INT: And where did you arrive in England? Which port?
RS: We arrived in Harwich and were taken by bus when I came off the boat. Actually it was a dreadful journey; we were terribly seasick. Bells rung and nobody came. Really awful, however, we survived it. So when we arrived then, there were reporters there, ‘Smile’, and honestly I didn’t feel like smiling and I didn’t smile. Some of the others did, OK, but I didn’t feel like smiling and then we were taken by bus to a holiday camp – Dovercourt Bay Holiday Camp, and it was pandemonium there. To me, it seemed chaotic. It seemed nobody seemed to be in charge. You didn’t know what was going to happen to us. But, eventually we were put into chalets and some sort of order was created. We had morning lessons in English, in the morning, and during that time adults used to come around – it was like a cattle market – and looked at children. The little ones were picked up quickly, particularly if they were fair-haired and blue-eyed, but my age group was quite difficult. However, a man came to me during the lessons we were having. ‘Stand up little girl.’ I stood up. He looked me up and down and then said, ‘Are you Jewish?’ I said ‘Yes’ and he just said, ‘Sit down’. That was it. But it really was embarrassing and it was also very hurtful and you just felt, ‘Who are these people?’ How could they do that to children?
INT: Why did he ask if you were Jewish?
RS: Well he obviously wanted a non-Jewish child.
INT: But were all the children?
RS: Well, our group was, but subsequent groups there were some mixed children who had Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers and that also created some problems because some of these children objected to be classified as Jewish. They had always assumed that they were full Germans and therefore were not part of these inferior Jews. And the behaviour, was according to that… And eventually I suppose they were really separated.
INT: So, after the man said, ‘No’, what happened to you then?
RS: Well actually because they didn’t know what to do with us, I was asked if I wanted to go to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, I think, and I said ‘No’. I was crying. I said, ‘I’m not going there!’ It’s not that I knew the countries. I knew where they were, but I couldn’t bear going on a ship again. It was really quite awful and I said ‘No’. So eventually thirteen of us were taken to Edinburgh.
INT: And when you talk about they?
INT: When you talk about the people organising, do you know, was it a government group or was it a group of Jewish volunteers? Do you know who…?
RS: I’ll be quite honest. At that time, I didn’t know who they were. It’s only what I read later on or was told later on that I understood much more about the organisation.
RS: At that time I knew nothing.
INT: Right. So you arrived in Edinburgh.
RS: We arrived in Edinburgh, yes.
INT: And was it a hostel you were staying in?
RS: No. Thirteen of us were chosen. The Edinburgh Jewish Community had agreed to take thirteen children; various families agreed to take a child.
RS: And they just chose. I take it they asked for the ages of the children because there weren’t any little ones. The photograph that I have I would say the youngest child was a boy of maybe about eight or nine and the rest of us were about my age and Rabbi Dr Daiches met us with another … committee people there, and the only thing that I remember about that episode was Edinburgh Castle was lit up.
INT: Oh beautiful.
RS: It was beautiful. It really was beautiful. And we were then just taken by car to the various families that asked to take us in.
INT: And so you were placed with a family?
RS: I was, yes, placed with a family.
INT: And did you then go to school in Edinburgh?
RS: Well actually it was quite a poor family, I would say.
RS: And I shared a bed with two other people. They were very kind. They really were very kind but I was crying, I was very unhappy because this was something that I found difficult to take and eventually I slept on the couch in the living room. They didn’t [have all that many rooms]. It was a corporation flat that they had. They didn’t have. But they were very kind people.
INT: I think so.
INT: To take you in when they had so little.
RS: Yes that’s right. But there was a pussycat there.
RS: And the pussy shared the couch and the pussy had fleas so…
INT: Ah, so you got fleas, yes?
RS: So that created another problem for me. I didn’t know about fleas but it was very itchy.
INT: I bet.
RS: However, I was taken away from them and was taken to an elderly couple in Edinburgh and when the lady opened the door, I was introduced to her, and she looked at me and she said, ‘I really wanted an eighteen year old one but she’ll do’. And I became a domestic.
INT: Which is not really what was meant to happen, I wouldn’t have thought.
RS: Well, it wasn’t supposed to happen but it happened. So I became…Actually because I was still of school age, I had to attend school and there was another Austrian girl, and I attended this school in Edinburgh and I must say I have never, ever, seen such bad education in all my days.
INT: In what way?
RS: That wasn’t teaching.
RS: The children were just bullied, just sat to be quiet. If they talked, they were strapped. And to me, this was unbelievable. And we were only there for three months, not even three months, and the teacher who taught German there was asked to give us something to do and he asked us to write an essay. So Herta was the other girl, she was the Austrian girl who was with me, and he said, ‘You can choose any subject you want’. And I, said Oh well I was very interested in Napoleon at the time.
RS: So I decided to write about Napoleon. But Herta said ‘I’m not going to do that, that’s rubbish’. And she wouldn’t do anything. So I wrote my essay and I felt it was wrong what she was doing so I wrote her essay as well.
INT: That was very good of you.
RS: But she got a better mark than I did!
INT: Very unfair. Hope she appreciated it. So you stayed with the family, and was this family who….
INT: The family that you were living with at that time, were they members of the Jewish Community as well?
RS: Oh yes.
INT: Yet they still, they used you as a maid. How nice.
INT: And I’m saying that sarcastically as you know. And did they have children as well?
RS: They were all grown up.
RS: They were all grown up. They were two elderly people. They had, I think there was a man from Lithuania and he had married a Scottish girl and they had a room there as well. It was one of these big terrace houses. It was a very big house.
INT: How did you deal with it?
RS: It was a very lonely time for me.
INT: I think so.
RS: It was extremely difficult and I didn’t meet any other refugees. I was very, very lonely and I started just to, I wrote a diary; it was the only way I could really…I’d nobody to speak to. They didn’t speak to me very much and I didn’t speak very much. I’m not a very easy person. I’m sure I wasn’t very easy at that time either. I’ll be honest.
INT: And did you know what had happened to the rest of your family? Were you able to keep in contact?
RS: Well at that time remember it was not wartime to begin with and in 1939, before the war, I received two letters from my mother. One letter she had received from the Gestapo. She was told she had to change her name. It was too German, and my mother wrote to me, ‘You now must change; write your name in a different way’, and I was terribly upset. And the next letter I got from her was a photocopy from the Gestapo – that unless she and my sister left Berlin within a fortnight they would be arrested. And I was in a terrible state, so I went to the lady of the house and I showed her that and I was crying and I said, ‘Do you know what’s going to happen to them?’
And she said ‘I can’t do anything. I’ve got you’
I said ‘I know you have. I’m not asking you. Who can I apply to? What can I do to help them?’ But interestingly enough on the 1st of September ’39 my sister arrived and she wasn’t all that well.
RS: But she managed to get out in the last airplane, which left Berlin. Maybe not the last one but it was an airplane. But my mother didn’t get out.
INT: Did you then live with your sister?
RS: No I was still under sixteen.
RS: And my sister, when she arrived, and war broke out, she was sent to Peebles, no, Galashiels, and looked after evacuated nursery children, nursery schoolchildren.
RS: She already had started training as a Kindergarten teacher, whatever it was. So she loved that work. So she had always worked with nursery schoolchildren and she stayed there until the area became a prohibited area and she…and then of course the evacuation stopped and the children went back home and she went to Glasgow. But I wasn’t allowed; I had to remain where I was.
INT: And when, how long did you live with this family in Edinburgh? Till what age?
RS: I stayed there until I was nearly sixteen.
INT: Right, and did you then decide that you wanted to go?