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One survivor’s story

By Jon Mays Daily Planet Staff
Monday June 11, 2001

Kindertransport saved thousands during holocaust  


When Ralph Samuel’s parents put him on a plane from Nazi-occupied Germany to London more than 60 years ago, he thought it was the beginning of a great adventure. And in a sense, it was.  

In a story he told to people at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center yesterday morning, Samuel, spoke of being one of 10,000 children saved during World War II during an operation called Kindertransport. 

“All of us were under 17 and had no idea of where we were going. We were all very excited because the kids did not know what we were in for,” Samuel, 69, said.  

The children became part of foster families in Great Britain and many of them never saw their parents again.  

“Jewish parents in upper and middle class families were willing to put their children on a train, or in my case an airplane, with the absolute understanding that they would never see them again,” he said. “There was an understanding that they would survive with the knowledge that they themselves would not.” 

Nazi persecution of Jews began Nov. 9, 1938, on “Kristallnacht,” or Night of the Broken Glass, when mobs destroyed synagogues, smashed Jewish stores, and beat up and humiliated Jews.  

Soon after, the Refugee Children’s Movement began in London. That movement assured that thousands of Jewish children would be saved. At the age of 7, Samuel arrived in London from Dresdon, Germany in January of 1938 to stay with the family of Samuel Epstein. Samuel learned that Epstein selected him for sponsorship because his last name was Epstein’s first, and Ralph was the middle name of Epstein’s son Peter. 

“I came with a placard held with a piece of string around my neck to be collected by Mr. Epstein. I arrived like a package,” Samuel said.  

His mother was hired as Epstein’s maid in March of 1939 and soon stayed with him. The Epsteins were very traditional, and while Samuel was allowed to eat in the dining room, his mother had to eat in the kitchen because she was considered hired help and not family.  

Within three months, Samuel was speaking English. 

When Great Britain entered the war and the bombing of London began in September of 1939, Samuel was evacuated with 3.5 million other British children to Guilford. His mother soon followed and they stayed until after the war.  

In 1942, his father sent his last letter from a holding camp in Dresdon. In March of 1943, his father went to Auschwitz and was killed.  

Samuel’s mother did not tell him about his father’s death until after the war was over and he was 14.  

“It was very interesting. We got a Red Cross letter and I remember my mother calling me into my room. She said, ‘Your father has died. You have to be a good boy,’” he said. 

After the war, the other children went back to London, but Samuel stayed in Guilford with his mother. Until later, he lost contact with the Epsteins. 

In 1958, at the age of 27, Samuel came to the United States. He married and has two children. He worked in property acquisitions for Bay Area Rapid Transit and the East Bay Park system. He helped found the NorCal Chapter of the Kindertransport Association and has organized reunions.  

The majority of people who survived the holocaust because of Kindertranport have benevolent professions, Samuel said.  

“A very high percentage of kinder [German children] went into the helping profession. I did real estate but only for public agencies and when we have our reunions, everyone is a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker,” he said. 

For the past year, Samuel himself decided to begin recounting his experience to school and community groups so that other generations can learn. That connection, the Point Richmond resident said, is very important. 

“It’s absolutely vital because, as I tell the high school kids I talk to, you are the last generation to hear the story first hand,” he said. “World War II is not the same time of the dinosaurs. I was there and I lived it.”