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Alisa Jaffa

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
23 Feb 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Alisa was born in 1935 in Franfurt an der Oder. Her father was a well known rabbi called Dr Ignatz Maybaum and he had a rabbinical positon in Frankfurt. Her mother, Franziska nee Shor had studied chemistry and became Rabbi Maybaum’s literary assistant later. He became a rabbi in Berlin for the ‘Liberale’ synagogues, Oranienburgerstrasse and Pestalozzistrasse. Alisa has very few memories of Berlin. Her father was denounced and arrested for one months in 1935. After his release he continued to be a rabbi. Alisa had an older brother who was sent on a Kindertransport to London, organised by Dr Bernard Schlesinger, a paediatrician, who rented a house in Highgate (26 Shepherd’s Hill) and brought out 12 children. They came together with a student rabbi, a housemother (Mrs Gluecksmann) and a nanny. A month later, Rabbi Maybaum, his wife and Alisa were granted a visa through the help of chief rabbi Hertz. They left on the 23rd of March on a plane to Croydon.  They settled in Cricklewood and attended Hampstead Synagogue, where Alisa went to local school and later to Grammar school. Alisa learnt English very quickly and helped her parents. Alisa feels she is not a refugee as she grew up with her immediate family, as part of a community. Other refugees lived in their road and she was very friendly with the English Jewish family who lived opposite. Her grandmothers were killed in the Holocaust. Dr Leo Baeck who came to London after the war confirmed that he had met the Maybaum’s mother in Terezin. Eventually Rabbi Maybaum became rabbi in Edgware Reform Synagogue and the family moved to Edgware. Alisa studied German and French at University. She married and joined her husband who was a GP in Bromley, where they raised their two daughters. Alisa became a translator, particularly for Art books and later worked as a registrar for the Jewish Museum, first in Woburn Square and later in Camden, a role she particularly enjoyed. She feels you should live in the present and not look back too much, as you cannot change the past. She sees herself as British and Anglo-Continental. She is a member of Belsize Square Synagogue.     


Keywords: Rabbi Ignatz Maybaum. Frankfurt an der Oder. Berlin. Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue. Dr Schlesinger Hostel. Edgware Reform Synagogue. Eugen Spiro (painter), an uncle.


Full Interview


Oh, and one memory is [clears throat] somehow, in a room, which must have been underground because there were no [unintelligible] windows and my grandmother sitting at a sewing machine. And I imagine she was preparing stuff for us to take with us. She was a wonderful seamstress and made a knitting and sewing clothes and so on. And she was at the machine. I was peering, and she said, "Be careful. This is a very sharp needle, be careful." And of course, being a child I had to try and the needle pricked my finger. I do remember that, but otherwise, I have no memories of Berlin. That's all.

Next door they had what was called an Anderson shelter which was underground. So when there was an air raid, we'd go bundle up in blankets and a thermos, and candles, and books. It was fun. I enjoyed it. I wasn't aware of the dangers except the following day on my walk to school, I would see where there had been a bomb. And, and you could see a house where it was like a stage setting, the sides, and the back was still there, but the front was missing and just some curtains flapping. So, yes, funnily enough, it never occurred to me. Sometimes it did, but, no, I wasn't disturbed by the notion of possibly being bombed.

I think it might have been Kristallnacht, but I know my mother told me that there was one night when it was known that they were arresting Jews, prominent Jews. And he [her father] had a colleague, who had a car, and they spent the entire night driving round and round so that when the Gestapo called, my father wouldn't be at home.

There was a man, a Jewish paediatrician in London, of German-Jewish ancestry. His grandparents had come to, come from Germany at the turn of the previous century. His name was Dr Bernard Schlesinger. And in 1938, he travelled to Berlin just to see what was going on. And he realised the way things were going, and he collected names of, I'm not sure if it was 10 or 12 children, that he was prepared to sponsor and bring to England on a mini Kindertransport. And my brother was one of them.

But there was a girl in my class [in England]. We had an argument. I can't remember what it was about, and she was the one who called me a dirty German Jew. So I was far too scared to do this, but I just pulled her hair. Pulled it very hard until she was screaming. And the same headmistress came past and said, "What is going on here?" And she looked, and the, the girl said, "She pulled my hair." The headmistress looked at me and said, "I really wouldn't have expected that of you." I said, "She called me a dirty German Jew." Whereupon the headmistress Christian, with values, turned up on her and said, "That's a terrible thing to say," and she gave her a real telling off

He [her father, Ignaz Maybaum]had a wonderful facility for relating to people and I've heard it said, you know, he would conduct a funeral for somebody he never met but the relatives would come to him just and speak to him for maybe half an hour and he would give a hesped [eulogy] and they said, people would say, "But did Dr. Maybaum known them?" and, no, he'd never met them but he spoke as if he had known them. He had this facility and people warmed to him.

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