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9. Heritage and Memory

Many of the 70.000 refugees who found refuge in Britain and settled in many parts of the UK are no longer with us. However, there is still a group of Kindertransport refugees and child survivors who are very active in Holocaust education, as are some members of the second and third generation. The communal institutions which have been built by refugees, such as the Association of Jewish Refugees, Belsize Square Synagogue and the Wiener Library, are by now firmly established in British public life and retain a strong link with the German-Jewish past.

In recent years, the victims of Nazi persecutions, have confronted the traumas of the past and the losses they suffered in the Holocaust. They have written memoirs, taken part in programmes of interviews, appeared in documentaries dealing with the traumatic experiences of persecution, escape and new beginnings, and continue to speak to school children about their lives. Frank Meisler, who had come on a Kindertransport to the UK, created a series of memorials, one of them at Liverpool Street Station, erected in 2006.  

Commemorating and recording the past has become a focus of many institutions. The Imperial War Museum London is launching a newly conceived Holocaust Exhibition in a few years, a new UK Holocaust Memorial (and Learning Centre) is in the process of being created (in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament).

The Association of Jewish Refugees today is proudly committed to the education of future generations about the Holocaust and is the UK’s largest dedicated provider of programmes and projects which promote teaching and learning about the Holocaust. The creation of the ‘Refugee Voices Testimony Archive’, the Blue Plaque scheme, and the ‘My Story’ project are part of the overall endeavour to create a lasting legacy for future generations.  

Well, I’ve lived much longer in England than I lived on the continent but I still feel foreign, foreign to a certain extent, language most probably, I don’t know. I feel a little bit odd among our friends. They are very nice but I feel the odd one out.

I took the view the one thing one shouldn’t acquire is hang-ups about Germany and Austria. If you get a hang-up, or if you carry resentments around with yourself, the person you harm is yourself. It’s you who suffer, not those about whom you have a hang-up, or against whom you have the resentment.

Try to help people, people who are in need, try to give some time, give some effort, give some love to the community, to the people, they desperately need it. You might need it as well sometimes so give it now, whilst you can.

I find myself towards the end of my life, being very frightened again, very worried. Not just for my family but for the world. I shall go to my grave not understanding that people can look down or up to anyone else. I can only acknowledge one race, and that is the human race.

Had life continued as I think it was, and I stress, I think it was, before the 30s… or before the mid-30s, I would have been less aware of problems in the world in general, and in… and the existence of people living in poverty, people living under stress. In other words, emphasising to only a, a limited extent the people living a very different kind of life from my own.

[Her parents] loved coming to Vienna. They wandered around; by this time Vienna looked quite different of course to our first visit was in 1952. It was no longer grey and the music was wonderful. They would wander around they said, as if- As if the years had just fallen away. And… they - they just loved being there, but only just for the time. And it was very different to, I think many people had this love-hate relationship with Vienna that I found later on.

For my eightieth birthday, my two youngest sons bought me tickets, for them and me, to go for a weekend in Vienna. They feel that’s – that’s where I was born. And whilst the people, I didn’t talk to them very much. But we went to the cemetery, we went to Riesenrad you know, we went all over the place. I didn’t think about it. If you think about it too much, you don’t progress, in my view. And I, I – I strongly believe you need to progress. You’re seventy years, eighty years later; you’ve got to remember, always remember, so it shouldn’t happen again. But you’ve also got to progress. That’s the view I have anyway.

Well I’ve so often heard, “Let it never happen again.” But it does. It keeps happening again, wherever it is, all over the world. And… So I suppose it ought to be talked about. But even with all the talking that one does it does happen again. I think human nature must be pretty awful to let these things happen all the time. At the moment we have a refugee situation coming from the Middle East, Syria and so on. And I think peoples’ reactions have been less than warm and whole-hearted. I think we could afford to be more accepting, and perhaps that is my own view, or perhaps it’s because of my own experience. I’m not quite sure which. But I just wish we could be more receptive to other people who have trauma and need us.

I’ve never been back [to Germany]. I have no- I would always say to whoever I meet, you know, “How many Jewish children did your grandfather kill?” So I’m, I’m not… Why should I, you know, make myself miserable?

Pestalozzi Street [Synagogue]. And I’ve actually been back there and it got destroyed by the Germans during Kristallnacht. They burnt the synagogues and it has been reconstructed practically from drawings always the same; it was a very eerie feeling, I know I’m jumping, but the history of it was a very eerie feeling, because it looked the same but it wasn’t the same, because it was different; and actually it was on a Shabbat morning service, and I could sit on my father’s seat where he used to sit but of course nobody in the synagogue had any connection. They were all strangers, completely different, and it struck me, I’m probably the only one here who has been to this synagogue, been going to this synagogue as a boy, with my father, all these years.

