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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Renate Beigel was born in Vienna in 1933. She had an older sister called Trudi. Her father was a hat-maker and the family lived in modest circumstances. Renate cannot recall many details about her life in Vienna. She recalls the Anschluss and the images of marching troops. She grew up in a Jewish secular environment and cannot remember having gone to synagogue. Together with her parents and her sister, the family left for Zagreb in 1938. Renate is not sure about the date but based on the photographs, it is likely that it was in October 1938. There, the family lived in poor conditions with little money. Unable to obtain visas, the parents decided to sent the two sisters as unaccompanied minors to the UK (through ‘Austrian Self-Aid’). They travelled by themselves from Trieste to London. Renate was very upset when she found out that she could not stay with her sister and that they would go to different foster families. Renate was sent to a village called Dinton in Wiltshire, where she lived with Mr and Mrs Wheeler. But Renate thinks that the lady who sponsored her was a Miss Carr, who was a local magistrate. She was not very happy there and found herself in an emotionally cold environment which made her very independent. However, she was sent a private school in Salisbury until 1948. In 1948 she was sent to Mrs Lambert and her daughters in Norfolk. Her mother had died in Auschwitz in 1942, deported from France but her father survived. He had been in the Pioneer Corps in North Africa and came to the UK post-war. He got married and Renate had to come to London and live with them in a council flat in Brixton. She did not like the situation and moved out after six months. Her sister married when she was 18 and worked in the Anna Freud nursery. Renate lived in various hostels and started to work. It was very important for her to be financially independent. She worked in various companies and was in charge of public relations at Thorn EMI Lighting, a firm set up by Austrian Jewish refugees. She met her husband when she was in her forties and they decided to move to Gloucestershire, where she still lives today. She does not speak any German.
It was a horror. I mean, you can imagine. All of a sudden I'm with an elderly couple who don't know a single word of German. I don't know a single word of English. I'm six years old and I don't know what's happening to me. And… they- I think they thought they would have to return me somewhere, because I just could not stop crying. And eventually they put me to bed and… …I eventually went to sleep. I distinctly remember the next morning… By then I’d obviously stopped crying. And I don’t know whether there was some sort of innate… response in me to all this that was happening, and I realised that there was nothing I could do about anything. And crying wasn't going to get me anywhere. And… I think this is a philosophy I've now had for the rest of my life, that bad things happen and getting oneself into an absolute tizz… doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it worse.
I was sent- as soon as I could speak a sufficient amount of English, I think I was about nine when I went to the village school. Because they'd been teaching me at home. And… because I had an accent - a German accent, because I- ‘Germany, Austria: It’s all the same thing isn't it?’ And ‘they’re Nazis’ and you know, small children, what they’re like. And… there came a day when we had a stoning. And… I refused to go back to school because I was so bullied.
I've grown very strong. And from a very, very early age, I determined that nothing was going to get in my way and stop me from finding my own security. My friends around me were all getting married and so on and so forth and I didn't get married. I- I said, “I can't get married because you see I'm never going to rely on a husband to keep me. I'm going to find my own way and find my own security.
They say, “It is truly amazing how normal you are for someone with your background.” And I just try to be that - normal. I don’t- I do- I actually feel that if I let it affect me badly, then those dreadful people who did all this to us - have won! So… why let them? …I think that's probably at the back of it, yes. And also, the fact that… so many members of my family died...
Oh, aunts and uncles and grandparents and… I have actually got a- a list that was printed off from the synagogue in Vienna, which we visited. And they have everybody on that list who died- who was from Vienna, who died. And there are ten people on it. And I think the- if- if I didn't make the most of my life, they all died in vain. So… I would feel so guilty if I just became a, a layabout and… hadn't tried.
I think that has always been the most difficult thing. Yes. I desperately wanted- I desperately wanted her [her mother]. Yes. And throughout the entire war and afterwards, when we didn't know what had happened to her, it was the one thing I prayed for all the time. Yes