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
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.
[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.
My father went to Germany. He went to a trade fair. He used to get a lot of his ideas from going to trade fairs in Germany. And I think one of the first times he went he found out what happened to his parents. And he came back and he told my mother. But they didn’t discuss it in front of me. They didn’t tell me anything. They just said, they- he found out. But I gathered that they were dead. That’s all I gathered.
And suddenly I was a refugee. Somehow I always kept a pride that my father had instilled. He used to say ‘What you have in your hands is nothing. What you have in your head is there’. I remember in later years being told that I didn’t behave like a refugee. I was always quite proud. It helped me to survive. It was very, very difficult. But I do remember with great gratitude many of the English who were kind and good. I struggled very hard in the beginning, and I had nothing, and I was too proud to accept anything.
We went to Cirencester as evacuees. I was sent to a small private school, run by two sisters with a couple of assistants. They had a huge effect on me. I mean they let you read all sorts of books that you wouldn’t have been able to read in a normal school. It was also that time that I realised that I had mastered English. I could understand not just the general gist of what was being said, but everything. And I got such a feeling of elation that I immediately: I’ve got to write all these words down!
And my father said, in 1946, “I’m going to teach the English… how to wear a bow tie.” ...And my father paid him and took home the sack, some of which material was useless but some of it was absolutely right for making black bow ties. So my mother, having made a pattern, made a bow tie. One bow tie. You have to make it on the reverse side, you have to reverse- you have to turn it inside out, you have to sew up the ends. You have to iron it. There’s a lot of things to making a bow tie. Bow ties are much more difficult to make than ties. Much more difficult. So my father having made this bow tie… he decided he would start at the top. And he went to Burlington Arcade, to the one menswear shop called ‘S. Fisher’ and showed him this bow tie. And my father said, “I’m making these bow ties. Are you interested?” So the man, Mr. Fisher himself said, “Yes, I’m interested. I want you to make me a dozen.” Trying him out. At that time a lot of officers were coming back from the Army- being dischar- you know, demobbed and so on. There were a lot of parties. So black ties were well in demand.
My brother was in the same barracks eight weeks earlier. He was called in to the office the first day he was in barracks and told to change his name. He asked why. So it was explained that if he went- if he went on active service and was unlucky enough to be taken prisoner, he would have great troubles with a name like that. So, he asked for guidance as to what to change it to. His CO who was Scot, wanted to know what the name meant. He explained - Kirchheimer. The first part of the name is- is Kirch, Kirchheimer. “Kirch is a church.” “Okay, Kirch is a church. We're in Scotland. A church is a kirk, so therefore your name is Kirk.” So I decided I better follow suit.
Well, when we came to England we only spoke German, because you could only speak a few words of English, what we learnt before we came over. The one word that amused us was handkerchief. We couldn’t believe that a little thing like a hankie got such a long word. So anyway, I know that, and then mishpocha said ‘now you’re in England, you speak English’. We couldn’t speak English, we weren’t allowed to speak German, so we didn’t speak. We didn’t talk, that’s it. I learnt English with the newspaper… slowly, slowly, you know, the newspaper, and then later on I read all the kids schoolbooks, you know, and gradually, gradually, I can read English, my English writing is very bad, but I can read, yes. I went to night school at one time, but they learnt poetry and that was not for me, I don’t like poetry, no.
Well, first of all, I was very surprised how bad the childcare was in this country [UK]. And I was also very surprised that there are many types of freedom. Cause the freedom for women - women - was much less than that in Czechoslovakia. So it was a big shock, because...Everywhere. In the workplace, everywhere. I remember I went for a job interview in- at University College in ’59 or ’60. Must have been ’60. And I was pregnant with my first daughter. And this guy that interviewed me said that, “Well, you are very suitable for this job but I can’t give it to you because it wouldn’t be fair to your child.
My change of name was forced on me in the army during the war. After my initial training I was told when going on leave: 'You better come back with an English name.' I totally forgot. On my return I suddenly realised I hadn’t thought about names & quickly looked in the telephone directory. I wanted to keep my initials LB. There weren’t many 1st names that appealed & Leslie Howard was very much en vogue. So I thought Leslie would be a good name to choose. And Brent I had just chosen almost at random from the telephone directory, because it seemed to go reasonably well with Leslie. So I became Leslie Brent. Well, that was okay, I mean that did help me to integrate, it helped me in the army. I became an officer in the army. I had to become English pretty dead quick actually. Because I had to look after English soldiers & so on. So having an English name was a very good thing from that point, too.
But there was a girl in my class [in England]. We had an argument. I can't remember what it was about, and she was the one who called me a dirty German Jew. So I was far too scared to do this, but I just pulled her hair. Pulled it very hard until she was screaming. And the same headmistress came past and said, "What is going on here?" And she looked, and the, the girl said, "She pulled my hair." The headmistress looked at me and said, "I really wouldn't have expected that of you." I said, "She called me a dirty German Jew." Whereupon the headmistress Christian, with values, turned up on her and said, "That's a terrible thing to say," and she gave her a real telling off
It was the most wonderful, wonderful thing that the British government did. They saved the lives of 10,000 Jewish children by opening their doors to them. No other country in the whole wide world made such an offer, neither America nor Canada nor Australia only Great Britain. Great Britain was the only country in the whole wide world. The world must never forget this wonderful, wonderful action on the part of the British government. In Germany, they murdered Jewish children; in Great Britain families opened their homes to them to save their lives. Great Britain is the best country in the whole wide world! We must always, always remember that!
English people didn’t understand anything about the camps. Whatever you said they didn’t believe it. So that [showing his KL tattoo], I used to say was King’s Loyalty, KL. It stands for Koncentration Lager. That was put on in Mielic, the only camp that had that put on. I haven’t got a number on my arm. When I came to Manchester I met Moshe Besserman. He was in Mielic, we got very friendly. After 5 years of marriage he committed suicide. So in England I am the only one with with KL.
My room [postwar in Reading] was tiny. Their room had a double bed, our eating table, their trunks. Our 'everything else' room. We stayed 8 years. My mother had to fit in with the owner: cooking when the owner wasn't cooking–dreadful for them. I'd sit in the shed in the garden mostly. I organised a couple of metal bars, so if somebody banged them, I'd know. I made it my little den. It was only a tiny little shed. I would sit & read. My mother would leave me a tea in a little round tin. That Gollancz leaflet? 'Nowhere to hide their heads' that was published at the end of the war, which my parents hid. This yellow pamphlet about concentration camps. I found it & I read it & I- absolutely terrified.
Never a day goes by without my thinking of my past, and thinking of my family, and what happened as a result of the Nazis. It’s really not something which I forget about. But I do think about it. It’s very much part of my life. I even dream about it. And therefore, it’s played a great role in my life the fact that I came from Germany originally, but I’m very proud to be British, very lucky to be alive as I’ve said.
It was called By Candlelight and my [twin] brother and I were dressed up as porters, and we used to do – we used to sing in English and in German. There were obviously many other entertainers, and we used to have little things to say to each other, you know, silly things like, ‘Would you like a cigarette?’ The other one – we were only eight years old – would say, ‘No, I only smoke cigars.’ You know, people laughed at that…
when we were only about eight or nine years of age of course the War was still going on. So they asked whether we would entertain the Forces, mainly the American Forces. So, the American Forces gave us naval uniforms, and we used to entertain them. And this was great. We used to say, ‘Hey there mister, you’d better hide your sister ‘cos the fleet’s in, the fleet’s in. Hey there mister, don’t say nobody’s kissed her, ‘cos the fleet’s in.’