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Volume 10

October 17, 1993

Life at Overbury Court was progressing at a leisurely pace. There were lessons in English, given by someone on the staff. Through an initiative of the vocational counselor, we got a small workshop that produced wrought iron lamp shades. I took an interest in the electrical installations of our workshop. It was interesting. Electricity was a fascination of mine. I always longed for the chance to install wires and gadgets. Up till then I never had a chance to do it. I thought that this will lead me to more advanced knowledge of the trade. It was a start anyhow.

Already in Windemere I got close to three younger boys. Each of them came from different parts of Poland. When we got closer I also found out that one was from my home city Lodz. The other two were from Warsaw and a small town in Galicia near Cracow. The name of the small town was Dukla. We used to spend lots of time together. The one from Dukla: Lipa Tepper, and the Warsaw one, Bronek Nisenbaum, were in the same camp as I in Czenstochowa. We did not know each other then. All three of my friends including the one from Lodz, Izak Jakubowicz, really started the friendships with me and each other, while still in Theresienstadt. In Overbury Court we became almost inseparable. We went for long walks together. When we got secondhand bicycles, we went on rides into the surrounding countryside. The foursome of us formed the nucleus for that larger Bundist group later on. At about the time when we got our bikes, we heard that the second group had finally arrived in Great Britain. They were housed in a hostel not far from us. The four of us, plus a few others, decided on a trip by train. The bicycles were stored in the storage compartment of the train.

When we arrived at the hostel, we must have looked like a cycling team. I found Rozka Dajch among the new group. We had a very warm reunion. The sad part of it was the imparting of the news as to the fate of our respective families. My friend from the Skif, Zisl Dajch and the middle sister and her parents did not survive. She was still hoping for her brother, who went like my brother to the Russian occupied part of Poland, to show a sign of life. But the reunion was very emotional. The other young men that went with me also found some acquaintances. We came back to Alton well satisfied with our trip. From my sister in Sweden I kept getting lots of letters. She was feeling better. She kept on mentioning quite a few of our mutual friends who were there with her. They organized themselves with the help of the Swedish government and Jewish relief agencies, into similar units to ours. We let fall now and again some ideas about getting together again. At first it seemed far off. But gradually the pull towards seeing each other got very strong. I decided to seek advice from our committee in London and from my comrades of the Bund.

Soon after our trip to Southampton to see Rozka Dajch, I received a letter from my uncle. He was in the U.K. He and his family were evacuated in the war to Maidenhead, a town about 90 miles from London. Actually it was a place where there was a war-production plant. Uncle, who was only in Great Britain on a transit visa, had to be either evacuated and drafted into war production or he would face confinement. He was a refugee from Germany. The British government did not at first recognize the fact that the Jewish refugees were definitely in danger of their lives if they went back to Germany. It took a lot of persuasion to convince the authorities of the special status of the Jewish refugees. He had a wife and two daughters. I was exulted. Finally I found an uncle that I never knew personally. I became eager to meet with the relatives that I had heard so much about.


October 18, 1993

I decided on another trip to London. I knew enough of the language to ask my way around. I was told of a youth hostel and the Jewish Shelter in London, where one could stay overnight if the need arose. My main purpose was to consult the director of the Jewish Refugee Committee about the chances of bringing over my sister to the U.K. I also wanted to meet Dr. E. Sherer, the prewar member of the Central Committee of the Bund. He was the representative of the Bund to the Polish government in exile. I heard about him already before the war. The meeting was arranged by L. Blit who was the correspondent in London of several Jewish, Polish and German newspapers. He was also acting together with Dr. Sherer as the representatives of the Bund in London. I was excited on both counts. The visit to the offices of the Jewish Refugee Committee produced a vague promise of action. Somehow they did not think of reunions as priority. They were strapped for money and such expenses as reunions were not on their most urgent list. It was a vague promise.