I mean, for example, at the moment we’re dealing with the Immigration Bill. And I have an Amendment down, that the government should allow 3,000 unaccompanied children into Britain. Unaccompanied children who are somewhere in Europe, in Calais, or wherever it is. And that’s got quite a lot of attention. I think partly ‘cause, although I don’t like using my own past as a political argument, I have used it a bit this time. Or other people have used it. Cause- And if I say, “Look, I came to Britain with a Kindertransport, on a Kindertransport, and I was given these opportunities, by this country, wonderful opportunities by Britain. And I would like others to have the same opportunities.” I just feel you know that is something I can do...I do like to say that Britain was the only country that took Kindertransport children in Europe. None of the other countries did, so, at least not to the extent that Nicholas Winton managed to persuade the British Government. So I use that as an argument saying Britain was foremost in Europe in dealing with this. Probably the only country. And… we shouldn’t be slamming, slamming the door on others. Doesn’t mean that you can open the door to anybody. But I think unaccompanied children would be a particular priority I’d have thought.

I don’t know a normal life, which, we never had a normal life! The only bit of normal life was before when we went to school in Berlin. Otherwise it’s been sort of …and very often now anybody says to me, “You’re not…Where do you come from? You’ve got an accent.” After all the years over here.

And my mother, who was in 1997 she was 93 years old. That was when the book was published. And she used to say, “How’s it going? How is the book doing?” Now, she wasn’t looking for being famous. She wanted everybody to know. She said, “Everybody has to know what happened during the war. What happened to us. People have to learn.” And so I- it sounds grandiose, but I feel now along with other survivors I have a duty to my parents, and to the survivor community, to share this story. I think it’s…it’s a way of people having to learn. And I find that no matter what programs there are, the reaction to someone who tells a story and says, “I was there and this is what happened to me” always has the most – most immediacy, the most influence.

And that learning what happened to - to the Jewish people, how, how terrible it was, and you know, how six million people, including over a million children, perished. That this is something which should not be repeated. And if you understand it and take in what happened, hopefully, that you will do what you can in whatever small way even if it’s just speaking to other people, and telling them about what you’ve seen, and telling them, sharing even just this experience to try and make people see that they should... stop killing each other.

I don’t hold any…particular animosity against the current group of Germans. When I see an older German I thought “What did you do with the war?” But mostly of course they were children. Real children. Just like I was.

When my eightieth birthday was looming, six years ago, they said, “What would you like for your birthday?” And I said, “Well, what I would like to do is find my roots. I would like to go to my birthplace. I would like to perhaps go to the little village where I was born. Where my mother must have pushed me in a pram. I would like to go to Berlin, where I lived. I must find out the address.” Cause I remembered my father’s address very, very clearly and not my mother’s so it just shows. It was 96 Gneisenaustrasse – I even know- even know how to spell it. And then I wanted to go to Auschwitz. I knew at that time, through the internet, that my father had gone to Auschwitz. I didn’t know before then. So we did that.

So... I went up the side path [to the house in Berlin Dahlem where her parents used to live], ... and I burst into tears. It was sort of something about... being in the place where you were first- when you first were. And of course you don’t - if you’re exiled you don’t have that. You can’t touch the place where you came from.

Well I’ve always taken care to keep in good contact with my family, with my grandchildren and, and great-grandchildren, and so on, right? Always given priority to... to- to them. It’s made me perhaps a little cautious and unadventurous. You know... And ...perhaps the most significant moment... was when I did have an opportunity to stay on in America, in 1955. And no less than a job at Harvard. But Harvard was not then, as far as physiology goes, as good as University College, right? And I decided I had enough with moving country once. And I didn’t really want to make another change and came back to England. That was perhaps the most, the one decision I made... where my past influenced me in a major way.

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.

Just to try to work on one’s own black spots, to get one’s own black spots less black. That’s all I can say. As human beings we all have in us the angel and the devil, so we all have enough to do with ourselves, beyond any theory, religion, or whatever. And that is a battlefield in each of us, of our own angel and our own devil.

Subsequently, in a strange way I have regarded it as an asset being a refugee, because it gave me a broader base. I had experiences of the world. I had lived in Germany and Holland and England, I had worked in America, I have worked in Egypt. So I had seen a bit of the world, a bit of people, and it gave me a, not really satisfaction, but there was a certain satisfaction that I had done these things, you know.

I’ve never understood why the world kept its doors closed to the Jewish people. I’m sure the Holocaust could have been avoided if the world had opened its doors and allowed the Jewish people to leave Germany. Something I can never understand, why the world was so hard to the Jewish people. Have you ever wondered that? Yes?

On one hand I am lucky to be alive, on the other hand, so are you. If they had come over here, they would have done everybody in, because they virtually did everyone in…

I had no wish to go back really. …I can understand now when they talking about second and third generation Holocaust survivors, how sometimes… some psychological help would be very helpful. …I still had this fear up till then about going to Austria and hearing the Austrian accent and the harsh- and the German being spoken, but it left me that day.

