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Laugh or Cry part 2

by culture_durham

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Sylvia Hurst (nee Fleischer)
Location of story: 
Liverpool Street Station, London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 July 2005

At Liverpool Street station we were marched into a cavernous brown hall, everything was brown, it was poorly lit. There were rows of tables with large letters of the Alphabet on it.

“Find your table, according to your name, and queue next to it.”

After marking one present, we were told to stand, quietly, till someone would bring a bench, presently.

Patience, patience, this was certainly not presently.

Families came to collect their child.

The hall slowly emptied, there were no children left on my bench. I reviewed my situation, seated on an uncomfortable bench, in this gloomy hall.

I was here, safe in England, what would be my future?

My sister Susan, who was fifteen years old, had a place on the children’s transport, which had left Stuttgart two days ago, Aunt Paula, father’s sister, had arranged that. She also had managed to obtain a place for my brother Richard, then aged twelve years old. Aunt Paula had remonstrated with Father, however, Father said he was too young to go. Aunt Paula, who lived in Stuttgart, was waiting to join her son Herbert who had been born in London. This made him an English citizen.

Aunt Paula’s husband Eugene had been working for a number of years in our factory in London, before World War 1. Grandfather Samuel had founded this branch factory in 1871 in London Wall. He said he was horrified about the conditions people suffered in the sweat shops in London’s East End, where they mostly employed, in terrible conditions, the Jewish Immigrant Labour. So his daughter Paula regularly collected, from her friends, unwanted children’s clothing and other needed articles to take to Whitechapel for distribution to the poor, who had originated from Russia or Poland. The time of their Exodus had been between 1880-1910, because of the pogroms there. Many of these families had got ‘stuck’ in London on their way to America, because of their lack of finances, the fare to America from Hamburg or Bremen was thirty four dollars, less from London or Liverpool.

Brother Arnold, who was then twenty years old, had arrived in England by Air, escorting the elderly Aunt Anna, sister of Aunt Frances. Aunt Anna, a widow, had refused to travel alone, by herself, she had never done this before, and certainly never by Air.

Aunt Frances remembered, conveniently, that Arnold had written to her, asking if she would give him a guaranty, he had sent to her his VC.

This was at the same time when Father had written to her, explaining that we were waiting to emigrate to the USA. He wrote that his English was almost perfect, he could work in the factory, he did not mind in which capacity. Her answer had been negative, on the phone she had been quite short with Father, saying her own family had priority on her resources. Father explained to us, that she was one of sixteen children, most probably not all living. She would be about middle seventies now.

She had come to England, to work as a governess, penniless, had married well, Uncle Adolphe, the brother of our grandmother, who ran the branch factory in London, which Grandfather Samuel had founded in London Wall. The factory was now situated in Margaret Street, near Oxford Circus. Because of the 1914 War, the factory had been written over to Uncle Adolphe, who was by then naturalised English. No money had changed hands. Father had left it at that, he was not interested in commerce. When Uncle Adolphe died, Aunt Frances had taken over the factory, and later on her nephew Jeffrey, her sister’s son. This sister also had been a governess who had married well in England.

So strangers, not our family, had offered to take me, as well as my sister Susan. Strangers had given the guaranty needed to enable us to come to England, with the Children’s Transport.

I am now in England, in this depressing large hall, I am waiting for my family.

They have not turned up. Where can they be? Almost everyone has left. I’d better inquire, if I can find a Helper. So I asked.

“As far as we know, they are coming, we have not heard anything to the contrary”, answered the lady behind the desk. “Sit down, be patient.”

I was wondering if they had changed their mind. I was scrutinising the entrance door. No, this is a delivery man. No, this is a Red Cross person. What will happen if no one comes to collect me? There is a couple with two children. Perhaps…

She spoke with the last remaining Helper. They looked over in my direction. They came nearer, stopped. The woman gesticulated, spoke what I took for Jiddish. This is a language similar to German, a sort of dialect. I could make out one word, Schikse, Schickse. This means a Christian Girl, a Servant Girl.

“Look blond hair.”

There also were Christian children in the Transport, from the Intelligentsia, Communists, Writers, I believe about ten-fifteen percent.

The Jewish Board of Guardians and the Quakers jointly had arranged the Children’s Transports. There had been rumours, complaints, that orthodox Jewish children had been placed in Christian homes, and vice versa.

The lady came over, looked me over. “Bist a Jid?” (Are you Jewish?)

I nodded, “Yes.”

“Bist a Yossem?” (orphan.)

I did not understand, “Sorry, I don’t understand, please speak to me in English, I know English.”

“Abe”, the lady called to her husband. “She speaks English. She is not a Schikse, God forbid!”

She turned to me, “Why were you in the Orphanage?”

“I was a boarder there, I went to College in Hamburg.”

“Fancy that. So sorry we were late, we came as soon as the business closed.”

The lady was really ugly, with a very large nose, wearing a peculiar hat which looked more like a beret. There was a massive Rhinestone brooch stuck in this beret. The lady was very, very overweight. So this is my family. The husband was a fine looking man, tall, with a tanned face. The boy and the girl were very nice looking. The girl was really pretty, her hair worn in dark ringlets.

I asked, “Where do you live? In London?”

“Yes, in Whitechapel in Jubilee Street.” She yelled, “Abe, it’s late…let’s go…Abe, take her case!”


I knew it had been the wrong thing to bring this case.

I was home…with these good people who had signed the guaranty for me.

They had saved my life.

Part 2 of an extract from an unpublished book 'Laugh or Cry' by Mrs Sylvia Hurst. Submitted by Liz Finnigan at Stanley Library on behalf of Sylvia Hurst.

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