Holocaust survivor and former Israeli Air Force pilot, Hugo Marom, recently met with our cohort to tell his story of survival through the Kindertransport. Marom was born in 1929 into a Jewish family from Prague, who can trace their roots in the city back centuries. He was just a child when the Sudentenland was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938. Jews from this region fled for other parts of Czechoslovakia, which was then also taken over by Germany. Around this time, a British man, Nicholas Winton, was invited by a friend to Czechoslovakia who wanted him to help in saving Czech Jews. After seeing the imminent danger, Winton returned to England to request permission from the British government to send Jewish children to England. He found support from many organizations that wanted to help, including Jewish, Protestant and non-religious groups from both England and Czechoslovakia. The British government agreed only on the conditions that English sponsor parents who wanted to temporarily adopt these children pay large sums of money and get multiple visas and affidavits for them. These conditions made it increasingly difficult to find homes for these Czech children, but Winton succeeded in finding homes for 900 children. Another man, Bill Barazzetti from Switzerland, also worked with Winton to find places for them. He had worked for years prior on helping Jews and Communists escape from Nazi-occupied territory, and after nearly being beaten to death by the Gestapo, he continued his incredible work.
Marom and his younger brother were two of the children on this list. He recalled saying goodbye to his parents, for what he did not know would be the last time, and boarding the train with other children. They were on the last train out of Czechoslovakia before travel stopped for the beginning of WWII. They departed Prague on July 28, 1939. The last trains scheduled to leave were for September 1, 1939, the day Nazi Germany invaded Poland. In total, 669 of the 900 children on Winton’s list made it out on these trains. Their long journey made stops in Leipzig and Holland before finally reaching London. He even remembers writing postcards from Leipzig to his parents, as instructed to do by the organizers of their trip. Upon arriving to London on August 3, 1939, 10-year-old Marom and his 8-year-old brother went alone to find shelter, finally finding a place at a youth hostel on the East End. Two weeks after the bombing of London started, all children, the Marom brothers included, were sent out of the city to the countryside for safety. They found a family to live with, and remained there for the next six years until the end of the war. At first, he said, some British families were hesitant to take them in because of the language. Their German language fell on sensitive ears; the scars from WWI were still fresh and hearing the sound of the enemy was too much for some. “Animosity often comes through language”, recalled Marom. He then spoke briefly of his life in England during the war. He quickly learned English, and made friends. His favorite meal until this day is fish and chips!
Marom then painfully spoke about his parents. They made the Kindertransport trains seem like a fun game, in order to mask their pain about parting from their children. After the war, he found out that both of his parents had been murdered. His mother was shot while she served as a cook in Auschwitz, and his father was killed in Treblinka. Most of the Kindertransport children lost their families; of the 70,000 Jews in pre-WWII Moravia, very few survived. Following the Allied victory, Marom remained in England with his brother and other Czech Jewish children. The retain their Jewish identity, the children, many of them now teenagers, created their own kehillah, or community. A synagogue was established with a rabbi that conducted prayer services when he was available; the rest of the time the Bar Mitzvah-age children (including Marom) led. Marom became a cobbler by trade, and received a scholarship to the Northwest Polytechnic School. Later he made Aliyah to Israel, where he served in the Israeli Air Force and was stationed in Jaffa.
It wasn’t until decades after the war the Winton and Barazzetti received attention for their heroic actions. In a now-famous British television show, Winton was invited as a guest who was then surprised to find out that their entire audience was former Kindertransport children. Following this incredible revelation, in which Winton’s deeds because public to the world, he was invited to Yad Vashem in Israel to be awarded the Righteous Among the Nations. However, because of Winton’s partial Jewish ancestry, he wasn’t eligible for the award. Barazzetti was given it posthumously, and Winton was given a letter from Ezer Weitzmann, then the Prime Minister of Israel, in recognition of him saving 669 Jewish lives.
Marom told this incredible story to our class, and then answered our questions. Student, Laura, asked about his role in the Israeli Air Force. Marom told about receiving his wings from David Ben-Gurion himself, and the pride he felt representing the Jewish state. Weiss-Livnat director, Dr. Yael Granot-Bein, then took the opportunity to talk about the formation of a thesis topic. She pointed out that students in the past have written on subjects related to the Kindertransport. She used their examples for our cohort, many of whom are currently working on their thesis proposals. In all, it was an inspiring and informative talk with Marom, and a unique opportunity to hear from someone who was a part of the history we study.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/