We must save the children of Syria, says JONATHAN ARKUSH

We must save the children of Syria, says JONATHAN ARKUSH

Unicef aid and a girl in SyriaGETTY

Unicef said it has 'no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage'

Indeed, the massacre of unarmed men, women and children in that enclave of Syria is so callous, and so bloody it renders one speechless. 

There is so much death and destruction on our screens. 

And with that comes a danger that we, lucky enough to live in Britain, might accept this slaughter as inevitable. 

Or worse, we might look the other way. 

As leader of the British Jewish community, I cannot accept this.

Just because people are suffering far away does not mean we ignore them.  

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It is a Jewish religious imperative to care for those who are alone and vulnerable

Jonathan Arkush

This year we mark 80 years since the first Kindertransport (children’s transport) brought unaccompanied youngsters, mainly Jews, to Great Britain from Germany, Austria, what was then Czechoslovakia and Poland. 

In 1938, those children were fleeing from war and persecution and gained refuge here. 

The Jewish community will forever be grateful to Britain for providing that sanctuary. 

However, we also have to remember that Jewish refugees were not always welcomed here with open arms in the 20th century. 

For decades until the 1930s, there was public and media hostility to Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. 

A succession of anti-migrant laws started with the Aliens Act 1905 and was followed by further Acts in 1914 and 1919, reflecting continued fears of invasion and criminality from foreigners, in particular Jewish foreigners. 

Family of JewsGETTY

Jewish homes and schools were ransacked across Germany in 1938

But then, Kristallnacht: the night of smashed glass. 

In November 1938, Jewish homes and schools were ransacked across Germany, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Jews were put in concentration camps. 

Our newspapers and cinemas laid bare the horror. 

Spurred on by a shift in public feeling, British, Jewish and Quaker leaders asked prime minister Neville Chamberlain to allow unaccompanied Jewish children into Britain. 

Later that month in the Commons, MPs called on the Government “to take its proper stand among the nations of the world to protect a minority”. 

The Government had been persuaded to allow in a finite number of Jewish children. 

Kindertransport began, spearheaded by Jewish charity World Jewish Relief, known then as the Central British Fund for German Jewry. 

While the Jewish community, naturally, feel grateful that Kindertransport saved these children’s lives, we also know that Britain benefited from the talents and success of the children. 

Those children became doctors, historians, authors, teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, politicians and more. 

The idea that this talent could have been wasted, snuffed out in a gas chamber, is too awful to contemplate. 

The same could be said about the talents of the children of Syria, whose potential is dying with them. 

We’ve seen the images of children like Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a beach, and other children whose lives were extinguished by chemical weapons. 

Who knows what they could have contributed if they had been given a chance.  

Images show the deadly conflict in Syria Mon, March 13, 2017Devastating images show the horrifying aftermath from the on-going war in Syria
Still image shows Russian Bastion coastal missile launchers launching Oniks missiles at unknown location in Syria


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Still image shows Russian Bastion coastal missile launchers launching Oniks missiles at unknown location in Syria

Lord Alf Dubs was one of the Jewish children brought here by Kindertransport. 

He has used his position to raise awareness of the plight of child refugees, particularly those from Syria. 

Lord Dubs’s proposal, accepted by the Government in May 2016, committed Britain to helping children to come to live safely in the UK. 

Lord Dubs and his supporters hoped the UK would help 3,000 but after two years fewer than 250 have arrived. 

Now it plans to end the Dubs scheme, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. 

Barbara Winton, daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton who saved hundreds of children through the Czech Kindertransport, recently wrote: “My father... knew that each and every one of us share in a responsibility to our fellow men and women, a responsibility to offer sanctuary to those fleeing persecution.  

Syrian children GETTY

The massacre of unarmed men, women and children in Eastern Ghouta is bloody and callous

“‘If it’s not impossible’, he used to say, ‘then surely something could and something must be done’.” 

It is a Jewish religious imperative to care for those who are alone and vulnerable. 

It is also profoundly British. In 1938, public opinion swayed the government to allow Kindertransport. 

Eighty years on, you could change the Government’s mind about helping rescue more children fleeing Syria’s horror by writing to your MP.

Jonathan Arkush is President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. 

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