Such early memories as I have are of events rather than places or geography. My parents and I lived in an apartment at 24 Landsbergerstrasse, Leipzig. This was in an attractive modern apartment block, known as the Kroch Siedlung. I think we must have lived on the first floor, certainly low enough for my mother to watch what I was doing and call to me from the window. None of our immediate neighbours was Jewish, and many greeted each other with raised arm and "Heil Hitler"; one day in my childish ignorance I did so too. My mother must have seen this from the window because she immediately opened the window and shouted for me to come back in at once. I was never let out again alone. When my mother went to work in his factory, as Opa expected all his children to do regardless of their marital state, she would usually leave me with Oma. We had no car. She took me by tram which stopped just outside the door. The trams which went past our house were creamy white and rattled along at what seemed great speed. I loved to go on these.
I seemed to spend most of my time with Oma. Her apartment had enormous rooms and long corridors, along which I could ride my little tricycle. She often took me to the park which was just a few minutes walk from Menkestrasse. There were lots of other children to play with, and plenty of space to ride your bikes and run around while the mothers or grandmothers or nannies looked on as they gossiped.....
One memory of those days remains with me. Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, which usually coincides with the Christmas season is traditionally, like Christmas, a time for gifts. Families gather together for parties and it is a joyous occasion. One Chanukah - I cannot have been more than four at the time - there was a particular air of excitement. Our small apartment seemed full of family and somehow whenever I tried to go into my room I was diverted away from it.
Something was in the air but I had no idea what it was. After Opa had lit the Chanukah candles when we had sung "Mo 'our tzur", the traditional song, amid much shushing and winking and nudging by the adults, I was at last allowed into my darkened room. The scene laid out before me I can still see it - was magical. Laid out on the floor was an electric train set, its carriages lit up inside, with little station lights, and the signals winking like stars. Little figures stood on the station platform, and the guard was waving a green flag. It was a gauge '0' model made by Marklin the famous German toy company,. The carriages were pulled by a dark green electric motor unit with a pantograph. The three coaches were maroon coloured; one was a Pullman type dining car with tiny people sitting in the seats and tables and little lights all lit up; another was a sleeping car with bunks which could be removed, also with little models occupying them. The last was a postal carriage and guard's van. It had everything. Opa, with all the affection of an indulgent grandfather who loved toys himself, had gone to great trouble to set this up. It was the very latest thing then and is now regarded as a classic, much sought after by collectors.
Not long afterwards, I was invited to the birthday party of a young crippled boy, the son of one of mother's friends. Just as we were leaving my mother suddenly remembered she had no present for him. She looked round my toys for something suitable and her eye lit on my train set. She picked up the dining car. "No," I cried, "you can't take that. It's Opa's present; you can't give away my present. It's part of my train; please, please don't take that. Take any of the other carriages, but not that one, it's my favourite." "Shush. keep calm," she said soothingly, "just think how lucky you are, you can run and jump and live like a normal boy; I'll buy you another carriage to-morrow". But though she tried to find another, she never could. Much as I loved her, I never forgave her. That train set, or what was left of it, accompanied us to England and I enjoyed it for many years until it was lost - I am sure it was stolen - when we moved house in 1947.
A few months later shortly after my fifth birthday June 21 1936 I was enrolled in a Kindergarten, part of Dr. Carlebach's school. A few weeks later odd things began to happen. Mother was spending very little time in the factory and was mostly at Menkestrasse. Even Opa seemed too busy to pay much attention to me. There were cases and sheets, and clothes laid out, and comings and goings. They seemed to be packing and preparing to go away. My mother seemed to be hollowing out the legs of the chairs and other furniture which she filled with what looked like coins and gold and jewellery. Everyone was looking very worried. I had no idea what was going on except that the normal happy routine of our lives was being destroyed, until one day, my mother said to me: "Freddele, soon we shall all going away to a foreign country called England, where we will be safe.
Opa and Oma, and Aunty Dora and Yetti are going on ahead to get things ready for us and we shall follow them soon".
