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Hanna Hemingway

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
27 April 1944
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Hanna Hemingway was born in Salonika in 1933. Her mother, Sara, was born in Larissa, Greece and was one of 5 siblings from a religious family. She was orphaned when young. Her father, Benzion, was born in the Dardanneles, Turkey and was British by descent. He had one sister. They were taken prisoner in the war between the Greeks and Turks. He was not religious. He married Hanna’s mother in 1924 aged 21 and 16 respectively and they had 8 daughters. Since he was British he had to keep applying for residency permits and had to keep moving. Eventually they were allowed to stay in Salonika. Benzion was a tobacco worker, then sold fruit from a barrow and Sara took in washing. They lived in a one room stone cottage but were happy. Hanna’s godmother, Ida Maclourgos, paid for Hanna to have medical treatment since she was always ill and to go school. Other sisters had no schooling. She attended the Italian School. At home they spoke Ladino and at school she learnt Italian. She did not speak Greek. She did not learn Hebrew. 

First they were bombed by the Italians and then invaded by the Germans. Her father saved a few British POWs in his fruit barrow covering them with straw. With the German invasion people starved and there were many deaths. Soon after they were taken prisoner and put into the Greek prison of Pavlo Mila. Her mother was told to take her husband’s British passport, which she did. Ida told the British Consul and he visited and they were moved to a cell with better conditions and received Red Cross parcels, which kept them going. Their father was in the men’s section of the prison. There was malaria and dysentery and lice. After 2-3 months they were put on a train with German and Italian soldiers. The girls slept in the luggage racks. They travelled for many months until reaching Gratz in Austria. The train lines were often bombed which held them up and they sometimes hid under the train during bombing raids. In Gratz they were put in a dungeon and given bread twice a day and then moved into a basement room. Other prisoners threw them scraps through the grating. Her mother and two sisters caught malaria. 

Then put on train without their father and taken to Ulm, where they went into an air raid shelter. The Germans there gave them food. Their mother was ill and was taken away and Bella, the oldest, became their mother figure. From Ulm they were taken over 2-3 weeks by train to Liberow, Germany and taken in a horse and cart to a monastery. There were c 20-40 Jewish prisoners there with dual nationality. They had potatoes and macaroni and were allowed some exercise. The nuns taught them German. Clara and Hanna caught malaria and were taken to hospital in Ravensburg for about a month. Clara almost died and was read the last rites but a voice told Hanna Clara would live. They were in Liberow for about 9 months and then taken by train to Vittel in France. This is a huge camp behind barbed wire. British prisoners were in one section. Reunited with mother and father here. Bella worked in the kitchens and mother sewed. Allowed to walk outside and play volley ball and received red cross parcels. They stayed in Vittel for about 18 months to 2 years. They put on concerts etc. She was hospitalised again with malaria. 

In 1944 they were exchanged for German POWs and put on a train with other British nationals. Their father was not allowed to come because he was of army age. The German soldiers abandoned them when they reached Portugal. They basked in freedom. They sailed from Lisbon to Liverpool and spent a week in a bed and breakfast place. They ate proper meals and went to the cinema. After a week, they went to Hull and stayed in ex army barracks but because her mother would not allow the family to be split up they were sent to Batley, Yorkshire after 6 weeks. In Batley they stayed first in the Manse House next to the Chapel with 4 other families and then were given a house in Taylor St by the Council. They had to work to repay everything. Their father joined them. He went to a mill as a wool comber. Mother worked as a tailoress, Bella and Clare in a laundry and then sewing. Hanna went to Purwell School and the Head taught her English. 


Full Interview


We were Jewish in every way because of my mother’s strong leaning towards it, but nobody realised we were Jewish. They just said ‘oh, there is the English’ - So we were classed as English and orthodox. They didn’t know. Even through all the years in Germany, the prisons and camps we were in, none of them ever realise we were Jewish. So we went through all the war, not denying our religion but not coming forward with it neither.

We did get some food and we were told it was a Red Cross parcel. And if I could say to them ‘thank you’ because those parcels saved our lives. We used to get one a month. My Mum didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink tea and Bella used to weasel her way around and get us bits of food in exchange for the things we didn’t want. And that…throughout the war, for three and a half years we went doing that.

It was about 1939 when the Italians bombed Greece, before they invaded. I would have been 5 or 6. Loud. Very frightening. My father used to have a big wooden table & we used to bunch all of us underneath this table. I can remember particularly one day: the houses around us were all dropping. Everything was flying, limbs &… it was horrifying. I know the wardrobe fell down. That was our shelter. Then they did have proper shelters. I don't know how it came about but where we lived there was a huge field & the reason the Germans bombed it is because they thought the army was using it as barracks. Because they were trying to hit that, they hit all the other innocent people as well. Then the school came down as well. So they did a lot of damage. Then they opened the air raid shelter. We had to run from our house. My mother used to make us all, as we were born, a lucky charm, ayin hara, evil eye sort of thing. As we were running I dropped mine. I turned back to pick it up & somebody picked me up from my waist. The next thing I knew I was in somebody else’s shelter. But my parents came back & found me straight away. It was ingrained; I had to wear this all the time, like these earrings. My godmother bought me these when I was less than 2 days old & I’ve had them ever since.

I remember when the Italians invaded the [Greek] women & men literally drove them back with sticks, they had no ammunition, they had nothing. This happened, they were actually winning. In fact if Germany had kept out of it Italians wouldn’t have got very far in Greece because the women were strong as… I don’t mean big & hefty, I mean a fighter’s spirit. Everybody was with them, they used to cry & shout so that they could hear them. Like you do when there's a fight on TV: you scream & shout & they can’t hear you but it makes you feel better.

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