Listen to Marion Camrass Interview on BBC Radio Scotland.
Marion tells of the importance of remembering her roots and her Polish family, but she feels that her Scottish children and grandchildren have given her enormous joy.
This section of the interview was carried out in February 2014.
INT: Right, so one of the things we always do on reflection is ask about the nice things and, although Marion, you’ve talked quite a lot about how horrendous it was about losing your parents and…
MC: Well just my father.
INT: …your father, oh sorry your father, and how wonderful it was that your mother lived.
INT: And you married very happily, but you haven’t really talked very much about your family. So do you want to tell us a wee bit about…
MC: Well I had two children very young, when I was 21 and 23, and then we moved house. We moved from a very, very big house in Bridgeton, which had always been a doctor’s house, to a very nice bungalow in Pollockshields with a lovely big garden. And I was very fond of gardening, so was Henry but he didn’t have much time, so really I cut the grass and I pruned the roses and I did all that. We always bought nice plants when we went anywhere so we really had some beautiful plants in the garden. And I wanted another baby, in this lovely [house so as to put] the pram out into this lovely garden. And Henry said “No, no, no, we’re not having any more, absolutely not”. And then Nina finished school and she was going to Norland’s College to be a Norland’s Nanny.
She was very fond of children but they wouldn’t take her until she was 18 and she was only 17, so I sent her to be an Au Pair in Paris, because I had friends in Paris. And she was there for 7 or 8 months and came back speaking perfect French.
MC: [She] did very, very well, yes. Peter was at school, he was 15, he was very busy with his friends with sport and so on. And so I went to Langside College to do a secretarial course and thought I could maybe do that sort of on and off to fit in with my life. And I was doing very well with shorthand typing, accountancy, everything and then I began to feel very unwell and I couldn’t bear the smell of the dining room. And I got thinner and thinner and it turned out I was pregnant.
MC: And that’s when I had Alice. I had to give up my studies because my blood pressure dropped down, I just was sick three times a day, not just morning sickness. Obviously girls don’t agree with me, I was sick with Nina as well, I was fine with Peter.
INT: You were very…yes.
MC: And with Alice I was really, really bad, well I was 38. And she was born at the end of July when I was 39 in ‘71 and of course she was a wonderful baby and I was walking on air. I thought it was the best thing I had ever done.
INT: Absolutely because you have the time and you have the experience.
INT: And do you not find with your third you’re much more relaxed about it all?
MC: Oh yes.
INT: How wonderful.
MC: Oh but she was a lovely, lovely child, an absolute blessing. Of course my mother came from Israel to help me and my mother was wonderful, she really was wonderful. And so that was the end of my studies as a secretary but it did help me to do the books for Henry so that I was able to do that. And of course Alice has been an absolute blessing because she did very well at school; she did very well at University.
INT: So what did she study at University?
MC: I wanted her to study Pharmacy but she had excellent Highers, she could have applied for anything, but no, accountancy. And when it came to the graduation, it was on a Saturday and by this time she had become very orthodox and she wouldn’t graduate on a Saturday. Alice went to Manchester to work in an accountant’s office but as she became so very frum [religious] and the Holy Law Synagogue was looking for an administrator to put things on the computer because the people that worked there for years didn’t want to do that. So they took her on and she did very well there. And then my aunt died and left, well, the proceeds of her flat were divided between us all and each child spent the money differently. Nina bought a car…
MC: …and invested the rest. Peter was just having his 40th birthday at the time so he had a marquee, a jazz band…
MC: …120 people.
INT: That sounded absolutely wonderful.
MC: In the garden, it was a wonderful party yes. And Alice used the money to go to She’arim in Har Nof.
INT: Ah right.
MC: To study Jewish religion. And my goodness she certainly studied that and that’s where she met her husband.
INT: Very nice.
MC: And he came over (from a non orthodox family) and he had finished university, I think in Denver, Colorado where he comes from, and was going to do law. But he went to Israel meantime for a few months and decided to become religious and went to Or Someyach…
MC: …Yeshiva. And that’s how they met.
MC: And they’ve got four lovely boys.
INT: And they live in…?
MC: They live in Edgware now.
INT: In Edgware?
INT: And they have four boys?
MC: Yes. Two boys were born in Jerusalem until he finished his studies and then he got a job in Leeds as a student chaplain to Yorkshire Universities. And she had another boy in Leeds, that was Shlomi, and then he got a job in JFS [Jewish Free School] in London teaching religion. So they moved to Edgware and she had little Moishe in London.
