7. Becoming British

In the post-war years most refugees took British nationality, and many took new British names. They settled down, married and had families, and created a recognisable refugee environment.

 

Refugee organisations like Club 1943 and the AJR Club flourished, and landmarks like the Cosmo Restaurant and the Dorice became refugee meeting-places. The AJR Information commenced publication in 1946 as the mouthpiece of the community.

 

The refugees became integrated into British economic life. Life was hard for many in the post-war years, especially those who had to start with little or nothing. Nevertheless, a disproportionate number of the refugees made their way in middle-class commercial and professional occupations, achieving a distinct degree of prosperity and success.

 

The refugees had an impact out of all proportion to their numbers in a wide range of occupational areas, such as science and medicine, psychoanalysis, art history and publishing. Scientists like Francis Simon, Hans Krebs, Ernst Chain, Rudolf Peierls and Max Perutz were of inestimable value to Britain. Institutions like the Wiener Library, the Warburg Institute, the Freud Museum and the Leo Baeck Institute are living evidence of the creative impulse that the refugees injected into British cultural and intellectual life.

 

Refugees began to receive restitution payments from West Germany in the 1950s. Though these could never compensate for the human losses suffered by the Jews, they did alleviate the position of many refugees and enabled the AJR to provide essential social services to its members.

I’m British, but you see, when I go somewhere and the people don’t know me [they say]: ‘How do you do’? The next question, because of my accent, is always: ‘Where do you come from’? Well, I get very cynical because I say: ‘It took you five minutes. When I came to England, it only took half a minute before they asked me where I came from’. So! When you learn [English] as a child, that’s okay. But when you learn it at 34, you can’t ever get rid of the accent

I feel British. I am always grateful for them accepting us here, I am. If I saw the Queen, I would thank her. I don’t feel out of place at all, perhaps because I was a child, I don’t know.

When you get into this country like I did, you don’t look around and say ‘will I like it? Do I like it?‘ No. I have to be here, that’s it. I took things as they came. I have to be satisfied.

they kept bringing literature in. British National Party literature in. And I was objecting. Now, the majority of the English National Opera were not thinking like that, but they also couldn’t be bothered. So when I was objecting, then I was the troublemaker! Because nobody minds who does what and I was doing the protesting. And then there was a cellist – sweet little thing - who kept telling me that “Oh…” - is it ok if I use a rude word?” It’s not OK- not OK. But she was using a very rude word about these foreigners who take away English people’s jobs. And that was going on continuously. And- One day I hit her. And I was dismissed. The fact that I had to go through this [all her life experiences e.g. second generation Holocaust survivor], didn’t matter.

Nobody talked about anything after the war. My adoptive parents took the attitude that they didn’t want to remind me of bad things and of hard times. And they didn’t ask anything at all. And I was and is okay about that really, but I did want to know what had happened. I didn’t want to tell my memories; I wanted to have my memories fleshed out.

Well we went to Hertz all the time obviously. You know Hertz, the cabaret, the Jewish cabaret. Hertz, he had a cabaret in Finchley Road, by refugees, mostly. And that was the only entertainment we had really during the war. It was in Finchley Road. He was Viennese; he was a producer, or owner or God knows what. And he made a very good job there, yes. It was always quite interesting and quite lively and quite nice and pleasant, you know. It was the only entertainment we really had. But we went to Dorice quite a lot, the coffee shop, and the Cosmo, more the Dorice than the Cosmo.

But she [his mother] found it [making a living] very difficult. And then, and then I mean she had – then, after the war British Restaurants became - were transformed into School Meal Service. And she worked there. And eventually, she got a job in Blackburn as a Number Two organising it. And the Number One left, and my mum acted up, and applied for the job and was turned down. They didn’t fill the post; she acted up again. They advertised again; she applied for the job again, and she was turned down. And she heard one of the interviewers say, “We’re not giving a job to that bloody foreigner!” So she- I know, I remember her being incredibly upset.

