A grandfather rescued from Nazi Germany by the Kindertransport almost 80 years ago has described himself as “a lucky guy” after cycling the route the train took with his son and grandson.
Paul Alexander was just 18 months old when he joined the thousands of children fleeing persecution at the hands of Hitler’s regime just before the Second World War broke out.
Britain took in 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children between 1938 and 1939, who had left their families behind in Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia, and this year charity World Jewish Relief organised a bike ride tracing the route they took to mark 80 years since the rescue began.
A group of 42 people from all over the world, including Mr Alexander, his son Nadav and grandson Daniel, set off last Sunday morning from Friedrichstrasse Station in Berlin where the first train departed in 1938.
They cycled to the Hook of Holland before taking a ferry to Harwich in Essex, arriving at London Liverpool Street Station on Friday evening.
Most of the cyclists are descendants of people rescued by the Kindertransport, but only Mr Alexander experienced the journey first-hand.
Mr Alexander, 80, was just a baby when his mother bravely handed her only child to a British volunteer nurse and waved goodbye at the station.
Speaking at the finish line, he said: “I have to thank World Jewish Relief for having organised the Kindertransport, for having organised my exit from Germany to England and I have to thank the British people for allowing 10,000 children to come in unaccompanied.”
He added: “Last but not least I have to thank my mum and dad for sending me away, alone – one can’t imagine what they must have thought about it, and my mother not knowing whether she would ever see me again.”
Mr Alexander, who lived in London until he was 24 and now lives in Israel, was reunited with his parents when he was about four or five.
“Coming into England on July 14 1939 was a second birth for me. It gave me life. I’m a lucky guy,” he said.
More than 50% of the children who took the Kindertransport never saw their parents again.
“I was lucky, I was reunited with my parents after three years, I had a good life in England and then I moved to the state of Israel, built a beautiful family there and my life has been very wonderful,” he said.
“I’m a lucky guy and this is one of the happiest and most incredible moments of my life.”
Mr Alexander’s wife Nili said: “It’s a really amazing thing. Just to have my son and grandson here together with him.
“My son (Nadav) has a baby who is just 18 months old and that’s the same age that Paul was when he was put in the train, and he keeps asking ‘How could a mother leave her son?’
“And I say, ‘Instead of death, he is alive because he came to London’.”
The Kindertransport was organised immediately after the anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht, often referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, in Germany in November 1938 by World Jewish Reliefs predecessor organisation the Central British Fund for German Jewry.
An evacuation of mostly Jewish children to Britain began, with the UK government waiving the need for visas and agencies including World Jewish Relief helping to bring trainloads of children across.
Britain declared war on Hitler’s Germany on September 3 1939.