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Gertrude Silman

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1 March 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Gertrude Silman (nee Feldmanova)  was born in 1929 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia to parents from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father was one of 9 from a farming family in Vrbove near Piestany, a spa town. He came from an orthodox family and was the first to get a further education. He became a banker. He married a girl from a wealthy liberal family. Her mother had gone to University in the 19th Century. Her family moved to Bratislava, where they owned a large building with an ironmongery shop on the ground floor and flats above. Trude was the youngest of 3 children. They lived in a flat on Suche Mybo and she attended a Jewish school. She attended a Liberal Synagogue once a year. Her father’s banking business collapsed in c1929 and he worked as an economic and financial journalist. Trude had a happy childhood. After the German annexation of Austria, where relations lived, her father began to look for ways to emigrate. Trude’s aunt and husband, Telcher, came to England on their way to America and they made arrangements for her brother and then her sister to come over. Another aunt came over in March 1939 as a domestic servant and she brought with her 5 year old daughter and Trude. Trude was still in Bratislava when the Germans came in and she remembers the feeling of fear. School ceased and they stayed at home. Her parents never came and her father was taken to Auschwitz. Her mother was alive until 1944 as a nurse but then disappeared. 

Trude went to a Christian family in Newcastle but was very unhappy. She could not communicate and found everything too much for her. After 1 month her aunt and uncle brought her to live with them in London and in Sept 1939 she was evacuated with the local school to Rickmansworth, where she stayed a year. Her aunt and uncle then received permission to sail for America and a place was found for her in Kingsley boarding school as one of 5 refugees taken in by the school. The school was in Tintagnel, Cornwall. She had a wonderful education there and went home each holiday to stay with the families of her school friends. She stayed at the school 4 years and then moved to a school in Devon with laboratories since she wanted to do science. This school sent her for science to the boys' school once a week, so after 6 months she changed to Reigate School in Surrey. The Committee for Czech Refugees and her brother helped her with her moves. She gained a place at Leeds University to study bio-chemistry but married Norman Silman in her 2nd year and gave up her degree. They lived in Leeds and had 2 daughters. Her husband came from an orthodox Leeds Jewish family and Trude did not fit in with them. She went back to University to take her degree after a few years and also took a Masters. She worked as a biochemist and then from 1967 as a Lecturer in Medical Bio-Chemistry. 


Full Interview


I don’t think I distinguished between Jewish and non-Jewish at that stage. We mixed with our family and both my brother and sister went to local, not Jewish schools. I had no feelings of anti-Semitism towards me or anybody in my family. I was only starting to become conscious of anti-Semitism after 1938 when Hitler had gone into Austria and my two aunts and their families living in Vienna were already being brutalised.

I can tell you exactly [about the Anschluss]. I was at school, we were in class as usual, the middle of the morning, our schoolmaster said to us, ‘Will you please all get your coats and go home as quickly and as quietly as possible?’ And that was that. Now, at the back of the school there was a Jewish street and you could see the tanks and the soldiers already on that street. I remember going home very, very quickly and then all I remember is that we all became much more afraid.

If you ask me if I remember saying goodbye to my parents, the answer is no, I had a complete blockage of most of what I call ‘emotional situations’.

The journey should take 36 hours by train. It took us 4 days. We got to Cologne & the Germans caused us some problems. We were turfed off the train. It’s midnight, pitch dark, I remember Cologne as an absolutely empty station, just us sitting around not knowing what to do. We found a train the following morning & went to Holland. This time we were in a bigger train, about 200 refugees. Once again we were thrown off with quite a number of these other people, but by some miracle we got onto another train & managed to get through to Flushing. A funny recollection: in those days Dutch engines had a very unique feature, highly polished brass sort of round turrets on their engines. I can still see these polished dome things sitting on the engine. Anyway, we got to Flushing and then we went across to Harwich. We arrived at Liverpool Street Station. It’s always midnight, every time we arrive it’s midnight, I don’t know why. They threw the luggage out from the luggage van. My aunt had a huge duffel bag for the family shoes & this thing ripped & there on the platform were all the shoes. That’s my arrival at Liverpool Street Station.

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