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Lilly Crewe

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
31 July 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Lilly Neustadtl was an only child, born in Hamburg in 1920 to a Czech father and a Viennese mother. She grew up in Berlin, where her father was the director of a private bank. They lived in a large apartment and she had a completely secular upbringing, only discovering she was Jewish at school. She had no knowledge of anything Jewish until attending the Jewish Lessler School in Berlin in 1933 and the Oneg Shabbat at the Reform Synagogue. The family emigrated to Prague in December 1936 and Lilly to England as a mother’s help on 31 July 1939. Her father died in Prague in Oct 1941 and her mother was transported to Theresienstadt and later to the East. 

Lilly came as a mother’s help to the family of a pharmacist in Southampton. She was made part of their family but was only paid 7/6 (i.e. 7 shillings and 6 pence) instead of 15/- (i.e. 15 shillings) per week. She stayed for 18 months and then moved to her aunt in Lancaster for a week and then to a family of a doctor as a mother’s help. She was paid more but was not treated as one of the family. She stayed for about 6 months and moved to Manchester, where she lived in digs and had a series of jobs. She joined the Czech Club and met her husband, a refugee from Czechoslovakia. They married in the Register Office in March 1942. 


Full Interview


One day, on 30th June 1933, not all that long after the Nazis took power, my mother received a phone call from my head mistress to say will she should come to school and bring her husband. And my mother, knowing I had gym that day, thought, “Oh God, something has happened to her.” But, what had happened to me was the following. This was the last day of school, she called the whole school to the assembly, and, except me, I was in her office, not knowing what was happening, and she took me outside, to the podium, you know, standing there in front of all the assembled school and she said, “This girl is a criminal, she has called our soldiers, or whatever, Nazi Swines, she is herewith expelled.” And do you know my hair still stands on end when I talk about it.

On the train through Germany there was another girl who came from, Leipzig I think, I don’t know, who was a furrier’s daughter, she was older than I was, and she had a fur coat with her, and when we got to Germany they took a knife and they cut through it, and she was quite stern faced about it, and when we were on our own again I said, “Are you not upset about this”.
And she said, “It can be mended quite easily.” That was her capital if you see what I mean, she could sell that.

I had a cousin in London, who was no use at all, very well to do, not intelligent, very snobbish, and much older than I was, ten years older, which is a big difference, and I went and I had dinner with him and he was very unhelpful, and he said to me, “Well, you know, you have to realise that you’re not a little princess any more”, which I never was, and you will just have to do what people want you to do. So I said, “Thank you very much”, and you know … and I ate my last bite and I said, “Goodbye Fritz”, which he didn’t like, he liked to call himself Fred and that was that

They were very nice, I was quite obviously one of the family. I mean it is really funny when I think back now, because my mother had insisted on giving me our maid’s black dress and little apron and things, in case I needed it there, but they weren’t that sort of family at all, as they would have been in a stately home. And I had friends who had friends in stately homes, and it was like that. Anyhow, she laughed her head off when I unpacked it as you can imagine.

I got panicky & my parents to my eternal thankfulness agreed I should emigrate. I didn’t appreciate the full impact till I had children of my own. I was an only child. To say 'You go' must have taken quite something. The only way to come to England was doing domestic jobs. I thought: I will try & look after babies, it will come in useful hopefully one day, which it did. By that time the Nazis were in Prague. You had to have an exit permit, endless trouble to get. I had to go to the Gestapo headquarters. You had to show you paid your dog license, your taxes, your this & your that, it was impossible. I queued up every Wednesday afternoon at the Gestapo headquarters. It took 10 weeks. At one point they threw me down the stairs. That was quite traumatic but I still had to go back. On visit 10 I got in. You were asked for your name. The young SS man said to me in the lift 'Neustadtl'. I remember to this day. 'Wasn’t there a dentist in…' he named a town in Germany. I said 'Yes, that’s my uncle,' a total lie. He said 'He was very good…' They put me in a room which was dark, no windows, nothing. I was sitting there absolutely petrified, for I don’t know how long. Eventually they gave me the permit to leave within a fortnight. If I could have I'd have gone the next day."

"I brought 3 suitcases & a bike which was stolen & a gas mask. Books. My mother gave me a fur coat which I didn’t wear until I knew she was dead, I couldn’t bring myself to. Lot of clothes, very useful. I couldn't have afforded to buy any here. I remember getting onto the train & my mother crying & my father very stern faced trying very hard not to cry. Whenever I see a film where there are parents & a child parting I still cry, I still do. There was a young German soldier in the same compartment. He said 'Why are you crying?' In a nice way, he was quite sympathetic, I am sure he had no idea I was Jewish. I said: because I don’t think I will ever see my parents again. He said 'Oh, nonsense, they’ll come & visit you.' But my father knew.

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