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Rivka Reich

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
February 1961
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Rivka Reich (nee Rothbart) was born in 1939 in Oradea, present day Romania but known as Grossvardein or Nagyvarad in Hungary. Her parents were from Romania/Hungary and her grandparents from Poland. Rivka had a brother 6 years older. Her father had a factory manufacturing soaps and they lived a very comfortable life with a cook, a maid and a nanny at 21 Solfa Utca. Rivka remembered having to wear a yellow star and then having to move into the ghetto in 1944. From there the family went into hiding in the attic of their soap factory, which had passed into the hands of their manager Mr Appan. He agreed to bring the 4 of them food every evening. He did not know that instead of 4, there were 28 people hidden in the attic. These included the Shreiber family with 6 children, Dayan Weiss with his wife and son, Mrs Fuchs and her 2 children, the Rothbarts and their 2 children, their nanny and other including some single men.


Rivka was the youngest and she learnt to talk only in a whisper. Food for 4 had to feed 28. They stayed still most of the time. They had one bucket between them toileting, which was emptied each night and they cooked in a pan held over a candle. She remembers being terrified at the sound of the Nazis boots on the street and they constantly lived in fear of discovery. Mr Appan started to drink from stress and they realised they had to find a way to move. Some of the boys made contact with the underground and through payment it was arranged that they would be smuggled over to Romania. They had been in hiding for 6 weeks. Rivka remembered journeying during the nights for 2 days, being carried by her father and led by peasants. All the others were found and taken to Auschwitz.


In Bucharest they did not have to hide but they had to shelter in cellars from the bombing. After the end of the war, Rivka and her brother were sent to Timisora to relations of her mother’s, whilst her parents went back to Grossvardein to try to rebuild their lives. She was very unhappy there at being separated from her parents and spent much of her time with her blind grandmother. After 4-5 months she was reunited with her parents, who had reclaimed their flat and factory. They had to share with Russian soldiers for a time. Her brother was born there in April 1945 and this brought great joy. They stayed for 2 years and then had to escape because of the communists, who were nationalising everything.


They fled to Tokaj in Hungary, where they stayed for 3 months with the brother of Mrs Fuchs. She had remarried and become Mrs Grossman. They then went to Prague for 2 weeks and stayed in an hotel paid for by the American Joint. Then they moved to Carlsbad where again the American Joint paid for them to stay in a small hotel for 8 months. They were fed at a soup kitchen. They made plans to go to Israel in 1946-7 but the War of Independence broke out and they never went.


Eventually they received transit papers for Paris and went there in 1949, moving from hotel to hotel. They were treated as refugees and were not allowed to work. Father found a way to work illegally since they needed money. He made Yahrzeit and other candles. They eventually moved to rue de la Victoire, where they shared a flat for 4 years with the Weiss Family. Rivka attended a non-Jewish school but they had to keep bribing the teacher not to make her stay Saturdays. It was hard and not pleasant. The Satmar Rov stayed with them on the way to and from Israel. Her father went into textiles and began to make a living. Her two younger sisters were born in 1951 and 1953. He attended the Rashi Shul and the Basfroi Shul in the 11th district. When refugee rabonim left Paris he brought Rabbi Rottenberg over from Antwerp to be Rov and between them they built up the frum Kehilla in Paris. They organised shechita under stricter supervision and opened frum schools and a kolel etc. Her older brother went to Kapel yeshiva in Belgium and Rivka went to Gateshead Seminary at the age of 15, where she learnt English. There were about 50 girls in the seminary. She stayed 2 years and then returned to Paris where she taught at the Jewish school. She was introduced to her husband in 1961, married in London and came to live in Manchester.


Full Interview


[Being in hiding in a loft space] It turned out that at the end of the day we were 28 people instead of 4, which was a tremendous thing; it was a small area. A four-year-old child starts crying or makes the slightest noise, everybody gets endangered. If I wanted to cry or be upset so I cried in a cushion; I never raised my voice. I had to learn to speak only quietly. For quite a while afterwards I had no voice. …We were there for six weeks.

My mother did talk about the war a lot. She kept saying “We have to talk about the miracles we had. We are saved for something, not just for nothing.” She never took it for granted and all her life she had a purpose in life; she helped people. My parents, all their life they helped war victims. All people who are victim of anything they were there to help, until their last days.

After the war we tried to put the pieces together. There were a lot of broken people around who came to our house. It was terrible. They had lost families, lost wives, husbands, all coming, all needed money. The hospitals were all full of people who were mentally disturbed.

Going up the steps [in their hiding place], going up the steps, yes that I remember, going up the stairs. But as a child you felt, you had the feeling, I can still recall the feeling of fright, continuous, I don’t know if in English there is an strong enough word than fright, moired, in Yiddish it is moired, this terrible fright that a child can feel from the adults, even if, I don’t know if they spoke in front of me or if they didn’t but you could feel it, you just could feel it, from the time that you put on the yellow star, you were already frightened, and that fright stayed on a very long time, after the war too

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