I am sorry to say, but we never seem to learn. And that is how I feel. We don’t seem to learn we human beings, not just Jewish… people, I mean human beings from all over the world. We don’t learn from our mistakes; we go and do the same stupid things again… including me.

I’ve been dishing out a little poem which says: ‘I cannot change the way I am, I need not even try, we each are different and unique, no need to question why. If I appear peculiar there’s nothing I can do, so please accept me as I am, as I’m accepting you.’ There, I think that’s as good as anything.

…the importance of everyone- Learning to accept and value other human beings for their qualities. One mustn’t look at colour, one mustn’t look at religion and one mustn’t look at the differences between people. One must think of them all as human beings and we do have something in common with all of them.

I get very upset at, you know, any changes. And... you know I hate any separation of any sort- you know, a saying goodbye or packing suitcases and... I... I feel I- I don't really want to get so close to, to people because I, you know, everyone that you get close to you know you- seems to you know, you- has to go, in some way or another.

I always feel happier in, in company you know, that have either been through the Kindertransport or come from- who are refugees. You know, you feel immediately more comfortable, because you don't have to explain anything, or you know, they've been through the same thing as you have. Because sometimes it's quite difficult to explain to people, you know, what you do, and why you do it and... you know... what’s happened.

Well the only way I can explain it perhaps you know…My happy family life was interrupted and I lost my parents and my sister. And I tried to work myself up to a sort of a useful and nice enough human being. I found my own family and I managed to study so I’ve got something I can say I can be proud of. I’m happy and I’ve got no regrets really. I mean all the things that happened to me in war time and being a refugee I can only make Mr Hitler responsible for it – nobody else. And that’s how it is and I had to come to terms with that. It’s no good saying I resent it in any way because that’s how it is.

And I think it's much better to be open and to be able to say things and explain. It really does widen the whole prospect of, of the whole issue of whether you're a refugee or a minority or something like that. I think we should be within the world, and not outside it. And, and - I think that’s hugely important. And, and we all see the fact that minorities… stick to themselves, feel the world is against them and so on. And that's very bad. You could open yourself to it.

Identity is so important. Having had my identity... ascribed to me first by the Nazis, and then by various experiences I went through, and finally deciding for myself that I was not going to go back to German. That I was going to be Jewish against enormous pressure - from everywhere. I've realised the importance of identity, and that's something that I always focus on in the talks I give. We haven't learnt not to identify people, but to respect their right to their own identity.

Well it was Bertha Leverton’s ...fiftieth anniversary conference – fifti-fiftieth anniversary of our coming to England. That was the first time I heard the word ‘Kindertransport’. That was the first time I was aware of anybody but Martin and I coming to England from Germany. I was absolutely gobsmacked. And... About- about a thousand came to that conference. Mainly survivors, some spouses. And they were all telling their stories to each other on tables where we were sitting and eating. And then I realised, I didn't really know my story. I've never realised how I'd been avoiding it.

I always link my- my story... to what's happening today. Usually, I start as I'm going along, to link it with the problem we have with refugees today, and the awful things people say about refugees. And I tell them in no uncertain terms that refugees do not leave their home in large numbers, unless they absolutely have to because it's too dangerous. And they are coming over and they want to please. They want to work if we would let them. They’re not coming to scrounge. And they need our friendship. And I tell them, look, we've behaved so badly to a lot of refugees who have not gone away again. They don’t go away. Most of them stay here. And if we treat them badly, we’ve got them with a grudge.

And the second major lesson we haven't learned, is to protest earlier. Now... When violence begins, you can stop it if you really want to. But if you turn a blind eye and pretend it's none of your business, it will escalate, and then it will get out of control.

When we came on the plane and I saw Krakow underneath, you know… I started crying. I started crying uncontrollably. It was- it was something which- not that I wanted to, no, it was something absolutely… I, I can’t explain it. And when I got out of the plane, I could not stop crying. I could not- they were waiting with flowers, with this. I couldn’t stop crying. And the husband thought that they were- or they thought that they were going to do some- something nice for me, so they- to take us to the hotel via the street where I lived before the war. And the house- we were to pass the house. It was awful, because I could not stop crying. And I’m not a crying person. Really not. But I couldn’t stop

One has to be true to oneself I think, and always see the best in other people, not the worst, because sometimes things seem bad, but they turn out to be good. As I say, I never knew what my father was like, I only knew my mother for a short time, and yet I was lucky because my aunt and uncle brought me up. I was looked after. For what reason? That maybe my parents shouldn’t go through terrible things.

It was a shock to me when I realised exactly what had happened to our family, like to many others. Putting myself into my mother’s place, it must have been so terrible to say goodbye and to know that it was probably for ever. I felt that history could repeat itself. I couldn’t even bear to think of having children. And yet, I love children. So I’m grateful that I’m very close to my twin brother’s children and grandchildren.

Hillel said, standing on one leg, “Do as you would be done by”, if I'm quoting him correctly. I suppose that's a good message for people. All the rest is commentary.

