Kindertransport by Diane Samuels

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The conflict that effectively ends the play, however – that between Eva/Evelyn and Helga – is more revealing in that it epitomises precisely what has gone wrong in the play’s dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships. This can be discerned behind Evelyn’s imaginary cry from the heart to Helga:

You should have hung onto me and never let me go. Why did you send me away when you were in danger? No one made you. You chose to do it. Didn’t it ever occur to you that I might have wanted to die with you. Because I did. I never wanted to live without you and you made me.

Kindertransport itself. It should not, however, be seen as a simple ‘authorial’ rejection of what was done to the Kinder on the grounds that they had a right to die with their parents. These words are spoken by Evelyn – that is, they are spoken by a teenage girl, whose name was once Eva, after she has been damaged and hurt by her experiences. Her previous speech emphasises this:

You kept saying something. What was it? Over and over? Yes. “No,” you said. That was all. “No. I won’t help you. You have to be able to manage on your own. Take the needle, sew the button and it’s time to go. You don’t need me. See. It’s good.”

Kindertransport train so bravely; who smuggled her mouth organ away with her and showed the Border Official that she could play it; who went from house to house begging for work for her parents. In those days, Eva Schlesinger danced to her own tune – she was the bouncing ‘Reiter’ still in the saddle. Now, sadly, though, she follows another tune – the Ratcatcher’s sinister piping of fearfulness and anxiety – and the poor ‘Reiter’ lies dead in his ditch. By the end of the play, Evelyn cannot even remember the mouth organ that was once so important to her. It is passed on to Faith as a symbol of all her mother once had and has now lost.

With her mouth organ, Eva once tamed the Border Guard – the play’s most dangerous and sinister incarnation of the Ratcatcher. The damage she suffered psychologically after that – the true cost of the Kindertransport for her and, the audience assumes, for many others – has left her unable to function in a world still dominated by powerful males, forced to fill the ‘abyss’ she senses around her with exclusively female relationships that may have succeeded in shoring up her damaged psyche, but which the play shows buckling under the strain which Evelyn herself has placed upon them. By the final scene, she simply continues with the life she has always lived in the shadow of the Ratcatcher and tragically rejects all her daughter’s attempts to help her exorcise her past. It is a poignant and moving conclusion to the play and as Eva and Helga quietly leave the stage unnoticed the audience are left with a sense that Eva did in fact die in the horrors of the Second World War despite her parents’ attempt to save her.

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Diane Samuels
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul