My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports

Director: Melissa Hacker

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


The kindertransports helped Jewish children between five and seventeen escape out of Germany and its conquered neighbors. Organizers tried to enlist various countries, including the United States, to house these refugees on a temporary basis, but the only one willing to change its “Jewish quota” was Great Britain. Consequently, only a few thousand children could be saved.

The filmmaker’s mother was one of these children. Her testimony, along with other incisive interviews and rare archival film and photographs, leads the viewer on a deeply moving and disturbing journey. Not only is the kindertransport a compelling subject in and of itself, but this fateful era viewed by the now-adult children who lost everything yet endured the struggle, sometimes with loving British surrogate families, more often with Dickensian foster parents, throws a new spin on the notion of Holocaust survival and its psychological impact. The filmmaker aptly positions her camera at close range as she interviews these survivors: embedded in their aging eyes, one sees the stifling effect of the years, the regression to that earlier time, perhaps the inability of their consciousness to be anywhere but on that boat crossing the channel, divesting themselves of their families, of anything familiar.

These stories are absolutely gripping. Yet, equally interesting, paralleling their parents’ memories, are the experiences of the second generation, the filmmaker and her colleagues. Ofttimes, these children, safe in their Manhattan apartments, had dreams of a Hitler figure taking them away, and their childhoods merged with those of their parents. Although many of them say their parents never spoke of the war, it has definitely overshadowed their lives. The filmmaker, for instance, complains her mother was weak and overprotective; she had to be notified of her daughter’s whereabouts at all times. Her mother protests, “I wanted to protect you from being shocked or surprised. I wanted to give you strength.” Fear of abandonment runs untethered through the generations. The notion that God is good remains questionable.

— Andrea Alsberg

Screening Details

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