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1947 and Onwards


The year 1947 was really an important year for my understanding of life in postwar England. Having been reunited with my sister after years of bewildering uncertainties and sagging morale, my zest for looking forward increased considerably.

The aftermath of the war effort was still very much visible all around. Lots of ruined houses and difficulties in finding housing, plus food and other commodity rationing, persisted, without any clear signs of immediate improvements. But life itself started calling upon me. What kind of future awaits both my sister and myself in our new homeland? Without too much knowledge of the language and customs, the way ahead looked at times ominous. But youth prevailed. We started thinking of a trade or other possibilities to become independent financially. After a short sojourn as a learner in the electrical industry and later as a general help in the Yiddish theatre, I went to a tailoring workshop as an apprentice.

My sister had to abide by the terms of her permit and stay on as a domestic servant. I earned at first a most miserly wage. In order to make ends meet, the committee that brought us over from the liberated camp had to supplement with a grant in order to pay the rent. Slowly and sometimes quite painfully I wrestled with the learning process. No employer was willing to devote any time to teach me the machining part of the ladies' wholesale garment trade. I had to resort to tricks in order to gain some sort of expediency in doing section work in the manufacturing process. Without experience, the pay was poor. Eventually after about two years, I could call myself a machiner of sorts.

My sister had in the meantime managed with the help of the Yiddish theatre director to get for her a permit as an elocution teacher in the theatre. Before long, my sister first and I later found partners, and in 1949 my sister married and I did the same a year later.

Life in England was still full of hardships. We had tremendous difficulties in finding places to live. London was in those days a nightmare as far as housing was concerned. We had however a circle of friends of the same refugee background as ours. It helped alleviate the difficulties of very poor immigrants, trying to establish themselves.

First my sister and then I became parents.

My sister still lived in somebody else's place. I had found an attic in the old East End. Although I could already manage to pay for the upkeep of my family, we lacked the essentials for a decent life. Socially we were in a better position than materially. For a hard-earned sum, we got through the payment of key money for a flat in the northern part of London. My sister was still living in the East End of London. The constant quest for a decent place to live drove us almost to despair. The neighbours in the new place objected to our having a child in the house. We were unlucky to have stumbled upon a house with no other children there. We found ourselves constantly arguing with our neighbours. Eventually, the same landlord that took our money took us to court and we were evicted as our second child was born. We were literally on the streets with two small children.

A social agency found room in another town, not too far from London, for my family to stay. I travelled once a week to see them. I had to keep my job, since there were no other means of sustenance. Our morale was low in those days. I stayed with my sister's family in the East End. A few friends offered to lend us some money for a down payment for a house. With borrowed money from a few people we put down our down payment for a house of our own. When it came to be ours for occupancy, it was the sweetest house in all of London. We settled there and started to enjoy the pleasures of raising a family. The location of the house, besides being far away from my relatives (sister, nieces, uncle and aunt and cousins) was ideally suited. There were lots of open spaces and a school nearby.

In order to be able to raise the family and pay back the debts to my friends, I had to work very long hours, both at home and in the workshop. As interest on the huge mortgage went up, I realized that either I will not be able to pay off the mortgage, or I will have to rent away a part of the house to lodgers. After experimenting with the renting out option , I realized that with a growing family, this is a great hardship.

There was an additional worry about a proper Jewish-Yiddish education for my growing boy and girl. Before long we were again thinking of finding greener pastures to satisfy the need for proper housing at a reasonable cost and bringing up my children in a way that fitted in with our notions of secularism.

As fate would have it, we received as a guest a recommended member of the Jewish Socialist Bund from Montreal. He told us of the inner workings of the Jewish community in Montreal. He also related the state of things with the friends that I knew were living in Montreal then. Given the trend of thinking that went on before the guest's arrival and his exhaustive description of the housing possibilities, the state of my trade and the Jewish educational institutions, we were slowly won over to the thought of emigrating to Canada.

As British citizens, we did not encounter any difficulties. It was hard to part with our respective families, friends and friendly but hard English life.

On May 3rd 1958, I went ashore in Montreal, Quebec. My family followed close to three months later.

It was a hot summer then. I could not figure out where all this intensive heat was coming from. After all, it was the north that I had come to.

We did not have great difficulties adjusting to our new environment. Language-wise, it was even satisfactory beyond expectations. Although the type of English practiced in Canada is different in many ways to the British accent, it was not long before my son did buy in the corner store his native tongue. The children were both sent to the Jewish Peretz School. Our first concern for a secular Yiddish-Jewish education was off to a good start. Neither did we encounter difficulties in finding an apartment. Montreal was and still is a good place that way for newcomers.

I got a job right away. My wife started looking around for a position as a bilingual secretary. Before long we were both working. The looking after the children was not too hard either. For appropriate remuneration this was soon achieved too. Being British citizens made us federal citizens right away. Provincially we could not vote until we took Canadian naturalization. Eventually we became citizens of Canada and Great Britain.

