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Gertrude Black

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


Dr Anthony Grenville

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Gertrude Black (nee Lewinsohn)was born in Elbing, East Prussia, in 1912, and grew up in a society dominated by Junker values. Julius Lewinsohn was born at Graudenz [then] East Prussia in 1875. Her father was a prominent lawyer and a highly educated man. She remembers a happy, secure and comfortable home life as well as her schooldays. The family had to move to Düsseldorf around 1929 when her father was involved in an antisemitic incident. She studied at the University of Lausanne, then in Berlin, where she witnessed the Nazi takeover of power. She married in 1937, but her husband was arrested on Kristallnacht and released only thanks to the intervention of a stranger. They fled with their baby daughter to Britain, where she spent the war in Edinburgh and Glasgow working as a domestic servant, supported by the Reverend J. Hope Moncrieff of the Church of Scotland. They had a second daughter. 


Full Interview


He [a boy at school] came to me, and he said: ‘Have you got the invitation for the yearly Abiturientenball?’ And it hadn’t come. And he got quite pale, and he said: ‘These swines; they haven’t sent you the invitation because you are Jewish’. I was absolutely dissolved in tears, and I had an uncle there from Königsberg and he was a cousin, and he said: ‘I shouldn’t break my heart; there are worse things in life’. But that was the first time I felt like ostracised. I mean it was so many years ago; that must be over 70 years ago, and I still remember how I burst into tears and I thought this was terrible. I was one of (what would I say?) like the elite of the town, and they didn’t invite me because I was Jewish.

I remember in 1933 I personally saw the Reichstag burning. One of my friends I met, Irmgard Böβ, who loved me as a daughter, phoned me up and said, come quickly the Reichstag is on fire. We Ware all going to see it. We all had free passes on the underground, well not free we paid, and we went, and we saw the Nazi hordes singing in the street: ‘The Reichstag is burning. We don’t need a Reichstag; we can govern this ourselves’. And I saw and heard that with my own ears and eyes, and that was in January ’33, and when the Reichstag burned that started the fire in Europe. That was the end of our life in Germany. After that we had only one wish: how can we escape and how can we build a new life?

And she said to one of her customers, ‘it’s so terrible our young boss is interned in Dachau and there’s a young woman with a newborn baby and she’s beside herself, she doesn’t know what to do, how can they get out’? And this woman said: ‘Look, I am a Quaker and I have some connection to the Quakers in Edinburgh, the Friends. Get your boss’s wife to write a letter to Edinburgh Friends House and they’ll probably help her. So I sat down and I wrote a letter to whom it may concern, ‘I’ve got this from another Quaker friend and I’m in Munich and I’m that old and I have a little girl of a few months old, my husband’s interned and we’re really at the end of our tether can you help us get out’? And I put in a little photo. In those days you photographed the children naked on a bear skin. I don’t know whether you’ve seen it? They get to lay on their tummy on the bear and the two parents standing beside, and I sent that photo to Edinburgh to the Friends House.

The Moncrieffs were unbelievably good. With a tact that really needs remembering. The first day we came and you feel like the last dirt on earth. You have no money; your language is very bad; and you have nobody. You have no doctor; you have no uncle; you have no aunt; you have nobody, in a strange city, in Edinburgh had no relatives .. and what did they do? She lays the breakfast table for me, my husband and Hannah, who was nine months old, in the lounge, and she lays a table for herself, her husband and the boy in the kitchen. Wonderful! You know, makes you feel like a Mensch again. Wonderful! So they were very, very good to us. And I mean I did the housework for them.

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