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Edna Sovin

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

Interview Summary:

Edna Sovin was born in August 1938 in Berlin. Her mother Hanna Beerman was a doctor and her father Fritz Beerman had a small business. Her maternal grandparents Bertha and Hermman Falkenberg active communal figure in the ‘Liberale’ branch of the Jewish community of Berlin. Her grandfather founded the ‘Liberale Synagoge Norden’ and her grandmother was the first woman on the Board of the Jewish Community in Berlin and was the president of the ‘Juedischer Frauenbund’ for many years. 


In August 1939 Edna and her parents travelled to the UK on transit visas. They took the train to Cologne, where they had relatives and then took the plane to Croydon airport. The family settled in Finsbury Park. When the war started, Edna and her mother were sent to the countryside and the father stayed in London. 


When Edna and her mother went before a tribunal they were classified ‘enemy alien A’ which meant that they were interned and sent to the Isle of Man, where they first stayed in a women and children’s camp and then in a family camp, where they were joined by Edna’s father. She has happy memories from her time on the Isle of Man. 


When the family was released they moved to Kilburn. She found it difficult to speak to other children, as her main language had been German. But now in London, her parents told her not to speak German in public (a fact that seemed to have troubled her later). When the second Blitz began in 1943, Edna was taken first to Shropshire, then to Birmingham. In Birmingham she was fostered by a young English widow who had a son. Edna formed a close relationship to her foster brother and her parents visited her every month. 


Towards the end of the war, she came back to London. Her parents had a small circle of refugee friends and Edna grew up as an only child without many other children. Her mother became one of the first GPs in the new National Health System (in Finsbury Park) and her father built up a small business (Beecha Products) Edna describes that her father was domineering and that her mother’s independence was in her work. Edna went to London Polytechnic to do a Secretarial Course and then to UCL to study Psychology. Later she became a Psychotherapist.  She married Stanley Sovin in 1962 and they had three children. Edna joined a Reform Synagogue in her late thirties when she became interested in Judaism. Today she feels that she has remained an outsider in most of the groups she had joined. She went to Berlin a few years ago when a plague was erected in honour of her grand-parents, Bertha and Herrman Falkenberg. Among the papers she inherited from her mother, there is a rich correspondence with her grand-mother, who survived the war but died 1945 in Switzerland (when her papers to emigrate to the UK had just come through). Edna was very moved to find many references to herself in the letters of her grandmother.  

My first memories are of the Isle of Man. I remember being brought to my mother’s room and opening the door and she was lying on the bed. I think she’d been crying. She had plenty to cry about. But- and also I remember on my third birthday we were- at the centre of the women’s camp was a small hotel. And there was a dining-cum-ballroom. And I remember on my third birthday I had a little pretty dress, a little organdie dress with pink and green ribbon trimming. And I remember dancing around with this little dress.

I remember we- there was a sort of big barbed wire fence that cut off the end of the street [on the Isle of Man]. And we stood by the side of the road. And my mother pointed- the men came in formation, you know, six abreast or something. And my mother pointed, “Look darling, there’s your daddy!” And there was this man carrying a big parcel that turned out to be a rocking horse he’d made for me. And they were marched in, and then at some later point they must have been reunited.

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.

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.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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ES: Thank you card to uncle Hans Beermann from fellow inmates, Onchan camp, Isle of Man, 1940