INT: Lovely. So she has four boys.
MC: So we have four grandchildren from Peter, a boy and three girls.
INT: Oh my goodness, four there as well. And so are they older?
MC: Oh yes they are older, yes, oh yes. Sam finished Warwick University and got a job very fortunately with AXA.
INT: Oh right. Ok
MC: So he is doing well there. Katie is now 21, she is in her final year in York doing French and History. Anna is in her second year at Leicester and Lucy will be 18 at the end of December, she’s in her final year at Maidstone Grammar School.
INT: My goodness. And Nina has an interesting job I think as well, doesn’t she?
MC: Well Nina… When she went to France, after she finished, she finished Norland’s and they have to do private nannying to get the Norland’s certificate and she got a job with a family, I think they had a 6 year old girl and a baby. And they had lived in Kensington and they had some estate in the Borders in Scotland. So she thought she would take that job. But by the time she actually came to take the job they had sold up in this country and bought a châteaux in the south of France, in Bar-sur-Loup or Tourettes-sur-Loup which is not far from Grasse and it’s the perfume industry there. So she worked there and of course she made friends with all the staff, because they had staff. They had somebody to cook and a gardener and a housekeeper etc…
INT: It sounds very Downton Abbey.
MC: Oh absolutely, absolutely. So she worked there for about 9 months and then she came back to Glasgow, got a job in a nursery in Battlefield which was slightly different, but she decided she wanted to go to Canada. Henry’s two younger brothers lived in Canada, one in Manitoba, one in Ottawa. So she wanted to emigrate to Canada, and having French as well as English, she did the applications and so on and she emigrated. So she lived in Canada for about 8 years. And then she decided to go backpacking around Europe. And then she returned to the south of France to visit and she got this job in the perfume industry, a secretarial job.
MC: She got training, about three months training she got. And she liked it and they were very nice people. It’s a big firm. They don’t do, sort of, retail, it’s all wholesale. It’s all export and wholesale, big quantities of all the things that they use in the perfume industry. So she’s been working there now for over 20 years.
MC: Oh it’s a beautiful place, the whole thing looks like a film set, it really is lovely.
INT: But she has lovely nephews and nieces.
MC: Oh yes she’s very fond of them, she always comes to see them.
INT: So, and if you look back Marion and if you think about where you started as a child.
INT: And now you’re living in Glasgow, you have…
MC: I’ve been very lucky.
INT: …lovely children and lovely grandchildren.
MC: Yes. Well, if Hitler had his way there would be nothing, so we were very lucky that they took us to Siberia. Yes.
INT: I know. But I think your life has been absolutely fantastic and it’s been a real privilege to interview you. Thank you very much Marion.
MC: Thank you Angela, thank you very much.
Here Marion describes her school career in Glasgow and the start of her medical studies at Glasgow University. She tells of her romance with another refugee from Germany, her marriage and her life as the young wife of a busy GP in the same city.
Read the Transcript
INT: What did you do after er Laurel Bank school?
M: Oh well , well those were quite different days, I stayed when I finished school I was accepted for university to do Medicine because my Highers were pretty good.
M: I stayed in the Women’s Hostel which was number one Lilybank Terrace.
M: Laurel Bank was number two, three and four Lilybank Terrace and number one was Robertson Hall which was part of Queen Margaret Hall and there was a lovely house and a garden just a few steps away.
But so I started medicine and my aunt left the Chemistry Department and started working in the Cancer Hospital which was facing Garnethill Shul
Now we used to go to Garnethill Shul with my aunt on Yom Tovim because my aunt was a real workaholic. She worked every minute of the day and sometimes through the night if she had an experiment going that had to be watched she was there all night as well. Come home in the morning, have a bath, have breakfast, go straight back to the lab, she was a workaholic. She changed in the top floor of the Cancer Hospital it was research. There was Doctor Peacock was in charge, he and his wife worked there and there was Doctor Beck who was a pathologist.
