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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
8 May 1955
Elena Lederman was born in 1917 in Milan, to parents who originally came from Istanbul. The family later moved to Belgium, where Elena worked as salesperson in Bon Marché. Elena married in 1940 and her son was born in 1942. They survived the war with the help of the Belgium underground, hiding in forests and woods near Brussels. She came to the UK in 1955 and opened a chocolate business.
Well, I would like the war never to come again. I don’t want any new generation to know what we knew. That is a wish for everybody, and to be a lesson for the new generation not to have any other wars, because when they talk again of the war, I’m not very happy to hear that. You know, it will never be the same thing but one can bring another thing, you know, but I sincerely hope.
When the war finished we didn’t have anything at all, and so we had to start – and then my husband said “Maybe we should go and live in England”, and that’s why it happened, because I got a good record with England and there would not be any anti-Semitism: which is wrong because now it starts, anti-Semitism, in here also, but it never was like it was in Belgium.
I feel English, I feel a part of Britain, I feel I am, but my background will never die. I’m still – as I come from Italy, I’m still a different nature than an English person. I’m much more – warm, I’m different.
Then they started the question of Jews. One day they came to my house & asked my husband to undress to see if he was Jewish. He was in the underground, his colleagues knew what was going to happen. They said: 'You’d better disappear, leave everything.' We left, everything.
"Every night, the dogs, with the lights, with the Germans used to come through, to see. I used to cover, with all the grass, & underneath I had the baby with me. It was absolutely terrible. For 5 years I was staying in the woods, I used to live with milk & in fact that very much affected my son’s health. That I can tell you, that it was terrible. So one night, I don’t know how this happened, they came with the dogs, and the lights, and they saw me. I was with the baby. I had to think very quick. I was so scared I can’t tell you. I can’t explain to you. And just for a moment I said – I had to think fast what to do, because they’re going to take me away – I spoke in Italian with them. I didn’t speak French. I was very dark, I was the Italian type although I was Jewish. They told me, “What are you doing?” Well, I said, I lost something in the morning, I lost my ring, & I came at night – when there is nobody – I had to try to find something to tell them. They said ‘Is that your child?’ I said, “Yes.” They said, “You’re married?” “No”, I said, “I’m only looking after that baby because the family is gone, I don’t know where they are.” It was OK. I managed, I managed to get out. Sometimes people used to bring me something, like bread & cheese, I didn't really have any food, as long as my son was alright, I only was caring about him. I used to give him as much affection as I could. We’re very close I suppose with everything we went through. I carried on until the last day of the war, to be in those woods. I don’t know if you can imagine what it is, to live in the woods."
A mad day. I went hysteric, we were all in the street, you can imagine. The first soldier I saw, I ran to kiss him & he had a metal helmet – and it cut me here, I bled like a lunatic. I said “We are free”, I told my son “We are free”, we are going to live normal again & all that. It was fantastic – and then of course my husband was called, where he was working with the underground, they gave him a medal, and he got – I’ll show you the book there. Then I went to see the house, where everything was stolen. They took everything, everything, everything, the only thing I found through a neighbour is a painting. We had just got married, we had furniture, jewellery, everything. It was very sad.