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John Goldsmith

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1 July 1937
Interview number:

Interview Summary:

Henry John Goldsmith, known as John Goldsmith, was born in Oberkassel, Germany in 1924. He was an only child. His father was a grain importer and his grandfather was a civil commercial judge for which he received a special award. His mother was a dental surgeon from the University of Cologne. His parents divorced when he was 7 and his mother remarried. John went to live for a time with his grandmother. On the whole he had a happy childhood. His step-father, a dentist, was murdered in 1933 by the Nazis and although there was a court case no-one was charged. John and his mother went to his uncle in Amsterdam after this and John lived there, whilst his mother worked in Brussels until 1937. John attended school and had his Bar Mitzvah there. They frequently visited his father and grandmother in Germany. 

In 1937 John’s mother was given permission under a British government scheme to come to the country to work as a dentist without re-training. Through Mrs Berkhill she found a position in Cambridge. John attended Leys School there was interned in 1940 on his 16th birthday. He was taken to Huyton, then to the Isle of Man and then in July 1940 he was put on the SS Sobieski, a Polish ship and taken to Canada. He came back in Jan 1941 and returned to school to take his exams, which he had missed. He got a place for dentistry in Guys Hospital, London University, and in his first term transferred to medicine. After qualifying he worked as a houseman in Guys and then somewhere else before joining the RAMC in 1948 for one year. He served in Egypt and for a short time in Ireland. He never experienced any antisemitism. 

On returning, he went to work in a teaching hospital in Birmingham and slowly worked his way up the ladder. He then worked at Great Ormond Street, then Central Middlesex and then Leicester and Sheffield teaching hospitals.

Full Interview


It must have been about ‘32. It was a horrid time. I remember listening to Hitler’s broadcasts on a little old-fashioned radio, you know, with an accumulator that had to be recharged, a small thing … yes … There were worries, but everybody used to think that, oh well, come the next election they would realise the error of their ways, but it didn’t happen.

Subsequently, in a strange way I have regarded it as an asset being a refugee, because it gave me a broader base. I had experiences of the world. I had lived in Germany and Holland and England, I had worked in America, I have worked in Egypt. So I had seen a bit of the world, a bit of people, and it gave me a, not really satisfaction, but there was a certain satisfaction that I had done these things, you know.

He [stepfather Alfred Meyer] had quite strong left wing political views, a lot of girlfriends. He was a wonderful dentist with a high reputation & a good practice. Now the local Gauleiter was also a dentist in the same place, with a poor practice. They were gunning for him. He was kidnapped from the house of another Jewish dentist in Düsseldorf, my mother was there, bundled into a car & would never have been seen again except that they'd attached a book press to his body. He was shot in the car, they attached a book press to his body & they dumped him in a huge water reservoir, the book press became detached & he floated to the surface & that is how he was found. Now, look: the Judiciary were already Nazified [in 1933]. Nobody was punished. My mother knew who it was, at least who the instigator was, but he was never punished. As a result of this my mother decided to leave Germany, although she was in so-called protective police custody. She was claustrophobic anyway, it was terrible for her.

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