Feb 2010 Journal

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The Farm

Last night I dreamt I was ten again, on the Farm, with its rolling fields, walking up the 200 yards from the road that skirts the Irish Sea. In the dim skies above floated the whole of the Belfast Jewish community. To the fore was Maurice Solomon, the treasurer, Leo Scop, the chairman of the Refugee Committee, and the president, Barney Hurwitz. Rev Fundaminsky was also there in the clouds, attempting to restart my knowledge of Hebrew. They were trying to see how we refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria were faring on the Farm in Millisle, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Beside me was Herr Patriasz (in the early days grown-ups were still Herr), the Farm boss, frightening me with the amount of weeding I had to do. Then came Herr Dr Kohner and his wife, telling me not to look over the partition into the girls’ dormitory and that, in view of my character, in future I would still have to eat a lot of dirt (‘Du wirst noch viel Dreck fressen müssen’). There was also Herr Mündheim, glove-size 8 (‘Handgrösse 8’), wanting me to cut an exact right angle into a piece of metal. With that I woke up and pulled the blankets back over me from my wife’s side.

That Farm in Northern Ireland, on which I spent eight years, has held me in thrall more than any other eight years of my life. As one of the children on the Farm, my first four years there were spent at primary school in Millisle. When it was stormy, the waves from the Irish Sea would break over the road to school and we had to run to avoid a drenching. As you were coming up the track, the Farm was on the right, and Mr Beresford’s trees on the left. You did not enter those woods, even for a lost ball, because it was laid down by the grown-ups that a Jewish refugee form the Nazis must not aggravate the neighbours. We might be sent back to Germany. We were the lucky ones who had escaped. I couldn’t understand that. I thought, and felt, it was natural to be alive, even if there were Nazis and you had to be sent to a Refugee Settlement Farm.

Originally, my sister Edith and I were an emergency case, having been Kindertransported to England from Berlin. My father and mother had been arrested. Despite the fact that my father had been a volunteer for the Germans for four years in the First World War. We were lucky! In time my parents, all my uncles, aunts and a few cousins were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz. No doubt we would have ended up the same. But we didn’t know anything about it, being safely taken care of by the Belfast Jewish community.

My final destination, Belfast, was decided by the fact that the Turkish lady who sold nightdresses to my father in his Berlin shop had a sister (Mrs Wolf) in Northern Ireland who pleaded with the Jewish Committee to give us a chance when the Committee were mainly helping Jews from Nazified Austria. In June 1939 the Farm was meant to be a holiday spot for refugee children gathered in Belfast.

Before September 1939 the Farm at Millisle had been a training place for young Jews from Europe to learn agricultural skills. Jews were not well versed in agricultural skills so the Farm had been set up for them. By 1939 it was painfully obvious that they were not wanted back in Europe. So the Farm, with Herr Patriasz from Hungary as a manager and teacher, was set up. Mr Patriasz, in his high boots, was a hard man, and looked it. The young trainees (chalutzim) were circulated round the different jobs on the farm so they could learn the details of each one. Cereal crops, root crops (particularly potatoes in Ireland!), kitchen gardening, dairy and chicken farming - all were given their few months’ rotation. They learned them well because in 1947, when the Farm was disbanded and most of the young workers went to Israel, they cultivated barren lands into beautiful farms.

As refugees of all ages were sent out to live on this farm it also became a Refugee Settlement Farm. We refugee children were on our summer holidays and slept in large tents, one for the boys and another for the girls. As the beds were aired each day and the rains came, we never slept with the same bedding twice.

After September 1939, our parents couldn’t get out of Europe, our stay on the Farm was made permanent, and we slept in more converted stables and the little farmhouse. A year later the large, long wooden hut was built and we slept in its large dormitories as we had done in the tent. It also contained a synagogue and entertainment/play rooms. I remember boys running through the sleeping quarters shouting ‘Sh, sh, Larry’s sleeping!’ and waking the baby up.

The arrival of the refugees of all ages added nursery, health, laundry and kitchen training to the rota taught to the girls on the Farm. It was their child care training that affected me, one of the children on the Farm.

From 1940 onwards we went to the public Elementary School in Millisle with the other children from the village. Mr Palmer took all the classes at once in one large room and Mrs Mawhinney looked after the baby infants. I was ten but began in the infants because I didn’t know any English.

On the Farm for the first few years we spoke and read German. It was only with the coming of comics – The Beano, Dandy, Hotspur etc kindly passed on by the Belfast Jewish children - that my English began to improve. The other children (there were about 12 of us), Harry, Robert, Felix and Maxi, had come over earlier and were more advanced in English. The girls were Sonya, Erna, Gertie, Annie, Daisy, Erica and Mausi.

By 1942 the young women had gone through their child training on us children several times, without doing us any harm. We were then placed in the care of Erwin Jacobi, an elderly saxophone player from Vienna, and, although he didn’t look very motherly, he was the best child-minder of all because he saw to it that we got a grammar school education.

My barmitzvah took place on the Farm in 1941. While the other boys went to Bangor Grammar School, I went a year later to Regent House School in Newtonards.

Under Mr Mündheim’s direction, the chalutzim built a byre out of home-made, reinforced concrete bricks. It must be the strongest byre in Ireland and will stand forever unless blown up. It is a lasting memorial to the Refugee Settlement Farm.

Every Sunday a part of the Belfast Jewish community would come out to the Farm to see how we were getting on. At this time we received clothing and presents. Naturally, we always looked forward to that, especially the comics. Occasionally we went to the cinema in Donaaghdee - the afternoon 3d show. Our pocket money went from 3d at the beginning to 9d and higher. Living on a farm, you work on it, even when you’re a child. Any holiday we were out in the fields. Hay-making and potato-picking were particularly busy times.

When the American army passed through Northern Ireland on their way to D-Day we discovered that there were Jewish officers, soldiers and chaplains chewing gum and chocolate. We collected metal for the war effort. At secondary school, I became a member of the Army Cadet Corps and played rugby. Read the English classics, took the Junior and Senior Certificate, and gradually turned into a little English gentleman. My sister had left the Farm to become a nurse at Newtonards hospital.

For all of us, that sheltered life on the Farm dissolved into ‘normality’ when the war ended. The chalutzim went to Israel. Everyone sought their relatives. Few were found because the Germans had murdered them. If any were found, the now grown-up children joined them. Robert went to the US with his mother. Harry went to Columbia. I stayed in Northern Ireland another few years and managed to persuade the Committee to let me go to Queens University and get a degree.

We Jewish refugees from the Nazis will always be grateful to the Belfast Jewish community for saving our lives, guaranteeing a £100 per refugee, and looking after us so well and long. We had freedom, food and a wonderful healthy life, in the beautiful Irish countryside. What more could you want?

This is an edited version of an article which appeared in the Belfast Jewish Record in September 2005.

 

Gerald Jayson (Gert Jacobowitz)

previous article:Reflections on German reunification
next article:The Kitchener Camp: The Sandwich response