He was a refugee from Germany and his wife Doctor Herta Beck was a GP in Tollcross, they had no children and shortly, well I was accepted for medicine and my aunt was working there and she came home one day and said Doctor Beck had invited her for coffee and she had said her niece stayed with her and he said bring her along, so we went. Oh they lived far away out you went by number 9 tram car practically to the very end of Auchenshuggle. And they had a house there. Now she had a practice in Tollcross and Henry had a practice in Bridgeton and she had not been well, and asked Henry if he could help her to do some home visits, she invited him for coffee as well and this is how I met my husband Henry. But I was just eighteen!
I was there with my aunt and this gentleman was there, of course nine years older when you are eighteen, you know.
INT: It’s a lot.
M: To me it was a lot. But I remember going home in a tramcar afterwards and my aunt said to me ‘you made an impression’ and I looked at her in astonishment, you know, because this gentleman was completely out of my sphere, so there you are that’s how I met Henry.
INT: And did you carry on studying medicine?
M: Well then he proposed to me not very long afterwards.
INT: Well you know you had gone through lots, I think was that not a generation that.
M: Well he invited me out and we went out a few times. But father-in-law got a practice in London so Henry was born in London and his mother unfortunately died shortly afterwards. So his aunt and uncle brought him up because his mother’s sister had no children so she took him and brought him up. So he was brought up in London ’til war broke out, when he was 16 and he was supposed to study medicine in London, but because of the war, his father made him come to Glasgow and that’s how Henry was in Glasgow.
INT: So how old were you then when you, when you were married?
M: I was 20.
INT: And you gave up medicine?
M: Well the understanding was Henry had a big ten roomed house and a housekeeper, the understanding was I would carry on with my studies.
INT: As well as running the whole house.
M: And the housekeeper was running the house and that was the understanding, oh yes I was not going to give up, well he proposed to me I said ‘no no’ and ran away then he proposed to me a year later again, he can’t live without me. So it was on the understanding I would carry on but of course in those days there was no pill. Before you could say very much, I was pregnant and when I was pregnant, I was sick all the time and I got thinner and thinner, food just made me, the smell of food made me sick and finally I mean I just literally could not lift my arm.
So finally Henry called an obstetrician to have a look at me and he pinched my arm and I always remember him pinching like that and now that is fat but at that time there was just skin, nothing else, and he said to me ‘girl, you are on the point of starvation, no more university for you’.
INT: Hmm and that was it?
M: And that was it. So I had Nina and two years later I had Peter and of course being a GP’s wife, it was a 24 hour job, 7 days a week.
INT: Because people phoned.
M: Unless you had somebody in the house who would answer the phone and take a message, you had to be there to answer the phone, you were on duty all the time. So the housekeeper left when I told her I was pregnant again you know with my second child. So that was the end of the housekeeper. And you know but I had a daily woman, five days a week, every morning but it was really, it was a full time job being a GP’s wife. But also you know some patients came to the house. There were two rooms, which were for patients. As well as a sitting room/ dining room. Then there were the premises at the back. And then there was a great big staircase with a great big stained glass window and the grandfather clock and then another flight of stairs and four big rooms and a bathroom there and there were two rooms in the attic.
INT: That would have kept you fit, I was going to say, running up and down there.
M: It was a huge house for a twenty-year-old girl, it was daunting.
INT: Especially when you had been used to sharing a small room with three other families.
INT: That must have been a very strange culture shock.
M : it was.
INT: So when did your mother come to join you?
M: Oh no, my mother, my mother meantime decided she was going to study beauty culture.
INT: She must have been some person.
M: And she attended classes, it was a two year course because it included massage and it included actually making of cosmetics and creams, it wasn’t just make up. It was quite a deep study and she did very very well and my stepfather didn’t want to go to Israel and my mother was determined to go. Don’t forget that Stalin did not die ’til 1953.
INT: But your mother must have ended.. but we know she came to Glasgow.
M: Well she worked as a beautician in Israel all those years. She came to Glasgow when Nina was born in 1953 and then she came again in ’55 when Peter was born and then she used to come every two years or so to visit, for July and August, you know the hottest months.
She didn’t, well I, when she finally stopped working which was, oh she was well in her 70s, she would come. I would go over there in May and then bring her back with me and after Yomtov I would take her back again. But by the age 84 when I went there her doctor told me that she had breast cancer and only had a year or two to live. So I brought her to live with us in June of ’89. My mother is already 85, I don’t want her to be subjected to that [referring to Chemotherapy] . Whatever happens, happens. Well she lived 20 years after that which I’m sure the surgeon would be very surprised if he knew.
