2. Pre-War Nazi Persecution

After Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933, the Nazis implemented measures to give effect to their racial hatred of the Jews. On 1 April 1933, the regime organised a boycott of Jewish-owned shops and businesses. Jews in public sector positions and in certain professions were dismissed from their jobs. Some forms of Jewish life remained possible, though Jews were exposed to random brutality and cruel discrimination.

However, under the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, Jews were officially degraded to the status of second-class citizens, and marriages between Jews and 'Aryans' were declared illegal. These laws provided the basis for the total exclusion of Jews from German society. In March 1938, the Nazis marched into Austria, unleashing an orgy of looting and violence against the Jews.

The Jews of Germany underwent a similar ordeal in November 1938, during the terrible state-inspired pogrom known as 'Crystal Night'. Jews now grasped in desperation at any means to escape abroad. Thousands tried to secure visas in a life-or-death bid to gain entry to any foreign country that would admit them.


The ship St Louis, for example, left Hamburg for Cuba with 907 Jewish refugees, but the Cuban authorities would not let them enter. Having repeatedly failed to land its passengers at various ports, the vessel on its nightmare voyage was heading back to Germany when the governments of Britain, France, Belgium and Holland eventually agreed to admit them.

Get out before you are kicked out

I bring my kids up to be tolerant, to be understanding with any religion and to forgive. But it’s very difficult. I can’t forgive the Nazis for what they did. I can’t. Not with the best will in the world.

I would say that I think it is very important that people should take careful notice of what is going on around them. If you don’t keep a very sharp watch, people can get away with things which they shouldn’t.

You accept what goes on in your life, really, in a way without questioning. And once Hitler came to power when I was thirteen...Well then everything changed in any case, you know. Friends from school, whom you walked in the break with, arm in arm, wouldn’t do that anymore. And you just didn’t know what hit you in a way, you know?

I was in this boarding house where I was working. And I had a telephone call from Germany, from my mother. And that was in 1938. And… she told me that my father was dead. He was… I said, “How come?” She said, “He was murdered.” But she didn’t say how. And I didn’t know. I didn’t know who could have murdered him because… well, I didn’t know all these stories.

And next day was Saturday. And we were still sleeping. Somebody was knocking at the door. So… my mother opened the door and there was our neighbour. A very nice woman, and a Jewish woman. But she was protected because they didn’t have enough pharmacists in the city, only four. And they were all Jewish, but they needed so they were protected. And she said, it was seven o’clock, and she said, “You are still in bed?” She came in and she had seen that we children were in bed. I don’t know if my parents. And, “You are still in bed? You are on the list. You will be deported today! Go away somewhere!” So she didn’t have to say it twice. We jumped out of the beds.

And and then gradually the children in my class would disappear. And we got used to that. They were just- They wouldn’t turn up! They were, they were deported.

And then, we were put into two queues. One for men and boys and one of women, children and girls. Sort of six abreast or so – I can’t remember - something like that. And I was slightly confused; I was a bit slow on the uptake but you know you’ve never seen anything like it before. You don’t know where you are, what’s happening, what you’re supposed to do. But there were orderlies, there were people in pyjamas who put you - into the queue and you just follow what they say. And - I didn’t look out for anybody but my mother did see me. She wasn’t that far; she came over, she broke rank. She came over, shook me by the hand, and went back. And I followed her. They disposed of… literally of the queue of women and children and girls. At first, you went up what they call a ramp, but it wasn’t a ramp at all. It was flat; it was just a narrow passageway they made. And you went one after the other. And at the end, the far end were some SS people, and they apparently would point their finger either one way or the other, but I didn’t notice that. I saw my mother go left. So when it was my turn, which was very soon, I simply didn’t take any notice of what the SS man – I certainly didn’t watch his fingers or anything. I simply went left. And I was hauled back, because apparently his fingers had pointed the other way and somebody had watched his finger to make quite sure – after all it was rather few out of the 1,500 of us. And I was hauled back, and told to go the other way.

