Jennifer Craig-Norton – The Kindertransport

Describe your book

The Kindertransport: Contesting Memory is the result of a decade of research on unaccompanied Jewish child refugees to the United Kingdom in the 1930s and 40s using previously unknown archival sources, along with testimony, interviews, letters and family histories lent to me by numerous Kinder and their families. In the book, I challenge popular conceptions of the Kindertransport as an uncomplicated act of rescue by looking at it from the perspective of family separation. The book explores the effects of that separation on the children and their families and advances a more nuanced interpretation of the Kindertransport and its complicated legacies.

Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?

As an archival historian I wanted my research to be legitimized by the rigorous peer review process that is the hallmark of a university press. I chose Indiana University Press because of their respected profile as publishers of academic research about the Holocaust and related subjects and because they also encouraged me to write with the general reader in mind. Although the book applies meticulous scholarly analysis to archival research and oral history, the deeply human stories it contains lend it cross-over appeal.  

Do you enjoy the writing process?

I loved my material and really wanted to do justice to the compelling stories contained in the case files I discovered and the oral testimonies I used. I challenged myself to write a book that was scholarly but also engrossing. The subject matter—unaccompanied refugee children—along with the personal connections I made and intimate details I was able to uncover during my research naturally lent themselves to a narrative writing style that focuses on individual and family stories. I was able to follow the experiences of several Kindertransportees throughout the various chapters, developing story arcs that culminate in a revelation of their fates and the fates of their families in the final chapter. I think this lends the book a kind of plotline that I hope will keep readers engaged to the very end. 

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. More than once, this advice has helped me make the difficult choice between remaining in a secure but unfulfilling situation and taking the large professional, financial and personal leap necessary to follow my dreams. In every case the risk has been rewarded beyond my expectations.  

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?

Find a research subject that excites and inspires you and then write about it in a book that you would want to read. 

Who inspires you?

I am most inspired by the subjects of my research—people who were torn from their families and homes at a young age, who had to overcome insuperable odds to make new lives for themselves as unaccompanied child refugees in a foreign land and cope with the deaths of their loved ones in the Holocaust. I am in awe of their persistence and perseverance under circumstances most of us cannot imagine. 

What’s next?

I am currently working on a book about the 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who were granted visas to come to Britain in the late 1930s on the condition that become live-in servants in private British homes. Many of these women were the mothers, older sisters, cousins or aunts of children on the Kindertransport, so this research follows quite naturally from my previous work on child refugees. Unlike the Kindertransportees, this group of refugees, though twice as large, has received virtually no academic attention and occupies no space in the public memories of that period in British history. My book will be the first full monograph on their lives and experiences. 

Jennifer Craig-Norton is an Honorary Fellow of the Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton. She is editor (with Christhard Hoffman and Tony Kushner) of Migrant Britain: Histories and Historiographies: Essays in Honour of Colin Holmes, and the author The Kindertransport, published by Indiana University Press (2019)