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Elisabeth Bernheim

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
June 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Elisabeth Bernheim was born in 1920 in Riedlingen, Germany. Her father ran the family drapery and haberdashery shop in the town, and they lived above the shop with her mother’s mother. There were only three Jewish families in the town, and the Bernheims would travel to Buchau for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


Elisabeth had two younger brothers: Eric, born 1922 and Kurt, born 1931. She attended the local school until the age of fifteen and also had private Hebrew lessons. She did not experience antisemitism personally. When she was fifteen Elisabeth went to a Jewish school/Hachsharah camp in Wolfratshausen near Munich, and a year later she went to stay with the family of Dr Happ in Freienwalde near Berlin, and was taught childcare and domestic duties. She subsequently started to work at the kindergarten of Mrs Wolfheim in Berlin.


Elisabeth was in Berlin during Kristallnacht. In Riedlingen her father’s shop was untouched but another one managed by a Jew was ransacked.


In March 1939 the kindergarten where Elisabeth worked closed. Her younger brother Kurt, who was eight years old, was sent on the Kindertransport to live with a family in London. In June, Elisabeth also moved to the UK, as a domestic worker to a family of a missionary, who were on holiday in Edinburgh. Her brother Eric went with his ORT school to a hostel in Leeds in August.


Elisabeth was happy to have left Germany and was happy with the family who employed her. When they left Edinburgh, she went to her aunt and uncle in Leicester, where they found her a position with a Jewish family as a maid. In 1943 she went to Leeds to be near her brother Eric, and took a job in a grocery shop. Eric left shortly afterwards to join the army.


After the war had ended, Elisabeth discovered from a distant relative who survived that her parents had been killed. In 1949 she decided to take up nursing and trained at Leeds University for three years and followed by another year of midwifery training. She practised as a Community Midwife in the Headingly area of Leeds until retiring in 1980. 


Full Interview


And my mother, she was sent, I thought it was earlier. But according to my book it is March ‘42. They were sent, she was sent in a big transport of 1700 people just outside Riga to the woods and they shot them there. And we know because they took their clothes from them, or maybe they made them take them off before obviously and sent the clothes back through Riga. And they, the people there had to sort through them. And this relative found these clothes of my mother. My father, he lived quite a long time in Riga, until ’43, and then they were sent to Salaspils, which is a camp, I’ve heard of that before, and then to Auschwitz.

You could only come to England as a household help, with children or cleaning or whatever. That’s the only way. Unless you were a child.

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