[Her husband's attitude towards her background] Ignorance. Complete ignorance. Ja. And the way they used to treat the wives over here apparently, you know in the mining area or in a working area. All that was expected of it was dinner on the table when they got home. And that’s about it. If you didn’t have the dinner on the table, you might as well as go and be dead.

No, when I was young I didn’t like Benno very much; in fact, I didn’t like it at all. And I used to call myself Benny. And a lot of my friends still call me Benny, but as I’ve grown older I rather like Benno. So I, a lot of friends call me Benno as well. Benno is very good because very few people have got the name Benno in England. And it means I don’t get mixed up with other people.

And people are quite scornful about assimilation. I mean, I see it when I read books, too. I think a lot of Jews felt that assimilation, the desire for German Jews to assimilate, was partly responsible for what happened. That they kidded themselves that they were part of the society when they weren’t. Lots of stuff like that. And there was a very- quite an antagonistic feeling.

As a photographer? Well I liked portraits; I was used to that. But I branched out in advertising. And I liked it very much. Anneli Bunyard specialised in actors, theatrical work. But she often didn’t come, and I could take her work, and we did that together. We always had to sign the photographs - we had formed a limited company as Bunyard Ader - it didn’t matter who took it. That was one of the conditions. People say, “Are you the person- My child’s picture on my bedside table, and signed Bunyard Ader - was it taken by you?”

I think some people tried to give us English lessons… Mr. Mundheim - Handgröße acht (hand size 8), in case we didn’t behave ourselves - gave us a few lessons, but if you want to know how we learned English, it was The Dandy and The Beano. We got them after the kids, the English kids in Belfast the Jewish English kids in Belfast, had finished with them.

You know, I accepted you know, that was... the way it worked [how the Refugee Committee placed children]. You know, I think all the love that I had from the age of eleven, and... You know, I couldn't have had better parents. And I don't know how one feels towards one's real mother and father. But I couldn't have, you know- feel any- any more, I don't think. And you know my- I looked after my aunt, you know, when she- when she was ailing. And you know, we were very - very close.

Because Martin and I had to go and meet her [their mother] at the station. I can't remember which station but... I remember... just not knowing what to do. And Martin telling me that – that… she was our mother, and we should be happy to go and see her. And then I remember that he couldn't face her either. But he looked away and... He was ill at ease once she arrived off the train. And- it was an impossible situation. She didn't speak any English, and I didn't know any German. Martin I think had retained some German. But it was an absolutely impossible situation. Very, very painful for everyone... And as soon as she got back to Germany, my father served a court order on my foster parents. And my foster mother, who'd said I was one of the family, had to take me to Germany and leave me there. And that was the final betrayal. That the one person I thought was really there for me... had to leave me. I mean, up here I knew that she had to. I- I- at fourteen I knew what a court order was. But in my guts it was the final betrayal.

I applied for (UK) naturalisation and I had to appear in front of three judges, and one of them said “Mr Henderson, you have been interned.” “Yes.” “Tell me why were you interned?” I said, “In all fairness sir, would you please tell me why I was interned?” He said “Thank you very much Mr Henderson. Granted.”

There was a silence which lasted many years until- until, my children became old enough to be told about it. They kept asking certain questions, you know, “Why do you talk with a funny accent?” and, “Why don’t we have grandparents and family like the other children?” So we had to tell them something.

If not for England I don’t know what would have happened to us, so for that I am eternally grateful. In Germany, before there was just ... a policeman was a figure of authority, in London he was a figure of a helper; he was there to help you.

[About her father, Rabbi Dr. Georg Salzberger, his new congregation in London] He could speak to them in German. Preach in German which was his language and always remained the German of his poetry. Poetic language. It felt very much like home. Very stressed people in hard circumstances with little to live on. And so had we - very little to live on. But it felt like a bit of home with a lot of tragedy hanging around us and a lot of worry. But [a] feeling of closeness and warmth and connectedness to the past.

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@ Refugee Voices 2020

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