The Good Mother

I remember being 27 and pregnant with Mia; my first child when  I read a book titled “The Good Mother” by Sue Miller. Very briefly, the book is about a woman who faces losing her daughter in a custody battle. Reading that book, I realized there could be nothing worse than a child being forcibly separated from his or her mother.

I thought of that book when I viewed the memorial Trains to Death – Trains to Life at Friedrichstrasse Railway Station in Berlin. Unlike most of the memorials in Berlin, this memorial is not abstract, instead it depicts children, life-sized children, on a journey.  “The monument depicts seven life-sized children on a bronze railtrack plinth. At the back, two neat children in brown bronze, their smart suitcases and violin case upright, look ahead to the West. In front, East-facing, in black bronze, are five anguished children in shabby clothes and laceless boots. Behind them is a huddle of black battered suitcases gaping empty but for a tiny naked baby doll missing one leg in the corner of one case.” (Bronia Veitch)

Memorial Trains to Death, Trains to Life - These children are heading west to safety

These children are heading east to Auschwitz and death

From November 30, 1938 to September of 1939, 10,000 children were sent by their families or sent from orphanages if their families had already been arrested to possible safety in England. Most of their parents and grandparents would be killed in concentration camps.  Some of the children, such as my friend’s mother Ingrid, went to Sweden and safety. While Ingrid’s parents would never know that their daughter survived the Nazi regime, they at least knew they had made the right decision when they brought Ingrid to Friedrichstrasse station to put her on a train to Sweden in 1939. Three years later, Ingrid’s parents were among the 140,000 Jews deported to Theresienstadt. Approximately 33,000 died there, while 90,000 were sent on to extermination camps, such as Auschwitz where both of Ingrid’s parents were murdered. While 10,000 children were saved by the kindertransports, it is important to remember that 1.5 million children met a different fate during the Holocaust.

There is much more to this story; there is the complicity of the German state railway system which ran trains that eventually transported 1.5 million people to their deaths. The German state railway did apologize for their significant role in the Holocaust. But when did it apologize? A full 62 years and 7 months after the end of the war in Europe. 62 years.  Our group visited another memorial at track 17 of the  Grunewald S-Bahn station from which more than 50,000 of Berlin’s Jewish citizens boarded trains taking them to extermination camps. This memorial was created in 1991 and lines the platform of the railway.

The memorial with Yarzheit (Jewish memorial) candles

Each panel along the tracks gives the date and number of Jews deported and to which concentration camp they were sent

On my free day in Berlin, we happened to walk by the Friedrichstrasse station and see a mother with her two children standing in front of the memorial. Her children were having their pictures taken with the ‘kinder’. The little girl put her arm around the bronze child almost unaware that her mother was taking a photo. She was just a child at play. But any mother looking at the statue can’t help but ask, would I have been good’ enough to send my child off to an uncertain fate knowing that in all likelihood I would  never see my child again? Most Jewish mothers were not given this ‘choice’; their children were ripped from their arms and sent to their untimely deaths. And the kindertransports lasted but 8 months.

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12 responses to “The Good Mother

  1. alexandra carvalho

    I think it is really sad how back then they just sent their children away like that. I know that if I was one of does children’s parents I would never be able to send my child away. Of course back then was really different from how the world is today. But sending your child off and not knowing whats going to happen to them or if they will still be alive and if they are getting hurt is most likely really hard for the parent who had to go through that.

  2. Giana Panagiotakos

    Its so hard to imagine having to leave my family and never being able to see them again. The sculptures such as the one of the children “heading east to Auschwitz and death” allow us to see how young and hopless these poor kids were.

  3. I couldnt had imagined such a thin like that.I would be very upset that I would be taking away from my family like that

  4. I don’t know what a mother would feel when they have to send their childs away for thier future, but I do know how I feel. I would feel sadden and lonely that I have to leave some one I love. However, I still have to live my life even though it hard.

  5. It hard to imagine a mother being separated from her child. But many did it Because they did not have a choice. The fact is that if that was me I don’t thin I wold have had the courage to send my child away.

  6. I couldn’t imagine being ripped away from my mothers arms. Especially at such a young age like these children were. They must have been scared and their parents probably told them they will see each other soon and that this was only temporary. I can imagine these children holding on to those words their parents said and hoping to one day see their parents again, but never actually fufilling that dream. This article helps me recognize how lucky I am to be living with my mother now. Although we have our differences and may argue a lot and I may occasionally say “i hate you,” i cannot imagine life without her.

  7. Reading this article, i was sad to see the numbers of people who did not escape the cruel fate. But reading on i was able to see that many were saved on this idea of the kindertransport. It must have been hard to wish your kid the best and put them on the train knowing that you will never see them again. I dont think i would have been strong enough to be able to say goodbye to my kid, but i know i would be happy that i made the best choice for their lives.

  8. The fact that 1.5 million kids went through horrific ends during the holocaust makes me realize how fortunate i am. I can’t imagine a more severe punishment then letting go of your child, or saying goodbye to your mother for the last time. We shouldn’t make the mistake of taking our families for granted.

  9. For mothers during the Holocaust the worst thing was not facing death personaly, it was facing the death or seperation of their children. Kindertransports were a wonderful and it saved many children but for mothers to send their children on one was to almost rip a piece of their souls off. i dont know if i could survive the loss of a child, these mothers were so strong to realize there was a way to save their children and being able to do it.

  10. It is a very complicated and selfish suggestion a parent could have. Between living with your children, until their ultimate deaths, or send them away to an uncertain fate. I could not put myself in such position, because I do not have someone to take care of. I see my parents sending me away because they know that is the best choice, but I wouldn’t think or feel the same way.

  11. Was I suposed to be alble to answer ALL the questions? We have like, 5 minutes… Have a nice vetreatins day~

    • Hi Tori,
      First, I’m hoping your spelling of Veteran’s Day was just a joke? I didn’t know class was going to be 5 minutes long, so the answer is no and we’ll be back in the lab on Tuesday.

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