There are still little Hitlers about and there are still situations where people have to leave their country, otherwise they die. So they become refugees. Give them an opportunity to live. And if it means making room for them in this country or another country, so be it. There is room.

The message is that as an immigrant into a new environment, you must acclimatise to that. That’s the criticism I have against the immigration who are so welded together and find it so hard to break away. It makes life difficult, I think, for themselves and for others.

I think, don’t dwell on the past and think about it as a bad thing. Think about your life - if it has been decent - and say to yourself, ‘Look, I’m still alive, surely that’s worth more than anything else.’

How do you account, how can you say what is your home? Everything is so mixed up with your very innards and I’ve never been psychoanalysed. I don’t know what would come out but what I feel is very much a duality. I suppose I’m divided - why not?

Goethe said: ‘To a wise man, all ports are havens.’ And I think I agree with that. Even if one isn’t wise, one may look at life in that way and perhaps that’s the best way to survive the vicissitudes which undoubtedly every life has. And I think it’s wonderful to be alive.

If you found kindness after many terrible things happened to you there, you can make your life better if you want to. And you accept your fellow men on an equal level and respect everyone. And I think life is precious, and we should respect one another, and we can, if we want to live in peace.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from what happened in the last sixty years should be the message of all these reminiscing, not just for the sake of reminiscing, but to learn something from it. If it can give such a message across, to see what people made of their lives, having come through with nothing, they did everything to make sure the next generation has the ability to grow, then we have to grow, and we have to use it and we have to hand it down. I don’t know if that message will hit home, but I think that is very important.

We grew up in a time when you realised that you’re in a county which has given you sanctuary, that you have to be grateful. That’s how we were brought up. And whatever it is here, you have to do your bit and try, and do as best you can for the people who live here. In those days times were hard and everybody pushed and pulled together. Your neighbours were your neighbours. So, in that respect it was much more cohesive.

We’re grateful to England that they took us in. Haven’t forgotten that. Otherwise we wouldn’t have made it. For the grown-ups it wasn’t so easy to come to England, but the children, they did a good deed there with the Kindertransport that they let us come in.

[On becoming a refugee] Obviously it had a big impact, didn’t it because I am British and not German. What would have happened to me if we had stayed in Germany, is only too clear. So I have lived to eighty-two, instead of finishing in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. There is very little doubt that that’s what would have happened. There are some who survived, but not many.

My mother did talk about the war a lot. She kept saying “We have to talk about the miracles we had. We are saved for something, not just for nothing.” She never took it for granted and all her life she had a purpose in life; she helped people. My parents, all their life they helped war victims. All people who are victim of anything they were there to help, until their last days.

Any message that I’d like to end with? Yes. Peace. Peace. That’s all. Peace in this world.

I believe in being good. There is nothing to replace goodness to people, being good to each other.

I feel, to copy Lucian Freud: `We are here because we are here because we are here´. I’m here. I think, `meine Heimat´ is in my heart and my head. I have no deep sense of belonging although I have two cultures I feel strongly about.

The message I would leave to people, ‘Get the information [about family history] whilst you can because when it’s too late, then you can’t get it’. However much research you do you just can’t get this information. I’m trying to trace my father’s family. I presume there must be some around somewhere. I didn’t ask enough questions.

Yes, some unpleasant things can happen to you. How you deal with what is given to you, which may be beyond your control, is entirely up to you. And it’s your life, your responsibility. That’s what I tell my kids, that’s what I would tell my grandchildren. You can’t have everything you want. It doesn’t mean to say that you can’t dream. But accept reality courageously, don’t recoil, don’t step back. Say yes to life.

Nationality? I am an internationalist. Obviously. That’s the short answer. I am not proud or ashamed of any, except of course when the Germans said, ‘you are no longer German now, you are a Jew therefore you are not a German’. I was born there, my parents were born there, my grandparents were born there - for all I know my great-grandparents.

As regards leaving Germany, it’s a question of language. After that my earliest hope of being a writer – that finished. I never felt that I could write in English the way I could have done in German. But then I put that aside. I’ve been happy to have all these different experiences.

If we can give young people, and people in general, something of our experience, to let them know what it means to have lived through that period and what lessons one can take from that: It started with pin pricks, with burning books, it started with boycotts, it became a matter of denunciation, a matter of persecution, and it ended up with people being killed.

In 1945 we were still Polish citizens, in a Polish orphanage, and we were given permission to return, and that is how we went back. When we were repatriated, we never went back to our town. In our town there wasn’t one Jew left. Even the cemetery is a bus station now. And it is written on top that once upon a time it used to be a Jewish cemetery. There is nothing there now.

I never thought of myself as a refugee. I have never had any problems with it; no, I don’t feel an outsider.

Just to be alive- I am glad I am here, I am lucky: I have got children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and I hope to continue well.

Unless you were a refugee there’s really no point imagining what it was like to be one. All I can say is refugees need understanding. There are plenty of refugees in the world today who need understanding, help. And it’s no good looking the other way and pretending it’s not happening. So my message is: for God’s sake, help other people.