I met with Dr. Sherer in Piccadilly Circus. It made quite an impression on me then. The area was hit by enemy air raids and was still in a state of disrepair, not yet in full use. My talk with the official representative of the Bund made me feel good and proud. We had a little walk and a cup of tea in a restaurant. It was my first. I had never before been to such an important meeting in a well known international spot. The crowds were a motley of civilians and military people from all over the Empire and allied armies. Dr. Sherer promised me help in trying to organize our reunion. He also gave me a few pounds sterling from a special fund of the Bund for the purpose of succour for survivors. The visit was instructing and certainly an eye opener as to the beauty of London.

Another pleasant bit of news came my way soon after the trip to London. I was informed by the Bund in New York of the whereabouts of my uncle Avrum Yoseph. This was the younger brother of my father who emigrated to Argentina in 1934 or 1935. I remembered vaguely the family. I preserved a mental picture of uncle, auntie and the two cousins. The girl is my age. The boy is my sister's age. Again the sense of family came back to me. It was already a far cry from the loneliness of the immediate postwar period. Although not yet in embracing contact but very exciting indeed. I did not hear anything from my father, brother or the uncles and aunts and their families, both from my mother's side or from the two uncles from my father's side and their respective families.

I knew by then already the fate of my mother. She did not make it through the selection in Auschwitz. My sister had already related her story in many letters. They had stood in line together. Only Esther survived. The extent of our losses as a family was not yet fully clear. Lots of people kept on finding family members and relatives. One still hoped. All sorts of relief agencies were constantly producing long lists of survivors. I started getting information from Poland, through Comrade Blit. Many names of people known to me appeared in some of the news sheets that I received. I could not find any family or relatives among those that were already back in Poland. However, I started writing to Poland and inquire about all the known people to me. The answers were not positive. There were however new people coming back from the Soviet Union all the time. There was still hope. I also at that time made contact with my distant relatives in Palestine. I simply wrote to my great uncle in Jerusalem, using only his name and occupation. It got to them. I was mightily pleased with the knowledge of their well-being in Palestine. I heard from the brother of my friend who had gone to live in Great Britain before the war. Except for some letters I never saw him. He lived in Newcastle-on-Tyne, quite a distance from London.


October 19, 1993

Just a few days after I returned from London, I got permission to travel to Maidenhead, near Reading. It was a journey to find and embrace my relatives that I had never seen before. They lived in a very modest apartment in a small house. They received me beautifully. There were two young girls, Ruth and Frieda, speaking English but able to make out words in Yiddish. Uncle and Auntie were reasonably preserved middle-aged people. Uncle, like my mother, was born in Dobrzyn. Auntie was from Warsaw. They met in Berlin in the 1930's. Their life was one of refugees. No sooner did they get together than Nazi rule took over the public awareness in Germany. Being foreign born, they were constantly harassed by many of their neighbours and the authorities. It came to a point when they were ready to send their children out of the country on the so-called "Kinder Transporten". That would have meant leaving it to chance as to who would bring them up. Lucky for them, their application for a transit visa to the U.K. was approved just two months before the war started. They all came to Great Britain just ahead of the terrible times that enveloped Europe. They were evacuated some time during the war, when there were the heavy bombing attacks. They managed to get used to their new life. They had some family from auntie's side living in England then. So my uncle and aunt and the two lovely cousins received me well. I promised to come again soon, and we also agreed to meet in London, where uncle used to go for some business deals. By then I had already several acquaintances in London.

The Refugee Committee started urging the older boys to think of getting out of their care. They promised to help with accommodation and jobs. I thought that the time had come to think seriously of becoming independent. It was at first an uncomfortable thought. I have not been on the open market for a job ever before. In a strange place and with a very scanty knowledge of the language, it was a bit scary to plunge into the open. But another consideration prompted me to be less hesitant. I got the vibes from the director of the Refugee Committee as to their efforts on behalf of my desire to be reunited with my sister. I felt that I could only achieve that deeply felt wish if I could find help outside the circle of the committee's influence. I increased my efforts amongst the Yiddish speaking community in London. All those considerations made me a frequent visitor to London. Through my two newly found Bundist leaders I got friendly with the Bundists of London. They were a group of mostly elderly comrades who emigrated to Great Britain in several waves since before the first world war. They all received me very well. I started to get to know that group through individual contacts. Both in culture and ideologically I felt mostly at home with that friendly crowd. They themselves were active in the Worker's Circle of Great Britain.