I have one particular memory, that must have been I think in the spring of ’39, when we went to spend a weekend I think in a little town outside Prague called Dobris, where my family had many links, because my paternal grandfather’s first job as a rabbi was in that little town. And had maintained links with it. And we were there, and in the night, I was woken by sounds of violence and shouting and noises. And it was the Germans who had come to smash up the synagogue. And it was terrifying. And the next morning the synagogue was in ruins.

One day, on 30th June 1933, not all that long after the Nazis took power, my mother received a phone call from my head mistress to say will she should come to school and bring her husband. And my mother, knowing I had gym that day, thought, “Oh God, something has happened to her.” But, what had happened to me was the following. This was the last day of school, she called the whole school to the assembly, and, except me, I was in her office, not knowing what was happening, and she took me outside, to the podium, you know, standing there in front of all the assembled school and she said, “This girl is a criminal, she has called our soldiers, or whatever, Nazi Swines, she is herewith expelled.” And do you know my hair still stands on end when I talk about it.

My father was let out of Buchenwald, I believe after three weeks. I have never been told by my father what actually happened in Buchenwald. I know he left Germany on the last night of 1938 on a stretcher being taken by his brother to his great friend in Sweden. My mother, it seems, then wound up things in Germany, gave up the flat. I believe they put everything in packages or something, and something was stored in Germany. I equally know that my brother was put on a Kindertransport in Berlin. My mother must have brought him to Berlin. And he came to England, to Dovercourt. I was at the time living in Willesden and I went to see him. I must have had enough money to go to Harwich and I visited him in Dovercourt camp.

We used to go out weekends, my father had a car, and we had picnics, and it was a jolly happy life, until of course it got a bit more difficult, really when Hitler took over in 1933, it all went downhill. My father didn’t have a proper job, my grandfather’s factory, he had a flags factory, that was gone, and on the whole it was getting more and more difficult once Hitler came. I went to school, I was very good at sport, and I used to win things and, in the end, because I was Jewish, I couldn’t do it anymore and every year it was more and more difficult. And then, when I got to about 13, I think it was, I had to leave the school. I went to a Jewish school.

We could no longer really go on holiday in Germany, because everywhere they had those notices: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I actually remember, you know, we had somebody to look after us as children, and this girl was blonde, blue-eyed, and she was Jewish, and we went to a swimming pool which I think a week before had been alright to go to, and they put a notice up: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I said ‘I’m going home, and she said ‘come on, come on, I’m blonde I look Aryan’, and I remember being terrified. And nothing happened to us, but never again, I just didn’t chance it, you know.

Thirty-three… it’s interesting. My father, having sort of lived through the sort of brutality of Eastern European sort of …people. Particularly the Cossacks, and all, and various other organisations and where the Eastern European Jewish communities were from time to time seriously attacked, even massacred and so forth. They always felt - had a great feel of insecurity. And that of course when my father came to Germany, I mean primarily in order to keep the family going back home. But… having already from a very early age, left his, his birth- his country of birth, there’s always a sense of insecurity. And people have asked me many times, “Why is it that you left immediately in 1933?” The majority of people left much later.

they [ her parents] had contact with somebody who was a …a non-Jewish lady who was working for the Resistance. And she was the lady who was instrumental in finding a place for my brother [who was a baby] to be hidden. And also he was very blond, blue-eyed, so they thought that would be very much easier than with me, being very dark- haired and dark-eyed. So they didn’t even think about me being hidden. But he was then sent to people out of Amsterdam. And…. I was told that whoever was going to ask me what had happened to my brother- because the people who knew my parents, they wouldn’t have asked. They knew what has happened. But people who didn’t know them I had to say that we had lost him somewhere on the way. And it was mainly after, when we went to Westerbork, really.

And then one girl was called Hilde Zenk; she was my best friend. But she never, ever… did anything; whether she was a Nazi, I don’t know. Because she never, after Hitler came she never talked to me again. And that was because she was my real friend, I thought.Very.[upsetting] Ja. Because she was my first girlfriend and my only, more or less only girlfriend. Yes. And that was quite hard to swallow; you know, couldn’t quite understand. And she never sort of spoke to me again.