After that sort of dreadful experience we’ve gone through and the horrible things we read about every day, one can only come to the conclusion: ‘It CAN happen again.’ It’s the horrible character, the horrible actions which human beings can undertake anywhere, wherever they are, including Jews. It’s horrible. At the same time, I have not lost faith in humanity. We just have to work towards the improvement, the betterment of our world population.

[On the effects of her war-time experiences] I just take it as a fact. It just happened. That era was…whoever lived there, you always have a… not a burden – a complex about it. I mean, I don’t thrive on it and I don’t throw it about – just the opposite. But subconsciously I am aware of it. So not to be miserable with it but just, just sort of… aware of it.

My husband decided he wanted to see Berlin again and we went by train through Holland. Where the East Germans came in it felt just like the Nazi period again: dogs outside, everything dim, towers where they overlooked the zone. Then arriving in West Berlin with bright lights- was extraordinary. I went to the first flat where we lived for fifteen years. I stood outside and desperately wanted to go in. A foreigner opened, a young woman, probably Turkish, I told her I used to live there as a child, so many years ago. She let us in. It did something to me; it helped me immensely, contrary to my expectations. It helped me.

Everyone’s experience is different. …Not to make generalisations about people – either Jews, Germans or anybody else. That’s it.

Everything that seemed a tragedy, led to something good... Hadn’t they deported us to Siberia, we would have remained in Poland and we would have had the same fate as the other Jewish people.

I realise from the way I behave; the way I think, the way I feel that I’m still a refugee. Which is ridiculous. You know, I was eight months old. Now I’m seventy-eight years old and I still feel like a refugee. Not all the time. And not around here so much, because you know, it being a Jewish neighbourhood there’s this feeling that everybody’s come from somewhere else, even if it’s only Manchester. But… Yeah, I’m very, very grateful to Britain. They saved my life. It’s only recently I’ve realised how many people they refused to take in. You know- my parents- my mother gave me this sort of rosy feeling that you know, they saved us; they took us in. And I hadn’t recognised that- how many people they didn’t take in. And America as well. I’ve only recently understood that.

Little did I ex- expect to spend my life as a counterfeit Anglo-Saxon, married into the most English of English family settings possible. ...Almost the second Senior member of the Reform Club in Pall Mall, than which nothing more establishment. Little did I expect to end up with a Papal Knighthood.

All I can say, I don’t wish this to happen to any other generation, what we had to go through. To have peace, here and in the whole world. This is a big, big tall order.

My life has been full of lots of things, full of tragedy and sorrow and full of great happiness, and it’s been a rich life.

Be open to whatever comes in to you, by way of thoughts, inspirations, meetings, anything new, because you never know what will come of it. In my case so much has developed from being ever more open. I feel I'm having a very good life and the struggle and strife is part of it.

My main message is peace. It is absolutely essential. I’m not a pacifist; I know that there are occasions when you have to fight, but it doesn’t have to be with guns. You can fight intellectually, you can exchange your ideas and hope other people will come round to your point of view.

It’s only now that the past becomes more important that we actually start comparing notes. You know: ‘Did you do this as a child? Did you do that? Remember- Remember whatever?’ One is much more aware of one’s common heritage than one ever was in the past. The past didn’t seem to matter partly because we were much more interested in the future, you know, being British and building up lives here. It wasn’t where we were going to; it was where we’d come from. We sort of shut the door more or less, or tried to.

I’ve come to the conclusion life is as it is. It dishes out good for some and not so good for others and that’s how life is. There are two types of people in life, I’ve found. Those that sit down and say, “Oh, me, oh, my. Oh, woe is me.” And the other one who’ll get up, and says, “I’m going to get out and go and do things.” And if you’re of the latter, then you don’t consider the sad, bad things. You’re positive. You have to think that that’s the cards that life dealt you and you have to make the best of them. You’re not going to be dealt four aces. You get a mixture of cards; you’ve got to make the best of them. And that’s how life is. You- the way from the bottom. There’s only one way you can go. When I arrived and I was sent to eight different families on my own, that was the bottom part of my life. It taught me that- to be self-reliant.

Often [people], are lonely… that I think shouldn’t be lonely, that should be doing things for other people. And that way, you do two things: you make other people happy and you make yourself happy. And that’s what people don’t understand. In giving of yourself you can make people happy and you make- you bring your own happiness. You can’t make happiness.

It's- it’s so difficult to explain because I am the sort of person that I live this life and I enjoy what I do and I carry on living. And I don't- it's only over the last few years that I start looking back. And there are some things you don't forget... But at the same time, you don't want to go back all the time. Very difficult to...

It’s [his childhood experiences] affected very much. I think all these emotional contents I hope I can express in my music making and the suffering, I think, is- is quite part of the musical profession. And I think one is enriched by all these experiences. Good and bad experiences. I think so. I think so. The more emotional contents. And when somebody had an immediate success and immediate- I think suffering is part of the musician’s upbringing, I think.

