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Stella Mann

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
1 May 1946
Experiences:
Interview number:
6

Interview Summary:

Stella Mann was born to a conventional middle-class, secular Jewish family in Vienna. Her father was a lawyer for the Singer Sewing Machine Co. She had an early fascination with modern dance and achieved striking success as dancer aged 16/7. She started her own dance school and had many public appearances, achieving a degree of celebrity. She escaped to Yugoslavia in the summer of 1938, then went to Belgium to work as dancer and dance teacher until forced to go into hiding in 1942. She was arrested by Belgian authorities in 1940, but was released and later saved from the Gestapo by a Belgian friend. Her parents were deported and shot on the way to Minsk. She met a British soldier shortly after the liberation of Brussels and married him in 1946. They settled in London where she established the Stella Mann Dance School in Finchley Road, pioneering teaching of modern dance. The school proved very successful, her former pupils spread across the world. She lived in Mallorca for some years after retirement, then returned to London.

I’m British, but you see, when I go somewhere and the people don’t know me [they say]: ‘How do you do’? The next question, because of my accent, is always: ‘Where do you come from’? Well, I get very cynical because I say: ‘It took you five minutes. When I came to England, it only took half a minute before they asked me where I came from’. So! When you learn [English] as a child, that’s okay. But when you learn it at 34, you can’t ever get rid of the accent

[In prewar Vienna] My mother had a young woman coming to help her around the house, clean, shop, etc. And my pupils bought me for my birthday a beautiful gold bracelet. And I couldn’t find it. I’ve forgotten the name of the girl, I don’t know, and I asked her: ‘Have you seen my bracelet?’ She says: ‘Yes, I have it. And if you go to the police I will tell them your father slept with me’… That was the atmosphere. So I don’t know what my mother said, but she must have talked to her, that it was common sense, that she better leave, and she left, but I never got my bracelet back.

So, full of pus where the fleas have bitten, full of lice here [SM points at her head,], lice here [SM points at her eye], and if they had anywhere else, lice there [SM points at her armpits] and we tried to entellus them. And we were three people for eighteen children. We washed the floor, we washed the bed linen – they were bed wetting – we had to make them up during the night so they don’t bed wet, but still, we washed the linen. And the food was brought out from the orphanage in big containers and I went to fetch it. That must have weighed twenty kilos. And then I served the food to the children. I never in my life worked as hard as that, 18 hours and during the night. And then a new lot of children comes and starts again, and a new. We were hundred when the home in Linkebeek was opened. That was Ressebeek, and then we went to Linkebeek. And I stayed in Linkebeek from ’42 till ’44.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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