Kindertransport by Jennifer Childers

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  • Nurse Erika Lehmier cares for the children housed at Grafeneck Castle as though they were her own. When the SS confiscates Grafeneck, Erika discovers plans to turn the castle into a treatment center that will end the lives of children with disabilities.

    One of her children, Heidi, has no visible handicap, and thereby has a small chance to escape the Nazi destruction, but for the rest, Erika must find a way to escape—or face the heartbreaking decision to give them a peaceful death by her own hand.

    Will she find a way out? Can she trust Rickard, when he wears an SS uniform?

    (252 pages) Spicy

    Excerpt:

    I filled a syringe with morphine.

    Could innocent blood ever be washed away?

    Would my hands ever be clean again if I continued on this course? The gas would make them choke, gasping for breath as life was strangled to nothingness. Morphine would make them euphoric, and an overdose would put them to sleep, peacefully, with no pain. A sleep from which they would not wake, but they would be safe from the evil that awaited them otherwise.

    I filled the second syringe. I thought of each child as I punctured the rubber stopper, the needle sucking up the lethal fluid filling the tube. Little Wilhelm. My treasured leader of the pack. The braces on his legs never stopped his imagination from soaring. Lara. An artist’s soul expressed with the one good hand she had. Art reflective of the beauty living in her heart. The twins. Isn’t intelligence measured with creativity? I would sorely miss their energy.

    My hand slipped, and the needle grazed the knuckle of my thumb. I swore and bit my lip. Perfect. I’ll kill myself before I get a chance to euthanize my children. Then, after I enter Heaven’s gates, if He lets me inside them, God can tell me I am an idiot and a murderer.

    I rubbed my shoulders. They hunched with an invisible weight that made my back ache.

Reviews

Grade 
07/19/2010

Review

Erika Lehmeier is a nurse in the German city of Marburg, a city in change. A new Power has taken over Germany, and he is intent on restoring the country’s status in Europe, bringing it back to its former glory. Austria has just been annexed and new laws are being passed, emphasis is being placed on health and physical perfection, people who speak out against the new regime are harassed, and young people are encouraged to join government-based organizations. Laws calling for voluntary euthanasia of the unfit and ill are being passed, and riots ensue and in answer to this news, Great Britain has organized the Kindertransport, opening its doors to allow ten thousand German children, whose parents are under arrest or in resettlement centers, to come to England to live.

On Christmas morning in 1938, though she doesn’t know it, Erika’s world is about to come tumbling down. On her way to church, she seems a friend being hustled into a black Mercedes belonging to the Gestapo. Her crime: being a Jehovah’s Witness. She will never see her friend again. At church, she meets Rickard Sankt, blond, blue-eyed, and handsome—the German ideal. Rick works for the Reich Health Ministry, and will become the most important man in her life. Encouraged by their priest, Father Julian, Erika accompanies Rickard to a dance given by the League of Germans girls. There, she will meet another person destined to play a part in her future, Gregor, a supercilious, superior aristocrat who looks down on his college friend, Rickard, because of his lower-class beginnings. At the dance, the Edelweiss pirates, an underground movement, sets up a series of smoke bombs and defaces Rickard’s car and the exterior of the building with accusations against the Fuehrer. While he and others investigate, Rickard send Erika home in spite of her protests, and so the story begins.

Transferring to Grafeneck Castle where monks tend disabled children, Erika falls in love with her little charges. It is there that she once again meets Rickard but now he’s in the sinister black uniform of an SS officer, accompanied by fellow officer Gregor. Shocked by his deception, she wonders if she can trust him in view of the things which have been happening in the city…people disappearing, the Edelweiss pirates becoming more active, new and cruel laws concerning those who are sick, handicapped, or disabled. She is even more shaken to learn that Rick is there to inspect the castle because it is being turned into a hospital for wounded German soldiers, an odd instance since Germany isn’t at war. She’s further agitated when Gregor’s antagonistic behavior frightens the children, though Rickard is still gentle and kind to them. Soon the handsome SS officer is back in her life, this time as an obvious suitor. When Erika’s parents receive a letter informing them her sister, stricken with polio, has died of pneumonia, she wonders why no priest was called to give last rites and why her sister’s body was cremated. As Erika asks more and more questions, Rickard’s behavior begins to change, vacillating between outrage at the practices of the SS and cold adherence to their rules. When he takes her to a dinner honoring one of their members, Erika views first-hand the cruelty of the Reich’s new beliefs and only his reaction to what happens there keeps her from speaking out.

Soon, she will have more to worry about than Rickard’s odd behavior. The day for the children to be removed from the castle and shipped to other hospitals is drawing close. Discovering letters in their files similar to the one her parents received, she learns each one is going to be killed, euthanized as undesirable elements because of their handicaps. Desperately, she set out to save the children. Her attempts to get their parents to remove them from the castle are foiled by Gregor who suspects her of being in the Resistance. Only Rickard’s vouching for her saves her from arrest. Then, Erika discovers the blueprints for the new additions to the castle and realizes the “showers” are actually gas chambers. Now, she is frantic. Her sister was killed because of her polio, the children—innocent but undesirable because of their disabilities—will be next. Father Julian is arrested in the middle of a sermon because he dares to speak out. Her only hope is to get the children into the Kindertransport and sent safely to England but that plan also fails. She doesn’t dare trust Rickard. After all, he’s in the SS and sworn to arrest anyone working against the Reich, but she has to do something to save her trusting, helpless wards. Desperate, she accepts neither she nor they are going to escape. Faced with the ultimate decision, believing an overdose of morphine is more merciful than death by poisonous gas, she fills six hypodermics with the deadly drug, and goes to her little charges’ rooms...

MY OPINION: Kindertransport is about a facet of history if which I’m certain many people are ignorant—the removing of endangered children from Germany to England where they were placed in foster homes. From movies, history books, novels, and newsreels, one is familiar with the Third Reich, the SS, the Gestapo, and the prison camps, but how many know that this movement was started before the Second World War to give refuge to those threatened by the new Power in their country? Set against this background of social and political upheaval, Erika and Rickard’s story tells the quiet desperation of people involved in the struggle to protect those too weak and helpless to protect themselves.

Though I felt there was a slight lack of detail in Erika’s relationship with Rickard, and wanted more background on him and Gregor, I enjoyed the budding love story, as well as Erika’s ambivalence over her feelings for a man who could cause her death with a single words while at the same time, seeming to encourage her in the acts she committed. The banter they engage in was enjoyable and affectionate and made a light-hearted contrast to their surroundings. Many devastating and cruel acts are mentioned second-hand, and I felt they would’ve been more effective if actually described in a first-person account and would have given the story more of a tense, desperate atmosphere. Perhaps it’s because I grew up on a diet of World War II movies, but Erika and Rickard’s escape from the SS seemed just a little too easy. Perhaps in the early days, it could have been, however. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable story and it brings to life two generally unmentioned aspects of German history: the Edelweiss pirates and the Kindertransport. With its striking cover of an edelweiss blossom transposed over a German schloss, Kindertransport is an interesting facet in a coming war which might not have happened if people could have somehow managed to be more aware of what was going on around them.

    Grade 
    08/18/2009

    Review

    i thought that this story was well thought out, it had a little mystery as well as another perspective on the german people who were not nazis.

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      Kindertransport

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