Well, I cannot deny that I was born Hungarian. So, you know, this is part of- part of me. And I don’t want to deny I was born Jewish. And I’m very sad to think of all these people whom I lost. And I'm very happy to be, live here, because I found that here I – here, I can be- I can be myself.

I’m constantly, now, never not appalled at what the Germans did to the Jews. Appalled. I think it is inexplicably dreadful. And… immensely painful. I’m still very much a refugee. But nobody who worked in a concentration camp can be allowed- can be alive anymore. They’re all dead. And you can’t- I can’t carry my dismay and hatred of what went on. I don’t carry my dismay and hatred at what went on to the next generation. And I have perfectly sound, friendly, loving affectionate German relatives who are Aryans. And you can’t- I can’t run my life any other way. That’s just me. I’m very Jewish when anybody’s being anti-Semitic. And I love being in Jewish company.

I have had a jolly fortunate and privileged life, for which I’m deeply grateful. Deeply grateful to my parents for so to speak having given me life twice over by coming to this country. People don’t realise. It was a very brave thing to do.

It makes you a little bit less able to be- relate to the real frivolities and stupidity of life [laughs] that occupies some people now.

But the main thing is that you have to respect people's identity and individuality. And I always make the point that you must never use a broad brush- brush description, like “the asylum seekers”, “the refugees”, “the Muslims”, “the this” and “the that”. Everybody is an individual, with their own dreams and fears. And they have to be respected as that. And it just, you know, our story shows what happens when people are prejudiced and discriminate and humiliate.

I was hoping, and so on. Mrs. Henriques, Basil's wife, went around the camps. And she had a list with her of all their various friends and people for her to look out for. She never found any sign- any sign of Franz or Hertha Kuhn. So, you know, eventually you adjust. You accept it. Because what else can you do? A silence- you know, for years I dreamt there they'd be at the door.

Oh, I think it makes you more resistant. I think you become stronger. I think you're able to cope with emergencies or catastrophes better. I think it definitely does something to your character. It makes you more determined. It makes you more determined to get on in life and see goodness in life.

Everybody, whatever colour, whatever faith, whatever background, everybody is a human being and deserves to be treated as a human being with respect and dignity. That's the last message. You see what can happen when respect breaks down, when prejudice comes in, when hatred comes in. Never, ever think bad of anybody because they look different, or because they act differently. Everybody is human.

I think that we should not forget that- that this happened. And that one should fight against any backwardness and terrible things that are happening today. I mean, if you think about it, that- that there is a war in Syria for seven years. And people can’t sort out their differences other than killing each other, is something after this Holocaust experience- we haven’t learned anything! And I think that this is the message I’d like to send that one should learn that you don’t achieve anything by killing people. And the Holocaust was a sort of most unique thing that ever happened, actually. This technological, planned murder of a group of people.

I feel sorry that, of course I never reached the time when you come from the unknowing child, to the adult, when you talk to your parents on a one-to-one basis. I never had that. I miss that. And we never had any – any real discussions about things. And so... that is all missing. You see, and- and of course when you feel sorry that you never said- all the “thank-you“s I didn’t give, all the “please” I didn’t give. The things I took for granted. And, and I never told them I loved them. I know no fourteen-year-old will tell his parents you love them...

Well, the message is, “Don’t... go with the crowd. Don’t... say- because the peer pressure is in a certain way, and the peer pressure is sometimes very strong. If you feel you have to swim against it, it may be unpleasant, but swim against the stream. Stand up to it. Do what you think is right. And... for God’s sake, don’t start making decisions based on prejudice.” In other words, live your life so that you can look back and say, I’ve done the right thing. Even it means swimming against the stream. It may be difficult, but it’s worth it.

And I know I tried... to go to the place where we lived. And I managed - managed to go on the first floor. I managed to go halfway up the floor, and it was extremely painful... because every step, you have a memory. And half way up I... realised, “What will I see there? Who do I know? [inaudible???I don’t want to know .]” What’s important is the family that’s not behind there. And they’re not there. And... I never went back to that place.

Well, the message is, “Don’t... go with the crowd. Don’t... say- because the peer pressure is in a certain way, and the peer pressure is sometimes very strong. If you feel you have to swim against it, it may be unpleasant, but swim against the stream. Stand up to it. Do what you think is right. And... for God’s sake, don’t start making decisions based on prejudice.” In other words, live your life so that you can look back and say, I’ve done the right thing. Even it means swimming against the stream. It may be difficult, but it’s worth it.

Don’t let the Holocaust traumatise you. If you have family who went through the Holocaust, don’t let it make you unhappy. But be aware that anti-Semitism is not going to stop despite the Holocaust. When the Holocaust was over, we thought, obviously nobody’s going to be anti-Semite anymore. And we’ve been proved wrong. And therefore, don’t be frightened, but don’t be complacent. Simchat l’Chaim. Very important.