New avenues opened up for me. My efforts to get permission for Esther to come to Great Britain took on a new direction. In those days it was very hard to get permission to settle in the U.K. It was a difficult time for the government, facing all the destruction wrought by bombardments and lack of basic foods and raw materials for industry. Housing was catastrophically scarce. There were many ex-servicemen and women who decided to stay in the U.K. and not return to their prewar countries of origin. Against that background and the reluctance of the Refugee Committee to initiate action on behalf of refugees who were already taken care of elsewhere, any efforts to achieve my and my sister's desires to be together could only succeed by private efforts. These were however very limited. One had to do a lot of running around. I decided that it would be my next aim in life, to bring my sister to Great Britain. I started making arrangements to move to London.


October 20, 1993

Some time at the end of 1945, I became a Londoner. At the time I could not even bring out more than a few very basic words in English. But armed with determination, I almost considered it a great challenge. Through the efforts of the committee, I got a boarder's room in a low income neighbourhood: Tottenham, in the northern part of London. The people spoke English only with a few odd Yiddish words. It was not very enticing, but for my demands then, it was sufficient. I got an apprentice-type job with the man who helped install the workshop in Overbury Court. I was put in the electrical maintenance section, to learn the craft of electrician. For me, it was interesting and a challenge. I wanted to be in the electrical field already in the last year in my school. It was all new and fairly exciting. I got to know a number of pleasant people there. The committee helped with the rent and board. I did not earn much money there at all. Just to pay for the transportation and for some cigarettes. But it was a start.

I started in earnest to search for opportunities to get the permit for Esther. My road was clearly marked. Since that first visit to the Yiddish theatre in the East End of London, I went there very often, whenever I was in London. When I moved to London I became a frequent guest. I got to know the director personally. He was a Bundist, long settled in Great Britain. By trade a baker, he was also very much interested in Yiddish culture and theatre. When he became well off, he, together with two other bakers, formed a supportive board, so that the Yiddish theatre could function on a regular basis. He offered me a chance to make a few shillings by helping behind the stage and transcribing the shows for the individual actors' parts. Now I had already the acquaintance of the whole staff of the theatre.

From my relationship with the leaders of the Bund, I also became acquainted with many people in the Workers' Circle. This was a fraternal order for mutual help. It had a long history. It was created at the end of last century. Its aim was to help the new immigrants when they came over from the troubled domain of the Russian Czars. Closely associated with the Bund and Anarchists, they acted as a second home to those forlorn people when they first arrived. Although other movements among Jews also started being active in the Workers' Circle, it essentially maintained its founding spirit.

The letters from my sister were very frequent. She kept on expressing fervent hope of a quick reunion. I was certainly imbued with that desire too. After many talks with long time residents, it became clear that I should try and obtain a letter of intent from somebody who could show need and had the room to bring over a domestic help into their household. I started making my inquiries. I met with numerous comrades and other individuals. In the U.K. at that time, the effort required lots of patience and perseverance. Through the already fair sized group of newly found friends, I got to know a comrade who came to London at the time of the first world war. He was from Warsaw. His occupation was a merchant of fabrics and light wear. He was married but with no children. I started broaching my concerns to him. He showed a lively interest in my affairs. I paid several visits to his home in the suburb of Romford. Both he and his wife became genuinely interested in trying to find a solution to my quest. Nobody that I knew at that time could offer pertinent advice on how to proceed. It took a lot of searching until the idea of asking Mr. and Mrs. Regen to initiate an application to the Home Office for permission to bring over my sister as their domestic help. The idea at first was a bit farfetched. Esther was just out of medical care and still not very strong. I could not suggest that to her with an easy mind. I would have preferred to have her come over as a teacher of Yiddish. She had a good grounding for that. Even in the first years of the ghetto, she was still attending the Medem Schule, a thoroughly modern school where almost everything was taught in Yiddish. She had a flair for dramatics. It would have been to her liking much more than to be a domestic servant. But in a country with very little concern for postwar refugee problems, it was very difficult to get any fast results.


