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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
20 May 1940
Renee Wroch (nee Berkovits) was born in Felsodobsza, Hungary in 1925. She was the second of 5 children, 2 girls and 3 boys. Her mother was from Deutschkreutz in Austria and her father from Hungary. Her father’s parents were landowners and owned tobacco fields. Her mother’s parents were wine merchants. The family moved to Antwerp in c1929 and lived in Langekivietsstrasse in the Jewish District. Her father went into the diamond trade but struggled to make a living. The boys attended an orthodox Jewish School but the girls went to a state school. They attended an Agudah club once a week and Hebrew lessons every Wednesday afternoon at the Sodai Torah. They were a very orthodox family. They spoke German and Flemish at home. Renee felt the antisemitism around them and there were minor incidents.
In May 1940 the Germans marched in and the family fled to Ostend where they attempted to board ships in the harbour. Her mother, sister and brother boarded a French liner but were thrown off at the command of the Captain because they were Jews. Renee and her brother had boarded a British coal ship, King George VI, and the Captain of that ship took her mother, sister and brother on board also. The French liner was sunk as it tried to leave. Renee and her family escaped but her father and other brother were left behind. They eventually made their way via Paris, France and Portugal to Britain in 1943. Renee and her family landed at Folkestone and were taken to Crystal Palace, where they stayed in a marquee for a week. They were then billeted with an old lady and her son in Catford from May until August. The Jewish community in Catford brought them cooked kosher meet every Shabbos. Renee felt the British were very friendly and welcoming and did not feel they were anti-Semitic. They felt lucky to be in Britain.
I had a German refugee friend; she went to school with me. They started coming [to Belgium] in 1933. Some of them had papers to go from Antwerp on to America, but they never did. Because they found the life so beautiful in a Jewish orthodox community, they said, “Why should we go on?” Unfortunately, they probably didn’t survive.
I went to school on the first day and we were all told to go home. And everything was packed up to go, because you knew if the Germans were coming it was suicidal. I think the war broke out in Belgium on the 10th and we were already in England on the 20th. Like everybody, we left everything behind. We went on a train to Ostend, and from there got a boat to England.
King George the Sixth I think it was called. It was a coal-carrying ship. That is all it had on board… and all the sailors smelt of tea, which was a new smell to us, tea … They were very, very nice to us, but of course they had no facilities for refugees.