So my famous passage is the last passage in our Bible. Prophet Malachi says, the last sentence in our bible says, ‘Elijah will come and will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents’. So very often, even conducting funerals I quoted that. ‘If you do nothing else’, to quote Elijah to bring the Messianic age nearer, ‘you keep the family together.’

I've talked to school children who have been to the camps through- through the [Holocaust] Educational Trust. And of course… that's where it’s- that's where it's at. They should remember it. They should tell their children. They- They should know what it's all about. And of course there are so many diversions nowadays that… it may well- it may well last another generation or two. But after that, it's history. You know, I always say to children, you know, “I saw this with my own eyes. This is not Cromwell or Henry the Eighth.” But I think eventually… it'll become that.

I've grown very strong. And from a very, very early age, I determined that nothing was going to get in my way and stop me from finding my own security. My friends around me were all getting married and so on and so forth and I didn't get married. I- I said, “I can't get married because you see I'm never going to rely on a husband to keep me. I'm going to find my own way and find my own security.

They say, “It is truly amazing how normal you are for someone with your background.” And I just try to be that - normal. I don’t- I do- I actually feel that if I let it affect me badly, then those dreadful people who did all this to us - have won! So… why let them? …I think that's probably at the back of it, yes. And also, the fact that… so many members of my family died...
Oh, aunts and uncles and grandparents and… I have actually got a- a list that was printed off from the synagogue in Vienna, which we visited. And they have everybody on that list who died- who was from Vienna, who died. And there are ten people on it. And I think the- if- if I didn't make the most of my life, they all died in vain. So… I would feel so guilty if I just became a, a layabout and… hadn't tried.

I thought that it had next to no effect on me and that's not true. I've never fully got over it.

Hitler & Nazi Germany condemned Jews just simply for being Jews. Not for what they’d done or said. They weeded them out deliberately with a lot of hard work & calculation, even if they were hiding under assumed names, even if they were partly Jewish, even if their grandparents were Jewish. They just wanted to get rid of a certain trait. He felt that that was the way forward. What a terrible idea. The fact is that he was able to manifest his idea. And we gave him permission to do so—the German people gave him permission. The average German. He was manipulative & gained power. But there should have been enough pressure to get rid of him. If enough people were prepared to do something about it, but they weren’t. They were prepared either to go along with it because it suited their cause or they were given bribes of position etc, or because they were frightened, or finally, this is the most important thing of all, because they were apathetic. The sort of people who turn a blind eye when people are being kicked & beaten up in the street & don’t even tell the police. There were lots of those & those are the ones that need to feel ashamed & that they did wrong. They could have got rid of Hitler before he did as much as he did.

We were placed in a home, in Welwyn Garden City. The teacher there said that you must at all costs, if you were going to live a normal life, blot out your memories & speak only the language you're going to speak now. Hence I don’t speak German, I won’t speak German. He said: the only time you know you're going to settle in England is when you think & count in English, when you lay back & close your eyes all you think of is English. So lots of memories are blotted out by Welwyn Garden City.

What would I call myself? ...Like- like a hybrid, darling, yes? You grew up and that was the home. Yes? And then you had to spread out- become a totally different life. Yes? And then together again another different life, and still together going on. Ja! How do you call it? I call it a hybrid.

[Atmosphere in 1933] It- it was- it was when I started school at the age of six, that I had my first sort of, encounter. I had a little umbrella with red stripes, and a little schoolmate of mine said, “Is that the blood of the- of, of, of, of German babies that the Jews were killing?” So that- and I came home to my mother and said, “Could this be true?” So that was my- that was the first, my- my first experience of what- what, what was happening.

[When the family left Germany to go to Czechoslovakia in 1938] We were elated. My brother and I were elated. Because we had already experienced anti-Semitism. We were thrown out of our schools. We were- and we were spat at in the street and so, you know, we had experienced the anti-Semitism quite strongly. We were not allowed to- to sit on park benches. We were not allowed to use swimming pools. We, you know, did- we already had experienced a lot of anti-Semitism. So, we were very, very happy to leave all that behind.

And then then we emigrated. I remember leaving the flat. It had a huge heap of clothes and belongings, knick-knacks lying in the middle of the floor. And I saw a hairband which I so much wanted, I took the hairband with me to London. I wore- used to wear it here. And then we travelled, or we said goodbye first of all in Kassel. It was- it was a dreadful, miserable day, with- it’s all grey. Tante Minna was at the station, as was some other friend of hers. And it was- we said goodbye and we would never see them again. And we went to Mönchengladbach by train. And we had some- my father had a bit of money to spare. We were only allowed to take out the equivalent of ten pounds, I think it is. And there was a shop there, which did not have a sign saying ‘Juden unerwünscht’ – Juden- Jews unwanted. And he went in there and bought a wristwatch, which he never wore, because he hated wristwatches. And whilst he was doing that, we- my mother and I went into a phone box. And I was to look out to see that nobody observed us. And- and while I was looking out, she phoned her mother and father in Bonn and said goodbye, and wept. And I'd never seen my mother cry before and I was very upset and also cried.
I was always on the wrong side of the fence. Always. And have ever- have been all my life. That's just the way it is. I desperately wanted to be English when I was at the school, and I would have liked to have stayed in England, but it didn't happen. And gradually I got used to being in Germany but I never identified with that either. I mean, I like- I like the countryside. I like the woods and fields. And I like the Kaffee und Kuchen. But as far as anything else was concerned, I never really felt that- I never felt at home anywhere. And the only place I really felt at home was at home, in the four walls of my parents’ house.