What did she mean by "safe". I didn't know we were in danger. Was it my fault? Had I done something wrong? Was it because I had said "Heil Hitler", or because I had had a fight with another boy in the Park? Maybe I shouldn't have thrown stones at the ducks? Did that policeman walking by see me? I thought of all the wicked things I might have done but could not put my finger on anything specific. I was something of a goody-goody and sins were hard to find. I have these feelings of personal responsibility and guilt when something goes wrong even to-day; when Middlesbrough lose I am sure it's because I wore the wrong pyjamas or something. Suddenly a few days later we were saying goodbye to Oma, Opa and my aunts Dora and Yetti, the youngest of the family (bar me) as they got on the train. Everyone was very tearful, especially Yetti, who by now had a boyfriend, Karl, whom she did not want to leave; "Mein Karl," she wept, "mein Karl, when shall I see him again."
As Opa kissed me and held me very close to him as if he would never see me again, he cried. I had never seen him do so before. Oma was always in tears about something or other but the only emotion Opa usually allowed himself was anger. Seeing him cry made me do so. The next few days and weeks after they had all gone seemed empty. I no longer went to Menkestrasse. My mother seemed to spent all day at home. It seemed she had taken up carpentry as a hobby as she kept on hollowing out furniture. There was no factory for her to go to. My father still went to his work, but he looked worried all the time, which was quite strange for him because he was usually smiling and happy. I saw more of mother then than at any time before, or indeed, as it turned out, later. I did not understand why we were all going away. I had been perfectly happy. But I was glad that I was not to blame.
As the warm colours of autumn were replaced by the biting winds of winter, and the trees now stripped of their leaves had their branches defined by snow, our apartment became increasingly empty. It was December and very cold and seemed even more so because nearly all the furniture had gone, except for a few chairs and a table and some old beds. From the day Opa and family left, mother had kept saying "Only another few months," then it was "only a few more weeks" and then "it's only a few more days now". Suddenly one day just before Christmas the door bell rang downstairs. There was an urgent message for mother delivered by hand. As she read it she became very pale and looked distressed but she said nothing to me. She just took me by the hand and ran with me to her very good friend Mrs. Kupfer who lived just across the landing from ourselves. She rang the bell, and at first no one answered, but she kept on ringing, and a few moments later the door opened. "I must see you urgently" said my mother to Mrs. Kupfer who stood in the door.
"What's wrong?" asked Mrs. Kupfer "You're as white as a sheet". I heard them talking animatedly in whispers. I couldn't hear much of what they said - obviously they didn't want me to - but I caught the name "Jack" and the words "Gestapo" and "hilfe", help. After Mrs. Kupfer had made some telephone calls Mother said to me:
"Be a good boy and stay here with Frau Kupfer. I'll soon be back." I was quite used to staying with the Kupfers as my parents often left me there when they went out. Mrs. Kupfer tried to keep me amused but I could see that she had other things on her mind. Some hours later, by which time I had already fallen asleep, I was shaken gently by my mother:
"Come on Schatzy wake up, you've got to get dressed. Macht schnell, hurry, now. Daddy's just getting the tickets, and as soon as he gets back we're going to the station to catch a train."
My father had been arrested by the Gestapo in one of their periodical round-ups of Jews; nothing personal, being Jewish or even suspected of being Jewish was enough. My parents had no non-Jewish friends, apart from the Kupfers who were very close friends. Mrs Kupfer's father was chief of, or held some high position in, the Leipzig Fire Brigade and to hold his office had had to join the Nazi Party. Mrs. Kupfer had telephoned him at once, and because of his position he was able to get my father released, but he told them "Geh zofort, go at once, things might change". It was lucky that he was still there because many officials had already gone away for Christmas. Mother quickly dressed me and packed some suitcases, helped by Mrs. Kupfer who saw us off to the station amid tearful goodbyes. My father was waiting for us with the tickets. We took the train from Leipzig to Antwerp where we stayed a few days before catching the night ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. Some time later I learned that the reason we had had to stay behind when the rest of the family left was that we counted as a separate family unit, and our visa for England came under the allocation for 1937. The family was allowed to bring out all movables, including factory equipment and machinery, furniture and personal effects, but no money or valuables, and my mother had been responsible for seeing that it was all properly packed and sent, which is why she spent so long hollowing out the legs of the furniture which she filled with gold and jewellery. The last containers were still waiting to be sent when we left hurriedly. The Kupfers saw to the safe dispatch of these. I was too young to understand why we had to leave Germany. The reasons only became apparent to me much later.
