(from BBC WW2 Peoples War)

Jack is my husband. This is his story.


Jack's parents came from Eastern Galicia, a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before the First World War, part of Poland between the two wars but now a part of Western Ukraine. His father, Abraham, was born in 1896, in a small village called Halicz in the Pedhaytsi area. His mother, Erna, was born in 1898 in Berezshany, not far from Halicz. During the First World War, when Poland was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Abraham served in the Austrian army.

There were very large Jewish communities in Central Europe and indeed in Galicia between 1867 and 1914. Poverty was extreme. In that area 5,000 Jews died each year through starvation (Gilbert M. 1981, p77). Many people emigrated to the US but also to Germany with whom they shared a common language and where Jews flourished. After WW1 Abraham left his native town for Berlin. It is possible that Abraham and Erna had met before they emigrated to Germany since Abraham's older brother Simon was already married to Erna's sister Rosa.

Abraham and Erna had three children, all born in Berlin. Jack was born on 12th August 1927. Unfortunately, Erna died in 1935 suffering a miscarriage, already affected by growing persecution of the Jews by the Nazi regime. Unable to cope with his small children, Abraham placed them in a Jewish Orphanage in Berlin. This orphanage organised the emigration of children in their care during the few months before the outbreak of WW2.

The Kindertransport:

Immediately after the November 9th 1937 pogrom in the German Reich known as 'Kristallnacht' (Night of the Broken Glass), the Jews of Britain initiated the unique rescue operation now known as 'Kindertransport', at a time when many countries did not accept these refugees. Within days of the pogrom the British Jewish Refugee Committee obtained the permission of the British government after a debate in the House of Commons to bring an unspecified number of children between the ages of 5 and 17 to Britain. A £50 bond had to be posted for each child "to assure their ultimate resettlement". In the nine months up to the war, with aid from Quaker and other non-Jewish refugee organisations, the Jewish Committee brought 10,000 unaccompanied children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to safety in Britain.' Source: www.kindertransport.orgAbout links

The Orphanage looking after Jack and his siblings had itself been torched during 'Kristallnacht' and had to move to a new address (13 Weinbergsweg) in Berlin. Abraham was no longer in Berlin to witness 'Kristallnacht': in October 1938 the Nazis deported Polish nationals to their country of origin. Abraham had to go back to Poland with some difficulty because Poland did not want an influx of people from Germany. Abraham was in a camp in no-man's land for some weeks.

Meanwhile the Orphanage organised the emigration to Britain of the children in their care barely six weeks after 'Kristallnacht'. Organisations in Berlin were connected with the British Embassy. Children had to have a medical examination to certify that they were in good health. Jack and his sister Chana travelled with a group of children that left by train in March 1939. (Erwin, their younger brother travelled in a later train.) Each child carried a satchel with a few belongings and some food. It was assumed that siblings would travel together but they were in fact separated into age groups. As a result Jack had all the sweets and some fruit, Chana had all the sandwiches!

Jack remembers the scene at the railway station. He remembers that his uncle Simon and aunt Rosa saw him and Chana off. Parents were desperate. There were many children and parents in tears. The children on these trains were accompanied by teachers from the Jewish school they attended and by youth leaders. The accompanying adults were not allowed to remain in England and some of them made the journey several times.

The 'Kindertransport' train left in the morning. 'The journey seemed interminable', says Jack. At the frontier the German police searched their satchels making sure no valuables were smuggled out. One cannot imagine that they were friendly or gentle. At last the train crossed into Holland. The children were welcomed with a cup of hot cocoa and a rusk for everyone. The relief! Jack had tears in his eyes as he related this 65 years later.

They continued by train through Holland to the Hook of Holland and then boarded a boat which travelled overnight across the North Sea. They docked at Harwich in the morning of the 16th March 1939. Jack's official travel document carried passport details: name, address in Berlin, religion, hair colour and also a photograph. The Immigration Office stamped the back of this document.

