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Apr 2009 Journal

Letters to the Editor

‘UNDERPAID, UNDERFED AND OVERWORKED’?

This is the third and final part of a selection of letters responding to the article ‘“Underpaid, Underfed and Overworked”: Refugees in Domestic Service’ by Anthony Grenville which appeared in our December 2009 issue.

I was 17 years old, from Vienna, the loved, spoilt child of a middle-class family. I had no domestic experience whatsoever. The family who employed me lived in a small house in Finchley, north London. He was a bus driver. They had a girl of six, Celia, and a boy of 13 months. They had never had servants before and I heard the wife brag to the neighbours: ‘We have a maid now!’ I had to address them as Madam and Sir.

I had to clean the house and wash the nappies, his shirts, her knickers, Celia’s dresses. I did everything that was asked of me but it was never right.

My room was in the attic: a bed, a chair, a small table, three coat hangers. No electric light, only a candle. I had one pillow and one thin blanket and I was freezing. I was starving too. I sometimes pinched food off Celia’s tray. I was very, very unhappy, longing for my parents and my little sister, my home, my Vienna.

After four desperate weeks, I had my first day off. I took an Underground train, going anywhere and nowhere. As I sat in the train tears rolled down my cheeks. Opposite me was a young man. He asked: ‘Why are you crying?’ I burst out: ‘I am a Jewish refugee from Vienna. I am working as a domestic for a bus driver and his wife who I have to call Sir and Madam. I miss my parents!’ I sobbed and sobbed.

He answered: ‘I was a student at the University of Vienna. I am a Hungarian Jew. I am married to a lovely non-Jewish Irish girl. She would love to meet you. We have a nice home - I will give you our address. Whenever you have nowhere to go, you must come and visit us.’ ‘I have nowhere to go now! May I come with you?’, I asked. I followed him from the train. It’s a long story …
 

Hertha Lowy, London NW8

I arrived in Great Britain from Vienna in September 1938 aged 21 and had a domestic job with a family in Leamington Spa, where I spent the years until the end of the war.

The family had a five-bedroom house with a large garden. I had a small but comfortable room. The family consisted of Professor Watson, a mathematics teacher at Birmingham University, Mrs Watson and their ten-year-old son Timothy. I managed everything: cleaning, cooking, polishing, looking after the boy, making fires, lighting the boiler.

I was called ‘Fräulein’ and treated more as a friend. I was allowed to help myself to food. When my brother arrived with the Kindertransport, he was invited to stay with us.

Mrs Watson’s brother-in-law and aunt were evacuated to Leamington Spa to live with the family. Two charming old ladies were most grateful when I helped them. Yes, I emptied the chamber-pot for the mother-in-law. They asked me not to tell Mrs Watson and gave me two-and-six each time. Mrs Watson encouraged me to go to the synagogue in Birmingham for the Jewish holidays. I was encouraged to do Viennese cooking and was highly appreciated. The wages weren’t grandiose but I had so much comfort, freedom and wonderful food that I didn’t complain.

I found a domestic job for my brother in Leamington Spa and my father arrived a week before war broke out. Mrs Watson gave me time off to go to the Home Office to speed up my father’s application. When he arrived in Britain he was invited to stay with us and lived there several weeks. Meanwhile, the family where my mother worked invited my father to live in the house with her. He came on a visitor’s permit.

I left the job and worked in an office as a bookkeeper. I stayed in contact with the family and, after the war, when I was married, I invited Mrs Watson to our home. I would never have been able to manage our own five-bedroomed house if I hadn’t had the experience in Leamington Spa.

So, not all employers were bad. It depended a lot on the girls. They should have realised that such a job had saved their lives and should have done their best to please their employer instead of complaining.
 

Katie Rich

Father had been a Rechtsanwalt in Berlin, mother a housewife. In 1939 they were granted temporary permission to stay in Great Britain. The conditions were stringent. They had to re-emigrate. To this end, they had to provide proof that they had a quota number for admission to the USA. They weren’t allowed to take up paid employment while in Great Britain. In any case, their German professional qualifications were useless. They were totally dependent on the generosity of their sponsors, one of father’s former clients.