How Opa came to be in Germany at all, indeed, how and why any of my grandparents were there, I have never found out............
Opa was a nervous man, politically speaking. He did not take the view that the attacks on Jews by the Nazi Brownshirts which became increasingly frequent from 1928, were a passing phase and in any case he was one of those Ostjuden, Jews from eastern Europe, against whom, if the German Jews were correct, they were aimed. The prosperity and optimism that the Weimar Republic had generated proved short lived and illusory. In 1929 there was a serious economic recession, which was not limited to Germany, but there it produced 2 million unemployed. Foreseeing the possible rise of Nazism, or perhaps he was equally afraid of Communism or civil war, it was clear to Opa that Germany was not safe, and he decided to leave. It was not that Opa was particularly clever or farsighted. He was a cynic or more kindly, perhaps, a realist: the type who believes things can only get worse.
When, towards the end of 1930, he heard that I was expected he called the family together. "I'm fearful, I'm very worried" he said. "Hitler's Brownshirts are attacking Jews everywhere, and no one is even trying to stop them. It's dangerous to go out into the street. Germany is not safe for us; we have to leave but where shall we go? There's Palestine, America or England. It will be difficult for us to get into Palestine. The English won't let us in, and in any case it would be a very hard life there; there's fighting with the Arabs and I'm too old to be a pioneer. America is, a long way away, the back of beyond, and we don't know anyone there. England seems the best chance. It's the only place in Europe which will be safe if there is a war, as, if things go on as they are, there will be.
It's not so far away. There are opportunities there. I read in the papers that they're looking for new businesses to provide work for the unemployed, and the Government gives help to anyone starting a new business. Max, you'll go to England to see what you can find, and take Herman with you. I know people in the fur trade and I'll arrange for you to go there." "Sigmund you worry too much, you exaggerate" Oma argued. "They all say it will all blow over.
We've already left one country and thank heaven we're doing well here. How shall we start again?
We're a a lot older now and with a grandchild on the way it will be very hard. I haven't the the strength. How will you start a new business?" "We Jews can't ignore what's going on. Hitler has a lot of popular support. People read "Mein Kampf" and think he's got all the answers to all their problems - it's all the fault of the Jews.
People cheer when his thugs break Jewish bones and windows. Here we have no status, no nationality and before long we'll have no rights at all, mark my words. I'm a simple man, I'm no great sage, but I'm no fool either. I don't know anything about politics, but I see what I see and I know what I see, and what I see is bad. I see old men humiliated and women spat on. I see the placards "Juden raus", Jews out, everywhere. No one protests. I don't fool myself it's not happening. It's because Bertl [my mother] is going to have a baby that we must go. This is no place to bring a Jewish child into. I don't want my grandchild to be in danger. We have no choice; we must go; I've made up my mind and I don't want any arguments or long faces. Let's just get ready, but no one must know what we're doing, otherwise we might be stopped from leaving. If things here get better we can still think again, but I'm not hopeful. In the meantime you can all start learning English." "If we go anywhere it should be Eretz Israel, that's where I want to go," said Dora a keen Zionist.
Mother agreed with Opa "Things look bad here. People are afraid of the Communists and support the Nazis, though I don't think the Communists would be any better for us than the Nazis. They may not pick on Jews but to them we are still the enemy. Either way it will end up bad for the Jews, it always does." Dad agreed. This was one thing he was positive about.
Max: "I'll do whatever Papa says" Herman was only too willing to get away from his father's restraining hand, and to seek pastures new. Yetty was only thirteen and had no voice.
