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Alexander Klein

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
May..1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Alexander Klein was born in Vienna in 1924 to a family of five children. His father was from Rumania and his mother from Poland. The family lived in the 20th district in Romano Gasse and the children belonged to Zionist groups.

 

Following the increased antisemitism and especially after the annexation of Austria in 1938 (Anschluss), the family tried to find ways to leave. Alexander’s sister Erna moved to London and worked as a maid, and his brothers Simson and Gershon went to Brussels. The rest of the family moved to Cologne but continued to try to escape to Belgium; Alexander and his sister Anna took a train to Brussels but were turned back. They stayed in Cologne until January 1939, when a Belgian Rabbi managed to take Anna to live with a family in Brussels. Later Alexander persuaded his parents to let him go alone to Brussels. He travelled from Cologne to Aachen and then to Herbestal border station, where he was stopped by the Gestapo. They eventually let him go, and he made his way to Eupen and then to Verviets, both in Belgium, and found refuge with a family called Meunier.

 

Alexander went to Brussels to meet his siblings, and lived in a Children’s Refugee Home where he learnt engineering. His mother eventually joined them there. His aunt managed to arrange for Alexander and Anna to go to England on the Kindertransport, and they arrived in May 1939. They initially lived with their brother Simson and his fiancée, an English girl he had met in Brussels.

 

Later Alexander lived in Manchester with his aunt and uncle, Sarah and Alex Jacobs. He attended the Jewish School for a few weeks and joined the Jewish Lads Brigade. His uncle found him a job as a machinist, making clothing such as raincoats and uniforms. Alexander’s parents eventually arrived to England as well and the entire family lived in Manchester and worked at the clothing factory.

 

In 1943 Alexander volunteered for the Royal Air Force and worked as a wireless operator. His radar unit went to Mons, France,  and later to the Netherlands. Alexander was in Germany when victory was announced, and went home on leave for the victory celebrations. He then returned to France and was in Brittany, Paris and Calais before his demobilisation in June 1947.

 

After returning  home, Alexander and his brother opened a small factory in Salford which manufactured different types of cloths. They were making 2000 garments a week under the trade name Bendyk. The factory closed In 1985 when they were forced to sell in order make way for a railway.

My blind aunt had a very good education. She was looked after. And through her they used to get tickets for the Vienna Opera. And she used to take a companion. Not only tickets, she used to get boxes. Free. And the first opera I took her to - I may only have been 12 - was Aida. I was amazed. My brothers also used to take her. We couldn’t have managed to go by ourselves. That was our musical education.

At the Anschluss, things became more serious because a Jew in those days had no rights. Anybody could attack a Jew - in front of a policeman - and he would take no notice. So whoever wants to have a go at you and attack you did so. My brothers were chased a number of times which made them realise that you can’t live like this.

I was lying in bed trying to think which ways could I escape? Going on a train, underneath the train, on top of the train, in the toilet maybe? I decided that I’m going to go across and find my way into Belgium. When I mentioned this to my parents, they were aghast, ‘No you can’t do that. What made you think of doing this?’ I explained that though 14, I looked only like 12. ‘The Germans won’t do me any harm. They’ll probably let me through and then I’ll find my way.’

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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