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Ludwik Finkelstein

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
September 1947
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Ludwik Finkelstein was born 1929 in Lwow (Lemberg). His father was a co-owner of a wholesale Iron and Steel factory (‘Finkelstein and Fehl’). In 1941 he and his mother were deported by the Russians to Kazakstan. He describes in vivid detail the difficulties of this internment in a remote place with very harsh conditions. In 1941 they were released and reunited with his father who had joined the Polish Exile Army in Uzbekestian. After following the Polish Exile Army to Iran, his father was posted to Tel Aviv (1943-1947), where Ludwik attended the Polish gymnasium. In 1947 the family came to the UK, where Ludwik Finkelstein studied physics, applied mathematics, and engineering. He later became a Professor at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at City University in London.

My father’s view was that there would be a Polish Jewish community and Jews have got to be engaged in it. He had been an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He then became an officer in the Polish Army reserve out of belief that Jews cannot achieve full citizenship rights if they did not take part in the defence of the country. That was a very important thing to him.

It was September 1st 1939 - a beautiful day. Suddenly, I saw three planes flying overhead. I was aware of political tensions. I said: ‘Oh, they’re German planes.’ And everybody said: ‘Nonsense.’ And then the bombs dropped on Lvov and life changed entirely. The 3rd of September news came that Britain and France declared war on Germany. We said: ‘Oh well. The war is won now. It’s OK now.’ But of course it wasn’t.

My mother was a magnificent woman. It became dark round about three o’clock, not that you could do much more than that because you couldn’t really go out. It was terrible gale winds all the time as well as snow. And she was very determined to educate me. We had two or three Polish books as a result of which I’ve got a very detailed knowledge of Polish poetry. Some of the books were circulating around the village - round the settlement. My mother taught me from memory, also I remember The Iliad and The Odyssey, and quoted Schiller to me and sang songs and so on, educated me a great deal. Once a day she went out to fetch water. It was a terrible expedition because the river was some distance away where the men made a hole in the ice. She wore everything, all the clothes that she had. I remember she wore my coat on the head. on the head as a form of hat. And she always reminded me subsequently that one day she came in from fetching water. And my first question to her was: ‘What’s the difference between an anode and a cathode?’

They decided that we required education. So they imported a large quantity of A Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – in Kazakh. Now there were very few people who could read Kazakh who cared about this. So we burned Short Histories of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and I remember it had its humorous aspects.

One of the things that caused us to be full of courage was our complete conviction of our superiority over those who oppressed us. It wasn’t a religious one, but it was a very Polish one: the obvious superiority of Western civilisation over the barbarian.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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