As Opa had read in his Yiddish papers, the same world economic crisis which caused unrest in Germany, created a need for new industries to provide jobs in England. The north east was particularly badly affected. Its heavy industries, drawing on the local raw materials of coal and iron, seemed no longer to be needed. Government assistance and financial incentives were on offer to anyone who could offer employment. Guisborough was a small town, population about 7,000, in Cleveland, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, some nine miles from Middlesbrough. Its Labour Council had been active in its efforts to attract industry. The Urban District Council had premises available in the shape of an old derelict L-shaped building on the Middlesbrough road at the western entrance to the town, part of a disused sewage farm. Max who was nothing if not diligent, had found out about this through his enquiries and approaches to various authorities. He called Opa over from Germany to see for himself In May 1936 the Council minutes recorded that "an enquiry" had been received "on behalf of a person, not then in the country, who was interested in opening a factory to employ 200 persons". Opa would probably have accepted anything because few places could have seemed less inviting. A deal was done. Home Office permission would be required for the family to immigrate. Representations were made to the Home Office under the auspices of the Council. Two months later the Home Office had approved the establishment of the factory, and the necessary visas were granted. Within a few weeks the main part of the family, was in Middlesbrough.
The yellow haze of the harbour lights at Harwich trying to pierce the thick freezing morning mist was my first sight of England. It was New Year's Day 1937, very early, dark and bitterly cold. I felt wretched. I had been sick all the way over on the boat from the Hook of Holland. I could hear a lot of noise, men shouting, ships' foghorns sounding their doomful blasts, and trains clanging as they were being pushed around by busy little engines blowing steam everywhere adding to the mist and confusion. There was a long wait and then my father picked me up and carried me on to the waiting boat train. I fell fast asleep until we reached London. We got off the train and took a taxi.
London was a jumble of sights and colours and noise. I just wanted to sleep. I was five years old.
After two or three days in London, of which I can remember nothing, we went to King's Cross to take the train north. Much smaller than the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, it was full of noise and dirt from the black smoke and hissing steam of the huge Pacific engines panting and puffing away as they warmed up in the cold air for their long journeys to the even colder North. People were rushing around shouting and calling to each other in a strange language; some were running, others just standing waiting; young couples were sadly holding hands or kissing lingeringly. Porters struggled with suitcases, guards blew whistles and waved flags. I was wide awake by now and excited by the hustle and bustle of everything around me. It was a different world. I remembered how clean and neat and tidy and quiet the railway station in Leipzig had seemed, for all its size, but I also noticed that here there were no soldiers, no policemen, no uniforms except those of the railwaymen. It seemed very informal and disorganised compared with Leipzig.
I noticed that some carriages had the number "3" and others "1". Where was "2"? We got on the train from a high platform, no steps as in Germany. Our compartment in the train seemed like a funny little room. There were three seats on each side of a window at one end and a sliding door at the other, off a corridor. Over the seats there were signs, which I couldn't read, and a mirror and there were racks above them. I jumped into a seat by the window before anyone else could take it. I had to kneel to look out. The windows were all steamed up and I drew pictures with my fingers, but after the train had left the station I cleared them and looked out at the passing scenery, first the long stretch of houses at the side of the railway lines and then the passing countryside. I was amazed how green everything was, even in winter. In Leipzig everything was already covered in snow. Our journey north took what seemed a long time to me and I fell asleep once or twice. The train stopped a few times, and there was a lot of banging of doors and people getting on and off; every time the train started there was a huge clanking of wheels and hissing of steam and the wheels seemed to slip, until slowly, very slowly at first, the train began to move and then it gathered speed and very soon was out again in the countryside blowing its white clouds, which you could see just over the side of the train, like puffs of cotton wool.
Aunt Dora was waiting for us with a taxi at Darlington. This looked like an ordinary car not like the funny black one we had had in London. About half an hour later we arrived in Middlesbrough at what was to be our new home. We were going to live with Opa and Oma. They had found a house large enough for the whole family. It was called "the Grey House."
That house is one of the features on the landscape of my life. When I saw it as we drove through the gates up the drive to the front entrance, I thought it was a castle. "Is this Opa's castle?" I asked in wonder, "and are we really going to live here?" Built of grey stone with large windows, it was set back from and slightly above the level of the road, so that it gave the impression of being on a hill. The car stopped at the stone steps, guarded at the top and bottom by two large stone pillars, leading to the main door. It was - still is - an impressive building - to me it was huge. I couldn't believe it was all ours. Opa and Oma and the rest of the family met us with hugs and kisses of happiness and relief as against the tears and fears with which they had said goodbye when they left Leipzig. Tired and hungry, I was immediately fed and bundled off to bed. It seemed even colder here than in Leipzig or London - the days seemed short and the black nights endless. But I had my own bedroom, and I soon began to find my feet.
