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Michael Heppner

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
July 7, 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Michael Heppner was born in April 1937 in Breslau, present-day Wrocław, Poland, as the only child to parents Alice and Heinz Heppner. His father’s family owned a matzah factory and his parents were members of the liberal synagogue in Breslau. They contemplated emigration but dismissed it thinking that things would change back to normal sooner or later. However, when Michael’s father was interned in Buchenwald after the November pogrom (Kristallnacht), his mother had to organise emigration immediately as a prerequisite for his release. Her sister and her sister’s husband were already in the UK on a domestic visa and, with the help of a lady named Beryl McIntyre, they arranged for Michael’s parents to get domestic visas too. They left on the MS Roosevelt from Hamburg to Southampton, arriving on the 4th July 1939 while other family members escaped to Shanghai.

Alice had taken cooking classes prior to her emigration and was hired as the cook of Lady Colvin in Tollard Royal and Heinz was hired as a butler. Lady Colvin and the other staff were welcoming and helped the Heppners to settle in while Michael spent a couple of months in a children’s home in Ditchling. Michael’s father was then interned on the Isle of Man and his mother changed employment to be closer to Michael. They finally ended up as housekeepers for a family (Farnham- Wilson) in Wimbledon which didn’t have a large refugee community like Finchley. Michael thinks this contributed to building a strong English identity. In 1948 the family moved to Harrow to be closer to his father’s work – a timber mill in Willesden. Michael attended Haberdasher’s school and celebrated his bar mitzvah in Kingsbury orthodox synagogue.

After graduating from school, he studied economics at LSE and obtained an MBA at Tulane University, Louisiana. He joined his father’s company as a market researcher. He got married in 1968 and had two daughters. In 1978, when his work led him to Czechoslovakia, he got involved with the Czech Memorial Scrolls Project. And after retiring in 2002, he became the research director of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust.

At the end of the interview, he reads from his mother’s journal.

Key words:

Heppner. Schönwald. Breslau. Heppner Matzah factory, Breslau. Beryl McIntyre – Glyndebourne. Domestic visas. Lady Colvin. Tollard Royal. Ditchling. Hassocks. Children’s home Hassocks. Wilson. Farnham. Wimbledon. Haberdasher’s. LSE. Tulane University. Czech Memorial Scrolls Project. Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust


Full Interview


When my parents left Breslau & said goodbye to their parents, my mother’s father brought out a small package containing a watch that my grandfather had had the foresight to buy & give to his daughter so that she'd have a bar mitzvah present for the little boy, then aged 2, when he was 13. This watch was the last gift & the last act of father & daughter on that station & she kept that watch carefully for the next 11 years & gave it to me at my bar mitzvah. There was only one occasion when she let me wear it before I was 13. That was to take the entrance exam for Haberdasher’s School & it brought me good luck & I got in. It became a totem for me. I wore it on every special occasion, every exam I took at university. Every special occasion in my life, I will wear that watch.

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