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Hilda Schindler

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
21 July 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Hilda Schindler was born 1920 in Berlin to a liberal Jewish family. She went to the Heinrich Kleist Lyzeum and then to the Jewish school in the Grosse Hamburger Strasse. The family lived in Alt Moabit. Through a relation in Luxembourg, Hilda managed to get a Domestic Visa to the UK. Her first job was with a family in Muswell Hill who evacuated and she found another job. She had to go in front of a tribunal and was classed ‘C’. She was a fire-watcher during the war in Muswell Hill. She attended services at the New Liberal Jewish Liberal Congregation (later Belsize Square Synagogue) and became involved in Liberal and Progressive Judaism. Hilda became a dressmaker and later a teacher. She was very involved in Southgate Progressive Synagogue, which became her ‘family’. Her parents were deported to Theresienstadt where her father perished and her mother died in Auschwitz. 

[After emigrating to England] During the war I did fire watching. Taking messages on bicycle and things like that. Helped in the Red Cross shop. The shop in Muswell Hill was on the corner and from that corner we very sadly watched London starting to burn, because we could look down on the City and it really made us shudder when we saw that.

My relations eventually managed to get the permission for my parents and my mother’s various sisters and their families, to leave Berlin - on the very day that Germany invaded the Low Countries. So they were stuck.

I thought I would go to what is now Belsize Square [Synagogue], called the New Liberal at the time. To my utter amazement there was an awful lot of German in the service. The second day and that was all of German - that I couldn’t stand. Already on the boat I had decided to myself, ‘I am not speaking any German anymore.’

I went past a toy and sports shop, near Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, which had been owned by Jews. And as I was going past I heard a little girl say - it was all smashed up, the glass hadn’t been cleared away yet - and a little girl saying in English, ‘Mummy, what’s happened? So I sidled up because I heard the mummy answer, ‘Some rather nasty and horrible people have done this.’ I sidled up and whispered to her, ‘Tell them when you get back home.’ And I just poodled away.

I had gone back to work and I was delivering something, a dress or something, in a block of flats a little way away from the Fasanenstraße Synagogue and as I came down the lift I thought, ‘It’s still burning!’ But it wasn’t, it was the Ner Tamid, a Ner Tamid that has never gone out.

During the war I did fire watching. Warden’s duties. Warden’s messenger duties. Taking messages on bicycle and things like that. Helped in the Ladies’ Red Cross shop. In fact one of the things that was brought into that Red Cross shop one day was the menorah that’s standing in my sitting room now. The seven-armed candlestick which somebody had brought from a bombed out house somewhere. And the Red Cross shop in Muswell Hill was on the corner where St James’s Church is and from that corner we very sadly watched London starting to burn, because Muswell Hill is very high so we could look down on the City and it really made us shudder when we saw that.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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