The Kindertransport in Literature

Reimagining Experience

by Stephanie Homer (Author)
©2022 Monographs VIII, 250 Pages
Series: Exile Studies, Volume 20


«In this insightful book, Stephanie Homer interrogates how different genre conventions (memoir, autobiographical fiction and novels) influence the representation of the Kindertransport. Her theoretical approach is sophisticated, her selection of texts judicious and representative. Homer’s contribution to the study of the reception history of the Kindertransport is important and timely.» (Bill Niven, Professor of Contemporary German History, Nottingham Trent University)
«An immensely valuable intervention into studies of Kindertransport representations, this book invites readers into the ambiguities of memory. With clarity and confidence, the book explores the liberating creative potential of autobiographical fiction and polyphonic fictional voices which have reimagined the places and perspectives on Kindertransport as a migratory experience and literary compulsion. The book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Kindertransport literature as a genuinely transnational genre of witnessing and re-witnessing.» (Dr Simone Gigliotti, Senior Lecturer in Holocaust Studies, Royal Holloway, University of London)
With the dwindling number of Kindertransportees alive today, the living memory of this rescue operation is being transformed into cultural memory, a trend noticeable in the publication of popular Kindertransport fiction since the beginning of the twenty-first century. This change in memory invites the following questions: how is the child refugee’s experience remembered, represented and reimagined in literature? And, consequently, what understanding of the Kindertransport is being transmitted to the following generations?
Drawing on understandings of genre, narratology and empathy, this book examines works in English, German and Dutch from three literary genres: memoirs and autobiographical fiction by Kindertransportees and recent fiction by authors with no first-hand experience of the Kindertransport. This study exposes the various conventions, tensions and reader expectations attached to each genre and how these influence the author’s construction of the text and, in turn, the nature of the representation. This topical research engages in debates at the heart of current discussions on Holocaust and Kindertransport memory, such as the limits of representability, the «unspeakability» of trauma, and issues of ethics and aesthetics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction The Kindertransport and Literary Genres
  • Chapter 1 Kindertransport History and Memory
  • Chapter 2 Memoirs: Representing the Self and Navigating Trauma
  • Chapter 3 Autobiographical Fiction: Reimagining the Refugee Experience
  • Chapter 4 Fiction: Negotiating History, Aesthetics, and the Reader
  • Conclusion Literary Genres as Ways of Reading Experience
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

←vi | vii→


In January 2017, I began my PhD study at the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), School of Advanced Study (University of London). This book is the result of three years of research and was submitted, in its original thesis form, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in January 2020. This study would not have been possible without the generous support of the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Bursary, which facilitated both my PhD study and my master’s degree at the IMLR.

There are many people I wish to thank. Firstly, I am indebted to Dr Andrea Hammel, who has been an incredible mentor from the first day of my undergraduate degree at Aberystwyth University in 2011. Thank you for your guidance as a PhD supervisor and your refreshing sense of humour.

I also wish to thank Professor Charmian Brinson and Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex for their invaluable insights, thought-provoking discussions, and guidance throughout this project. Thank you to my PhD examiners, Dr Tony Grenville and Professor Bill Niven, for an intellectually stimulating and enjoyable viva, and my upgrade examiners, Dr Bea Lewkowicz and Dr Teresa Ludden, for their immensely helpful comments. I am also grateful for the fascinating research seminars organized by the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies.

In 2017, I was extremely lucky to meet with two Kindertransportees, Ruth Barnett and the late Harry Stevens. I was honoured and humbled to hear their stories, and it brings me great joy to remember how Harry Stevens, whom I met in Highgate’s Café Rouge, insisted we conclude our meeting with a stronger drink to follow on from the hot chocolate. I wish to thank all the Kindertransportees and child refugees from National Socialism who have shared their stories in one form or another.

I am also grateful to Jana Zinser for taking the time to answer several questions about her novel, and to Emma Towers-Evans for her perfect cover design. Thank you to Laurel Plapp at Peter Lang for her patience ←vii | viii→and guidance. I am delighted to publish my first book in Peter Lang’s Exile Studies series.

My friends and family have been a marvellous support and have always given me the energy to open another book or to write an extra paragraph. Special thanks go to Maren Meinhardt for her friendship and fantastic cooking, and to Angharad Mountford, Amy Williams, and Johan van Limpt for their interest in the project and for spending hours asking questions in mock viva exams on Zoom. My thanks also go to Gail Wiltshire, Ruth Rix, and Jana Buresova for their unwavering encouragement.

My parents, Elaine and Robert Homer, have buoyed me up, spurred me on, and celebrated my achievements, however small, ever since my first day at primary school. I am so grateful to them. Last but not least, I wish to thank Siem van Limpt, who has been my rock and sounding board over the past five years. Thank you for mulling over ideas with me, for making sense of anything number-related (not my strong suit), and for the countless cups of tea.

←viii | 1→


The Kindertransport and Literary Genres

The children’s transport, or the Kindertransport as it later became known, is one of the most celebrated and remembered British humanitarian actions that took place in the years directly preceding the Second World War. Between December 1938 and September 1939, transports by trains, ships, and planes carried close to 10,000 predominantly Jewish children (known as ‘Kinder’, ‘Kindertransportees’, or ‘Kind’ in the singular) away from the perils they faced in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. It was just one of several quickly implemented rescue operations.

Recently, amidst the urgency to record the voices of surviving Holocaust witnesses, there has been a lot of activity surrounding the Kindertransport as the historical event begins to slip from living memory into cultural memory. This memory will subsequently be left in the hands of future generations. The growing necessity to remember the Kindertransport is reflected in public discussions, the work of institutions such as The Kindertransport Association and The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), and the publication of numerous literary works about the Kindertransport.

