Kehilat Middlesbrough Newsletter No 9 February 2001
I was born in Vienna in 1930, an only child. My father was an accountant, and an ardent Zionist. I remember, as a very young child, hearing my parents argue about going to Palestine. This was well before the Anschluss; my dad wanted us to go, and my mother said we were comfortable where we were. If we had come here then, our lives would have taken a wholly different course, and I would not have spent those formative years in England. My father was taken away that night in November 1938 and sent to Dachau, but at first the Nazis miraculously released those able to prove that they had served and been wounded in World War l, so he came home three months later. But he could hardly walk, and was never the same after that. My mother and I were thrown out of our home soon after they took my dad, and we went to live with my maternal grandmother and her eldest (bachelor) son, my uncle Adolph, who was a professor of languages at Vienna University. They made him scrub the streets and some barracks nearby, but he was still able to come home in the evenings. After I went to England, my grandmother and uncle were deported to Theresienstadt and died there.
I have vague memories of being on a train and later on a boat that sailed from Holland to Harwich and, much later, of a freezing and endless train journey through the night with three other kids older than I was, to Middlesbrough.
I don’t remember much of my early months there. I arrived in March or April 1939 and was sent to Linthorpe School, where I sat in a classroom for weeks on end without understanding a single word of what was being said. Every Friday the teacher handed out blank pages and pencils, and wrote questions on the blackboard, which we had to answer in writing. When she collected the papers, she would just pat my shoulder and pick up the still blank page without comment.
But one Friday I looked at the blackboard and I was able to read the question: Why do we wear shoes? It made sense to me, and I wrote “to warm our feet.” I sat in the front row, and when the teacher came to collect the page I was still writing. She realised that something had happened, took the paper and ran out of the room. She came back with Mr. Turnbull, who wore knickerbockers and smelled of some very strong cologne. He stood me on my desk and hugged me, and everyone smiled at me, and from that day on I spoke, wrote, dreamed and did my sums in English (I still do.) I was moved to a higher class unti1 the end of the school year, and when the following term started in September I was moved up again. I was the youngest child in the hostel, and always the youngest in my class at Linthorpe and later at Kirby. My class teacher in my last year at Linthorpe was Miss Fletcher.
I have tried to repress thoughts about those years in the hostel. I was always cold, day and night, and had chilblains. In time I stopped crying for my parents, in fact I forgot my German altogether. My life focused on school, and the school day lasted until 4 o’clock or even later when we had choir practice or had a court booked for tennis. I spent my evenings doing homework. I was frequently excused from doing the washing up and other chores around the house because of my homework, and that made me rather unpopular. The older girls went out to work, one or two worked at Binns, and later did war work. I particularly remember Maya Bamberger (I think she was from Nuremberg; I recall her telling me about an old, walled city), putting on her overalls and pushing her long hair into a snood so that it would not catch on the factory machines.
We went to the synagogue near Albert Park every Shabbat and on the High Holy Days, but never exchanged more than two words with the people there; they used to look us up and down with a mixture of pity and distaste. I dare say we must have seemed a strange lot, in our hand me downs. If that sounds ungrateful, please remember I was a young girl and often desperate for a kind word. I went to Heder every Saturday afternoon. My class was taught by Rabbi Miller, and his younger son David was there, too. We were the same age, and he attended Middlesbrough High School. I also often saw girls in gray coats and hats with maroon velvet collars, from the convent school. David Miller came to the hostel sometimes and I helped him with his Latin. He visited me here in the fifties, when I lived in Haifa with my parents. I believe he was studying social anthropology at the time.
My parents (with whom I had lost touch for a lengthy period and who were able to find me through the Red Cross after landing in Palestine) had meanwhile fled Vienna to Czechoslovakia, where they were interned, and eventually came to Haifa on the “Patria”.
They were both ailing and suffering, and almost drowned. They told me that my dad had hidden high-grade diamonds in the cork tops of both their water canteens. When they fell overboard into the sea, they watched helplessly as the two canteens floated away from them. When they were pulled out of the water all they had were literally the clothes on their backs. The British interned them in Atlit. They had lost all their possessions; all their furniture had been packed and crated and shipped to Trieste before they left Vienna, and that was the last they heard. The radio broadcast reports of heavy German bombing over north-east England, and they were dreadfully worried about me. My mother told me all this much later; meanwhile there I was, a schoolgirl in Middlesbrough, looking at the maps in the newspapers to see how the war was going, spending nights in the brick shelter in the back yard, and hours in the school trenches. I had become totally anglicised by then, a far cry from the others in the hostel. My best subjects at school were English Literature, French and Latin, in those I generally got top marks or came second. My form mistress before I left was Miss Harrison; we had Miss Wishart for French, and Miss Lovett for Geography, at which I was really bad. I had a crush on a sixth-former, Anne Splaine; she lived on Green Lane, and her brother went to Acklam Hall.
After I came to Israel I lived in Haifa and later Kiryat Bialik with my parents. I married Arieh Barak, a naval officer, and we travelled to the US where he studied at the US Naval School in Monterey, California and spent a year in Paris (on the Cherbourg boat project), where I worked for Kol Israel, with Nakdimon Rogel. We have two children, my daughter Tali, 42, a mother of three, and my son Amnon, 38, father of two. Tali, incidentally, is married to Avi Angel; the name may be familiar to you, from the bakery. Danny Angel is Avi’s uncle. The few family relatives I had here were elderly when I first came, and are all dead now. My father’s family were third generation Austrians; his brother Alfred had a farm and land in a village near Vienna called Altlengbach, and he and all my cousins perished at the hands of the Nazis. My mother’s brother John, who had been a foreign correspondent in the Civil War, died of consumption in London before I ever had a chance to meet him.
I served in the Air Force, in operations, when the daily training flights and missions were chalked up on the board in English. (C & B meant ‘circuits and bumps’). At a later stage my CO at Ramat David was Ezer Weizmann and I could probably write a book on that part of my life.
Ari and I divorced in 1970 something. He still lives in Haifa, and we often meet on family occasions. I left our home in Danya, and the children and I moved to Tel Aviv. I needed a job to support the three of us and pay the rent, and was hired as an English news editor at the government press office. I frequently had to go to Beit Agron in Jerusalem in the evenings and work through the night, translating speeches which Galili wrote for Golda Meir, but my place of work was at Beit Sokolov. When Rabin first became Prime Minister, he fulfilled an old promise made to Teddy Kollek, and moved the press office to Jerusalem. I was offered a job with the US embassy, where I worked as political analyst and as Ambassador Sam Lewis’ translator. I had taken various degree course in languages over the years, at the Sorbonne and in California, and had worked as a simultaneous conference interpreter, but the embassy gave me a hard time about that, and I was not able to do much interpreting once I went to work there.
Now I do translation work at home. I worked with Chich Lahat and Roni Milo [Ed : both former Mayors of Tel Aviv] for almost twelve years, but stopped when Ron Huldai became mayor. Now I translate, using e-mail and fax, principally for FBIS (which is a part of the US embassy), the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, and other assorted clients. Over the years I have worked from French, German and Hebrew, always into English, and these days it is mostly from Hebrew. I have five grandchildren, the eldest, Jonathan, is almost 16, and the youngest, Ophir, will be two in February
If possible, I would like to contact people who were in the hostel with me and are now in Israel, beginning with Gina Simon. I don’t know who else is here from that period, and remembers me. Ruth (Heller) Barak Tel Aviv, Israel