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Dorothy Bohm

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
June 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Dorothy Bohm (née Israelit) was born in Königsberg, and in 1932 moved with her family to Memel, where her father was a well-known industrialist. Her father had the opportunity to move his factory to the UK but chose to remain in Memel.

 

In April 1939 the family moved to Lithuania. Dorothy got a visa to go to school in the UK and left Lithuania via Holland in June 1939. She spent one year in a school in Ditchling, Sussex. She then studied photography in Manchester, where she met her husband Louis Bohm, originally from Lodz.

 

After their marriage Dorothy continued to work as a photographer and set up her own studio in the centre of Manchester. When Louis set up his own business she started travelling with him and became an art photographer. Later she set up the ‘Photographer’s Gallery’. Many books were published with her photos and her works were exhibited at the V&A Museum and other places. 

 

The first time that Dorothy met her parents and sister (who was one year when she saw her) after the war in 1960 in Riga. Her father had spent many years in Siberia where he was sent by the Russians for being a ‘Capitalist’. In 1963, with the help of Prime Minister Wilson, her parents were allowed to join her in the UK. 

Now father decided not to leave. He was asked by the industrial people not to leave because it would create panic. That was not a very clever thing to do; I think we should have left. It came to a stage when we were afraid of putting lights on. And whenever I went out I was kicked, and told some awful things, so I started being afraid of going out. So anti-Semitism had taken root very strongly. Father stayed to run the factory. We had a lot of non-Jewish friends who assured him whatever happened he wouldn’t be touched. Being a great optimist, which helped him later in life, he listened. But those few months were terrible. We’re talking now about January, February 1939.

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.

End of the war. We got married. Finally. We had nothing except ourselves. How can you get married if you belong to a generation who believe that a husband has got to look after his wife? And I agreed to get married under the condition that Louis would continue to do his PhD and not give it up. I started a studio of my own, borrowed £300 and became the breadwinner. And I’m still proud of that.

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.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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