This analysis of the play Kindertransport by Daniel Samuels is a follow-up to the summary of the same. To get a holistic view of the play, we’d encourage readers to have a look at the summary of the play before proceeding with the analysis. Click on the link below to read the summary of the play :
Kindertransport | Play Analysis
Kindertransport | Analysis, Act I Scene I
The opening scene contrasts with Evelyn assisting Faith in her preparations to move out and mirrors her past journey when Helga prepares young Evelyn (Eva) for her journey to England. While the latter instructs her to be independent and thus teaches her to sew her own coat, in the former scenario, Evelyn is supplying Faith with everything possible to avoid any trouble for her in her new home. The mirroring effect also works when Eva sews her coat and Evelyn polishes a glass repeatedly, and later when Helga opens the case to inspect the items necessary for Eva’s journey and Faith opens a trunk full of her mother’s possessions that are a direct link to her Jewish past. Drama as a literary form allows for time to seamlessly blend due to its performative nature. Two eras can be simultaneously presented on stage to let the audience have a visualisation of the character’s psyche and thoughts. The interesting scene of holding The Ratcatcher book both by Faith and Helga foreshadows young Eva’s journey to be similar to that in the book- an unwilling movement away from the family.
Kindertransport | Analysis, Act I, Scene II
The sense of mystery hovers in this scene as Faith comes closer to solving the puzzle of Evelyn’s past life through the snippets she finds in the trunk including a letter from Helga dated 1941. On the other hand, Eva’s arrival in England but failure at communication uncovers the linguistic barriers the children had to experience on their journey prior to the war. Lil’s arrival at the station to take Eva with her and removing her numerical label signifies the end of inhumanity for her. Jews were objectified and dehumanised by being addressed through their roll calls in the concentration camps. Eva’s efforts to bring her parents to England by penning down letters to the authorities for the same is heart-wrenching. But Lil brings to light the harsh truth of the possibility of their arrival only as servants. Jews enjoyed working as professionals in various fields before the Nazi regime but after their rise, they lived a life worse than beggars. For poor Eva, the information is perplexing but she searches for jobs for her parents by visiting houses in her neighbourhood. In the present, Evelyn is unable to argue with Faith when she confronts her about her past. The inarticulateness of Evelyn’s feelings exhibits through the broken dialogues. Trauma associated with her past impairs her speech. Faith’s position is both unreasonable and justifiable as she deserves to know the truth because she too has a share in her Jewish ancestry but at the same time, she should also respect the privacy and emotions of her mother. Evelyn’s paranoia ends the first act as she senses Eva talking to her and announcing the arrival of the Ratcatcher which is symbolic of her past revisiting her through Faith’s interrogation.
Kindertransport | Analysis, Act II, Scene I
While Evelyn is sitting alone in the attic recalling her past where Eva receives a parcel from her mother Helga consisting of a letter, The Ratcatcher’s book and her Passover. The letter delineates the importance of following the tradition of passing down the tales of survival by Jews from the beginning. Holocaust was not the only event that tortured or executed Jews. They have been a subject of humiliation since the time of Moses. Further, Evelyn feels guilty for easily assimilating into the English society which compels her to refuse to go away with her birth Mother. Her blame for Lil for loving her and accepting her is an outrageous expression of her ingratitude. She attempts to project her insecurities and loss on others. This feeling of detachment from her Jewish roots begins at the age of fifteen when the newsreels of the war shatter all her hopes of her parents coming back alive to take her. She decides to sell the keepsakes as according to her, they lost their emotional value. At the age of seventeen when Helga finally comes to take Eva, now Evelyn with her, the girl chooses her English family over her Jewish. This shows how she actually loves her new family and cannot leave them as used toys who helped her in her time of crisis. The Ratcatcher music in the background when Helga asks her to come with her is offensive if viewed morally but from Evelyn’s own lens, her mother was forcing her to move to New York. All her life she has been moving without her will and her firm refusal in this scenario establishes her agency.
Kindertransport | Analysis, Act II, Scene II
The last scene of the play reveals Lil’s unawareness about Helga’s visit to Evelyn and the latter’s refusal of her. Faith’s ancestry now finds some images and references and her blank slate begins to fill up. Evelyn also discloses her baptism at the age of eighteen and thus confirms herself and her daughter as pure which was the basis of Jewish humiliation. Nazis didn’t consider them pure enough to live and exist in the same world. Faith’s final preparation to move out juxtaposes young Evelyn’s unwillingness to leave Lil.
