Much of the world is on the move, fleeing something, escaping somewhere, seeking safety. For now, the evacuation of Afghanistan holds the headlines, and news of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing our borders has receded. The children are still coming, their numbers are rising, but our attention is elsewhere.
An exhibition at the American Swedish Institute – actually two exhibitions, but related – asks us to look back more than 80 years to another time when children were separated from their parents, who believed they had no choice but to let them go.
In 1938 and 1939, more than 10,000 Jewish children were sent out of Nazi Germany to Great Britain and other countries. After Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, 1938, it became clear that Jewish children had no future in Nazi Germany. They were no longer allowed to go to school. This was still a few years before the Holocaust, but things were bad enough that mothers and fathers put their children on trains and waved goodbye.
Great Britain was willing to take 10,000 Jewish children. Sweden took 500; Switzerland 300; the United States, none. Most of the families were never reunited; most of the parents died later in the Holocaust. For families that were, improbably, reunited, it wasn’t easy. Parents and children had lived completely different lives. Some children didn’t want to return; some foster parents didn’t want to let them go. There were custody battles.
“Kindertransport – Rescuing Children on the Brink of War,” an exhibition in ASI’s Osher Gallery, was created and organized by Yeshiva University Museum in New York and the Leo Baeck Institute in Berlin. It is being co-presented here by the Greenberg Family Fund for Holocaust Awareness at Beth El Synagogue, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), and ASI.
ASI does not shy away from hard topics. If you saw “Where the Children Sleep” in 2017, you’ll recall Magnus Wennman’s wrenching photographs of Syrian children in refugee camps, on streets and in forests, cold and scared and sleeping where they can. “Kindertransport” packs a similar punch and evokes similar responses: sorrow and pity for the children and the families, shock and anger at the cruelty and inhumanity. You’re supposed to feel strong feelings. At a press preview in July, people cried.
The back wall of the Osher is painted red and covered with thousands of manila tags, like the ID tags children wore on the trains. On opposite walls are lifesize images: one of two adults with a gray silhouette between them, representing the daughter they put on the train, the other of their daughter standing alone. (This family, we’re told, was reunited.) The front wall flickers with historical footage showing families, children and farewells at train stations, parents putting on brave faces, children carrying suitcases and wearing manila tags, and arrival scenes in England. Glass-topped cabinets contain photographs, things the children wore or carried, artifacts from their time in England, and letters parents wrote, sometimes shortly before their own deaths. Audio testimonies (translated from the German) tell first-person stories.
“The Story Is Here,” an exhibition in the Turnblad Mansion, brings “Kindertransport” close to home and makes it more real for Minnesotans. At least three of the rescued children, Kurt Moses, Siegfried Lindenbaum and Benno Black, ended up in the Midwest, where they raised families and lived their lives. Moses died in 2015, Lindenbaum in 1993. Black, now 95, lives with his wife, Annette, in their home in St. Louis Park.
Much of Level 2 of the Castle has been given over to telling the stories of these three men. Moses was 11 years old when he was sent away; Lindenbaum was 8; Black was 13. Photographs, passports, visas, letters, prayer books, schoolbooks, and a bow tie are remnants of their lives. A book of carefully pressed flowers, accompanied by a mother’s handwritten notes, is especially touching.
Perhaps the most staggering piece in both exhibitions is Black’s small brown leather suitcase, packed by his mother when he was 13, carried from Germany to Holland to England to the United States to Minnesota to St. Louis Park, where it sat on a shelf until 2021, still filled with some of the items his mother packed in 1939. Be sure to see it in person, but first find one of the strategically placed boxes of Kleenex located throughout the exhibition.
And be sure to look at “The Story of Bordri,” a children’s book whose pages are arranged on the walls of the second-floor balcony. We won’t say much about it, except Bordri is a dog in Hungary during the Holocaust.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Now at Minneapolis Institute of Art: Featured exhibitions you don’t want to miss. “Leslie Barlow: Within, Between, and Beyond,” “Sixties Psychedelia: San Francisco Rock Posters from the Paul Maurer Collection,” “Fly Zine Archive: A Chronicle of Punk, Queer, and Anarchist Counterculture” and “Piotr Szyhalski/Labor Camp: COVID-19: Labor Camp Report.” The museum is open Thursdays through Sundays and entry is always free.
L Tonight (Thursday, Aug. 26), 7 p.m., the Belvedere at Crooners: “An Evening of Show Tunes with Tyler Michaels King and Friends.” He’s been the Emcee in “Cabaret,” Hedwig in “Hedwig” and Bobby Vee in “Teen Idol,” to name a few. Can he sing? He can sing and hold a crowd’s attention. When he performed this show at Crooners in June, his friends included Ben Dutcher, Kate Beahen, China Brickey and John Jamison, with Louis Berg-Arnold on piano. Doors at 5:45. FMI and tickets ($30).
L Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27 and 28, 8 p.m., Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra Summer Finale: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4. “Summer finale”? We prefer to think of this as the final concert in a series before another series begins. Guest conductor Karina Canellakis will lead the orchestra and pianist Jon Kimura Parker, the orchestra’s creative partner for summer programming and a pianist we like very much, will play two movements from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in an optimistic program that begins with William Grant Still’s “Afro-American” Symphony, which combines elements of jazz and spirituals with European classical forms. FMI and tickets ($34-46; public rush $25; $20 under 40, student rush $12). Masks must be worn indoors.
L Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27 and 28, 9 p.m., Icehouse: Happy Apple. A rare and guaranteed happiness performance by the one-and-only jazz trio of Michael Lewis (Bon Iver) on saxophones, Dave King (The Bad Plus) on drums and Eric Fratzke (Dave King Trucking Co., Gang Font) on bass. We could see this group every day of our life. 9 p.m. doors, 10 p.m. showtime. 21+. FMI and tickets ($30 cover).