1. What Was Left Behind

Jews had lived in Germany and Austria since Roman times. However, they had only been allowed to enter German society fully after the Enlightenment. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Jews made an enormous contribution to German and Austrian cultural and economic life.​

Jews were prominent by their success in certain fields, though they formed only a tiny proportion of the overall population. They proved to be loyal and patriotic citizens, fighting in large numbers as German or Austrian soldiers in World War I. They tended to cluster in the cities and also in certain commercial and professional occupations. The assimilated Jews from urban, middle-class backgrounds were often those best equipped to overcome the numerous obstacles to emigration to Britain after 1933.​

During the nineteenth century the Jews of Germany and Austria had been granted civil and political rights and had integrated into mainstream society. But in the 1930s a change in political conditions radically altered their situation for the worse. The upheavals following the First World War, the instability of the Weimar Republic and the mass unemployment caused by the Great Depression paved the way for a reactionary backlash and for Hitler's rise to power in 1933.​

The decades of gradual integration into gentile society had made the Jews of the German-speaking lands feel secure in their position, despite anti-Semitic manifestations. The abiding impression left by Jewish home and family life in the period before the Nazi onslaught was its peaceable normality.

Well my father always said that he fought for the Germans in the First World War. He couldn’t see that they would do that to him. Of course they did do it to him.

My memories of Halle are… very small, and very fleeting. I remember going with my grandfather to a farm in order to get milk, because he was very, very observant of kashrut and the milk that you would buy locally was not suitable. I remember going with him when I was about four. I remember when my mother’s younger sister got married in Leipzig because I must have been about three. I was a flower girl. She got home, got married in this big apartment. I was throwing flowers along the way. I think, looking back on what happened, what must have stayed in the back of my mind was the Nazis everywhere…which I think greatly, hugely, hugely frightened me. Because, oh, and I do remember also going on a picnic by the river and lying in the grass looking at the trees with the sky. All beautiful, as you can see, happy, sylvan memories. And then I remember leaving Germany, in 1939. We flew out. And I remember looking down from the plane at the rows of the houses below. And that, on one hand, are basically my memories of Germany.

My father believe it or not was born in Auschwitz when it was a tiny little village known for its green background. That is probably why I like trees so much. And he was born in 1898 on the Jewish Easter, Pesach, so he was called Peisach Mendzigusrky.

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@ Refugee Voices 2019