October 21, 1993

Whilst I did the rounds in London, amongst all the new acquaintances, things moved on in several directions. I had to change jobs as the first one was really only a starter with no prospects at all. I landed with an apprenticeship in the electrical business of a household contractor. It gave me a chance to learn the craft and the language. I was not very proficient in either. At that time there was no great building activity. The Labour Government had no funds for new housing. Since there was little work and even that work was hampered by restrictions imposed by the Union of Electrical Workers, which stipulated that anybody over 21 years of age must be paid full scale wages, I realized that the electrical craft is not going to be my career. I got a job with the Yiddish theatre as a general help. The pay was minimal. But being poor in English and not having really any experience in any trade I considered this to have been a reasonable chance to earn some money.

My friends in the hostel in Overbury Court started slowly drifting to the city too. The committee did not encourage anybody to take up studies. They forever complained of lack of funds. Before too long the hostel shut down. So did other hostels all around the country. With very few exceptions everybody was directed to some sort of occupation. Only a few got to some school or another. I do not even know now what was the merit point to get that kind of support. A club was created to serve as a focal point for all the individuals who were by now on their own. I also participated in the effort. It looked promising as a meeting place. It was not easy to gather people from right across the huge city of London. But it was pleasant to come there and meet old buddies. There was a bit of a dispute as to the name to be given to this survivors' gathering place. I suggested the name of the club to be Klepfish Club. It was meant to honour the memory of the hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But the attitude of the committee-appointed leader of the club was strange and out of touch with the Holocaust reality. He warned of people who will make light of the name and maybe even mumble as to what kind of fish one talks about. His opinion prevailed and we got the name of the street on which the club was located as the club's name: Primrose Club.

Since the activities of the club were mainly sport and boy meets girl goals, I slowly lost interest in its activities. It did however serve the purpose of the nearest to a home atmosphere. I was busy in the theatre and intensified my concern with the activities of the Workers' Circle on a more frequent basis. The Workers' Circle used to present lectures on interesting topics in Yiddish. I became a member there.

There were also newcomers to London whom I befriended. My old acquaintance from before the War, Major Bogdansky, was discharged from the Polish Forces and went to live in transition not far from London. He later joined me in my new lodgings in the East End of London. Lucjan Blit's twins survived the war in Warsaw, hidden amongst gentiles. They were now coming to join their father in London. Their mother did not survive the war. There was also a friend of my sister's who had lots of relatives in London. Because they were also active members of the Bund, they approached me with inquiries as to the fate of their relatives. They were originally from Lodz. Since I knew the friend of my sister well, we got into a lively exchange of memories about bygone days. It turned out that they knew my father well. That friend, Fajgele Infeld, came soon to London from Brussels. So the circle of friends, acquaintances and contacts increased along with the newly found relatives. I also got into contact with some comrades from Lodz who landed in Belgium. I was getting more information on the fate of many of the Bundist crowd which seemed to have scattered across the world.


October 22, 1993

Before long I considered myself a big-city dweller. London is actually more than a big city. It is a metropolis of a huge size. It stretches in all directions. It always has new things in store for one to discover. I crisscrossed the giant city almost from all angles. I could never lay claim that I knew London. I only knew some parts of it. Shortly after my friend Bogdansky came to London, I also met again a lovely lady who was serving in the Polish Forces as a nurse. I knew Lola Witkowska from before the war. It was nice to see her again.

It became clearer with every passing day that the extent of the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people in Europe was not total, but near to it. Almost in every country that the German army occupied in the war, there was hardly any Jewish community left over. There were the more concerned people and the less concerned among the nations. It varied according to established humanistic norms, that states and nations developed and cherished. The aim of the monstrous Nazi hordes was to wipe out Jewish life wherever they encountered it Those that survived the Holocaust, did so because of luck and by sheer accident of circumstances. We, the survivors, started thinking of ourselves as individuals who escaped the human locust onslaught by sheer accident. Now and again someone found some members of their families. It became clearer as time went on that for all intents and purposes, most of Europe is devoid of its Jewish inhabitants. New communities formed themselves out of the survivors who came back to their old places of domicile or newcomers who gathered wherever they could. There was a high tension in the air to achieve the desired aim of putting down roots somewhere, where calm prevailed. Our group of survivors who settled in Great Britain, although in a very friendly country, experienced that kind of pull too. Some went to join families overseas. Most of us, however, stayed put.

