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Marga Brodie

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
Early 1939
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Marga Brodie (nee Hirschberg) was born in the small village of Wettesingen in Hessen, Germany  on 12 July 1924. Her father was from Zwesten in Hessen and her mother from Eldagsen. Her paternal grandfather had been a butcher but she never knew him or her paternal grandmother. Her father was one of 7 siblings and none survived the war, although one or two children survived. Her father went to a Yeshiva and was in the army in the WW1. He became a textile salesman and married after the war. Her maternal grandfather was a cattle dealer and owned a large house and farm. She loved staying there in the holidays with her cousins and playing in the countryside. Marga’s family moved to Worburg when she was 5 and her brother Erich was born there. They lived in the downstairs apartment of a house with a non-Jewish family upstairs. They were almost self-sufficient with her mother preserving and pickling everything. Her mother made their clothes and embroidered. 

Marga attended the Jewish primary school, which served the community of about 50 Jewish families. This had one class with children of different ages and the Rabbi taught them. She then attended the non Jewish High School and was taught by nuns, until they were forbidden to continue there under Hitler. She then had to attend the local elementary school, where they were taunted by the kids each morning. Friendly neighbours refused to talk to them anymore. Marga’s father lost his customers and became a Chazzan and Shochet. They used to enjoy attending operas, the cinema and Marga attended Habonim. 

Her father was taken to Buchenwald on Kristallnacht and Marga’s mother’s cut glass collection was smashed to pieces. It was at this point that the family decided to try to get the children out. A relation in England acted as guarantor for Marga but could not do so for her brother since he had already guaranteed many relations. Marga came on a Kindertransport in early 1939 and was picked up by a relation in London and put on a train to Stoke-on-Trent. She stayed with that relation for a couple of months and then went to the Myers family in Trentham Gardens for 2 years. They treated her like a daughter. She learnt English at the cinema. She tried to get her brother and parents out and found someone to act as guarantor but the war intervened. They all died/ were killed in Riga. 

Marga liked Stoke but after 2 years came to a hostel in Manchester, to Kershaw House in Alexandra Park. She made friends there and received 2/6d each week from the Refugee Committee. After a few months she got a job as a domestic for a Dr Green in Broom Lane. She had to work very hard there and caught rheumatic fever. She tried to go back to work too quickly before properly recuperating and suffers heart trouble as a result. She left the family and was going to take a room in Wellington St but Mrs Fisher, whom she knew, insisted she come to stay with her. She was divorced with 2 children and she already had 1-2 lodgers with her in a 3 bedroomed house. Marga shared her room. Gabriel Brodie was one of the lodgers and Marga went on to marry him in 1945. Leading up to marriage she worked at Ward and Goldstone in Pendleton and became an inspector of aircraft wiring for Lancaster Bombers. She also attended Torah Veavodah in Crumpsall Shul on Shabbos afternoons. 

Opposite where Marks and Spencer is, where the Arndale Centre is, there used to be a refugee committee office, and we used to go every week and collect our half a crown pocket money. And every week we were told how lucky we were to get this half a crown pocket money. And, I used to bring my friend, and we would say, this much we spend on pictures, this we spend on that, we used to go every week, every week we used to go to the pictures, and one evening to the theatre. And I remember once we had, a shilling left of something, and we passed a fruit shop, and they had a pineapple, and it was unheard of, and we said, “Should we buy this pineapple or should we go to the pictures?” And in the end we went to the pictures. That was our pocket money until we started working.

I will tell you what I thought of Manchester. When I lived in Broom Lane I used to walk down Bury New Road, that far down there used to be the Assize Court, where the prison is now, and there were all Jewish shops, and every Jewish shop used to have a name in, and I used to walk up and down and I used to read the names: Goldberg, Lehman, Jacobs, Cohen, and that was my idea of freedom, because in Germany, people still had businesses and they used to take the names off. And then of course the Jewish businesses were closed. And here were Jews, displaying their names, so openly, this is absolute freedom. I wouldn’t like to tell you how many times I walked up and down Bury New Road just to read the names. Strange isn’t it how people are affected differently, yes, freedom, absolute freedom, you can display your name and you don’t have to look over your shoulder, you don’t have to be afraid, what a wonderful feeling.

I never used to go into air raid shelters, even if I used to go into town with my friend Hilda, and she lived in Altrincham, and the air raid siren went when we were in the cinema, and we had the option to go to an air raid shelter or stay here, and we always used to stay. I didn’t like shelters, I hated shelters. It was scary, I can't say it wasn’t scary, very scary, but I didn’t, I think we were all very brave in those days. It’s true; it was a different mentality, a totally different outlook. If I was in town, if I wanted to walk to Broom Lane, if there was a blitz on, or something, or in a blackout, I used to walk it, I used to walk up Cheetham Hill Road. The town was full of foreign soldiers, of every colour, of every creed, or everything. You didn’t look over your shoulder, you didn’t have to be scared, nobody attacked you. I mean today I don’t go up from here up to Channah’s if its dark, it was a different world in that respect.

Mrs Green said, “You will come and live with us, part of the family,” he was a doctor. She said, “Can you answer the phone?”

I said, “Yes, I speak English more or less.”

“You answer the phone for the doctor and you help me to dust a little, I have got a cleaning lady and I have got a washer woman.”

It sounds wonderful, yeah, life of Reilly. I wasn’t there for more than three weeks when she sacked the washer woman, and she said, “I don’t know why you can't do the washing.” And then she sacked the char woman, and I worked there very hard for a pound a week, and until I put my foot down. She had a daughter who had had a baby, and she said to me I should wash the baby’s nappies and I said, “Sorry,” I said to her,”If your daughter would to live with my mother, she wouldn’t ask her to wash the nappies.” I said, “I am not going to do the nappies.”

All I know is that I came with plaits and the next day my cousin said to me, “You don’t have that in England.” And he cut them off. That was my first impression of England.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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