In his study Remembering Refugees, Tony Kushner argues, ‘of all refugee movements in twentieth-century Britain, both large and small, it is the arrival of what turned out to be close to ten thousand children in the last ten months of peace that has produced the largest number of histories, memoirs, exhibitions, plays, documentaries, films […] and memorials’.1 Whilst this is impressive, this statement begs the following question: how is the representation of this historical period affected by a genre’s capabilities, creative freedoms, and restrictions? This study responds to this question ←1 | 2→by investigating the role and potential of three literary genres in remembering, representing, preserving, and transforming memory.

Literary representation and memory – the two central concerns in this research – can be viewed as inseparable; processes of memory (individual, social, collective, and cultural memory) influence the creation of narratives, and, by extension, these forms of representation determine how the Kindertransport is remembered. The first concern – an issue of representation – is how the Kindertransport experience is constructed and represented in memoirs, autobiographical fiction written by Kindertransportees, and fiction written by authors with no personal connection to the Kindertransport. The second concern – an issue of remembrance – relates to how these genre-mediated literary texts influence the reader’s understanding or impression of the Kindertransport experience. It is not only the narrative and presentation of experience that is significant; the reaction of the reader and their position in relation to the text is also key in understanding the way in which the Kindertransport is entering the public sphere.

Cultural anthropologist Aleida Assmann acknowledges that memory does not ‘simply [yield] to history’, and that ‘the question then becomes how this memory gets extended beyond the reach of lived memory and what changes it undergoes in the process’.2 The processes facilitated by literary genres – the transition away from lived memory, transformation of experience, and transmission to future generations – are aspects at the heart of this research. Accordingly, this study responds to the following questions: How do the conventions of each genre influence the construction of the Kindertransport representation? Which aspects of the Kindertransport experience are transformed, emphasized, or reworked across literary genres? What is the position of the reader across the different literary genres, and to what extent are they encouraged to engage or empathize with the texts?


Over the past two decades, key questions have been raised about transformations in memory and various forms of representation, and these ←2 | 3→questions continue to be grappled with today. Writing in 1992, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub pose the question, ‘[w]‌hat is the relation between literature and testimony, between the writer and the witness?’3 Leigh Gilmore’s study The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony offers a particularly useful investigation into testimony and representation. She examines the difficulty – or ‘structural entanglement’ – of representing the self and traumatic experience.4 Sara Horowitz also considers the transmission of memory and muteness in Holocaust representations. In Voicing the Void (1997), she examines ‘the way Holocaust-centred literature functions as narrative – how the telling (writing) of the catastrophe shapes and informs subsequent knowing (reading) of the catastrophe’.5 The potential of other forms of representation is explored in After Testimony: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Holocaust Narrative for the Future (2012), edited by Jakob Lothe, Susan Rubin Suleiman, and James Phelan. They question how writers and filmmakers ‘who may have no personal connection to the event engage with that history: what kinds of stories will they tell, and will they succeed in their effort to keep the public memory of the event from being lost?’6 This question can likewise be posed when considering recent Kindertransport fiction written by authors with no personal experience of the Kindertransport.

Whilst engaging with these broader questions of memory and representation across genre and generation, this study also draws upon a substantial body of research on refugees from National Socialism, much of which has been conducted by members of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies. Here, I direct readers to the following ←3 | 4→studies: Marion Berghahn’s pioneering series of interviews, Continental Britons: German-Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany; Marian Malet’s and Anthony Grenville’s edited book, Changing Countries; and ‘The AJR Refugee Voices Audio-Visual Holocaust Testimony Archive’, directed by Anthony Grenville and Bea Lewkowicz.7

In 2006, Kushner remarked on how exile studies has witnessed an intensity of memory work especially with a focus on child refugees.8 Due to this increased scholarly interest, the Kindertransport has grown to constitute its own research field. It has been examined through a variety of academic and theoretical lenses, and notable studies include: Rebekka Göpfert’s Der jüdische Kindertransport von Deutschland nach England 1938/39: Geschichte und Erinnerung; Die Kindertransporte 1938/1939: Rettung und Integration, edited by Wolfgang Benz, Claudia Curio, and Andrea Hammel; and Andrea Hammel and Bea Lewkowicz’s The Kindertransport to Britain 1938/39: New Perspectives.9 Hammel’s research in particular indicates that the representation of the Kindertransport experience in memoirs is influenced by several factors: gender, issues regarding authorship and translation, and issues of narration and agency arising from the memoir’s dual nature as both a social history source and a literary narrative.10←4 | 5→

This book goes beyond existing studies by offering not only a textual analysis, but by simultaneously focusing on the capabilities of different literary genres and their influence on the construction of Kindertransport representations – an area that has been under-researched so far. Nonetheless, Phyllis Lassner’s detailed study of literary representations by Anglo-Jewish women, in which works from various genres are considered, merits a mention here, even though this is neither a study of genre nor the Kindertransport per se.11 Existing studies on the Kindertransport are mainly of a comparative nature, examining a particular aspect of the refugee experience, such as relationships, acculturation, identity, or religion. This book, The Kindertransport in Literature: Reimagining Experience, steers the focus away from such self-contained themes and frameworks of experience, and, instead, adopts a wider perspective by investigating how the genre itself – the literary form which holds the narrative – influences the scope of the representation. This study takes understandings of genre as a starting point, and these understandings then aid the literary analysis.


VIII, 250
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
Kindertransport literary representation literary genres The Kindertransport in Literature Stephanie Homer
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. VIII, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Stephanie Homer (Author)

Stephanie Homer completed her PhD at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is an active member of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, London.


Title: The Kindertransport in Literature
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
258 pages