF’s Kitchener camp in Kent and by knocking on strangers’ doors Marion found a Quaker family who was able to get a domestic work permit for her mother to come too. Marion married Morris in 1949 and they were together for over 50 years, having 2 children, 5 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

Our arrival at the second of Frank Meisler’s ‘Kindertransport’ statues at the Hook of Holland felt momentous and emotional, especially at the end of a challenging day’s cycling and because Frank was himself a Kind. As we stopped for a picture it reminded us of the terrible dilemma facing many parents after Kristallnacht. The strength they must have had to put their children on trains and say goodbye, not knowing whether they would ever see them again, is a truly heroic part of the story. It prompted difficult questions about whether we could have done the same.

We crossed the North Sea to Harwich just as the children had done 80 years before, and our final day’s cycle was euphoric – we were on home soil and headed towards an overwhelming welcome at Liverpool Street, our families and friends greeting us with open arms and warm embraces. It was wonderful to see Tom, the 3 kids and my parents there. The medal ceremony felt especially poignant as it took place next to Frank Meisler’s third and final ‘Kindertransport’ statue which had been commissioned by World Jewish Relief and the AJR.

What a magnificent and unforgettable experience it has been, bringing this important historical event to life through the ride and the stories it revealed. The support has been amazing and we have raised more than £200,000 towards World Jewish Relief’s work, saving lives today, just as it did all those years ago.

If you are a descendant of a Kindertransport child or of older refugees who came from Germany or Austria in the 1930s or 40s, World Jewish Relief has an incredible archive relating to these people. It is a treasure trove of information and you can find out if they have documents on your family members by filling out an enquiry form via our ‘Your Family History’ page.