And, you know, we [my husband and I ] lived together for forty-odd years and he would never ever talk about it. And when I tried to become an educator, I just found it too difficult to talk about the situation as it was then and what we all went through, loose and not having – not having a cousin or a – nobody. None of my uncles had children- my mother’s brothers, or her sister. Nobody had after the war.

And my normal happy childhood continued until the day when I came downstairs in the morning, and I saw my family – my mother, my father, my grandmother, my nurse - all sitting listening to the radio. And there was such an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. And I said, “What’s happening?” And I think my father said, “England has let us down. The German troops are marching into Czechoslovakia, and nobody is stopping them coming.” And within, I think it was two days, my father was arrested. And my mother and my grandmother kept me home from school. My nurse had to go back to her village because she wasn’t allowed to work for us anymore.
My mother came and took me to a little park outside the school, sat me on a bench and said to me, “Look Vera, I'm very sorry, but we can't leave Czechoslovakia. But you understand that it's not safe for us to be here anymore. But you can go to a country called England. And you will go on the train, and you won't know the other children. But they’ll all be children whose families feel that it's not safe for their children to be here anymore. And you'll go on the train. And you'll go to a country called England. And we will- we've sent fifty pounds to the English government so that though we want to come to England, if we have a problem with that, what we're going to do is we're going to be able to go to any other country, and we will send for you. Because the money is there with English government and you'll join us. And we'll be together. But you have to be very brave. And until we come.”

Budapest, March 23rd, 1944. ‘My dear darling little child, when you get this letter in your hands it’s possible your daddy cannot come back to you anymore. My darling little child I would have very much loved to bring you up and would have liked to straighten your ways and your happiness. But fate which gave me so much in life over the years cannot give me that. In that case, I would at least like – your father would like to get you to know your father in a letter... Darling little child, now it was you second birthday and you got from me a nice big doll. Every year for sure laugh on that day, have a lovely time, and enjoy yourself, because I want you to be happy. I always walked on the sunny side of life, and now I’m forty-two years old and still too young to die, but I can say while I lived, I lived well. If I must go, I will go with Hashem’s name. My beloved only child, I say goodbye to you. I kiss you with much love as a father can say goodbye to a child.'

I never knew I was Jewish. I was brought up as a Catholic. My father was Catholic, and it was agreed actually when I was one that I would be brought up as a Catholic. And one day, I was about eleven years old, long time after the War, I was going with a friend to buy some milk and then suddenly I found myself with a rope round my neck and there were some young boys pulling the rope and calling me ‘dirty Jew.’ I had no idea what they were talking about. As I said, I didn’t know I was Jewish. It was a game for them to remove the rope, went home, never spoke about it. Never asked any questions. And I’m sure you know that I do speak to young people and one of the things I always say to them, ‘Please, please, if you want to know something about your family, don’t wait, ask. When you go home you must ask,’ because I never did, and I would like to know so much more which is very sad really.

And for a long time when people – I say, ‘I’m not a survivor,’ because for me I was not a refugee, therefore not a survivor. And then slowly, hearing other people’s stories and here, you know, realising people were interested to hear what happened, then I realised, ah, maybe they’re right actually, it’s true, I am a survivor. I’m lucky I survived. Had it not been for Mimi maybe at the time, and maybe also my father in all fairness, I wouldn’t be here telling the story because I would have gone on the train as well. So, in that respect I am a survivor.

I hated everything German for years and years. But then our neighbour married this German woman & she was just the nicest. I actually went out to Germany to stay with them. So I stopped hating the Germans. I didn’t see any point quite honestly. It wasn’t she who was a Nazi.

When my parents left Breslau & said goodbye to their parents, my mother’s father brought out a small package containing a watch that my grandfather had had the foresight to buy & give to his daughter so that she'd have a bar mitzvah present for the little boy, then aged 2, when he was 13. This watch was the last gift & the last act of father & daughter on that station & she kept that watch carefully for the next 11 years & gave it to me at my bar mitzvah. There was only one occasion when she let me wear it before I was 13. That was to take the entrance exam for Haberdasher’s School & it brought me good luck & I got in. It became a totem for me. I wore it on every special occasion, every exam I took at university. Every special occasion in my life, I will wear that watch.

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