At the end of the war Marion’s mother went back to Poland and Marion eventually came to Scotland.
M: My aunt came to London to meet the transport of children that Doctor Shoenfeld brought from Poland.
INT: So sorry can you go back a wee bit and say who was Doctor Schoenfeld?
M: Well Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld was a Rabbi in London and…
M: He realised that after the war, a lot of children of course millions perished, all our family nearly all perished except for us who were in Russia during the war. That’s how we survived.
INT: And how, why were you in Russia? How were you in Russia?
M: Oh that is a very long story, (laugh) well my mother was terribly afraid of the Nazi Germans and she really wanted to sell all the property and come to England before the war because my aunt, my father’s sister was already in Oxford. She was a scientist and eh she had got her BSc and PhD from Krakow University in Chemistry and then she worked in the Institut Pasteur in Paris and she returned to Poland I think just when my parents were getting married and she would have liked an academic career and the Krakow University, which is a very famous University, very old…
M: [ The professors] said yes, no problem because they knew her as a first class student and you know very hard working, ah there was only one little problem, she was Jewish. If she was to get baptised Catholic, no problem. So of course there was no way [she would convert], my grandparents were very Orthodox. In fact for her to study was already you know quite extraordinary from such an Orthodox family but she was extremely strong willed. She was only 18 months younger than my father, two older siblings had died and anything my father did she did only better.
So anything he was learning she learned right there with him, so when he studied for his Bar Mitzvah, she was right there with him. So she knew everything, she was really extraordinary. And so she wouldn’t get baptised so she waited for an opportunity how she could get maybe to Britain and do some work here and there was a Professor came I can’t remember if it’s Oxford or Cambridge but anyway she spoke to him and in November 1938 she actually came to England. I have a journal here which I just got last December. And there is a whole long article about my aunt in it.
INT: Really, Bulletin of the History of Chemistry
M: Quite remarkable woman.
INT: Regina Schoental
M: Schoental, that is my maiden name.
M: So she actually worked in Oxford in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and she was working on penicillin.
INT: Oh my goodness.
M: .with all the people who later got the Nobel Prize, the FRS, and she missed out on it because well there was . (laugh). No, there was Professor Florey who was in charge because, although Fleming discovered the penicillin it was terribly unstable and it was very difficult to get it purified and extracted and crystallized and so on.
So there was a Ernst Chain who was a refugee from Germany, and she, he was brilliant scientist but I think she didn’t like him personally and she worked quite. she’s mentioned in all the books, in Fleming’s, in Fleming’s biography and Florey’s biography and Chain’s biography because I have these books. She’s in the photographs but she went to Professor Florey and said I can’t work with this man, get me, give me something else to do and I think that’s how she started on cancer research. And that’s how she missed out on the Nobel Prize (laugh).
INT: That’s amazing.
M: .and the FRS but anyway after some years, she corresponded with Professor Cook who was Professor of Chemistry in Glasgow and he was a great carcinogen specialist so she came to work in Glasgow. So that after the war when I came with this transport of children I arrived in Glasgow otherwise I would have been in Oxford.
INT: And the Rabbi you mentioned just took it upon himself to rescue these children?
M: Well, I mean some people paid for the transport, some children had absolutely nobody and they didn’t. As far as I’m aware my mother paid for me in Poland and my aunt paid for me in Britain so that some other child who had nobody could come you know. A lot of children went some orphanages or hostels that he ran but my aunt came to London and took me straight off the transport.
INT: And so you stayed with her? Did you, is that where you lived?
M: So well I knew no English, I knew Russian and Polish very well but no, no English. So I came to Glasgow and stayed with her and she sent me to Laurel Bank, because she worked at the University. She lived in Byers Road renting two rooms from a landlady and so the school was just up the road, which was very convenient, and the school was very good to me because I really could not speak a word of English.
Marion describes her new life in Glasgow after the end of the war. She learned English and attended Laurel Bank School
INT: And they [the school] gave you special support did they at the time?
MC: And they were very kind and very good so that after three years at school, well I arrived in November in 15, I ….on 14th of January I was 15 and I left school when I was 18 and a half so in that time I managed to get all my Highers.
INT: Fantastic, look I mean that’s really quite,
INT: Really impressive isn’t it,
INT: Quite amazing.
MC: Well the most amazing part is that my school friends, with whom I still keep in touch, some of them have not forgiven me to this day.
