- Contributed by
- heather noble
- People in story:
- LIZ'S STORY
- Location of story:
- Europe and England
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 April 2005
1) THE SUMMARY OF LIZ’S STORY — In the Spring of 1938,
faced with the imminent threat of the Nazi occupation of
Austria — the “Austrian Auschluss” - in which several of
her family perished, she recounts her parent’s escape
from Vienna, arriving in London as destitute, Jewish
refugees. How, on their arrival, her Father was interned
for six months on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien, her
parent’s subsequent work in London factories, her own
birth in Paddington Hospital in 1942 and her early
memories of her first home — a flat overlooking Battersea
LIZ’S STORY — To be honest, I really do not remember exactly, when I first found out about my family’s tragic past. But thinking back now, it must have been from quite an early age, when I learnt all about it.
I had been told that their nightmare began in Vienna in the early Spring of 1938. For it was then, that a powerful enemy, “The Nazis”, led by a man called Adolf Hitler, had invaded their country, irrevocably changing their lives forever...
Both my parents were born into the Jewish faith — my Father Hans, in November 1913, and my Mother Gutta, in December 1916. They grew up, between the wars, in the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria, where for many years most of their family had lived — leading happy and useful lives.
I understand their first introduction took place by my paternal Grandparents at their club. And although the preparations for their subsequent wedding were sadly overshadowed by the presence of the Nazi Reich, my parents were eventually married at a Viennese Synagogue on Wednesday 29th June 1938.
As it happened, they could not have chosen a more tumultuous time to embark on their married lives. For just three months previously, on March 12th, they had witnessed the momentous day of the “Austrian Auschluss”, when Germany had occupied their country.
Just two days later, amid cheering crowds and pealing bells, Herr Hitler drove into Vienna. Standing upright in his open car - the procession headed by tanks and followed by guns - arrived at the “Hotel Imperial”. Here, he appeared on the balcony to take the “Fascist Salute”, whilst both Austrian and German troops marched by.
Needless to say, the enthusiasm for the arrival of the German Dictator — who since becoming Chancellor in 1933 had been rapidly oppressing the German Jews — was not shared by the Jewish population of Austria; as by then, they clearly knew what was in store for them. Their fears were confirmed when within a week, on March 18th, a “Pogram”, called by the Nazi newspapers, as “The Great Spring Cleaning”, was carried out. Immediately, the Jewish community were excluded from their professions and shops were forced to put up placards saying, “Jewish Concerns”. Even the theatres suffered the same fate, which meant that the voices of artists such as the famous tenor Richard Tauber were silenced.
It was from then, that my family realised that their safety could not be guaranteed, if they remained in their native city and sought a means of escape. But alas, for some, that escape never came. Significantly, my paternal Grandparents were shot and tragically did not survive. In later years, my Father reflected that this was more merciful than had they have been interned in a concentration camp. But of course their untimely deaths meant, that my brother and I were sadly denied the pleasure of knowing them,
Tragedy also occurred amongst my maternal family. My Grandmother had two sisters whom she dearly loved, but alas, they both perished too. One developed Tuberculosis and died when she was being transported on a dreadful “Death Train”, whilst the other — to avoid the fate of the gas chamber — committed suicide by jumping out of a window. Then, there was an Aunt who hung herself and an Uncle and Aunt, who were in a mixed faith marriage - he a Gentile and she a Jew — lived in constant anxiety. Whenever there was a knock at the door, the Aunt immediately went into hiding.
Thankfully, there were those, such as my maternal Grandparents who were more fortunate. As they were lucky enough to be financially secure, they survived the Holocaust by escaping to Memphis, Tennessee, America.
Among others to survive, were my Father’s sister’s family, who fled first to neutral Portugal, then eventually found their way to Palestine.
Equally fortunate, were my parents. In common with other family members and friends, they even managed to bury a few of their valuables — hiding them in gardens and fields, some even swallowing their rings - before finally fleeing Austria.