Young Evelyn does not wish to go with her birth mother as too much time has passed and England feels like home. They exchange unpleasant notions about each other and Evelyn addresses her as the Ratcatcher and Helga calls her a “snake.” Evelyn finally lets out her pent-up emotions by cursing her dead mother. She claims to have happily accepted the choice of staying with her parents in Germany and dying with them rather than being sent away. But the innocent child was not given an alternative. The play’s end with the shadow of the Ratcatcher covering the stage as Faith moves out mirrors the beginning of the play when young Evelyn (Eva) herself moves away and also signifies Evelyn’s loneliness and continued existence in the dungeons of her past.
Kindertransport | Themes
IDENTITY AND NATIONALITY – There is an intermingling of three cultures in the play- Nazis, Jewish and English. The forced emigration of children from Germany to England as a part of a rescue programme compels them to undergo a change in not only their nationality but also identity. They had to lose their Jewish practices to adopt English habits. The protagonist too officials her name from Eva to Evelyn to sound more like her adopted nationality. A name which was given to her as a legacy of her great-grandmother vanishes in no time.
The Second World War and its horrific event of the Holocaust primarily operated on the Jewish identity. They were considered an impure race and thus were brutally tortured and killed by the Nazis. They discriminated against their own nation i.e. Germany and turned into refugees. While Evelyn rips off her past identity through documentation and baptism, she is unable to escape it in her memories as an intangible liability.
POLITICS AND BUREAUCRACY – The constant security checks and document verifications did not allow even the children to escape its drudgery. A Nazi Officer splits open Eva’s bag on her way to England to check for any valuables and freezes a few pennies she had. He even suspected the mouth organ to be an instrument that would enable her to earn money and tries to take it away. Sheer insensitivity during the regime is highly exposed in the play. Also, the long process of obtaining permits for people like Eva’s parents to be allowed in England as servants or workers of any menial profession is a blot on human affairs. Children like Eva lose hope over time as they are unable to reconnect with their families due to their entrapment in the powerful web of politics.
MEMORY AND TRAUMA – For Evelyn, her entire life has been a battle with haunting memories and trauma that inflicts on her. It couldn’t have been an easy moment for a young child to have been informed about her separation from her family, her journey to a completely new country and culture, her father’s death in a gas chamber and the betrayal of her own mother by refusing to go away with her. These truths trouble her for years resulting in frequent panic attacks and paranoia. For children, the trauma has been more psychological rather than physical as they were not the victims of the physical infliction of pain but emotional a recipient of emotional turmoil. Their childhood completely churned away in uncertainties and confusion, scarring them for life.
GUILT AND SURVIVAL – Children like Eva survived the Holocaust but at the expense of guilt that many suffered in their later years- the guilt of surviving alone in the family. Evelyn’s recollection of abandoning her mother and learning about her father’s death imprisoned her in the chains of guilt. She blames her birth mother for sending her away when she could have died with them, she blames her foster mother for accommodating her so well in the English lifestyle that she chooses English over Jewish and she blames herself for lacking any restraint.
MOTHERHOOD – There are three mothers in the story- Helga, Lil and Evelyn, each responsible for the fate of their children and hence responsible for tough and crucial decisions pertaining to their lives. Helga sends young Evelyn away from her in order to save her from Nazis, Lil attempts to send young Evelyn away during the war but steps back after realising her unwillingness and Evelyn wishes Faith to never learn about her Jewish ancestry. The dilemmas of life force each of them to decide for their child according to the prevalent situations, only to be rebuked by them in the end.
Kindertransport | Characters
EVELYN – She is the protagonist of the play who is in her fifties during the events of the play that occupy the present time frame. As a Jewish sent away by her parents, she is now an English woman separated from her husband and has a young daughter. Her traumatic past looms over like an evil shadow and tortures her mentally and emotionally. Frequent panic attacks pay her a visit whenever she confronts her previous life. She is a character who is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and finds it difficult to keep her daughter away from her mess.
