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Hella Pick

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


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Hella Pick was born in April 1929 in Vienna. She grew up in the 19th Bezirk with her mother and grand-parents, as her parents divorced when she was three years old. She has very few memories of growing up in Vienna. Her real memories start when she arrived in England. Hella expresses a regret over having so few memories. She vaguely recalls her primary school and playing in the park and having a normal childhood. She cannot remember the Anschluss or Kristallnacht. Her mother was arrested by the Gestapo but released the next day.


After that her mother put Hella on a list for the Kindertransport and Hella left Vienna in March 1939. Her mother managed to get a domestic visa three months later. After arriving in Liverpool Street, she was taken in by a Jewish family in London, the Infields, who had three children and sent to local school in Brondsbury. They wanted to adopt her but when Hella’s mother came, Hella wanted to be with her mother. This was not possible at first  but when her mother was employed by the Chorley family, she could join her mother in the Lake District where the family had house. Hella spent August 1939 with the Chorley family. Theo Chorley was a professor at the London School of Economics.When war broke out it was decided that Hella and her mother should stay in the Lake District. Hella was sent to a private school (arranged by the Chorleys).


Hella discusses her career as a journalist and her participation in the Internationalen Fruehschoppen hosted by Werner Hӧfer. She also talks about her work for Lord Weidenfeld and her efforts to create the Weidenfeld Centre for Jewish Studies at Sussex University. She emphasizes that the study of the Holocaust should be contextulaised in the wider context of Jewish life and culture.


Full Interview


And somehow I got to know them [the Heaton family] and I just- they had- they had their home as well as their studio where they sold paintings and prints right in the centre of the village where it still is now to this day. And… And they were- they were members of- of ‘Moral Re-Armament’. And I was- I used to sit with them while they listened to God and things like that. And I also- I loved going to Grasmere Church. I dragged my mother to the church on Sunday evenings. I love- you know, I can sing- I knew every single – and I still know, not by heart, but – every- every hymn. And absolutely loved going to Grasmere Church. [laughs] And you know, she’d- I dragged her along and she came. [laughs] So I was, you know- that was my- the most religious period of my life.

No, I- I absolutely refused to speak German. And if she [her mother] spoke a word of German on a street - I mean, you know, in the Lake District it was not necessarily heavily populated all the time - I would just scream at her and said, “Speak English!” And then I had one of my teachers and he said to me, “Look. German is your mother tongue and you’ve just got to speak German.” And he somehow forced me again to confront German.

I’m extremely grateful to her [mother] that she didn’t instil in me this absolute sort of conviction that everything about Austria is, is- is anti-Semitic and you can’t ever go back and think of what they’ve all done to you and all the rest of it. I escaped that. And I’m so grateful for that and you know, it certainly helped me to…to go back to Austria without sort of feeling, you know, this… you know, this is the worst. I mean, you know, I recognise all forms that there are in Vienna- in Austria.

And I did that [ freelance diplomatic correspondent for The Guardian during the autumn session of the UN General Assembly in New York]and then I came back to London and said, you know, “Can I be on the staff?” And Alistair Hetherington who was the editor said, “I’m not ready for that, because once…” you know, things were different in those days. And he said, “Once we take you on, you’ll be with us for the rest of your working life and I’m not sure that I’m ready for that.” - but he sent me off back to Africa to the Congo to- to the Belgian Congo, which was at that time you know, just becoming- adapting to being- to independence. And while I was there, he- I received a, a message saying, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll take you up on the staff.” And then he sent me off to be the UN’s correspondent of The Guardian. And that was the beginning of my Guardian career.

I just suddenly changed my mind. I thought that this is- this is mine [Austrian nationality] and if it’s offered to me why should I turn it down? You know. They took it from me but it’s my nationality. And- so then I had it

I very much share the view that Anita Lasker-Wallfisch keeps on saying, that the only way to fight anti-Semitism is to teach people about Jewish culture, Jewish history, Jewish in- integration into wider cultural and intellectual and scientific experience. Not just by always focusing on the Holocaust.

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