top of page

The copyright of all photographs belongs to individual interviewees. Please get in touch for more information

Ellen Shiffman

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
2 September 1938
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Ellen Shiffman was born in 1924 in Breslau (now Wroclaw), the second of two children. Her paternal grandfather was a Chief Rabbi and her father was sent to study to become a Rabbi as well, but he chose to attended University instead to study medicine. He won the Iron Cross during World War One.


Ellen’s mother belonged to a liberal family, she studied Social Science before marriage and worked as a social worker. Her father was a banker. The family lived in Breslau until 1930 when they moved to Hamburg, where the father worked for the Jewish Hospital. The family was not observant except for High Holy Days although Ellen attended synagogue regularly for a time. Ellen initially attended a non-Jewish school and then a Jewish one from 1935, and did not experience antisemitism although she was aware of the rise of Nazism and the restrictions imposed on Jews. She remembered that her impression was that people embraced Nazism because of circumstances, rather than due to hatred of Jews.


Ellen’s brother went to England to attend a public school in 1935, and her parents started to look for opportunities to emigrate. Through medical contacts, her father was sponsored to come to England by the Attenborough family. He re-sat all medical exams and his wife and daughter joined him on 1 September 1938. They brought with them furniture, silver and clothing; only the transfer of money was restricted.


The family settled in Leicester and Ellen attended a non-Jewish school there. She felt welcome at school, and was the first refugee there. Ellen’s parents brought over a German Jewish girl on a domestic permit. After the outbreak of war, Ellen was interned as soon as she turned sixteen; she was the first in her family to be interned. Later her brother was interned on the Isle of Man, at Port Erin Camp where he was treated well. Her headmistress sent Ellen all her schoolbooks and she revised there for exams. Through intervention of the headmistress and Chief Constable of Leicester she was released six weeks later in time to sit her exams; she was the first to be released. She stayed at school until the age of 18 and then went to study medicine in Edinburgh. She met her husband in the university’s Jewish students society. He was also studying medicine. They married in 1949 and lived in Liverpool. 


Full Interview


We could no longer really go on holiday in Germany, because everywhere they had those notices: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I actually remember, you know, we had somebody to look after us as children, and this girl was blonde, blue-eyed, and she was Jewish, and we went to a swimming pool which I think a week before had been alright to go to, and they put a notice up: ‘Jews not allowed’ and I said ‘I’m going home, and she said ‘come on, come on, I’m blonde I look Aryan’, and I remember being terrified. And nothing happened to us, but never again, I just didn’t chance it, you know.

And gradually things got more difficult. And my brother, who was still at a German school, he had a tough time, he was bullied, and they were making derogatory remarks about the Jews, and he showed some behaviour problems. So they took him out of that school, and in 1936 sent him to England, to a Public School. Somehow, I don’t know how, they managed to find the funds, so he left Germany but he could still come home in the holidays. And then at the end of 1937 they decided that it was no good, one could see what was going on, and my father was vouched for by Sir Henry Dale, who was a very eminent British Scientist. And he came to England, and he had to take all his medical exams again, in order to eventually get the license to practise, and eventually in 1938, six weeks before Kristallnacht, it was just my mother and myself at home, we came to England. At that time you were only allowed to take about I think ten percent of your money, all the rest went to the Nazis, and you know we had to pay a Reichsfluchtsteuer, which was a tax because you were emigrating, and generally it was made difficult, they wanted to get rid of the Jews but then it was also made very difficult to get out, and we were, I consider we were one of the lucky ones, and so we came to England in 1938.

…At the end of 1937… one could see what was going on and my father was vouched for by Sir Henry Dale, a very eminent British Scientist. …he came to England and had to take his medical exams again. 1938 and my father had passed all his exams, he had a paid research job at Leicester University College, and the Principal was the father of Richard and David Attenborough… I remember going there for tea…

And they took us in a place in Derby, where we stayed overnight, and then they took us to Liverpool, Liverpool Lime Street. When we emerged, angry crowds lined the street, because there were the terrible Germans coming out of the Station. And we were marched to the Docks, where they’d opened an old sailor’s home, that hadn’t been used for five years, and they kept us there overnight. And it was terrible because there was some flooding, and we had filthy dirty mattresses, and there was no food, but oh I forget, as we marched, as we were marched to this place, the local Liverpudlians were throwing stones at us, because they were ignorant, they didn’t know, they thought we were Nazis. Anyhow we got to this place, and I must say, there was a policeman there, a very kind policeman, and he went home, I’ll never forget that, and brought me a piece of apple pie that his wife had baked, he felt so sorry for me. And the next day we were put on a boat to the Isle of Man.

Previous Interviewee
Next interviewee
bottom of page