by Dean Stewart, Red Cross L.A. Region Volunteer
It was simply one of those “off” feelings, an awareness that my priorities needed adjustment again, that the more important things were somehow getting pushed down the list for the sake of the less important and superficial stuff. I knew better; I’d been through it before and would need to address it again. But right then (on Aug. 26, 2015) I had to get on the 405 South for the screening of “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport” at the Red Cross LA Region headquarters in West Los Angeles.
The Kindertransport story is a true story of the rescue by the British of 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia just prior to the beginning of World War II. Sensing the Nazi regime on the horizon, the parents reluctantly but wisely surrendered their children to the rescue effort knowing that it was the only hope. The children were shipped by train and boat and eventually taken into adoptive homes and hostels in Great Britain. Most would never see their families again but during the long duration of the war, the International Red Cross helped as best they could to keep communications alive between parents and children.
It snuck up on me, that movie. It said, “You are in the right place; this was meant for you; pay attention.” It nagged like that until I felt the moisture in my eyes and then on my cheeks and I knew I was right where I was meant to be that night, that hour, that moment – and suddenly I couldn’t take my blurry eyes away from it. It was contradictory – heartbreaking and heartwarming. Only ten thousand of the children were saved while a million-and-a-half died. I looked around the room and I became we. We ached for the loss of both the living and dead, the children and their parents – the surviving children losing their parents for at least the length of the war but mostly forever, and the surviving parents the same regarding the children they so courageously surrendered into the arms of the unknown. We watched the bravery of both and wonder which role, if any, we might have played as well. And perhaps most importantly, we knew and know these people: they are we and we are they, and there is something gratifying in that, but for the loss.
Every time an innocent life is lost, something has been taken from us and we are diminished. And every time a brave act is consummated we are encouraged to be more than otherwise we might have been.
It was an indescribable evening for those of us who were blessed to experience it. Thank you to the following people for their work and planning: Svetlana Fusekova, Regional International Services and Service to the Armed Forces and Veterans Manager, Anu Virk, International Services Summer Intern, Kerry Khan, Disaster Cycle Services Project Coordinator, Juan Carlos Lopez, Community Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Merrihue, International Services Coordinator and Nancy Dinh, International Services AmeriCorps member.
And special thanks to the evening’s special guest for the evening, the very articulate producer of the film, Deborah Oppenheimer, who had her own difficult World War II story to share.
It was indeed a night of remembrance, awakening, and a keener look at one’s priorities.
For more information about the event, click here.
Dean Stewart has been a Red Cross volunteer since November, 1983 (31 years), serving as a Shelter assistant, Public Affairs Officer and DAT member. He has worked on national disasters such as the Whittier Earthquake of 1987, the Los Angeles Civil Disturbance of 1992, and the Northridge earthquake of 1994. Locally he has worked on the Marek and Sayre Fires of 2008 and the Royal Park Motel fire of 2014. Dean was also an ARC swimming instructor out of the Santa Monica office from 1972 to 1976.