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Harvey Ottman

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
December 1938
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Harvey Ottman (nee Isidore Hermann) was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia to Polish parents. His mother had 3 sisters and she had been married previously and had 3 children, Dov, Yehudit and Susie to her first marriage. Her husband died and was buried in Düsseldorf and she came to a sister in Gladbeck where she remarried. His father came from a very religious family in Pshemishel, Poland, where he had attended Yeshivah. He had a passion for Ivrit as a spoken language and was a keen Zionist, attending the early Zionist congresses. He became a Hebrew teacher, teaching Ivrit and Hebrew subjects. His parents married in c1923 and had 4 children, Solly, Jack, Harvey and Morris. 

They lived in a large house in Gladbeck, in which at the back of the downstairs was a shul and at the front a trimmings shop run by his uncle. His aunt and uncle lived on the first floor. Harvey’s family on the second floor and another aunt on the third floor. The house had extensive gardens in which they grew their own fruit and vegetables. The family were self sufficient and most of Harvey’s childhood was spent at home playing with his siblings. He had a happy childhood with fond memories of the festivals and a very religious upbringing. His father taught him Hebrew. At school he was segregated from the class with another Jewish boy and made to feel an outcast. He attended no clubs and went on no family holidays. The Jewish community in Gladbeck consisted of about 20 families. 

Before Kristallnacht the family was arrested. The women and children were sent home and the men detained overnight. His father however was sent home the next day. On Kristallnacht the whole family was arrested and their house and shul was completely smashed up. The sifrei torah were burnt. They were allowed home the next day to chaos. They stayed the next number of weeks at home managing on their home grown produce and Harvey and his two older brothers were found places on the first Kindertransport. 

They arrived in Lowestoft, where they spent 2 weeks in an army barracks sleeping 3 to a bed. Then they were taken to an empty private home which had been acquired by a committee of business men in London as a hostel for refugees in Welwyn Garden City. Dr Lewin was in charge. He taught the 30 children English and told them to forget their German. They were well looked after and played many sports. After about one month he and his brothers were taken to Manchester where they were taken in by different families. Harvey went to the Davidson on Bignor Street, Hightown, Jack to the Beer Family in Cedar Street and Solly to the Rich Family off Waterloo Road. His younger brother Morris came over on a later transport and also came to Manchester to the Jacobs Family in Shirley Road. Mr Davidson was President of the Bishop Road Shul. 

Harvey briefly attended the Jews School for about 1 year and was evacuated to Blackpool. He was put with a non-Jewish family and found it very difficult since he would not eat non- kosher food and wanted to keep Shabbos. The family were perplexed what to do and bought him a pair of roller skates. He persevered for about 6 weeks and then came back to Manchester. He left school at the age of 13 and went to work in Mr Davidson’s raincoat factory, Holstein and Portnoy. His brother came to work there also. 


Full Interview


I used to cry a lot at night, I used to go to the room and just cry, because they didn’t know, I wanted to keep Shabbat and they didn’t know what that was all about, and then to ease the pain they thought they would buy me a pair of roller skates. I used to live on those roller skates, I used to go to school on them, come home on them, but of course that couldn’t go on, that wasn’t a life. Eventually I pleaded with … and I went back to Davidson.

We were placed in a home, in Welwyn Garden City. The teacher there said that you must at all costs, if you were going to live a normal life, blot out your memories & speak only the language you're going to speak now. Hence I don’t speak German, I won’t speak German. He said: the only time you know you're going to settle in England is when you think & count in English, when you lay back & close your eyes all you think of is English. So lots of memories are blotted out by Welwyn Garden City.

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