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Eli Fachler

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
22 May 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Eli Fachler was born in Berlin in 1923 to Polish parents, and his sister was born three years later. His father was a trader in knitwear and underwear and he had a sister and a brother, all born in Lodz. Eli’s mother was born in Ilza, and was one of nine siblings. She was a first cousin to her husband. They married in August 1922 and came to live in Fehrbelliner Straße [?] in Berlin, behind a shop.


In 1932 the family moved to Veteranenstraße near the big store Hermann Tietz, and moved again in 1937 to Brunnenstraße near Zionskirchstraße and Amklamer Straße.


As a child in Poland Eli attended the Adas Yisroel School where the Director was Sinasohn, and also attended Cheder three times a week. Eli’s father was active in the shul, which had 500 members. The shul was smashed during Kristallnacht and his father was deported with the Poles.


Eli came on the Kindertransport from Berlin to Harwich through The Hague, and later went to Whittingehame Farm School near Edinburgh. His sister came to England in August. Their parents left Berlin in July for Poland, and were killed in 1942.


Eli was expelled from school in the autumn of 1939 and put on a train for London. He was met by Miss Mundy of the Jewish Shelter and sent back to Whittingehame, where he remained at the Farm until July 1941 when he went to the small village of Hardmead, near Newport Pagnell, where Rachel and Bob Durlacher were in charge of about 15 boys and 6 girls. In November 1941 he moved to a place in Buckingham with about 50 boys and 25 girls, where the wardens were Aviva and Ray Kornbluth.


In March 1943 Eli became assistant head in charge of Jewish Studies at Poulton House, the successor of Whittingehame School. The head was Yaacov Zurawel. Whilst there, he was instrumental in starting Bnei Akiva in Glasgow and Edinburgh.


In March 1944 Eli joined the British Army, he served at the Royal Fusiliers City of London Regiment and trained in Maidstone. He became a Lance Corporal and trained platoons to go to France. He married in 1944, and was convalescing from illness when the war ended. He celebrated VE Day in Trafalgar Square. He was transferred to the Royal Army Pay Corps and worked in Sidcup in Kent and then in London. Later he worked for the Royal Army Education Corps, where he became a Sergeant. He was demobbed in July 1948.


Eli and his wife rented a house in Letchworth and he taught Hebrew for the London Board of Hebrew Education. He then went to work for Stern and Grunbaum, who opened as butchers in Letchworth, running the grocery department. 


Full Interview


If not for England I don’t know what would have happened to us, so for that I am eternally grateful. In Germany, before there was just ... a policeman was a figure of authority, in London he was a figure of a helper; he was there to help you.

The train eased itself over to the Dutch Border where the Dutch came in, and the cry for joy that arose from everybody there, such a sense of release, was spontaneous, overwhelming, I will never forget it, I mean … that was.

Had we known that we were, when you lived in a dictatorship like Germany, we grow up there, things become normal, you know you took it for granted that you mustn’t do this, and mustn’t do that. The minute the shackles come off, when you feel released, it was fantastic, I mean at the age of fifteen and a half I was certainly conscious of it, and most of the people that were in our group were about the same age.

Kristallnacht was on the 9th of November. Before that on 28thOctober ... about 11 days, 12 days before, it was what they called the Polenaktion, Polenaktion, was when Germany decided that after Poland issued a decree that anybody who has not lived in Poland for five years or so will use their Polish nationality, and wouldn’t get a passport. Then there was a scramble for Polish passport by all these stateless Jews, who came from Poland, and I remember queuing outside the Polish consulate waiting for passports and in the end we were given passports so we had Polish passports. So when they made this decree about not allowing Jews to come back to Poland, because it was very antiSemitic, the regime in Poland. They made this decree because they were afraid they would get flooded with Jews. So once the decree came about, Nazi Germany decided to get rid of all the Polish Jews before Poland closed the borders, so on 28th October there was the Polenaktion, and they rounded up all Polish citizens, and don’t forget that Germany was so orderly, everything was recorded in the police station, exactly who was living there and with the name and date and date of birth and married and children and everything. They made lists, and those lists were prepared, it must have been a week or a few days before, maybe over a week before, and anybody over the age of 15 was on that list, but only men, in Berlin they only took men, in Poland they took whole families, and also the age difference, they didn’t like in Berlin, so in Berlin they only took the men over 15, so in the night or early morning, it was still dark, of 28th October, the police knocked at the door and asked for my father to come to the police station, and from there they went to an assembly place and then they went in lorries and were taken to the Polish border and at night they were pushed over the Polish border by foot into Polish territory and there the Poles stopped them and interned them, well not interned them but assembled them all into one place called Zbonszyn and in German called Neu Bentschen and this is where they stayed for about six months. And so there was just my mother, my sister and myself left, and when I woke up my mother told me “Father has been taken away.” the minute we heard that I went into, not hiding, I went into, to stay with my father’s cousins across the road because we lived on Brunnenstrasse already but they were still in Fehrbellinerstrasse, around the corner, because they had Turkish nationality. They did arrest people in the street as well, asking for papers. My luck was that I was 15 on 27thOctober, and the list was older than that, so I wasn’t on the list so they didn’t take me. It was all beshert.

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