Thoughts for the Week: A helping hand

Peter F Kurer describes how Quakers ‘guaranteed’ the safety of thousands

The Kindertransport story is widely known. It saved some 10,000 children aged between six and seventeen years of age. The Quaker work with Kindertransport is an important chapter in the history of the Religious Society of Friends and an example of putting faith into action. There were, however, other areas where Quakers made an enormous and inspiring contribution; but they are not as widely acknowledged or known about. I believe they should be. The Quakers, as an organisation, were unique. I was a Jewish refugee who was given a helping hand by them in the 1930s.

The first was the subject of ‘guarantees’. In the 1930s Great Britain was concerned that any Jews coming from Nazi Europe and seeking safety in England could be a financial drain on the country when they came. The government decided that if a British citizen was prepared to raise £50 for someone seeking refuge in Britain, then that person would be entitled to get a visa to come. Fifty pounds in 1938 is equivalent to around £4,000 in today’s money.

Quakers in Britain ‘guaranteed’ an estimated 7,000 Jews. My family of four were saved by guarantees from Manchester Quakers. Those Quakers, with whom I am still in touch, found other Manchester Quakers and they gave guarantees for my entire family of nine.

It was never clear what the people who raised the money for the guarantee needed to do with the children and adults when they arrived. It was left up to the family concerned. Our Quakers invited us to stay in their house in Whaley Range, Manchester. They lived in a lovely large home and their three sons had married, so there was ample space. There was no NHS. If someone got ill, or if a lady was pregnant, you were stuck with them. What about the cost of education for children? These were real challenges to be faced. Each person coming from Nazi Europe was only allowed to bring £10. The guarantees raised by British Friends for thousands of Jews was an extraordinary act of compassion and generosity – as was their hospitality and the personal sacrifices that they made.

A third category of getting a refugee out of Nazi Europe, and in to Britain, was if someone was prepared to take work that no one wanted: being a maid, butler, cook, and the like. The Quakers put advertisements in the then Manchester Guardian newspaper asking if anyone was seeking a maid, butler, cook and the like. Many Jews were saved this way.

British Quakers did this when practically all of the rest of the world stood back and organised nothing. This has still to be explained. There were some fine individuals who did indeed help, such as Nicholas Winton, but as an organisation the Quakers stand on their own. No other organisation, to my knowledge, helped so many Jewish refugees at this time.

Thank you, the Society of Friends.

Peter was saved by Quaker guarantees. He was educated in Quaker boarding schools. Friends paid for the first two years of his secondary education.

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