Finally the children were issued with labels to hang over their necks and they boarded the train that was to take them to Liverpool Street Station in London. Jack's group was met by someone from the Jewish Brixton Committee that was running a hostel for boys. The hostel in West Croydon where Jack lived was a large house with many rooms on a number of floors including a basement. There was room for about 30 boys. The Hostel was founded and financed by the Jewish Community in Brixton. The Chairman of the Committee which administered the Hostel was also very involved in the welfare of the boys. His name was Mr Binderman. The boys, aged 6 to 16, were from Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. They were all German speaking and therefore they made slow progress in English. At the outbreak of war, however, they were all evacuated to the country, the younger ones to Shoreham-on-sea, the older ones, 11+, to Horsham. Within a couple of weeks, says Jack, they all could speak English.

Jack was lodged by Mr and Mrs Ballam in Horsham. Mr Ballam used to work for the post office. He travelled in a van and carried a gun. Sometimes he came home with a rabbit. The Ballams had a daughter of their own.

Jack remembers how cold it was. They went to bed holding a candle in a holder. There was no bathroom, only a scullery. For a bath you had to heat up the water in an enormous copper bowl built in on a fireplace. The bath used to hang on the wall when not in use. For a bath you had to scoop out the hot water from the copper bowl in order to fill the bath. The toilet was outside.

Initially the children had to share a school with a local school. The school was open half the day for the evacuees and half the day for the local children. To prevent the children from running free in the town during the afternoon, a teacher would take them rambling across fields. One of the children's pastimes was to raid an orchard for the apples, they called it 'scrumping'. They also used to go to a place where there were shot down German aeroplanes. They recovered plastic bits and made all kinds of decorations with these.

After a couple of years, shortly before his 14th birthday, Jack had to go to work in spite of the Headmistress Miss Winterbottom's objections that the boys were too young to go to work. Mr Binderman knew a jeweller, Mr Ryber, who had an office in Hatton Garden and was opening a diamond workshop in Henley-on-Thames. He was looking for apprentices.

Apprenticeship in Henley on Thames, 1941-42

Mr Ryba was a Belgian Jew of Russian origin. He opened a workshop for polishing diamonds in a converted garage in Henly-on-Thames (Sapin Works Ltd). He took in several boys on trial - about a dozen. Each boy was given a ball bearing which he had to cut in the shape of a diamond. Not many boys succeeded. It was very difficult. The ball bearing was held by a mound of solder supported by a copper cup and stem. As you put it on the mill the ball bearing turned because the heat produced by friction melted the solder. The trick was that as soon as you made a flat surface it did not rotate so easily. Jack produced a nice flat top and he was taken on.

After about a year, there was a Government edict to close gem factories. They had to convert to industrial diamonds. Mr Ryba did not have the facilities. He had to close his workshop in Henley-on-Thames but he had an office in Hatton Garden in London. He was probably a diamond dealer. He found Jack a job at the Wickham Tool and Turning Co. opposite his office, a workshop for producing 'striker pins' for torpedoes. Jack was 15 by then.

Essential work - 1942 - 1944

Jack lived in Brixton and travelled to work by tram. Work started at 8am, so he had to leave home very early. He roomed with Mrs Styles in a Council block of flats called Arlington Lodge, but he ate his meals with Mr Kaiser and Miss Goldschmidt. Their flat was on the top floor. From the walkway outside the flats, you could command a splendid view of London, and of course, you had a good view of German flying bombs falling (there was no time to rush to the shelter, says Jack).

Jack had a very menial, heavy and dirty job at the factory. He had to wear a boiler suit. He hated the job but he could not leave because it was essential war work. One day, however, he arrived for work and found that the place had been bombed! He had worked there for a year and a half.

After the workshop was bombed he found a job with Ticky Snacks, a subsidiary of J. Lyons and Co. as assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer. They were trying to mechanise the placing of empty pie tins onto the conveyor belt, a job that was done by four girls, two on either side of the belt. Piles of pie tins stood on the side ready to be loaded. The trouble was that the magnet lifted 2 or 3 at a time! Another problem was to calculate the volume of the tins. They had struggled for a long time with this problem before Jack came and they thought that Jack was a genius to be able to do this easily and exactly.

At the same time Jack started evening classes. He took the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) examinations in mathematics, physics and technical drawing. He loved technical drawing and was desperate to become a draftsman. He found a temporary job in a drawing office.

After the war Jack completed a Degree and a Ph.D. in Mathematics.