Jewish children refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis, May 1939

Many of us know about the Kindertransport in which 10.000 children were sent to Great Britain, but not many know about the One Thousand Children project, and for good reason. It was kept secret in order for it to work.

“An operation, quietly carried out because of fear that a backlash from isolationist and anti-Semitic forces could cause its demise, the “underground railroad” these children traveled to safety spanned three continents and two oceans, was fueled by donations of ordinary people and the work of hundreds of volunteers and ran for almost eleven years.

“Yet, mention of it will not be found in American history books. Museums and memorials do not celebrate the lives of these children and the individuals and organizations who rescued them. There are no movies about it. Its heroes are not heralded and its villains not reproved. Few Americans know of it and only one scholar has studied and written about the subject.

“Most of the 1,000 children themselves are unaware they were part of the organized efforts of a network of cooperation of private American citizens and organizations between 1934 and 1945 to bring to America as many endangered children as possible, nor, that this was accomplished in the face of powerful economic, social, political, religious and governmental constraints that had such a devastating outcome for the eleven million people who perished in the Holocaust.”

To avoid detection, only 10 children were placed on a ship at a time. They traveled as unaccompanied minors and were then sent to live with distant relatives or in foster homes throughout the United States.

Fast forward to 2010. Fern Schumer Chapman wrote a young adult novel, Is it Night or Day?, based on her mother’s journey as part of the One Thousand Children project. While on the ship, her mother Edith befriended another refugee, Gertie. The two grew close during the voyage but once separated upon arrival in New York, they never saw each other again.

Teacher Catie O’Boyle assigned the book to her eighth grade class at Madison Junior High School in Naperville, Ill. Her students enjoyed the book but were  frustrated that the author’s attempt to reunite her mother and Gertie proved futile. But they were also inspired, so much so that they harnessed the power of the Web and found Gertie in two weeks’ time. Seventy-three years after the fact, Edith and Gertie saw each other again.

This goes right to the heart of my book, Googling the Holocaust. If we act fast enough we can still find happy endings for the Holocaust survivors still alive today. It’s an amazing feeling to watch it unfold, like I did with my mother-in-law, Hana Berger Moran. Born in a concentration camp, she found the American soldier who saved her life. Via Google. Sixty years later. It’s a beautiful story. Stay tuned for the book.

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