My sister and her family had moved to their own house just before we emigrated to Canada. Their livelihood was quite precarious. Her husband was an artist who made a name for himself as a man who immortalized Polish-Jewish life in the period between the two world wars. His characters were usually bearded Jews performing their vocations in the manner that was then prevalent. Being an artist is not always easy. They had their struggles and he had to go into the designing of clothes business. Now the closeness of the family ties was of a looser and different kind. We kept a strong bond even in faraway locations.

Life in Montreal was slowly falling into the category of a young couple trying to establish itself materially and spiritually in the new environs. The children were attending the Jewish Peretz school. They were making friends amongst schoolmates and neighbours. We settled in the Cote-des- Neiges area. The life of a newcomer with no other resources but our youth and determination was getting us into the mainstream of life, both Jewish and in general. With my wife working and my own earnings in the seasonal needle trade, made it possible to feel much less the stress of making ends meet.

The circles that were most accommodating were the comparatively young group of the Bund plus the Workers Circle and the Jewish Public Library.

Eight years after we settled in Montreal, we bought our own house in the Cote St-Luc area. It was a small but comfortable bungalow. We went about fixing the basement up for the children. It was expensive, as we were really stretched out financially. It was however a pleasant thing to contemplate, that the youngsters will have a place where they will be able to spend time entertaining and playing with their mates and friends. Although we felt somehow settled we still felt acutely the separation from relatives.

This whole setup was interrupted soon. My wife and I decided to split up. It became impossible to hold on to the house. Each of us went their own way. The children being still of school age were split up between us. Things were again difficult and at times outright hard. The division set up an atmosphere which was not any more a real family unit. We did however, try our best to continue with the education of both our children.

Soon enough my son went away to attend university in the States. He is a very bright young man. He had almost all the doors open for him. There was once a hitch in that process. Having graduated from the Peretz School, he was told by the then principal of St. George's School that she has enough Jewish children on her school rolls. This state of affairs was rectified the same school year by the new principal who took over the school. He invited us to send Philip to his school. He was very much impressed with his tests and record. He even offered at that time to have all school fees paid for by a special tuition fund, operating in that school.

He went to St. George's. It was a most advanced school. Philip could really stretch out and exercise his inherent intelligence. Soon enough my daughter also joined the same school. Her ability was also important in getting into that school. That state of affairs was, however, cut short. Sonia could not complete her schooling at St. George's. The principal that helped getting her into the school left. The new one would not accommodate our daughter in the same way that the old one did.

The divorce meant that Sonia was now being looked after by her mother. She went to another high school. Soon enough she was also ready for university. For her, the road was in Guelph, Ontario.

Now, although in Canada, we were a splintered family. New horizons appeared. Each of us was building a lifestyle different from the other. I continued with my work in the needle trade. I also kept up the friendships with all my friends. I was continually active in the same circles as before.

Politically, life in Canada followed more or less a similar pattern as in Great Britain. I soon enough became active in the same way as in England. That meant meetings, conferences, canvassing and also a chance to met with new people, Jewish and non-Jewish. The general social climate that started prevailing soon after I came to Montreal developed pretty soon to match and at times to surpass the one that I knew in London. Although deeply affected by the new status in my personal family life, I kept up my interest in the community around me. The Worker’s Circle drew me into Jewish and specific problems of the organization. I was elected to the governing bodies of the general and cultural committees. Soon after I became a bachelor again I went to Great Britain for a visit with my family, relatives and many friends. It took me 10 years before that visit materialized. It was an emotional encounter. They, in London, underwent changes too. Essentially it was the same crowd. Only older and more settled.

My uncle had passed away in London. Auntie went to live with my older cousin. Although with different circumstances prevailing, I still felt that Montreal could offer a good life in many respects. I promised myself that I will try to be a more frequent visitor to England. I kept that self-made promise. The house that we had in Cote St-Luc had to be sold. I could not keep it going, with the changed set-up.

I lived again in an apartment. All the saved-up money that went into the purchase of the house was lost. Having come around almost to square one, I kept up my trade and even for a while I became an owner of a dry-cleaning store. It did not last long. My experience in the tailoring trade did not equip me to handle complicated repair work. I was only a machine tailor. I did not have time nor the opportunity to learn the trade properly.

I had also entered into another marriage. It was with a widow. In spite of the fact that we were both from similar backgrounds, we could not make a go of it. I tried to make it work but in spite of our common interests, our personalities were not suited. The second marriage lasted 11 years. Now, with my own children settled in careers, life is easier to handle.

I have two grandchildren: David and Joel. They are my son's children. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario. He is a lawyer and is also active in the community there.

My daughter lives in Montreal and studies at present as well as works in her computer profession.


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