They needed an occupation which was internationally portable. They learnt to cook. After father’s release from internment in the summer of 1941, there was a shortage of labour and they were granted work permits as cook and parlour maid. Their first job was as ‘live-ins’ in a doctor’s household. They drew on their own experience as employers of domestic staff to establish a modus vivendi for their employer and themselves. They were even able to save money, essential for their future life of live-in employment: dismissal meant being out on the street with their suitcases. Friends, generally refugees themselves, helped until they found new employment. They had nine jobs in seven years. They made the most of what was available to them. They fully appreciated that they were living in a free country.

 

Dr Victor Simons, London NW3

Arriving from Germany in May 1939, I descended with all my worldly possessions on my new employer, a 60-year-old English widow. We took an instant liking to each other and I was treated as her close companion.

In July 1939, when my lift containing a household of furniture arrived, I had no money to pay for storage and she offered to store my belongings for free in her garage. She helped me find accommodation for my parents, who arrived two days before the outbreak of war, and the furniture was put to good use. Living on the coast in Hove meant that all three of us were under the threat of internment. My employer went to the police and vouched for the fact that far from being anti-British, we were grateful to the British people for providing us with a safe haven. We were not interned.

When, in her old age, she entered a care home, my parents, my husband and I sent her a monthly cheque to cover her personal needs. When she died, she left me a brooch and I treasure this memento to this day. Now, at the age of 95, I am grateful that I was able to pay her back in some small measure for saving my life.
 

Emmy Golding, Edgware, Middx

I too arrived in this country on a domestic permit but I have never noticed any contributor draw parallels with the arrival of mainly Polish Jews after the First World War who had been hoping to find a better life in Germany. These ‘Ostjuden’ were generally regarded by the native German Jews as inferior and, in many cases, contact with them was avoided.

The kindest thing you can say about the British Jews is that we too were considered ‘Ostjuden’ by them and were treated accordingly. We, of all people, should be free of all prejudices in view of our history constantly repeating itself. But have we learned this important lesson? Are our brothers in Israel not making the same mistake again by treating the Arabs not as their equals?
 

Marion Smith, Harrow, Middx

A couple of years ago I bought the book Treasures of Jewish Heritage (The Jewish Museum, London) and found, to my amazement, a photograph of a form my prospective employer completed in order to employ me.

The family readily agreed that I should bring my three-year-old cousin with me. Sadly, at the last moment, his mother refused to let him go and he died in Auschwitz together with the rest of the family.

Up to the age of nine or ten, I had grown up with a live-in maid and my plan for the future had been to study medicine. This was not to be. With the start of the war, a month and a half after my arrival in England, my employers were evacuated. I found myself another domestic job in the same area of north London and I couldn’t have chosen a more interesting or busier household!

It was very hard and fussy housework, cleaning every nook and cranny of a huge house and doing all the cooking, as well as helping to look after the enormous garden. We also provided resident hospitality for military officers from overseas when on leave, so there were often ten or more people to clean and cook for.

The little granddaughter learnt to walk ‘helping me’ by hanging on to the floor polisher and we spent many nights all together in the underground shelter built by grandpa in the garden.

We got in touch again 20 years ago, when the family spotted a piece in the local paper about the ‘Refugees from Nazism’ exhibition showing a picture of the youngster and me on top of the shelter.

Schmerzt dich in deiner Brust
Das harte Wort ‘Du musst’
Dann macht dich eins nur still
Das stolze Wort: Ich will!
 

Hilda Schindler, London N14

NICHOLAS WINTON – THE HISTORICAL RECORD

Sir - With regard to Tom Schrecker’s letter (February), your readers may be interested in the following information. It is also important for the historical facts that might otherwise get distorted. Here is the transcript from the Kindertransport film interview with Nicholas Winton:

NICHOLAS WINTON I went out round the camps with Eleanor Rathbone at the time and the Reverend Rosalind Lee, who was the head of the Unitarian Church and the people in the camps were those people who’d fled from Sudetenland and hadn't got either friends or relatives to stay with and they were just put into camps. I mean I was talking to Doreen Warriner who was looking after the grown ups and she was telling me that not only from the work but finance and from the personnel point of view there was nobody who could deal with ALL the children who needed to be got out and I said: well if we form a kind of embryo organisation in Prague which could go into operation if I can get the British end organised, so be it.

