We Had to Be Brave : Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport

by Deborah Hopkinson

Scholastic Focus
February 2020

Ages 8 – 12 . Grades 3 – 7

Ruth David was growing up in a small village in Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. Under the Nazi Party, Jewish families like Ruth's experienced rising anti-Semitic restrictions and attacks. Just going to school became dangerous. By November 1938, anti-Semitism erupted into Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and unleashed a wave of violence and forced arrests.

Days later, desperate volunteers sprang into action to organize the Kindertransport, a rescue effort to bring Jewish children to England. Young people like Ruth David had to say good-bye to their families, unsure if they'd ever be reunited. Miles from home, the Kindertransport refugees entered unrecognizable lives, where food, clothes -- and, for many of them, language and religion -- were startlingly new. Meanwhile, the onset of war and the Holocaust visited unimaginable horrors on loved ones left behind. Somehow, these rescued children had to learn to look forward, to hope.

Through the moving and often heart-wrenching personal accounts of Kindertransport survivors, critically acclaimed and award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson paints the timely and devastating story of how the rise of Hitler and the Nazis tore apart the lives of so many families and what they were forced to give up in order to save these children.
Deborah Hopkinson

Deborah Hopkinson is the acclaimed author of over 40 award-winning books, including Shutting Out the Sky, an NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book and a Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book; Up Before Daybreak, a Carter G. Woodson Honor Award winner; Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist and Sibert Honor Book; Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and Orbis Pictus Recommended title; Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific; and D-Day: The World War II Invasion that Changed History. Deborah lives with her family near Portland, Oregon.


--- - Marianne’s friends started to treat her differently. “The security of my own small world gradually began to give way. I remember my sorrow when I was not invited to the usual round of birthday parties. I was the only Jewish girl in my form [grade level] and I found to my shame and discomfort that my former friends would no longer sit next to me... In the playground they were not allowed to talk to me or play with me. I walked around on my own.”

It was much the same for her parents. It had become dangerous for other town residents to be associated with Jewish people. “They were simply not allowed to [talk to us], and risked their jobs and the goodwill of the authorities if they ignored these instructions,” said Marianne. “I remember one very good friend who deliberately came across the street to greet my mother and speak to her. My mother was quite shocked and afraid for her [friend’s] safety.”

That woman’s defiance was the exception. Most people seemed perfectly glad to turn their backs—or worse. “I remember one occasion, fairly early on, when there was a Sunday of harassment. Young men in brown uniforms were driven round the town in open lorries [trucks]. They stopped outside the houses where Jews were known to live and bawled obscene anti-Semitic song. I was very frightened and blocked up my ears. My mother, white as a sheet, said comfortingly, ‘As long as they only sing, it will be all right.’”

Marianne realized that the “innocent, calm, comfortable days were over—forever.” Instead, “a worrying time started.”