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Herbert Layton

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
27 August 1939
Interview number:


Helen Lloyd

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Herbert Layton’s father ran a fashion business in Hamburg. His father & Herbert were both in Sachsenhausen for a few months. Herbert came to UK alone on 27.8.1939. He was engaged in agricultural labour. He was interned in Canada and the Isle of Man after which he signed up for the  Pioneer Corps. Later he was in the Reconnaissance Corps, 8th Army and Landforces, Greece. His parents were sent to Theresienstadt and died in Auschwitz. Herbert married a Jewish woman, Rosa Phillips, during war. He became a Labour councillor in Gloucester. He ran an outdoors and circus entertainment business. 


Full Interview


[In] 1938, Goebbels had banned swing, in fact I have a book here about the Hamburg swing youth, who in 1941 because they still listened to Ben Swing - records smuggled into Germany from Denmark, and I had some - were sent to concentration camps. Swing, according to Goebbels, was Jewish Black jazz, whatever that is, and I became extremely fond of the tune which was called ‘Boo hoo, boo hoo you’ve got me crying for you’; and I went wild for that tune, and it was banned and I got the record smuggled in from Denmark which was not very far away, and I always played it on this canoe, on my little wind-up; and I bought some chrome letters, that high, BOO-HOO, with a hyphen, and I put it on both sides of the canoe. And the boat man was in the SA and he realised what I was doing, where I kept the boat, you see, kept begging me to take it off. What he was worried about was not the SA beating me up, he was worried about them beating him up and dragging him off to the Gestapo. I refused to take it off and they were still there in 1939 when I had to sell it.

I said 'Sir, I want to be put on overseas draft.'
I said 'Look, I joined this army to get a gun in my hand to have a crack at the blooming Hun. I don’t want to hang about here till the ruddy war is over.'

I'm an awful gambler. When you left the country you had to submit to the Gestapo a list of things you were taking with you. You weren't allowed to take new things. They sent a Gestapo agent to supervise the packing. I roped in my girlfriend. Now I had an enormous stroke of fortune. My parents had to give up their flat, were given 1 room in a Jewish old people’s home. This was the start of creating ghettos. So I went to live with my uncle. He had a 7 room flat. My girlfriend lived with her mother in the flat above, upstairs. They were kicked out by the landlord, so mother & daughter also got a room with my uncle so, hey presto, I lived in the same flat as my girlfriend. Oh God, we could only pray that they went out as often as they possibly would. We had a wonderful time of it. Anyway, I drilled her that when the Gestapo aide came to supervise the packing she was there to distract him. 'Oh, would you like a coffee mister', & he would, & his back was turned & she in fact lured him out the room for a moment, out went the old coat & in went the new coat covered with a couple of old shirts. Looking back it was totally stupid, had he turned back a moment too soon I'd have finished up in a concentration camp, I wouldn’t be here today. But that’s me, I take chances. So I brought my own stamp collection & that certainly wasn’t quite kosher. His back was turned taking a sip of coffee & in went my stamp collection. Mind you, I have an idea he wasn’t all that bothered, he was doing a job, that was his living. I got away with blue murder. She went to New York eventually. We lost touch. Inevitable. One of the reasons we went at it demented was because we knew it was probably coming to an end soon. That somebody was going to split us up: a concentration camp, immigration, sudden death. Whatever. Her name was Vera. I think I’d like to leave it at that. I came here, we exchanged letters, then I was interned, then I joined the army. I think we still wrote once or twice. Then of course the army keeps moving you on. We eventually lost touch. I would quite like to know what happened to her but I don’t & to track somebody down years later in New York would have been impossible. Let sleeping ghosts lie, I think.

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