Early Pre-War Emigration to Britain
I’m one of the lucky ones who got out early. We lived near the Tiergarten, surrounded by buildings like the War Ministry & other government buildings. When Hitler came we had Nazis in uniform around from the very earliest time. So I was very much aware. In school I was in the same class as some of the daughters of military leaders, Keitel & Nehring. One of the earliest things I remember is I was no longer invited to the birthday parties of that particular group. Although in school we were still on reasonably good terms. I was lucky because the class teacher & headmaster were… clearly anti-Nazi. I don’t like to think what happened to them. The headmaster refused to implement some of the early rules like Jewish children sitting in the back row. How long he could carry on like that I don’t know.
We boarded this huge ocean liner, checked into our cabin & went to the dining room. A small orchestra was playing a tune that my father & I had played as a piano duet. Dornröschens Brautfahrt. Of all the tunes, they played that tune, which made our stay on the ship a bit easier. The next morning my father gathered the family at the stern of the ship, he still had some duplicate keys of our Berlin flat. He threw them ceremoniously over the side of the ship, into the wake of the ship, as if to say that this was the end of our relationship with Germany.
At the Jewish school, when a boy was going to leave, he would write his address on the board, for us to all copy it down & try & keep in touch. I remember doing this myself, when it was my moment of glory as it were, to write my new address on the board for people to copy.
We were at my grandmother's flat. After coffee-time my father kept pacing up & down. I was sitting on the settee. As he passed me he bent down & whispered 'We are going to England'. That was the first intimation I had that we were going to leave. We were fortunate. We left in November 1937, we could take all our belongings, except valuables. Money we couldn't take, except 10 marks. But valuables, like rings, ornaments, we could take, providing it was declared to the customs. When these big boxes were loaded outside the flat with our furniture there was a customs officer who checked every item. But we could take all our belongings, as opposed to Marianne’s parents, when they came in 1939, they couldn't take anything, just 1 or 2 small possessions.
We got a connection to a domestic science training college for teachers. It was called National Societies; it was in a Protestant church. It was very nice & I was very happy. Everything was new to me. You put in your hand in the letterbox to fetch the key to get into the house. We only had one bath a week. And the English system: in your bed the upper sheet became the lower sheet and you had a clean sheet once a week.
[It was] wonderful, wonderful. The Lyons Corner House made a great impression on me. No, I was free, you know, the feeling of freedom. I stayed with family friends. It was a sort of a different – I could feel it was a different atmosphere.
He [stepfather Alfred Meyer] had quite strong left wing political views, a lot of girlfriends. He was a wonderful dentist with a high reputation & a good practice. Now the local Gauleiter was also a dentist in the same place, with a poor practice. They were gunning for him. He was kidnapped from the house of another Jewish dentist in Düsseldorf, my mother was there, bundled into a car & would never have been seen again except that they'd attached a book press to his body. He was shot in the car, they attached a book press to his body & they dumped him in a huge water reservoir, the book press became detached & he floated to the surface & that is how he was found. Now, look: the Judiciary were already Nazified [in 1933]. Nobody was punished. My mother knew who it was, at least who the instigator was, but he was never punished. As a result of this my mother decided to leave Germany, although she was in so-called protective police custody. She was claustrophobic anyway, it was terrible for her.
If you spent several years with 20 to 30 immigrants from all over Europe, professors or doctors or lawyers or you name it, & you listen to their experiences – and I was a very good listener – I found that I learnt more in those boarding house evenings than I learnt at school.
That Christmas was the first time I saw my father with tears in his eyes. That had a dramatic effect on me, to see this very flamboyant man destroyed. I think that he realised the writing was on the wall. Because he felt so German, so Prussian, that he never believed anything could happen to him, like so many of those German Jews.
I can’t remember celebrating any Jewish New Year or anything like that. I’d never been to a synagogue. So it came even as more of a shock to me when I heard anti-Semitic remarks for the 1st time & didn’t know what was wrong with me. Where I felt it 1st was in the village, with some of the village boys, whom I considered my friends. Who suddenly called me a Jew boy or something like that. I didn’t realise, you know, but you learn very quickly. Up by the Baltic in the late ‘20s or beginning of the ‘30s
And when we got to Holland my father didn’t stay long. He went to London and got us a room in a boarding house. Rooms for us. And started his new job. And we stayed and had a holiday in- And on by birthday went in a toy shop. I wanted a kite. They were up in the ceiling. But I was told I’d be better off with a doll. So I got a celluloid doll. And in England when I washed my hair I also washed my doll and then we both dried in front of the gas fire and the doll went on- in flames. So it lasted about a year, that doll.