Czech Government urged to repeal law denying rights to Kindertransport descendants

The Czech government is coming under pressure to amend a communist-era rule that denies citizenship rights to descendants of Jewish refugee children who fled to Britain from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on pre-second world war Kindertransports.

A law passed after the communists seized power in 1948 aimed to punish defectors who fled the dictatorship for the capitalist west by stripping them and any children they had afterwards of the right to citizenship, unless registered at a Czechoslovak embassy within a year of their birth.

Campaigners say the regulation – which applies to anyone of Czech parentage born between October 1949 and May 1969 – has had the unintended effect of barring citizenship rights for potentially thousands of children and grandchildren of young Jewish refugees who escaped Czechoslovakia thanks to the efforts of the British humanitarian aid worker Sir Nicholas Winton and other noted volunteers, including Doreen Warriner and Trevor Chadwick.

Between March and August 1939, eight trains evacuated a total of 669 mainly Jewish children from Prague to London, until the outbreak of war stopped the transports.

The cold war-era law punishing defectors for “unauthorised abandonment” of Czechoslovakia was abolished in 1990, the year after the communist regime was toppled in the Velvet Revolution.

Those forcibly deprived of citizenship have since had it restored, but the regulation barring unregistered children remains in effect.

A 2013 citizenship law granted those born in the 1949-69 period a year-long amnesty to submit applications but the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), a British-based charity for Holocaust refugees, says the vast majority of Kindertransport descendants knew nothing of the temporary window and remain excluded.

Officials say more than 500 people born to Czech parents successfully gained citizenship before the amnesty expired in January 2015.

The association is now pressing the government of Petr Fiala, the Czech prime minister, to adopt an amendment tabled nearly two years ago by an MP, Karla Šlechtová, that would grant a new five-year amnesty for unregistered applicants.

Amid growing frustration, the UK government’s special envoy for post-Holocaust affairs, Lord Pickles, recently wrote to his Czech counterpart, Robert Řehák, urging that matters be accelerated by tacking the amendment on to unrelated legislation, such as the government-sponsored finance bill.


Subscribe to the EJC newsletter

Get the EJC newsletter, including the latest statements and news from the European Jewish communities, direct to your inbox.

European Jewish Congress will use the information you provide on this form to contact you. We will treat your information with respect and will not share it with others. By clicking Subscribe, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

browse by community