By: Tally Bashan
On September 1, 1939 a mother and her young daughter - both residents of the city - came to the “Wilson” rail station in Prague. They came with a large suitcase with clothes, pillows, eiderdown and a fur winter coat.
Ruth Stecklmacher (later Federmann), the
13-years old girl was about to be sent to
England in a “Kindertransport” - the rescue transports of Jewish children from Prague to England organized by an unknown British bank official by the name of Nicholas Winton. It was his personal initiative, aided by a few friends in England.
This way Winton succeeded to rescue 669
children; most of them never saw their
parents again. This was supposed to be
the last train with 250 children about to
take leave from their parents “for a time”.
They were to be adopted by English families - but this train never left Prague.
On this day WWII broke out and all these children that should have escaped the
Nazis remained behind, most of them perished later.
“I did not understand what was happening, I was only glad on that day to go back home with my mother” relates Ruth Federmann. But her mother was disappointed - in spite of the difficulty of leave-taking
she wanted to send her young
daughter to England; there,
she hoped, she would be safe,
would get a good education
and would develop her talent
for painting. ”We will meet
in a year” she promised her
daughter, “nothing will happen
to us; your father was an
officer in the Austrian army”.
Shortly afterwards the mother
decided to send her daughter
to Palestine where she was
taken in by relatives in Tel
Aviv, learned sewing and found consolation in a group of
new immigrants like she was, who spoke Czech and German.
Through them she met Shmuel Federmann, the founder and
director of the “Dan” hotel chain. She married him, aged 21
and that was the beginning of a flourishing family. Through relatives in Sweden and Switzerland the mother continued to send letters to her. Then the mother was deported to Theresienstadt and from there, in October 1944, to Auschwitz.
A year later Ruth learned that her mother did not survive.
“Sometimes I had a bad conscience - maybe I should not have left my mother there, maybe that I could have helped her somehow - but she always said that this was her sole ray of light, knowing that I am all right, that I was saved ”.
On September 1, 2009, seventy years after that day when 250 children remained on the platform of the “Wilson” train station, Ruth Federmann and her grandson Michael Schwarz (33) joined a fascinating journey: after a festive ceremony
at the Prague National Museum an ancient, steam-driven train left on its way to reenact the journey of the “Winton children” from Prague to England, a distance of 1300 km, with the motto “The Power of Good”. The journey was organized through the initiative of the Czech railway company and was intended, as
the organizers said, “To inspire young people through the deeds of Sir Nicholas Winton … and to symbolize the irrevocable right of people to freedom and to protest against all forms of discrimination and intolerance…”
The steam engines and the ancient railway cars (among them the historical presidential car of president Masaryk!) were collected all over the Czech Republic and Slovakia, there were also some with long wooden bunks such as on which children travelled in 1939.
In addition there were more comfortable cars and a restaurant car, with abt. 170 people - rescued “Winton children” and their relatives from all over the world (including prof. Tommy Bermann from Israel, his daughter and two anddaughters), students, journalists and film people and also a jazz band that
played olden tunes from those times.
The train passed all stations as in 1939 - Nuernberg, Koeln
(where they were met by the Jewish community), Hoek van
Holland, where they boarded a ferry that took the travelers to
Harwich in England. From there they continued again by a steam
train to “Liverpool Street” station in London; the place where
all children arrived 70 years ago. “There were many emotional meetings” relates Ruth Federmann, “one of the women, for example, told us about a
4 years old girl sitting on her lap throughout the journey. She
looked for her now and found her, too”.
On September 4, with an enormous crowd of reporters and
onlookers, the train entered the London platform, there Sir
Nicholas Winton, himself, aged 100, waited, clear-headed,
and an imposing personality. “He thought that all the children
who were then on the platform, went directly to the camps
and expressed his deep sorrow that he was not able to
get us out” Ruth said, “I explained to him, that the children
returned from the “Wilson” station home, not to their death -
and until 1941 most of us remained with our parents. Some
of us survived. She calls it a miracle. This whole episode is
At the Prague and London train stations, statues of Sir Winton
were placed and the whole journey was filmed by the Czech
film maker Matej Mináč, it will become the follow-up to the
previous film on Sir Winton “The Power of Good”, which got
the “Emmy” prize in 2002.