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Norbert Barrett

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1 May 1939
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Norbert Barrett (formerly Horst Baumgarten) was born in 1921 in Hockenheim. His mother was born in Munzesheim, Germany and was the youngest of 12 children. She had 4 children to her first marriage to Sammy Fleischacker, who died of a heart attack in the First World War. His father was born in Cologne and he belonged to an acrobatic troop called Oclanis. They toured Europe performing and were in England at the outbreak of the First World War. They were interned in the Isle of Man throughout and returned to Germany after the war. His parents met and married in c1919 and Norbert’s sister was born in 1920. 

They lived in Karlsruhestrasse, Hockenheim, where Norbert's mother ran a shop with a deli-counter. They later moved to Schwetzingerstrasse. His father was a commercial traveller in raw materials for bakers and confectioners. When his mother’s shop closed, she sold wines. An uncle later came to live with them and he manufactured cigars in their house. The Jewish community in Hockenheim comprised c.30 families. There was a shul and Shabbos services, although they were sometimes short of a minyan. Norbert went to the Turnverin sports once a week. His father was a motor bike enthusiast and suggested motor bike racing to the Town Hall. Hockenheim later became famous for this. Nortbert’s mother was a committee member of the International Red Cross. Nortbert attended the local elementary school and the Higher School in Schwetzingham. Norbert belonged to the Oderwald Hiking Club and had Hebrew education on Wednesday and Sundays. From school he attended a Jewish engineering college in Mannheim and won first prise. He stayed on after he had passed to help teach.

They were friendly with non-Jews. One of his father’s acrobatic troupe became a leading SA man but was still friendly. Norbert felt they needed to join something to get on, even if they didn’t embrace the ideals. At Kristallnacht his father and brother were taken to Dachau and were later released. Norbert managed to get a trainee permit to England. A half-sister came as a domestic. His full sister and 2 half-sisters perished as did his parents. His half-brother, who married a non-Jew was hidden and survived. 

Norbert travelled to Harwich, then London, then Liverpool, where he was put up with a family. He found it so strange that he didn’t stay and moved into a hostel, where there were boys from the Jawne School in Cologne. He worked in a cabinet-making factory run by Reuben Zeffert and his sons and often ate in their home on Shabbos. He earned enough to pay the hostel and to have treats. With Dunkirk they had to move from Liverpool and they came to the Jewish Working Men’s Club in Manchester for 1 week then to Hachsharah on Castleton Fold Farm in Middleton for 4 days. From there he was interned in Wharf Mill, Bury for a few days and then in Huyton under canvas. Then he was put on the HMT Dunera to Australia, a journey of 6 weeks, during which they were not treated well. He was interned in Hay, Australia, where they were treated well. They ran their own affairs. He worked in the kitchen and he learnt to play bridge. At the end of the 1941 he joined the Pioneer Corps and made his way back to England on the Sterling Castle Line. He trained in Illfracombe and joined a Scottish Company near Glasgow. Then he was sent to Donnington as an engineer fitter and worked on field guns. He was accepted to do an artisan course in Croydon and became a staff sergeant. At the end of the war he was sent to Egypt, servicing armaments and hand guns. He kept visiting Palestine from there. He was demobbed at the end of 1946. 


Full Interview


One uncle who was carrying on the business from my mother’s birthplace. They were looking after the land, dealing in cattle and he was a shochet. That was in Munzesheim by Bruchsal in the province of Baden. My family lived there for well over 400– possibly close on 500 years.

In Hockenheim there were just under 30 souls left, when I sort of grew up. The rabbi who looked after us came from Heidelberg and before my Bar Mitzvah, they used to take the Sefer Torah out of the ark. The rabbi said, ‘We’ll put the little Sefer Torah in the corner and call it minyan man!’ We did things like that. Maybe not exactly to the law and the rules, but this is how we did things.

We were manufacturing and selling them (cigars) while my brother was in Dachau in the concentration camp, in order for his wife to buy food for herself and the family. They released the people eventually. Some never came back because... were elderly and possibly died of heart attacks or even starved with cold. Very hard surrounding where Dachau is in winter, and by the end of November, it came into December it’s winter. I can assure you.

[In Hay internment camp, Australia] Well yes we had boys who could really entertain us in all sorts of ways; singing and music and this that and the other. And people thought of all sorts of things. Like one chappie who was a teacher. He got himself a log of wood. We had always plenty of wood to fire in the kitchens - the ovens. It came in in wagon loads and we always had loads of wood there. And he found himself a nice piece of wood and he started hammering away. Made himself a beautiful violin! Beautiful violin! And he played! Beautiful. Hacking it out week after week, making it. Thinner and thinner at the top and then shaping it.

We were there for quite a while but, after complaining and after the government realising they made a terrible, terrible mistake, with what they did to us; they sent a man out. A military man by the name of Leighton. He was a Captain Leighton, to sort us out. And the main aim was to make good what they’d done wrong, and invite us to join up and help in the war effort by joining the army. This Captain Leighton came in, his orders out and tried to get us to enlist. But the first thing he noticed when he came in… His own nephew was in with us! He was locked up with us in the camp- his own nephew who’d come from Germany! This is what a farce the whole thing was, you know. Anyhow, he did very well. He got most of the young boys to enlist.

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