The copyright of all photographs belongs to individual interviewees. Please get in touch for more information

Eve Gill

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
16/17 March 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Eve Gill nee Elfriede Gottfried was born in Vienna, 1923. Her mother, Gisela Gruenwald, had come as a teenager from Slovakia and her father, Jakob Gottfried, from Romania. They got married in 1920 in Vienna and owned their own clothes shop called Kaufhaus Gottfried in the Schlosserhofstrasse, 21. Bezirk. This is where Eve grew up. The family lived in the third floor of the same building as the shop. The family kept a kosher home.

 

Eve went to the local primary school and then to the gymnasium. She recalls that at the gymnasium she had one anti-Semitic teacher. She changed to the Handelsschule in the centre of Vienna. She recalls outings to the Vienna Woods on the week-end, swimming in the Donau and going to the Burg Theater. After the Anschluss the shop was arynised and a SS officer ran the shop. Her mother continued to work.

 

In May 1938 her father and all Jewish men from Floritzdorf were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Her father went first to Dachau and then to Buchenwald. Eve recalls scrubbing the floors with her mother outside their shop. On Kristallnacht Eve was on the way baclk home when she was warned not to go home. The Nazis had looted their house and they were taken to the local synagogue. There they were informed that their flat was requisitioned and that they had to leave in a few hours. They moved to a small flat in the Obere Donaustrasse. A cousin in Shanghai had organized Chinese visas for the parents and at the same time Eve’s name was put down for a Kindertransport. Eve was reluctant to go but her mother told her that she had to go. Her aunt gave her a little book and wrote a leaving poem in it (which Eve still has- this booklet became her diary in the UK).

 

In March 1939 Eve travelled by train on a Kindertransport to  Britain. She recalls the arrival in Holland and the sense of relief of being free. She was ill on the boat and they arrived at Liverpool Street station, where she was met by Mr Lewin, a Jewish man from Glasgow. They travelled to Glasgow and she joined the family as an au pair. She was used as a maid, had to sleep in the kitchen and did not receive a lot of food or any emotional support. She felt very isolated and lonely in this family and had to work very hard. Her mother had packed some chocolate for her journey on the Kindertransport and Eve recalls rationing small pieces of the chocolate so that it would last longer. One day a Christian couple, who were friends of a family who fostered another Kindertransportee came and invited her for tea. When she told them about her situation, they advised her not to stay the Lewins and offered her to come and stay with them. Mrs Lewin refused to give Eve her belongings and wrote to the Home Office, as she did not want Eve to leave. So Eve moved in with the Cathberts. After some time she accepted another au-pair position with a Czech family, the Bergs. This was a better situation but their was also a fair amount of argument. On one day the neighbor who must have heard some shouting and said: ‘come over the fence hen, you can stay with us’. Eve was very grateful to the Mr and Mrs Lochhead who took her in and gave her a love and affection. She stayed in touch with them her whole life.

 

She did some war work and started going to the Refugee club, where she met many other refugees. She got married for a short time to a Czech Jewish refugee but divorced very shortly afterwards.  In 1948 she managed to get a visa for her parents and the parents arrived from Shanghai, where they had spent the war, in the UK. Although she was delighted to be reunited with her parents this was also difficult as they had not lived together for almost ten years. Her parents found a flat and she lived by herself close by. When she describes that her father worked as a packer in a factory, as he did not like to live on charity, Eve gets very emotional, recalling that her father who was a successful businessman in Vienna had to do this kind of manual work in London.

 

Eve started to work in an advertising agency selling advertising space and eventually became a media executive. She married Dennis Gill (who was an accountant)  in 1957 and was very happily married for 47 years. The couple settled in Cheam as it was well positioned for getting to the West End.  She went back to Vienna once together with her husband and some English friends but felt that the moment people found out that she was from Vienna ‘a shutter went down’ and they were very unfriendly. She went to look at their shop which had become a bank and did not want to go into the building.

 

Eve is very grateful to Britain for taking her into this country and she is sees herself as ‘English’. She is very involved in the local community and she started to give talks about her experiences four years ago, when she was approached by Sutton Council.   

My father went into a concentration camp... and I only heard that after - many years of after the war obviously - when the soup came around... and they have got a bit - there was a bit of meat in it - he would drink the soup because he had to, but he would not eat the meat. Sounds strange, but that's how frum he was.

It's- it’s so difficult to explain because I am the sort of person that I live this life and I enjoy what I do and I carry on living. And I don't- it's only over the last few years that I start looking back. And there are some things you don't forget... But at the same time, you don't want to go back all the time. Very difficult to...

The other thing they did on one occasion, they came along and took all the women and children from our district. And they drove us- put us on lorries and drove us to a factory. Told us to clean the factory. And then said- they promised that once we cleaned that they let us go home. But when- I always explain when I do the tour, that cleaning in those days, as you probably imagine, was a lot different to- so. But apart from that all we had there was some cold water, some rags and some newspaper. And... difficult to clean a filthy place, but my mother- my mother was brought up very strict. I mean- as I said, all these girls and they were made to work. And so she knew how to do it. One of the things she did - clean the windows with newspaper. It works. You know, it does work actually.

I was coming home and I found that my mother was in tears. Dad had been arrested... and all the boys and men in our district that same day had been taken away. We didn't know where until- I think it was about three or four weeks later when we had communication to say they were in Dachau concentration camp. And that was more or less the day I stopped going to college. And my mother was told to carry on with the business and that was under the auspices of a young SS officer. So what actually happened was- I mean, when the Nazis came in the very first thing they did is confiscate all the bank accounts. So there was no money.

It was an opportunity to have a cheap maid. I'm quite sure of it. But how could you not understand, being a Jew? That you know, I mean I didn't go there- I told them what was happening in Vienna, what happened to us... that we lost everything, et cetera. So it wasn't that she was ignorant and didn't know. She just was not a very nice person.

There we were in the garden, and suddenly a voice from across the fence - a man's voice – said, “Come on hen. Get yer suitcase.” ‘Hen’ being a sort of Glasgow endearment. “Get yer suitcase and put it over the fence.” And that's just what I did. And I walked through there... into their house. Mr. and Mrs. Lochhead. And I thanked them. “No,” they said, “it’s Aunty Jenny and Uncle Alec to you, dear.” And that's when I started breaking down because... they saved my- I became a human being again you know? I started to enjoy life. Because they were wonderful

logoBIG.png

@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

Made by BookJaw

EG: Aged 5