Lucjan Blit's twins Nelly and Wlodka came to London. We became immediate friends. Feigele Infeld came and she too became a close friend. My uncle Hersz Osher's family moved back to London. I tried even more frantically to get Esther to join me. We got a hint that it will be possible to do it, but we must have patience. We were already a larger group. We formed ourselves into a loosely-knit "Tsukunft" group. Tsukunft was the youth movement of the Bund. We were encouraged to do that by the older Bundists in London.


October 23, 1993

As we were getting into the stride as young socialists, we thought of establishing contacts with local British groups who were like-minded. We were ardent supports of the British Labour party. Through the intermediary that surfaced in the person of Lucjan Blit, we arranged meetings with the "Woodcraft Folk". They were the youth wing of the Labour Party. Our knowledge of English was still scanty. We were learning fairly fast. We could not however hold any debates in any other language, but in Yiddish or Polish.

A good occasion presented itself to mix with a large group of young socialists. The Woodcraft Folk was organizing a summer camp at the southeast coast of England. There were going to be groups from Scotland, Switzerland, France and our group too got an invitation to send our members to the summer camp. We decided to join up with the group from France. This group was the SKIF, that was formed in France soon after the Nazis were driven out in 1944. They were already a large group. Although most of those SKIF members were comparatively young in comparison with our own group. we still felt that the leaders of that group would be ideal as comrades. We also started thinking of ourselves as translators from Yiddish to English and vice versa. The French group had no English speakers amongst them. They spoke French among themselves, but they all understood some Yiddish. Their leaders spoke Yiddish like we did. Before long the summer rolled around. We were ready for the encounter with the English socialists and the other young socialists.

The campsite was near Brighton. It is not very far from London. It was a pleasant experience from the start to the finish. The intermingling was good. The Britishers showed off their French, learned in school. We, the "experts", did our best to be up to the calling of translators. Of course the most common way to communicate was through gestures, using the hands and faces very frequently. The weather was pleasant. We were even supplied with extra bread by our Bundists in London. With little money, but with lots of spirit and enthusiasm, we had a good summer camp. We learned each other's songs. We had some camp fires and nice walks along the beach. We played games together. We had matches in sports and athletics. It was a good idea, this international gathering, so soon after the war. We even had some German socialists from amongst the refugees who were then in Great Britain.

The finale to this affair was a gala reception in London. The SKIF was very prominent in this event with a show. It was arranged by the leaders of the SKIF in cooperation with Bundists from London. We all made new friends. Some of those friendships lasted for a long time. We even improved our spoken English.

I had in the meantime managed to get the application for Esther's coming to Great Britain, to be officially presented to the Home Office. They acknowledged it. They answered with the typical British courtesy that the matter will be dealt with in due course. The application was for a domestic servant to the Regen family. Moishe Regen was the Bundist from Warsaw who settled in London since before World War I. Now we needed patience and some influence to get the thing moving.


October 24, 1993

We kept on getting newspapers and also private letters from Poland. The number of repatriated people from Soviet Russia was growing rapidly. We heard of new places where Jews were settling. This was in the southern part of the former German part of Silesia. There were also some people who settled in the northern cities of Pomerania, which also used to be German before the war. New communities sprang up. We were told of a new communal effort to start again a life in Poland. People kept on arriving by the trainloads from every corner of the Soviet Union. My sister's and my own hopes were rising with each new development. Maybe some of our family and relatives will be among those arriving. The people that survived the camps and those hidden amongst Polish people had in most cases become known to other survivors. Now this last chance to see your dear ones presented itself when hopes were raised and the tension was hard to bear. I inquired with all the people that I could think of, as to the whereabouts of others who did not show up yet.