The house was well situated on the corner of Cambridge Road and Thornfield Road. There were bus stops right outside and it was only a few minutes walk from the shops, important considerations when you have no car. My grandparents had not fully settled in by the time we arrived. Some of the rooms were still rather empty as not all the furniture had come, which made them look bigger still. Some carpets and curtains were still missing but almost without my noticing it the furniture came, the rooms filled, the carpets fitted and the curtains put up.
I found myself in a completely new world. We were now safe. But everything has its price. In return for freedom from fear my parents and I had to forego the little private world of our own apartment in Leipzig. No longer a single family .unit we were subsumed into the wider family dominated by the imposing personality of Opa. In Leipzig, Opa and Oma had been shadowy figures. I loved them and was much loved by them, but they were part of the general background of my life. I enjoyed going to their apartment and riding my little tricycle along its long corridors but it was like going on holiday. When we all came to live under one roof, the comfortable gentleness of our own privacy was lost. I developed a new and different relationship with my grandparents.
Oma, not my mother, ran the house. She effectively looked after my daily needs.
Middlesbrough was a culture shock to all the family, particularly my young aunts. They hated it.
They were used to the life style and cultural excitement of a major city. They never stopped grumbling. This wasn't right, that wasn't like it had been at home. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, no young people, no Maccabi, no restaurants~ the place was a desert. Why did we have to come here, of all places? Why, if we had to come to England, why not London? Yetti moped for her Karl. Dora teased her constantly, but complained enough on her own account.
Their attitude was understandable. Leipzig was a Weldstadt. It was the city of "Bach and books." It had a large and important Jewish community - no less than 14,000 were slaughtered in the Holocaust - and a rich Jewish life. There were Jewish clubs and young men, cafes, restaurants, department stores, book shops, theatres; it was famed for its international annual trade fair, the Leipziger Messe, its Opera and the Gewandhaus Orchestra founded by Felix Mendelssohn. It had tourists, night life, Bach's Thomaskirche, St. Thomas's church theStefankirche, St. Stephens's the Staadthaus, City Hall and many other important buildings. ItsHauptbahnhof station, was the largest railway terminus in Europe. Middlesbrough was not even on the main line; its railway station was hidden away at the far end of town on a bridge over the roadway which led to the port area, with its dirt and squalor, and brothels and dives, where no respectable person went unless they had to and then only in daylight. Middlesbrough's only claim to fame were the Transporter Bridge, a neo-Gothic Town Hall, and a football team which, despite having some outstanding players, had never won anything; plus ca change. The Jewish community was tiny, anglicized, uncultured, but for a few exceptions, and to a large extent initially unfriendly. From a large important city the family had landed in what they saw as a dirty, uncivilised, cold, ugly, generally unpleasant backwater.
Middlesbrough was the epitome of the industrial revolution. The houses were built back-to-back Coronation Street style, in rows on a grid-iron pattern, unusual in British town planning at the time. Being a port it attracted merchants and traders from abroad. Scandinavians, Germans, Italians and Jewish immigrants came to the town, each bringing with them their own special trades or skills. There was a large Irish immigration, which provided most of the work force. Middlesbrough is a Catholic See. An unknown hamlet of a few houses had grown within a few years to become the largest town in the area and the population was virtually all imported. Many had names which showed their foreign origins: Winterschladen, Schellenberg, Pacitto, Rea, Doberman, Brechner, Israel, Pinto, Skou, and others, so Schmulewitsch was not so out of place, apart from its unpronounceability. It was a tolerant society. Its redeeming features were the cheapest fuel and bus fares in the country and, above all, the warmth, kindness and generosity of the local people, which were not fully appreciated by my family until they learned the language. The beautiful countryside only a short distance away was unappreciated. My family were very urban.