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Frank Henderson

FH: FH 2004
FH: FH 2004

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FH: Friedrich Hirschfeld with brother, Amsterdam, 1944
FH: Friedrich Hirschfeld with brother, Amsterdam, 1944

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FH: Wedding of FH's son George and Sharon Henderson in 1970 in Manchester.
FH: Wedding of FH's son George and Sharon Henderson in 1970 in Manchester.

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FH: FH 2004
FH: FH 2004

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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
4 March 1939
Interview number:
Experiences:
60

Interview Summary:

Frank Henderson was born in Gotha, Germany in 1916 as Friedrich Hirschfeld. He was the third of four boys. His father was from Berlin and his mother from Niedern Tudorf, Westphalia. His father served in the First World War and won the Iron Cross. His parents married in 1911 and his father worked as a master tailor. The family moved to Halle in 1919, where Frank grew up. It was a small Jewish community of  about 400. The Rabbi was Dr Albert Karlberg. Frank’s father was a member of the shul and of the Jewish war veterans association. He worked from home. Frank attended the non-Jewish school and had non-Jewish friends. With the coming of the Nazis, his friends began to spurn him. People were frightened to be seen talking to Jews. After school Frank became a window dresser and then went to work as a secretary in a lawyer’s office. The Nazis eventually gave him the sack c1935. Frank went to Berlin to undertake a training course to be a fitter so that he could find work abroad. This lasted 2 years 9 months. He was in Berlin during Krystallnacht. The organiser of the course, Leopold Huh, organised for c20 boys to go to England to help make ready Kitchener Camp for the reception of refugees. He arrived in England in March 1939. He had to get a hospital section ready within 24 hours and then worked with the doctor. He stayed there 3 months and then came to Manchester, where he had a friend. 

He stayed in Kershaw House, Alexandra Park, and through the refugee committee he found odd jobs for a while. He moved into lodgings for a short while and then into a hostel in Upper Park Road, supervised by Mrs Weinberg. He found a job with Levinsons, the wine people, filling bottles of wine for Pesach. After Pesach 1940 he got the sack. He went to work for a cotton mill in Oldham repairing the machines but was interned in June 1940 in Whitchurch. They lived in tents and occupied themselves with lectures, concerts etc. It was like a holiday and it never rained. In October they were taken to Huyton but he was only there a few weeks. In October he was commandeered into the Pioneer Corps building Nissan Huts in Shropshire and in Stafford. He married Dorothea Roth from Vienna on 27 November 1940 whilst on leave for 3 days. 

After 4 years in the Pioneer Corps he was appointed a translator for the Royal Signals and on 3 July 1944 he was sent to Europe. He later acted as an interpreter at a court in Lübeck. He returned to England in 1946 and posted to a POW camp in Manchester opposite the biscuit factory in Crumpsall until May 1946. On discharge he went back to work in Oldham. He earned £5 a week and then £6.50 but when this proved insufficient he started selling toys for a friend. He made £10,000 in 6 months and was allowed to keep 7.5%. He later started on his own and sold suitcases and toys.

I had a very good job and my lawyer was very happy with me, I worked hard, day and night. Until one day, in my seat there was a letter, he wouldn’t come and say it personally: “Sorry you are dismissed, by order of the Nazi Party”. So, he didn’t come out and shake hands with me or nothing, he was frightened of the secretary who was a born Nazi. You see, it is most impossible to understand what happened, unless you were amongst it.

I applied for (UK) naturalisation and I had to appear in front of three judges, and one of them said “Mr Henderson, you have been interned.” “Yes.” “Tell me why were you interned?” I said, “In all fairness sir, would you please tell me why I was interned?” He said “Thank you very much Mr Henderson. Granted.”

"2 SS thugs guarded the border. They put a rifle against me. I said 'What do you want?' They took me to a room & said 'Put everything in your pocket on the table.' I had a photo from a girlfriend.
'Ah' he said, 'That's not a Jewish girlfriend. That is an Aryan madchen.”
I said 'No.'
What do you think he did? Put a pistol at my head: 'I'll count to 10 & if you don’t say by 10 she's an Aryan, you are dead.'
I said 'Are you mad? She's Jewish.'
'You heard what I said. 1, 2…'
"By 8 the door opened. The inspector came in. He said 'Put it down'.
He said 'He's got an Aryan madchen there.'
I said 'Her name is so & so & she's Jewish.'
So he said to that Nazi 'You heard what he said. What else do you want? She's Jewish, that is it.'
He said 'I can’t let you past now, you have to stay the night in prison.'
They took a taxi, drove me back to Treia, put me in prison for 4 days, I ate 1 piece of bread & drank 1 cup of water. After 4 days I was ordered out downstairs & there was a fellow, 'Heil Hitler. Are you Jewish? Sit down. Tell me your life story from the moment you were born until you sit down here.' I told him what I know. The door opened, a fellow comes in: 'Tomorrow a transport is going to Dachau, put him in.' He left.
I said 'If I leave the country in a normal way, wouldn’t that be better than sending me to Dachau?'
He said 'Have you got a passport?'
I said yes.
'Right, go back to Berlin, report to the Gestapo, get your visa for wherever you want to go to & then get a train from the station to Holland.”
I said 'Thank you very much.'
'And don’t tell them I let you go, just get out of here quietly.
Frank went to the British embassy in Berlin.
"There was an inspector, he was well known [probably Frank Foley]. I told him what happened to me. He said: 'Give me your passport. OK'. That man, he did so many good things. Whenever he was on duty there wasn’t one who was sent out without a visa."

I stood on the platform all by myself in a London railway station. What now? I thought: I can’t use my £3, I can’t go to a hotel. In that split second a huge policeman came & looked at me: 'Woher kommst du?' He was Jewish! He said 'I'll take you to the shelter.' There was a shelter in the East End. He said: 'I'll put you into a taxi. Du gebst den ganef sixpence, no more.'
At the shelter another yiddlech came & said: 'Lie on the bed if you want, sleep if you want, don’t get undressed. If you get undressed you won't find your things tomorrow morning. They are all ganovim.' So for the first hour I sat on my bed, looking. Then somebody said 'Go to sleep, we will watch you. Nothing will happen.' Nothing did but I had nothing to eat for 30 hours. It was terrible."
The next day Frank went to "the Jewish Agency" (Woburn House): "'Ya, come in, sit down. Do you come from Vienna?' She questioned me. Suddenly next to her was a big trolley & on the trolley was a box stacked with £1 notes, there must have been £10,000. The telephone rings. She gets up & walks away. I said 'Just a minute, oh no,' I said, 'That we don’t do.'
'What’s the matter?'
'I am not being left alone by myself,' I said, 'No way! I won't be left alone with all that money here.'
'As long as you don’t take it, what are you worried about?'
So finally she came back & said 'What is all the shouting about?'
I said 'How can you leave me alone with all the money?'
'Well, why not? Did you take any?'
I said 'No I didn’t.'
“There you are. Here is £1, good luck to you. Now what was it you want?'
I said 'What can I do?'
She said 'I have given you £1, go back to where you have come from & come back tomorrow morning.' So I walked a bit here & there, I had a bit of something to eat & drink & by 8 o’clock the day was gone. The next day she said 'Do you want to go to the Kitchener Camp?'
'I will go anywhere you want.'
'Well there is a transport going to the Kitchener Camp in Sandwich.'
So I went there.

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