Although strictly speaking a first generation refugee, Dr. Blumenthal did not think of herself as such, and felt fortunate to have grown up in Britain. Nevertheless, her experiences included those of older refugees, and she acknowledged that at heart she was ‘very Austrian.’
Born in Vienna on 25 June 1936 to Felix and Vilma (nee Metall) Lichtenstern (who became Lester post naturalization in 1947/8), Eva was only two years old when she arrived in London by train in November 1938, together with her mother, grandmother Adele Metall, and furniture. Her lawyer father, Secretary of the Gangross store in Vienna (formerly in Jewish hands), had come ahead in September 1938. Some family members on her mother’s side, however, remained in Austria and Lvov (then in Poland) until 1942.
The interviewee’s immediate family was initially sponsored by her great-aunt, Helena Szarvas (nee Metall) from Poland, who had married a Hungarian and lived in Britain since c.1922. Unable to practice as a lawyer or to retrain, Felix found work in the lampshade business, while Vilma and Adele came as domestics (then virtually the only legal means of entry into Britain for adult women other than nursing). Vilma duly managed a pharmacy in Willesden Green, north London, re-qualified, and resumed her professional career as a pharmacist in Harrogate. (See details of the family’s pharmacy in Vienna).
Eva attended kindergarten and various primary schools in Willesden Green and Neasden, the latter (run by Mrs. Ray) being ‘very rough’ and where Eva was called a ‘bloody Jew’ and ‘bloody German.’ Although her family was non-observant, she was excused Christian prayers at school. At home, she spoke only German with a Viennese accent, but in 1940 wrote a letter in English to her father, interned on the Isle of Man. Their reunion after his release in 1941 was strained, and circumstances frustrated him.
From June 1944 to the end of WWII, Eva was evacuated to High Birstwith, Harrogate, north Yorkshire, staying with a foster family. Study at North London Collegiate School 1947–1956, and the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine 1954–1960 followed. In 1975 she became a consultant at Middlesex Hospital, and worked with the Independent Tribunal Service for many years.
A growing interest in Judaism and Zionism led in 1953 to Israel, where Dr. Blumenthal’s secular great-aunt was then living, and via the Jewish Agency to a 1955 summer school for students where Eva met her husband, Lionel (a future Tax Counsel). Agreeing to be observant too, she was accepted by his English Jewish family, and the couple attend Golders Green United Synagogue; their four children attended a Jewish primary school.
There were regrets. Dr. Blumenthal’s father never returned to Austria, but her mother and grandmother recounted ‘wonderful times pre-Nazism’, the latter returning regularly to meet old friends and reminisce. Eva too, visited the former family flat at Linke Wienzeile 4, Vienna 4, and two of her children have explored the family’s background. The AJR was very helpful regarding her parents’ efforts c.2004 to obtain an Austrian pension, albeit much reduced.