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15 October 2014
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Experiences of a Polish Jewish refugee from Germany

by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

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Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Erika Hearn nee Mehrlander, Johanna and Heinrich (Mother and Father)
Location of story: 
Marielburg, East Prussia (now Poland) Harrow, Wealsdon, England
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 August 2005

This contribution to WW2 People’s War was received by the Action Desk on BBC Radio Norfolk. The story has been written and submitted to the website by Jane Bradbury (Volunteer Story Gatherer) with the full permission and on behalf of Erika Hearn.

I was born in June 1917 in Marielburg in East Prussia (now Poland). My father had a chemist’s shop. I had a brother and sister and a nanny. When war broke out I was 27 years old. My sister, mother and father went to Brazil but I was over 21 so I couldn’t go with them, so I went to England. My father was in a concentration camp for 6 weeks. Everyone over 60 was allowed to leave. I had to get a permit to leave; one of my dentist’s patients sent me an affidavit to work for her in Harrow.
I left on a boat. I met another young lady and we were together. A man came to say where we were going and gave us 10/- (which was a lot of money). I wish I’d known who he was, to thank him. We went to Bloomsbury House in London and they phoned to contact my mistress who came to collect me.
I was a maid; I cooked for 6 people and they were charming. As I had no luggage they took me to C & A to buy a dress. My mistress paid and every week she deducted a bit out of my wage. There was the father and two daughters (one worked in a hospital and one delivered milk in a horse and cart) A woman came in once a week to do rough work; she asked for a rise but didn’t get it so she did not come again and I had to do it all. I had 17/6 a week and one room in the house, with a day off once a week. I used to go up to London and I met my husband, a German refugee, in Lyons Corner House. Dinner was 2/6 and tea (sandwich and a cake ) was 1/6.
I had to leave the house; all refugees had to go as an aerodrome was built there so I went to work at my Uncle’s laundry at Hampton on Thames. I started fire watching at the laundry once a week with my husband. We wore ordinary clothes and slept on camp beds. We heard the bombers going over. We were near Bushey Park where the Americans had their headquarters. Once, a bomb went off between where my husband worked and me; we phoned each other to say we were unhurt. We slept under the table in a Morrison shelter every night. Doodle bugs were coming over.
When we were living in a boarding house in Broadhurst Gardens in London (near Finchley Road) there was an air raid. We slept on camp beds in the cellar with 8 or 9 other people. Suddenly we heard a hissing noise and we thought it was gas but it turned out to be the cat, which was so frightened it had diarrhoea! At one o’clock in the morning the warden shone torches on our faces. The water main had been hit and the water was up to the level of our camp beds.
People were very kind and understanding towards me. I went to English lessons and we lived in a house in Wimbledon until 1951 and bought our own laundry in Shepherd’s Bush. My husband got compensation from the German government and he had two shoe shops.

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Message 1 - Experiences of a Polish Jewish refugee from Germany

Posted on: 23 August 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Erika

Yours is a very interesting story and a good contribution to the Archive.

Best wishes,


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