SHOT OF TRAIN

NICHOLAS WINTON: And the Home Office made no problems whatsoever. They made conditions but no problems and the conditions were that each child had to have a £50 guarantor, which was a lot of money in those days and had to have a family where they could go who would look after them till they were 17. Which was of course quite different and separate to the children who were brought in from Germany who came in in bulk and went to Dovercourt. And from there they had to find homes for them. I couldn't bring anybody in until there was a home found for them.

So my response to Tom Schrecker:

1. I am happy to accept the details about the skiing holiday cancellation.

2. ‘On arrival [Winton] saw that nothing was being done for the endangered children and he was told that nothing could be done …’ Factually incorrect - see above.

Elaine Blond, daughter of Michael Marks (M&S), was another indefatigable helper with the children. When the Chief Rabbi objected to her finding non-Jewish homes for them, she commented: ‘What do you want me to do with them? Send them back?’ She was another valuable link.

3. ‘Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti were not working to get children out at that time, though later they, and others, did wonderful work in helping to save the children.’ Yes - good.

4. They were part of the Kindertransport organisation but Nicholas Winton was a valuable link. That is praise, not a distortion.

Please note: All children had to have the £50 deposit. Some Czech children were sent to Dovercourt and many German and Austrian children had guarantors here, to whom they went direct. I was one of them, as were those on the train with me from Munich.

5. I implied nothing beyond the statement that I considered calling Winton the ‘British Schindler’ inappropriate. We agree on this without qualification.
 

Bea Green JP, London SW13

Sir - Regarding Bea Green’s letter (December 2008), Mr Winton would be the last person to describe himself as ‘Britain’s Schindler’ - especially as his motives were totally humanitarian and he never even talked about this until many years later.

He never claimed he was in any danger from the Nazis: he did not go on a skiing holiday because a friend begged him to come to Prague instead to help getting people out of the country, many of whom had to flee from Germany and Austria for political reasons and were in great danger.

When he realised there was no provision for saving the children he decided to make this his priority. His employer demanded that he return to London after two weeks, which he did.

Due to his dedicated preparations during those two weeks in Prague he was able to continue this work in London, helped by his mother, Barbara Winton, and a part-time secretary.

His mother looked after us teenage girls once we were in Britain. I was privileged to meet Nicholas Winton in 1940 when he came to visit her, still in the Red Cross uniform in which he had served in France before it was overrun by the Nazis.

As far as I know, none of the 669 children was found a foster home by the committee which had brought children from Germany and Austria, although Bloomsbury House helped some of us in practical ways.

In 1945 another 700 children arrived from Czechoslovakia - these were the camp survivors and a remarkable and dedicated lady undertook to look after more than 30 of the youngest children. Her name is Alice Goldberger, a former refugee from Germany. The book Love Despite Hate tells the story of those children.
 

SJM, London

Sir - Regarding my letter mainly about Sir Nicholas Winton, for anyone who may be interested in fuller information about his rescue mission and some of the other people involved in it, I strongly recommend Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation by Muriel Emanuel and Vera Gissing, published by Vallentine Mitchell. The contents were approved by Nicky Winton.

 

Tom Schrecker, Val d'Isère, France

Sir – There is some truth in what you say about Nicholas Winton taking less risks. If he had been apprehended, he could not have carried out his worthwhile task. His mother, who supported him wholeheartedly, also played a big part in the rescue of many children. That includes the three of us, who were taken in by a lady called Miss Harder. Her brave deed was mentioned in Hansard. Mrs Barbara Winton visited Miss Harder’s sweet and tobacconist shop in Archway, Highgate. When she mentioned she was trying to place three girls aged 12, 13 and 15, whose mother did not want them to be parted, Ms Harder made her decision. Mrs Winton was amazed and warned her of the responsibility. My book Three Lives in Transit tells some of the story.

I have since found out Miss Harder’s first names: Bertha Emily. Apparently she was an only child. Her father was a hairdresser, probably also at Bentalls in Kingston. The manager there was her good friend. I remember him coming to the shop. He probably thought: How can she do this?

When we had the first Remembering for the Future event, Nicky, as the ‘children’ know him, mentioned the debt he owed to Barazetti and Chadwick. He hoped to continue and was very frustrated with the negative attitude of the USA, Australia and Canada.