MC: Because when it, well you were not given at that time and you know you had to take you Highers all in one lot. You couldn’t take two subjects here, three subjects there, you had to do it in the one lot and you weren’t told what marks you had. The only thing was that the headmistress Miss Glover would ask the inspector who came top, so she could award a prize, and when it came to English I got the prize.
MC: Which was terrible after three years in this country.
INT: But it shows how determined you were as well, I think, to learn
MC: Well I was always a voracious reader so I always always read an awful lot, and I think this was it and I was a very naughty girl because during break when you were supposed to be outside in the fresh air, mostly it was cold and wet, so I hated it. I sneaked into the library and I read and funnily enough a lot of the books that I read obviously nobody else ever took them out because they were always there for me to read whenever I came.
INT: That’s amazing .. and with your aunt did you speak in English or what did you speak in?
MC: No we spoke Polish but very fortunately because she had spent time in Paris she knew French as well, and eh so I took English, I took French, I took Chemistry, Physics,
Mathematics and History and the most difficult subject of all was Arithmetic, because of course, I was used to the decimal system and the British system of weights and measures and coins was just dreadful.
MC: Was very good at Geometry, Algebra, Trigonometry, no trouble, but Pence you know Ha’pennies, Farthings and Shillings, oh that was so difficult.
INT: And your mother by that time was over.
MC: My mother had remained in Poland…
INT: Oh right.
MC: …because she had remarried that’s why she was called Sabina Hammer because her second husband was Isaac Hammer but in 1951 my mother had always wanted to go to Israel, always, and she married, we came back to Poland. We were repatriated in May of 1946, after many many vicissitudes. My step-father became Director of a Polish orphanage, and my mother by that time was with him, and out of the horrible orphanage that it used to be, my step-father made really something that people used to come and admire because there was such a change. He completely transformed it, with my mother’s help I must say, the power behind the throne! My mother was really, very very good about telling him what he should do. She was quite a remarkable person she really was and eh. So we were repatriated in actually, passenger trains this time, not cattle trucks, back to Poland in May of 46.
And of course, the shock of coming back and finding that the whole family has perished, and the Communist government had nationalised everything; nationalised the factories, distributed the land that was my grandfather’s among the peasants. And the danger was that if we showed our face in the town where my grandfather lived, we would be murdered, because the peasants would say ‘oh these Jews have come to reclaim their property, right’.
Because 26 Jews were killed not far away from there, in July of 46, it was known as the “Kielce Pogrom” They had survived the war, came back and the Poles killed them. So my mother, it was really that that decided my mother to send me to Britain to my aunt. Meantime, you know I was sent to school in September.
I went to school in Krakow but only for a couple of months because then in November, that was that, I was sent over here. It was quite traumatic because I was very attached to my mother, and I hadn’t seen my aunt since I was six years old and of course for my aunt to be saddled with a teenager was not easy.
MC: 1950/51 Stalin unleashed an anti-Semitic campaign; you know there was the Doctors’ so called plot and so on. It got worse and worse being Jewish and Poland was totally under Russian domination, completely. And it was difficult even to get away to Israel, it wasn’t easy at all, but my mother was determined to emigrate and he [my stepfather] didn’t, so they got divorced.
I remember being quite upset about it because he was a very nice man, but she got divorced and at that time when you were leaving Poland, they literally counted how many pairs of knickers, how many blouses, how many skirts. You were so restricted as to what you were able to take away, it was quite ridiculous I mean your personal clothes and things, it was dreadful. So she arrived in Israel by boat.
INT: And and you were already in in Scotland by this time?
MC: Well yes it was, I think February ’51 I was already in my medical studies doing my, well I left school 1950 so I, I was at university when we celebrated the quincentenary which was lovely. It was a wonderful year to be in ‘cos there were so many celebrations. It was quite fantastic.
So in ’51 in the summer I went with a party of students to Israel [ as her mother was living in Israel by that time.] And I hadn’t seen my mother since 1948 because in 1948 I went back to Poland on holiday, still on a Polish passport.
MC: There was at that time a Polish consulate in Glasgow and, I went with a friend and she was a charming lady, also from Poland and she persuaded the Consul to give me an allez-retour visa so that I wouldn’t need to try and get a visa to return, I had it already in my Polish passport. So I spent too long in Poland. I went by ship from Southampton to Gdynia which was quite an adventure for a 16 year old.