Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Sivan 5766 - June 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

A Journey Far from Home
By R. Deutsch

Based on an interview with my Grandmother.

As a young girl growing up in pre-war Germany, little did I dream that my idyllic childhood was soon to come to an abrupt halt.

I was born in Germany in 1929, and by the time I was nine, my country had become a very dangerous place for Jews to live. The situation rapidly deteriorated and emigration was on everybody's minds.

My parents had taken in a young cousin whose parents had already left the country, and since she was given my bed, I slept on the floor in my parent's bedroom.

Lying there in the dark, night after night, my little ears would hear the frantic discussions from the adjoining living room.

"Where can we go? Which countries are still allowing Jews in?" South America, Israel and England were among some of the suggestions.

We finally left our beloved home, not knowing if we would ever see it again! My parents had planned to travel to the only place a Jew can really call home — Israel. First we would go to Holland, where we had some relatives, then on to England, and finally to our longed-for destination.

We packed accordingly. Apart from a trunk containing the day- to-day things we would require on our journey, we also packed for our (hopefully) short stay in England. The rest of our belongings were neatly arranged into a lift heading for Israel. We never did get there, though, and this was the last time we were to see our possessions.

My parents, younger sister and I, arrived in England on May 1st 1939. My mother spoke a barely passable English, but the rest of us couldn't speak a word of it. Children learn new languages quickly, and by November of that year, I was able to pass my 11+.

We settled in a one-room flat in Golders Green, London, and from there we went on to stay in three or four different places, as we could only stay a short while in each one.

In the fourth one, in Cricklewood, we were bombed out one night. We fearfully hurried down to the shelter but when we returned in the morning, we were in for a shock.

"You are NOT staying in my house any more!" The landlady shrieked. "It's your fault the house was bombed! You signalled to the Germans and told them where to bomb, so get out NOW!"

"What nonsense," retorted my mother. "This is absolutely preposterous!"

"Stop arguing with me. You've got two hours to pack, and I'm not going to let you stay a moment longer!"

We were left stranded once again. What were we to do now? Fortunately we had a relative who lived in West Hampstead, so we took a bus over to her house.

A couple of weeks later, there was an ominous knock at the door. The Police had come to arrest my father, since he was a German citizen. I grabbed my father's hand and burst out crying.

"Why are you crying, little girl?" asked the stony-faced policeman.

"Because you are taking my Daddy away!" I sobbed, as memories of fears experienced in Germany re-surfaced. My beloved father was sent to the Isle of Man where he was interned for nine long months.

After that my mother decided to go ahead with our plans to leave London and head for the countryside. It was becoming increasingly difficult to stay in the city, as London was undergoing the infamous Blitzkrieg. Well do I remember those long nights, huddled in the relative safety of the dreary bomb shelters, listening to the shrieks and crashes all around us.

Don't ask me how, but my wonderful mother managed to procure a cottage for us in a tiny village in Symonds Yat, which lay near the river Wye. We went to the nearest town, Ross-on- Wye, once a week for our shopping. Any larger supplies had to be obtained from the next town, Hereford.

After living there for a few weeks, we moved to a nearby village, Sellack. The cottage was called Lawless Cottage, and it stood alone in the middle of a large field. It was a good fifteen-minute walk to the front gate, where the postman would leave the occasional letter for us.

As the cottage used to be a school, it consisted of a room with a long table and chairs around it — the schoolroom. There were also numerous small rooms with two bunk beds in each. This was the entire cottage. No kitchen or bathroom. We had no electricity, gas, toilet or running water.

We used candles and oil-lamps for light, and a coal fire for warmth. My mother purchased a small oil-stove on which she cooked all our food, including the vegetables that we planted in front of the cottage. For the toilet, we used a bucket in the garden which had to be regularly emptied! Water was obtained from the well outside, and in the winter, when it would freeze over, the ice needed smashing with a hammer to be able to pump water.

Life wasn't easy, especially without Father, but with optimism and faith, both of which our mother had in abundance, we managed. Our landlady, a tall aristocratic woman, was known in the village as 'The Lady of the Manor,' because she was the richest woman in Sellack, and owned a (relatively) enormous mansion! We paid her rent of 1 pound Sterling per month.

The great day arrived when Father was finally free to join us again. How wonderful life was now! Mother had meanwhile found a school in Ross-on-Wye for my sister and me to attend. It had evacuated from London, and although small, was run very properly. There were only seventeen girls, two teachers and a Headmistress. We had a uniform, plenty of homework every day, and discipline was strictly enforced. The War was not going to stand in the way of continuing our education!

Since there was a half-hour walk to the bus stop, we had to leave our house at 6.40 each morning to catch the 7.20 bus. The walk was followed by an hour-long drive. Our father was the one who walked us every morning to the bus, and in the dark winter mornings, he would teach us about the stars as we trekked through the fields. A daily astronomy lesson!

Life continued on like this until the end of 1942, when we finally left Sellack. We settled in Wimbledon, outside London, where my sister and I attended Wimbledon County Grammar School.

Four years later we moved back to London.

"With thanks to Mrs. J. H. for help with this story."


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