 

Laura Selo, London NW11

‘GOD ON TRIAL’

Sir – Peter Phillips’s article (February) was one of his usual shallow, callous, muddled and ill-informed tirades. Progressive ‘rabbis’ who don’t believe in anything, not even in G-d, who convert non-Jews left, right and centre to their pseudo-religion – they are the ones who make sure we will, G-d forbid, not survive as Jews. What is left of the Jewish religion without belief in G-d and in the Torah! No wonder Orthodox rabbis don’t want to share a platform with them.

 

(Mrs) M. Stern, London NW3

MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE

Sir - Jews of all persuasions actively resist attempts by developers in Ukraine, Poland, Russia and other countries to build over Jewish cemeteries. It is particularly distasteful to read Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s (March) dismissal of similar objections to the building of a ‘Museum of Tolerance’ on a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem on the spurious grounds that these are the rantings of a known anti-Israeli Arab. Were the German government to announce a plan to build a museum of tolerance on the site of, say, the Berlin Jüdischer Friedhof Weißensee, the public outcry would, correctly, be enormous.


 

Arthur Oppenheimer, Hove

BERLIN KINDERTRANSPORT MONUMENT

Sir - ‘Kindertransporte: Zuge ins Leben - Zuge in den Tod’ is the inscription on the plaque of Frank Meisler’s evocative monument in Berlin. It was also the heading of a major article in the Berliner Morgenpost on 1 December (which I consulted). The monument is not a replica of the Liverpool Street sculpture, which memorialises the Kindertransport to Britain from 30 November 1938 to 31 August 1939, but encompasses all child (Kinder) Holocaust victims - the rescued small minority and the overwhelming majority who were trapped and transported to death camps.

I am therefore puzzled that a postage stamp picture in which little is discernible was substituted for my description of the monument in my article in February’s Journal and the words ‘Kind’ and ‘Kinder’ were narrowly redefined as the pre-war Kindertransportees (for which, at the time, my two sisters and I, being of Polish parentage, were deemed not to qualify as we had a country, Poland, to go to!).

The monument depicts seven life-sized children on a bronze railtrack plinth. At the back, two neat children in brown bronze, their smart suitcases and violin case upright, look ahead to the West. In front, East-facing, in black bronze, are five anguished children in shabby clothes and laceless boots. Behind them is a huddle of black battered suitcases gaping empty but for a tiny naked baby doll missing one leg in the corner of one case.

I was touched to learn from Lisa Schaefer on 21 December that the pathos of Frank Meisler’s masterpiece has so affected Berliners that every day since its unveiling the monument has been covered with beautiful fresh flowers. I feel privileged to have been a participant ‘Kind Zeitzeuge’ (child survivor witness) to its unveiling. May it go on inspiring thoughtfulness and compassion for all who suffer persecution.
 

Bronia Veitch, Shipley, Yorks

‘FAILURE OF A REVOLUTION’

Sir – As usual, I greatly appreciated Anthony Grenville’s leading feature in the last issue. His contributions make subscribing to the journal worthwhile in itself.

I should just like to make one comment. At the last moment, in 1932, it must have been recognised that the threat from the Nazis was greater than the rivalry between the KPD and the SPD. I distinctly remember my father taking me aged eight to a great rally in the Berlin stadium – the arena was awash with the red flags of the KPD; we Social Democrats seemed to have occupied seats higher up. Undoubtedly there were speeches, which, of course, I didn’t understand. What I do remember clearly is that at the end we all stood up and sang ‘Brüder zur Sonne zur Freiheit’ followed by the ‘Internationale’, songs which at the time I knew as well, or better than, ‘Hänschen Klein’ or ‘Alle meine Entchen’.

So there was, after all, belatedly and ineffectively, some coming-together of the forces of the left. This, incidentally, was continued, at least in France, by the creation of a united front among the exiles, during the premiership of Léon Blum.
 

Eric Bourne, Milldale, Alstonefield

Sir – As usual, I greatly appreciated Anthony Grenville’s leading feature in the last issue. His contributions make subscribing to the journal worthwhile in itself.

