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John Izbicki

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
3 September 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

John (Horst) Izbicki was born 1930 in Berlin. His parents had moved from Kolberg to Berlin and his father had opened first a stall and then a Haberdashen shop on the Invalidenstrasse, near the Stettiner Bahnhof. John describes a happy childhood despite some chilling experiences, once he was tied up in a park and left there overnight and once he was threatened by a strange man in the post office. He fondly remembers the ‘liberale’ Temple in the Oranieburgerstrasse and his parents flat. He gives a very graphic account of Kristallnacht and the attack on his parents shop. He watched from the balcony when the Nazi mob broke the window glass of the shop and threw pieces of glass into the shop. As he knew that his parents were in the shop,  he started screaming as loud as he could. The screaming damaged his vocal cords and affected his voices lifelong. Luckily nothing had happened to his parents. His father applied for visas and managed to obtain a British and American visa. The family booked a flight to the US on the 1st of September 1939. But on the day all airports were closed as Germany had invaded Poland. John’s father went to the travel agent and managed to secure train and ferry tickets to the UK (the father’s brother had deposited £1000 on a UK bank account).  


Full Interview


I looked out from the balcony. In Berlin it went round very quickly. The gossip. The talk. The streets started to fill with people opposite our shop. They waited. The Nazis are always very timely. If they say 7, it's not 1 minute past or 1 minute before: it’s 7. I could hear them marching & singing. They marched to the shop… whistling. Threw the first stones & bricks at the window. The stones & bricks bounced back. Nothing broke.

So they went two doors away to the butcher's shop & said, 'Can we borrow your heavy weights to break the Yids windows?' He says 'Get out!' So instead they smashed his glass counter & knocked him down, unconscious. Took the heavy weights & smashed our window. I knew my parents were in there. They picked up glass & threw it through the window at–I presumed–my parents. I screamed... & screamed & screamed. It left me with a hoarse voice that's been with me ever since. I call it ‘My present from Adolf’. A papilloma on the vocal cords.

My father took me actually to a professor. He admitted that he had helped Hitler with the same problem. Cause he was screaming as well I suppose, Hitler was, with those speeches. And he then said, “Are you getting out, Herr Izbicki?” My father said, “Yes.”

My grandmother ended up in Theresienstadt, which was said to be one of the better camps, and was meant mainly for the aged and the very young. And they didn't take away your jewels and things like that at Theresienstadt. And we had a note from her, smuggled out by another relation. And it said, you know, “I'm well...” et cetera. “Yesterday I gave my wedding ring in exchange for a raw potato. It was lovely.” She died of starvation. I wrote away to Yad Vashem and asked whether they had any details - anything. And they sent me a whole list, which I still have somewhere. And it's amazing the detail that they give.

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