[Going on holiday] very near Forte dei Marmi. And…and we went there. And we had been there one day, I have a photograph with my mother written the dates at the back, or, with my mother and my brother and I in the water, on the beach there. But that was basically only for one day, because on the evening of that day, a Carabiniere which are part of the police of course, came and said, he said, "You shouldn’t be here and you know it, because Jews are not allowed." He said, “I’m just telling you, because tomorrow morning I’ll come to send you away.” So of course we left the same night. So, as a child, there were these instances that… this change in your daily life that of course you notice and you feel something also in the air. The grownups talk about the problems.

The person, well she was a teacher, but she was more. She was in charge of the class that I was in. She was - had been an illegal, illegal Nazi. There were lots in Vienna. People who belonged... because you know the party was illegal... under Dollfuss. But a lot of, sort of, pro-Nazi people - especially amongst the teaching profession. They were, they came out suddenly. They had been. And I remember she said there was a...a little talk she gave and she said, “No Jew has ever fought in any wars for us.” And I remember saying, “My uncle and my father did. I have photographs to prove it.” And she said, “Rubbish.” She didn’t do anything to me, but she sort of shut me up.

So, it was a school holiday around that time. And a few days after Eichmann arrived, I went- I met a classmate, and I said to him, “I'm looking forward to going back to school.” And he said, well, he was going to go back to school but I'm not, because his father told him that I'm a dirty stinking Jew. So although I was ten, I started to cry. And I rushed back to my mother. And that was when she told me that we, in fact, come from a Jewish family. And, and a few days later there came out vast... posters, detailing the anti-Jewish legislation. You had to hand in your bank accounts, and your precious stones, and any gold, and hand over motor cars, and cameras, radios, carpets - anything of value. And of course we couldn't go to school.

when it came to Crystal Nacht, my father was rounded up, together with other Jewish men. And he was incarcerated for... a week or so. During which time I remember my mother ageing by about ten years. I mean she was a young-looking woman, but...but that was a terrible time. He got out eventually, because at that time, the Viennese or the Nazis, still respected the war record, right? And when he came out, he told us, perhaps a little bragging, that when a young Nazi tried to speak to him, right? He told him to stand “Hab Acht”, which means to “Stand to attention! You’re speaking to an officer!”, right? So I mean he, he- and I must admit that him having told us this, all during the war, when we in England really weren’t told anything of what was going on, right? All during the war, I felt quite confident that he would be alright some... that somehow or other, on the strength of his war-time record and his general ability to handle things. But of course I was wrong.

Forever [losing her mother in the Holocaust cast a dark shadow over her whole life]. It makes me wish really what Heine [Heinrich Heine] said: “Better never to have been born.” You know when Heine said: ...”Sleeping is good, dying is better. Better never to have been born.” And I wholly agree with that.

Yes. I had to open [the door to her father's dental surgery in Breslau]- I was given the job of opening the doors later on when there was- when the Germans didn’t allow Jewish... assistants. Actually he called me to help him at the- at the... place you know when, when, when he was working on a patient. And let them in and then take them- take over certain duties like cleaning the instruments and so on. And that was- I felt very grown-up by then.

Jews were not allowed to have... fork and knife and anything made of silver that fitted into a basket - huge basket that was. And we both carried that to the police station. It was very bad. We felt dreadful. But no we didn't have any nasty remarks on the way. So we were without the silver. So what? And one can do with- you know, one can eat... as long as one gets one's life.

Well Kristallnacht was in a way- yes, it’s- I went to school as normal on my bike. On the corner of our street was a- a- the toy shop. Which was there until fairly recently, strangely enough. It's been a toy shop all these years. Only recently has it been changed. When I came out, there was a- one of the glass windows- one of the windows had been smashed. Which- well it could have been an accident. I don’t know. I saw it. And there was- used to be a game called- English it’s called Ludo – “Mensch ärgere dich nicht”. And there was this thing flapping in the wind and it says: “Mensch ärgere dich nicht.” But I- I could still see it. When I get to school, go- commotion, smoke coming out of the building, teacher outside the school, “No school today.” Didn't know why. “Go home.” And- whatever. Well, you didn't have to tell a boy twice, “Go home. No school.” Wasn't such a pleasure for me, you know, that’s always- a day off is very good. So I thought, well, before I go home I’ll go and visit my uncle the butcher, you know, which is not very far from there. When I get there - completely destroyed. Windows smashed, inside there was a large shop with ma- all marble - smashed to small pieces. And then suddenly I said first the shop on the corner where we lived, then the school, now this. There’s something obviously wrong somewhere