I should just like to make one comment. At the last moment, in 1932, it must have been recognised that the threat from the Nazis was greater than the rivalry between the KPD and the SPD. I distinctly remember my father taking me aged eight to a great rally in the Berlin stadium – the arena was awash with the red flags of the KPD; we Social Democrats seemed to have occupied seats higher up. Undoubtedly there were speeches, which, of course, I didn’t understand. What I do remember clearly is that at the end we all stood up and sang ‘Brüder zur Sonne zur Freiheit’ followed by the ‘Internationale’, songs which at the time I knew as well, or better than, ‘Hänschen Klein’ or ‘Alle meine Entchen’.

So there was, after all, belatedly and ineffectively, some coming-together of the forces of the left. This, incidentally, was continued, at least in France, by the creation of a united front among the exiles, during the premiership of Léon Blum.
 

Eric Bourne,Milldale, Alstonefield

Sir - I do not agree with the title of Anthony Grenville’s article about the events in Germany in 1918/19: the German Revolution did not fail. A democratic republican constitution replaced an imperial autocratic one. That was certainly a major political revolution (and it was not only that either: we need only consider the revolutionary nature of much of Weimar culture). The revolution that failed was the Spartacist revolt of January 1919. I do not accept that only a profound social upheaval deserves to be called a revolution.

 

Ralph Blumenau, London W11

CONGRATULATIONS TO KATIA

Sir - I would like to add my congratulations to the many that will undoubtedly be showered upon Katia Gould on the occasion of her 90th birthday. It was my privilege and pleasure to work with Katia and Richard Grunberger on AJR Information for five years. Although not the kind of person to take any nonsense, Katia always had a keen sense of humour. Let’s face it, she didn't sack me so she has to be game for a laugh!

She wasn't a bad-looking girl either, and I see from the photo in the March Journal that she’s still a bit of a cutie.

Well done Katia, you're a star. Thanks for all the help and encouragement you gave me, and the endless list of good works you undertook for so many people over the years. Can I come to your 120th birthday party?
 

 

Maurice Newman, Dublin

SURVIVORS AND SURVIVAL

Sir – I find the AJR Journal compulsive reading even though I don’t think of myself as a refugee, having arrived in the UK from Prague on VJ Day, when there was no longer anyone to seek refuge from. Recently, I have been entertained by the correspondence in your letters columns which raised the issue of who is entitled to call themselves a ‘survivor’.

I spent the war years in Terezin, Auschwitz and associated slave-labour camps, ending up in Buchenwald by way of a ‘death march’ followed by a week of intermittent travel and snow storms in open rail wagons. None of my family who were deported with me survived.

I am profoundly thankful for the improbable turn of events which enabled me to survive but I take no pride in the fact. Heroism was not a characteristic of camp survival. I am reminded of warning notices regarding Japanese apes that appear in Japan’s national parks which advise that looking the males in the eye is a challenge that causes them to attack – that is a pretty exact analogy of how we viewed our guards in every respect.

Everyone alive today is a survivor but there are differences in what they survived.
 
 

Professor Felix Weinberg, London SW14

KITCHENER CAMP NOT A PRISON

Sir - Calling Kitchener Camp an internment camp, Ellen Minkwitz (March) implies it was some kind of prison. This gives a completely wrong impression. The camp was a place of refuge made available after Kristallnacht by the British Government to young men from Germany and Austria. They were free to enter and leave the camp at will. I could visit my father there from nearby Minster, where I was looked after by two wonderful non-Jewish English ladies and he could cycle over to see me.

When France fell, the camp was closed as, being in Kent, it was seen as vulnerable in the event of invasion. The men living there were given the choice of joining the Pioneer Corps or internment, mostly on the Isle of Man. My father was older than most of the other men at the camp, having being given special permission to stay there on his release from Dachau. He therefore chose internment but understood why this was then thought necessary. He didn’t complain, saying ‘After all, many people went to the Isle of Man for their holidays.’
 

Stella Curzon, Ruislip

DER HUND MIT DER WURST

Sir – Paul Samet’s letter in your February issue reminded me of the alternative words my father sang to the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore:

Ach ich hab es gleich gesagt
Die Wurst die schmeckt nach Seife.
Ach ich hab es gleich gesagt
Die Wurst hat zuviel Salz.

There must be many examples out there.
 


 

(Mrs) Marion Goldwater, London W5