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Marcus Mechlowitz

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
3 September 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Marcus Mechlowitz was born in 1930. His father came from Poland in the 1920s and whilst his mother was born in Hannover, his mother’s parents were also from Poland. His maternal grandfather was in the waste business (lumpenlager) and his mother’s brother took this over. His maternal grandmother had 2 sisters in Goettingen (the Kahns and the Wagners) and they went there for holidays. Little is known about his paternal grandparents. His father went into the waste business and then when Hitler cam to power he started peddling. The family lived in Goethe Platz and had a comfortable flat but Marcus only remembers the 1930s when life was difficult and his mother had to borrow money. Marcus attended a Jewish Primary School and was used to being called names as he walked there. He knew never to hit back when attacked as the policeman was only interested if the Jews retaliated. His father avoided the round up of the Poles and his 2 older brothers were sent to Holland for safety. He remembered walking to school after Kristallnacht and seeing all the smashed windows and the Temple burning. Their family were rounded up and taken to the local prison, except for his mother who was ill with gallstones. After 2-3 days behind bars they were released by the Gestapo man, von Papst, maybe because he knew the family or because their mother was not with them. 

After that every attempt was made to leave and eventually permits for England were procured through the great aunts in Goettingen who were in contact with the Singer and Adler families in Manchester. Firstly the Kahns and Wagners came to England, then the men of the family from Hannover and lastly the women and children. Marcus’ mother did not want to leave her mother behind but his father out of desperation told her to at least send the children and so she came. They travelled to Arnhem, where they saw the 2 older brothers and then by boat to Harwich. War was declared whilst they were on the train to London, 3 September 1939. They went via the Refugee Committee, Bloomsbury House and then by train to Manchester, where they shared a house in Fenney Street with his mother’s sister and 2 children, who had come to England with them and another family. There was a great sense of freedom and relief on arriving in England.

Marcus’ father had trouble finding work in the waterproofing factories which did not require working on Shabbos, even though one of the bosses was President of one of the Shules. He persevered. He went to MH for help but they were not interested since he was Mizrachi and not Agudah. The local Refugee Committee were very helpful, especially Mrs Phillipos. Marcus’ mother also went to work in a raincoat factory. 

On arrival in England, Marcus and Marga were evacuated to Blackpool where they stayed with an old couple and a dog. They went with their two cousins and only knew one word in English – altogether. They stayed over the winter but returned to Manchester the next summer in time for the blitz. Whilst sheltering in the shelter under the library in Fenney Street, a bomb fell outside and the library collapsed but they were not hurt. In Manchester he attended the Jews' School in Derby Street until it was bombed and then Waterloo Road School, then at 11 he passed for Ducie Secondary and at 12 for Central High as his English improved. He joined Bnai Akivah and learnt religious study studies with Rebbe Solly. He later attended Manchester Yeshivah evening class. The family moved to Bedford Street in 1942. During the war his father began to work for himself making handbags out of Rexin. He turned a bedroom in Bedford Street into a cutting room and sent the material to outworkers. The bags were sold by market traders. Marcus would help with the cutting after school. 

In 1947 he went to London to attend Yeshivah College where he learnt religious studies each morning and University subjects in the afternoon as part of an external degree. 

I remember quite vividly staring out of the window, with my nose against the window, and there was a Gestapo man on the other side of the road in a doorway, watching our house.

In Germany at that time there wasn’t much intercourse between the ‘real’ German Jews and the Polish German Jews. I suppose the Germans always thought that they weren’t going to be attacked; the only people who were going to be sent away were the Polish Jews. And I don’t know of any friends that we had who were not Polish, or of Polish parentage somehow.

I think without knowing anything, it lifted a weight off my shoulders when we arrived in England. I remember the feeling of joy as we drove down Market Street into Corporation Street. It was just like arriving in heaven, you know. I didn’t know enough about what was going on in Germany, but I did feel that something had been taken off my back, and that feeling has never left me. Even during the worst period in England, during the war. Somehow that feeling of having left Germany has been with me ever since.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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