Eva Figes (nee Ungert) was born in Berlin 1932. Her father had a franchise of a British textile firm. The family had a week-end house in Pichelsdorf where she spent many holidays. She grew up in a very assimilated household and did not know what Jewish meant until she came to England. She went to the Goldschmidtschule. Her father was arrested on Kristallnacht and sent to Dachau. In March 1939 Eva, her brother and her parents flew to Holland and from there they took the boat to Britain. They settled in London and Eva describes the difficulties she faced as a refugee school girl. The father volunteered for the Pioneer Corps and was stationed in Cirencester. In September 1940 Eva and her mother also went to Cirencester as evacuees. In 1941 she moved back to London. She studied English at Queen Mary College, London University against the wishes of her parents and then became engaged. She had two children. Her first book was published in 1966 and she started working in publishing and translating. She has written many novels and feminist non-fiction books. Both her children have also become writers (Orlando Figes and Kate Figes).
My father was arrested on Kristallnacht, went to Dachau. When he came out, he had scarlet fever. We had several weeks staying with my grandparents… came back home when my father was better. I got the shock of my life because most of the furniture had disappeared. So I hardly noticed my poor father who was looking rather thin, lost his hair and so on.
We went to Cirencester as evacuees. I was sent to a small private school, run by two sisters with a couple of assistants. They had a huge effect on me. I mean they let you read all sorts of books that you wouldn’t have been able to read in a normal school. It was also that time that I realised that I had mastered English. I could understand not just the general gist of what was being said, but everything. And I got such a feeling of elation that I immediately: I’ve got to write all these words down!
It’s only now that the past becomes more important that we actually start comparing notes. You know: ‘Did you do this as a child? Did you do that? Remember- Remember whatever?’ One is much more aware of one’s common heritage than one ever was in the past. The past didn’t seem to matter partly because we were much more interested in the future, you know, being British and building up lives here. It wasn’t where we were going to; it was where we’d come from. We sort of shut the door more or less, or tried to.