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Eric Strach

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
July 1940
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Eric Strach was born in 1914 in Brno in the Czech Republic to parents from Brno and Austerlitz. His mother’s father was a cattle dealer in Austerlitz and Eric spent many happy holidays there. His paternal grandfather had a shop selling umbrellas, into which his father went. His parents married in c1911 and gave birth to Alice (who died young); Ilse (born 1913) and Eric (born 1914). They lived above the shop in Brno in a comfortable 1st floor flat. His father served in the First World War. Eric went to a Jewish school and they attended the large shul in Brno. He was aware of antisemitism amongst the German community there. He attended the Maccabi youth group. He then attended university in Prague to study medicine along with Jews from many countries since there was no numerus clausus. He experienced no anti-Semitism there. He worked for a year in a hospital in Brno he visited France on holiday and made friends with a family, who invited him there. Whilst there the Munich Agreement took place and his parents told him not to come home. He helped the family for a while and on the outbreak of war he volunteered for the army. He was nearly arrested as an alien but was given a job in the Sanitorium de Dreux. 

On 6 June 1940 he travelled to Agde and joined the Czech army. They needed doctors for ambulances. They travelled to Sete and were told to board the ‘Mohamed Ali El Kebir’ since the Czech army in exile were going to England. About 3,500 men sailed via Gibraltar to Liverpool in convoy. They tried to learn English Grammar from one book which they passed around. After 2 weeks they landed in Liverpool. They were taken to Cholmondeley Park where they stayed in tents for 3 months and Eric came to Manchester for Yom Kippur. They then went to Leamington Spa to barracks over the winter of 1940 to June 1941 and Eric acted as an ambulance driver and helped during the Coventry Blitz. In June 1941 he opted for civilian service in a hospital and went to Chorley for 6 months. He then worked in a hospital in Wigan for 1 year as a House Surgeon. He then went to Alder Hey to the Emergency Medical Services Hospital and worked there and in other hospitals. He attended Greenbank Synagogue. Through Czech refugees in Wigan he met Margaret Forshaw a teacher, whom he married in January 1945. 

With the end of the war he volunteered to go to Theresienstadt, where he dealt with the cases of typhoid, TB and malnutrition. He discovered his parents had been killed along with his sister and her two children. He discovered that his great aunt Hilda had survived but she would not come to England with him. She had kept a diary in Theresienstadt during 1942-3, which Eric now possesses. He travelled to Slovakia to give penicillin to his brother-in-law’s brother but he was too ill with festering bed sores to recover. He also worked in Usti or Aussig with refugees. He managed to enlist the help of the Joint in Prague to prevent the refugees from being deported to Poland. 

He returned to England in time for the birth of his first child on 27 October 1945. He was given his job back in Wigan but he was only on a visitor’s visa. With the intervention of the MP he was able to stay and took out naturalization. He studied for further degrees whilst living with his in-laws and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. At Liverpool University he took a Masters in Surgery. He became a surgeon in Alder Hey and a Senior MO in Clatterbridge and a Consultant in 1956 in St Helens. He and Margaret moved in to their house in 1957. He also worked in Whiston Hospital and was interested in paediatric surgery and spina bifida. He retired in 1979 and worked as a locum at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. He also worked as a MO in a special school until 71. He then worked in private medical legal work until 1989. 

I have nice memories of my grandfather Strach. He had an umbrella shop. And eventually he went into partnership with my father. I’ve got a picture of the umbrella shop where it says Adolph Strach and Cornelius Strach.

I went to the sanatorium in Dreux. For the first time I could do some medical work. I was a generalist, had no specialty except I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. I did what I could and they accepted me in this large hospital. I was given a bicycle, with duties other than hospital in the outpatient department and a first aid post. The army said I must use the bicycle in the first aid post.

I was in the Czechoslovak Army for one year. They had too many doctors and an officer came round and said, ‘You have a chance of being released from the Army if you go into the British Army.’ Now at the time I still hadn’t had any surgical experience, apart from the first two months after qualifying. So I chose hospital work. That’s how I came to Chorley, and to Wigan and so on.

Eventually I got a fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. It was very hard to get. After that I did a further examination in Liverpool University to be a Master of orthopaedic surgery. I was very proud to get it and I got the first prize.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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