On October 5th 1938, Hitler and his troops walked over the border into his latest conquest, occupying the once Czech Sudetenland; and six months later on March 15th 1939, Hitler’s tanks entered Prague, then immediately annexed Bohemia and Moravia. As the Summer advanced, it became plain that the Nazi’s also had ambitions to subdue Poland. And at the same time as they were relentlessly planning this further onslaught through Europe, my parents were planning their own personal flight.
At last, reaching the safety of the Netherlands, they were just in time to board the final train - bound for Britain — ahead of the Dutch mobilisation on August 28th 1939.
And so this was the story, of how my parents came to arrive in England as destitute Jewish refugees, within a week of the outbreak of the 2nd World War.
Thus, their comfortable middle class lifestyle - which they had led in Vienna for so long - abruptly, came to an end.
It must have been a harrowing time for my parents to find themselves, homeless and stateless, made even worse by their immediate separation.
My Father was classed as an “enemy alien” and was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. These camps were mainly full of respectable Jewish refugees, such as tradesmen, like patisseries and tailors, businessmen and several musicians. In due course, some of these musicians went on to form the famous “Amadeus String Quartet”. On the whole, these internees posed no threat to the British population, but then, understandably, some believed that there might have been “5th Columnists” (sympathisers with the enemy) amongst them. So in 1940, “clause18b” was invoked. All “enemy aliens” were put into one of three categories - A= High Risk, B= Medium Risk and C=Low Risk. It seemed my Father must have been deemed as a low risk alien, as six months later he was released and joined my Mother in the small flat, which she had been allocated in Bayswater, soon after their arrival in London.
Later, they were sent to “Seymour House” on the Albion Estate, in the Wandsworth Road. Originally designed as private apartments, the blocks were by then managed by the Borough Council. Each flat was built on two levels with a staircase leading to two bedrooms above. Downstairs there was a modern kitchen, which even included a fridge and a cosy sitting room with an open fireplace. Basic furniture was kindly provided by the Red Cross. The flat was fronted by a balcony overlooking “Gilbert Scott’s” famous Battersea Power Station and there was even a greenhouse in the grounds, which in pre-war days supplied plants for their Spring and Summer gardens. In fact one of my earliest post-war memories were of these colourful flowerbeds, which were neatly planted out around the estate. And I have been told that the Estate is still there today —continuing to provide accommodation for the present day refugees who have sought refuge in the country.
Another memory I have of this time, were of our neighbours. Almost all of them were Londoners, born and bred, and generally accepted and welcomed us, but back then as now, others were not so hospitable and viewed us with some suspicion. Nevertheless, my parents did their best to adapt to their new way of life and soon began their urgent search for work. It was not long before they both found routine jobs in local factories. My Father worked in a food manufacturer, which at one time, I believe, made ice cream, whilst my Mother was employed making switches for plugs.
There, she worked until I was born in Paddington Hospital in May 1942. As she was still classed as an impoverished refugee, they generously provided her with a layette and the pre- “N.H.S” (National Health Service) fee, which was then about five guineas for a confinement was waived.
When my brother Ronnie arrived eighteen months later, at home, it was again decided to forgo the appropriate fee and out of dire necessity, the midwife kindly brought further baby clothes and a chair from her own home so she could sit down by the bedside!
Within a few weeks of our births, Mother resumed her job, working long shifts in the factory. So Ronnie and I were taken to a day nursery - one of several - provided by the state for wartime working women.
Like so many millions we had to exist solely on our basic rations - no opportunity for “black-market”- with the exception of the occasional “Care Parcels” sent by my Grandparents from their American home. And these parcels soon became the highlight of our lives!
My family hoped that when the war was finally over, they would be able to return to Austria to have their longed-for reunions. Sadly this was not to be. But my Grandmother and Mother were eventually reunited with some of their buried treasures, which thankfully the Nazis had not discovered. These were later unearthed and brought back to the London flat, which by then we had begun to call our home.
Looking back, I realise that as a child of refugee parents I saw the war through their eyes and when they were fearful, I was fearful too. That same fear lives on with my Mother still. The same intolerances continue to exist, and she believes that one day it could all happen again. When we look at the world today — sixty years on — sometimes, I feel we have learnt very little.
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