My city Lodz became an important centre for any activity amongst the newcomers. Lodz managed to get through the war without being destroyed by bombs or shrapnel. The Central Committee of Polish Jewry was operating there. The Bund had again a fairly large organization. Except for some very distant relations, nobody from our family or close relatives arrived in Poland from the East. We were still hoping for more arrivals. Maybe they would be there. As time went on, hope diminished. It was already one and a half years since the end of the war. The full extent of our losses as a people was staggering. It was hard to comprehend the total catastrophe. Our father did not survive. He was probably a victim of Treblinka Extermination Camp. Mother did not make it at Auschwitz. All the numerous uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins did not show up anywhere. Our brother in the Soviet Union did not show any signs of life. It was only the hope of some new information and the concerns to get back your own health that kept us going.

The life that each one found in their respective places, was demanding of natural concern and attention. With the big ache in our hearts, we somehow got to learn to carry on. The new activities in the Workers' Circle and in the Yiddish cultural circles took up the slack of the loneliness of my existence in what amounted to an alien culture and in a land where all the mores that one was accustomed to had to be revised. We were refugees, who were looking for some meaning to our life. It was not easy to adjust. The English language was not easy to master. Besides the different grammatical and structural qualities of the language, one also had to learn how to pronounce and spell strange words and concepts.

Soon after I returned from the summer camp I was introduced to a very well known British socialist leader. His name was Fenner Brockway. He was a friend of the director of the Jewish theatre. I was promised help in my efforts to get Esther over from Sweden. It looked very promising. In the meantime Esther was making good progress with her health. She was already working in some Swedish factory. My relatives in London got themselves established in a flat in Highgate. I could visit them frequently. I grew to like my cousins a lot. Somehow I had so much to look forward to, that I sometimes even forgot the constant nagging worry with which we all walked around in those days. It was still a period of between steady thoughts and very frequent bouts of doubt and sombreness.


October 25, 1993

Things were moving faster already in 1947 than in the previous year. There were inquiries from the Home Office as to the type of accommodation and the nature of employment offered by the Regen family for my sister. Inquiries were also made in Sweden about her conduct and bearing. Mr. Regen was in touch with me and Esther all the time. By then, Esther was already well acquainted with circumstances in Great Britain. She started learning English and could already make some sense of commonly used expressions. We had to start thinking of transportation. The official reply came after Mr. Fenner Brockway told us that the permit has been granted. The letter from the Home Office contained a statement to the fact that Esther Zylberberg is allowed to come to the U.K. to take up employment as a live-in domestic servant with Mr. and Mrs. M. Regen in Romford, Essex. It stipulated that any change of employment and address has to be approved by the authorities. The excitement was great. Esther too got a letter from the British consulate in Stockholm, notifying her of the visa that was waiting for her.

Transportation by ship or air was hard to obtain. There were still lots of military transports using almost all available means to bring back soldiers from all kinds of countries to the U.K. and the U.S.A., so another hassle developed. We finally got a berth on a Swedish ship in April 1947. My relatives in London and all my friends were very excited too. I could not picture how Esther looked, in spite of many photographs she sent me. I got a letter from the man who was in charge of many survivors who were in Sweden. He told me that he and everybody that knows my sister is very fond of her. They will definitely be missing her mercurial disposition and friendly demeanours. He told me that she became the darling of all who got to know her. I was almost sorry to disrupt such an idyllic setup. I was however mightily pleased with the person that Esther grew up to be. For the reception at Tilbury, the port not too far from London, there was a large crowd. My uncle, Feigele Infeld, the Regens, some of my personal friends and I believe Mr. Fenner Brockway was there too. The ship arrived in good time. There on the deck stood my little sister, the same facial expression that I remembered so well, all over her smiling and tearful face.

We went straight to Romford from the port. A new chapter opened up for both of us. At last after all the travails and desperation and almost lost hope, we faced each other. Although a far cry from our numerous family, we still felt the poignancy of this reunion.

We knew instinctively that we will build a life as close as we could to resemble the one that was gone. Through tears and nervousness we met again in a free country surrounded by relatives and well wishing friends. Although none of those who lived through the hell of occupied Europe could ever forget it, we looked into the future with high hopes. We wanted then to believe that a new era has come about. The Nazi beast lay prostrate. Fascism has almost been wiped out. This reunion was a start to begin a new life, out of the ruins of our whole lifestyle and the demise of so many of our loved ones.

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