FAITH – She is Evelyn’s daughter in her twenties who is seen preparing to shift from her current house. However, during her packing, she comes across certain evidence that links Evelyn to a dreadful past the character has only read to date. She is devastated to learn about her Jewish ancestry and rages over its secrecy for years. Her insensitivity towards her mother’s emotions while justifying her own depicts her character contrastingly as both unreasonable and just.
LIL MILLER – She is the foster English mother of young Eva and older Evelyn who already has two biological daughters- Nora and Margaret. She loves her Jewish daughter and puts in all her efforts to trace her birth parents during the war. Practical and logical, she is a good reader of situations that successfully assimilates Evelyn into English culture and society.
HELGA SCHLESINGER – She is Evelyn’s Jewish birth mother who sends her away to England in order to protect her from the dreading consequences of Nazi Germany’s activities. The forced abandonment influences the building of a great wall between the two which she feels after meeting her daughter almost ten years later. The motherly love vanishes after witnessing her daughter’s betrayal in her choice to stay in England and Evelyn separates from her forever, willingly this time.
EVA SCHLESINGER – She is the younger self of Evelyn who is nine years old at the beginning of the play and is seventeen when the play ends. She is sent away by her parents to England from Germany during the Nazi rule. Her young mind finds it unreasonable to bear separation from her loved ones with the web of uncertainty waiting for her at the other end. Gradually, she loses hope of her parent’s return and settles into the English family and customs and even changes her name to Evelyn to sound like one of them.
THE RATCATCHER – He is a background mythical character coming on the stage as a representation of Evelyn’s or Eva’s fears. He also plays the characters of the Nazi Border Official, the English Organiser, the English Officer at the Station and the Postman as they portray a threat to the girl’s future every time she encounters them. Children often imprint fantastical characters in their minds which usually have a profound effect on them. Hence, Eva and Evelyn’s consistent fear of being trapped and sent away unwillingly from their families like the Ratcatcher’s act of taking away the children of the town of Hamilton is quite inevitable. He is synonymous with a silent villainous figure in the play.
KINDERTRANSPORT | LITERARY TECHNIQUES & DEVICES
The Ratcatcher – He is a mythical character from the German legendary story der Rattenfänger von Hameln, popularly known as the Pied Piper of Hamelin in English. He was a rat-catcher who was hired by a German town Hamelin to seek freedom from the rat epidemic. However, the town backs off from making any payments for his service and the saviour transforms into an evil retaliator who employs the magic of his pipe to take away the children of the town as he did with the rats.
In this play, the figure of Ratcatcher haunts the protagonist both in her middle age when she’s Evelyn and as a child when she was Eva. The repercussions of the war-torn world traumatize the little girl and scar her for life. She envisions the hero turned villain in everyday life which in the play is presented through the characters of the Nazi Border official, the English Station officer and the Postman. Each of them poses a threat to her fate and looms over life like an evil shadow. The protagonist is always afraid to be taken away because her life has been nothing but a runaway. Her birth parents sent her off to England to be safe from the ill-treatment Nazi Germany meted out to Jewish and later her arrival in England is also not smooth as time and again officers speculate her foreignness and identity. She is devoid of settlement until her late teens. Like the Ratcatcher of the fable who took away the children without their will, she feared being separated once again, this time from her English family without her wish.
The Storeroom – Referred to as the “attic” often in the play, the store becomes a space where the past resides in form of pictures, letters, documents and other material objects. It is a reflection of Evelyn’s past and by situating the entire play in this single room, the playwright exhibits Evelyn’s life where she is still dwelling on the past in silence. The store room thus symbolises Evelyn’s psyche, emotions and feelings.
IMAGERY – “The whitewash has been stripped away and underneath is pure filth” – Evelyn compares her identity
HYPERBOLE – “I have bled oceans out of my eyes”
MUSIC AS A MOTIF – Music is an intrinsic part of any stage production. Thus, this play, owing to its performative nature, consists of elements of music such as the mouth organ, the train song and the Ratcatcher’s ominous background music. The mouth organ is an instrument from Evelyn’s childhood that she carries with her from Germany to England and later passes on to Faith as a keepsake of her legacy. It becomes the only tie to her Jewish roots. The train song foreshadows the multiple journeys that Kindertransport undertook as a part of its program which was not an ordinary journey. The Ratcatcher’s music in the play is played when Eva and Evelyn sense something awful. It signals the presence of evil forces hungry for controlling the lives of innocent and poor souls.