Aberystwyth academic delivers lecture at German parliament

Professor Andrea Hammel (left) with Lukas Geck, Exhibition Director of ‘I said Auf Wiedersehen’ at the Bundestag in Berlin.

Professor Andrea Hammel (left) with Lukas Geck, Exhibition Director of ‘I said Auf Wiedersehen’ at the Bundestag in Berlin.

09 February 2024

An Aberystwyth University expert on the Kindertransport scheme presented the findings of her extensive research at the German national parliament in Berlin this week.

Andrea Hammel, Professor of German and Director of the Centre for the Movement of People at Aberystwyth University, delivered a lecture at the Bundestag, the national parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Kindertransport scheme saw 10,000 Jewish child refugees rescued during a ten-month period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Second World War.  
Whilst generally viewed as a feel-good wartime success story and a positive example of the UK’s humanitarian and altruistic attitude towards refugees in the past, Professor Hammel’s lecture argued that its legacy should be viewed through a more critical lens.

Before delivering her lecture, Professor Hammel said: 

“The Kindertransport scheme has been remembered as a generous government-led scheme - a heroic rescue achieved against the odds.  In fact, the scheme was poorly resourced by the British government, and instead relied on charitable donations and volunteers.

“The British government also only relaxed visa rules for children - it refused to admit the child refugees’ parents, worried they might compete for jobs at a time of high unemployment amongst British workers.  The selection criteria did not prioritise the most urgent cases either, but those who were likely to give the best impression and might make the best contribution to society in the future.  And some children and young people were placed in unsuitable homes, sometimes with terrible consequences.

“I am very pleased to have been invited to share my research into the Kindertransport scheme at the Bundestag. I strongly believe that there is much that history can teach us about historical treatment of refugees, which could make life easier for children fleeing conflict today, and it’s important that we are realistic about the success but also the shortcomings of the Kindertransport.

“My lecture coincided with the very moving exhibition, ‘I said, 'Auf Wiedersehen'’ supported by the Bertold Leibinger Stiftung and the Freundeskreis Yad Vashem. The exhibition depicts, through letters and postcards, the heartbreaking separation felt by five families whose children fled on the Kindertransport.”

The exhibition curator Ruth Ur said: 

“We were delighted that Professor Hammel was able to present her research and her latest book at the Bundestag. She was able to show the complex history of the Kindertransport and give context to the letters and postcards between the child refugees in the UK and the parents and families left behind on the Continent which are presented in our exhibition ‘I said Auf Wiedersehen’.”

Professor Andrea Hammel’s book, ‘Kindertransport – What Really Happened’ (Polity Books) was published to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport scheme in November 2023.