My parents didn't know where I was for the first four weeks until my cousin, who worked at the same factory with me, told my mother that I was taken away by the Gestapo. But they didn't hear from me and they didn't know where I was until we were able to write a card that we are where we are, that we were being looked after very well and it was for our own protection. Clever thing!

The worst thing was knowing what happened in the concentration camp and being told not to talk to anybody. I didn't even tell my parents; I didn't tell my sister. I didn't tell anybody what is happening in the concentration camp because you had to sign a pledge that if you ever talked about it you would be back, and you wouldn't be released any more.

And then I was designated a dental mechanic by the German authorities. …although I wasn’t one. But that saved my life. First, that was a special privileged occupation, like watch makers. So, I was lucky, I was indoors, ‘til the deportation came.

According to history books, only synagogues were burned down that night on the 9th or the 10th 1938. But history books I’m afraid, have got it slightly wrong, because that night of terror was far, far worse than anything that they describe in the history books. It wasn’t only synagogues that were burned down. They broke into all the Jewish homes, because they knew exactly where all the Jewish people lived. With their pickaxes … broke open the front doors, they hacked out the windows, the window frames. They slit open the feather beds, because in Germany you had feather beds at that time. Not a piece of furniture was left standing. Not a cup or a saucer was left whole. It was a night of terror which to this day I have not forgotten.

And, as you know of the 9th November 1938, well the day after 9th November 1938, all Jewish children were expelled from the German state schools. And I still remember, I was walking through the village and the school inspector said, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ and I said, ‘I’m Jewish, and I’ve been expelled.’ And he did not reply a single word! I still remember that.

People went illegally to Switzerland and to Belgium. Some got turned back. You got stories "Don't go there for that. Don’t go there for that." You really didn’t know where to go. If you got to Czechoslovakia Hitler follows you round, so you were no better off.

The fact that I could read, I could see the anti-Jewish slogans everywhere and the fact that you just mixed with your own kind, and you couldn’t mix with anyone else– I don’t know, it was always there– I suppose it started, obviously, in ’36, when I was twelve years old, but I was– we must have been aware of it before then.

When I was seventeen, one year to go to matriculation, the Germans occupied Hungary, so I never went to the last class before graduating from school. …All the anti-Jewish legislation they put into practise in Germany over years, and in less and less time as they occupied various countries, and by the time they got to Hungary, it worked like clockwork.

My mother… realised that the Germans were approaching and people were being rounded up and sent off. There was only one chance and that was to leave Brussels. I was a small baby, so she picked me up …and she set off on foot to try to get …to England. She walked for 6 weeks along the road, carrying a baby. Very, very brave and managed by walking from port to port to get on, I am told, what was the last boat that got back to England without being bombed or stopped. She was made a big fuss of and there were articles in the paper about this brave young woman who had managed to save her baby and get back to Britain.

Yes, I remember the- I had the visual memory of a newspaper the day after the Anschluss... which came out with a monster headline “Umschwung!” or something. It was not a Nazi sympathising newspaper, and I think they disappeared from view very rapidly. I remember people marching in the streets. I remember Jewish women being made to scrub pavements which was a- One could see from our window. I don’t honestly think... I was bright enough to be affected deeply by it all. I just sort of accepted this is what was happening and... eventually got on a train and got out of it

But we had to move schools; that was quite clear. The first week after the Anschluss, when I went back to school... I immediately assumed my role as prefect next to the teacher. Ignoring signs and whispers from Jewish children in the front row, “Come down. Come down.” I was that stupid. And I waited until the teacher actually said, “Well, I think you can’t be prefect any more. Why don’t you sit there...” or something. So in retrospect, I was astonishingly either innocent or stupid or both – about the whole... Nazi business.

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@ Refugee Voices 2019