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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1 August 1939
Richard Heymann was born in Blumenau, Silesia on 25 June 1918. He had two older sisters. His parents were born in Breslau, the nearest large town. They came from liberal Jewish families. He knew none of his grandparents and his father, a company director of a textile firm, died before his birth. His Hebrew name was Reuben Ben Reuben after his father. The family had to move from their company home in Blumenau and resettled in Breslau in a flat on the Tauentzienplatz. His mother received a pension from the firm and an uncle helped them. His mother’s brother was a landowner and farmer and they spent many holidays on his farm. He attended the Liberal Synagogue and Cheder in Breslau and state schools and had a happy childhood. He was the only Jewish child in school at one time. His mother died when he was twelve and he went with a sister to a foster family called May. They had two older children.
He attended Habonim and a Jewish rowing club and after he left school he worked for a cabinet maker learning the trade. He did not see much trouble in Breslau although was aware of the anti-Jewish laws. The family hoped that everything would just blow over. They were not interested in Zionism. In 1938/9 he worked for the Jewish Kulturbund, helping to organise plays and shows.
On Kristallnacht the Liberal shul was set alight and his uncle was arrested. He was arrested the next day and sent to Buchenwald. He was not badly treated there but witnessed suicides and an execution in January 1939. The inmates in his camp were not sent out to work and were not given camp clothes. He was allowed out when his future father-in -law made arrangements for him to go to France. He married his seventeen-year-old girlfriend in Feb 1939 when he was twenty. His wife received a domestic permit for England and Richard was given a place for nine months in Kitchener Camp near Richborough. He arrived in England on 1 Aug 1939 and his wife came three weeks later.
Richard was categorised as a friendly alien at a Tribunal and in Dec 1939 he joined the Pioneer Corps. He was sent to France, to Rennes, and returned in mid-1940 via St Marlow. He was stationed in a number of places including Bexley, where he helped to clear up after the Blitz. He spent a couple of years in Darlington, working on the railway and in 1944 was sent back to France, to Caen and then to Belgium to Bruges and Brussels. He became an interpreter to the military police and was given the task of rounding up all girls who were giving the troops syphilis. They were taken to the hospital for treatment. He became Lance-Corporal, Corporal and then Sergeant. He was de-mobbed in 1946 and returned to England. During his army days he played the accordion in a band and entertained the troops weekly both in England and abroad. After the war he became an independent milkman in Harrogate.
In a little square called the Tauentzienplatz …you have tramlines north and south around the monument. Each quarter was cut into two by footpaths… Our quarter had the Spanish consulate practically next to us. … a bank on the other side. Some friends and our family doctor lived across the road … We had the cinema in another quarter and this side they built the first department store in Breslau (Wroclaw) with an escalator.
Just labour work, you know. Stuff that …had to be shifted and unloaded. Dunkirk had finished, you see? We came out of the bunkers and … stayed the night at St. Malo Racecourse… We were commandeered in Dutch… and were sent home on a wing and a prayer …back to Weymouth. By which time the Pioneer (Corps) headquarters had moved from Richborough to Ilfracombe.
I was one of the lucky ones [in Buchenwald]. The fellow who shaved me said ‘3 tips for you: keep your eyes open, your mouth shut & your legs moving. People were whipped. Some committed suicide. We were forced to witness an execution. Not very pleasant. We were inside a large forest in winter. I don’t know what other prisoners did but I looked at nature & forgot about the fence. The snow-covered trees were a sight to behold. In the meantime the German Jewish Refugee Committee in connection with the [UK] government after Kristallnacht instituted a scheme - have you heard of Kitchener Camp? It was for ex-concentration camp inmates only. They allowed us to come on a 9-month permit.
How were we received? Well, they didn’t put the red carpet out [laughs], they didn’t realise Big Dick was coming you see! Well, nice, you know, we were allocated our quarters, told what to do, given little tickets for the dining room & stuff. We were taken to help out possibly to a farm & I did some hop picking. We got paid for that. Apart from that we got 6d to buy our food, that was our pocket money. We had reasonable lives there. Then the war broke out & they came to classify us A, B & C aliens. Anybody A status went straight to the camp. B if you were a bit iffy but you were tolerated. C you were a friendly alien. Then a bit later they came & gave us a transfer into the army. I was definitely C – do I look like an enemy alien? My wife came over & stayed in Sandwich. Then there were other wives so they made room in the camp for wives. My wife stayed in the camp for a while, so although I had to sleep, you know we were, we had to find our marital pleasures elsewhere. Eventually she went to London when I joined the army & was sent abroad.