Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (11 of 17) The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
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Ghetto experiences; Camp experiences
1989-02-18 and 1989-07-01
Is part of (Collection)
The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (speaker, female)
Thompson, Katherine (speaker, female)
Part 11: Flying to England in January 1946 after a holiday in the mountains. A friend picked her up from Victoria Station and went to Wembley. She got smoked haddock for breakfast. Later on she went to Belfast to meet her sister . First impressions of England: good food in a Kosher Restaurant - green fields - crossing to Ireland and her first time on the sea. The relationship with her sister was not so close. Neither her sister nor other Jewish people there ever asked about her experiences. She lived in Londonderry - she found it very depressing, rainy and full of dull people. She went to school in Londonderry High School and learned English fast. Her teachers were nice; she got into the 1st eleven of the Hockey team and net ball team in summer. She suffered palpitations, anaemia, abscesses. By the end of the summer term she had caught up with the school and had one more year in both 5th and 6th level. She spent the weekend and the holidays on a farm with children from camps who were trained to go to work in Israel. They ate their main meal at the school and in the evenings they had cheese and bread. She had a Friday night meal with orthodox Jews who collected money for her but they expected a religious response, at one point she was seen eating and told off. She stopped going. Some organisation offered her a holiday in London. She was given a place at Trinity College Dublin but decided not to return to Londonderry. Woburn House in London financed a place at the Teachers Training College in London and accommodation with a Jewish family. She lived with an orthodox lady in Brixton who fed her and 3 young boys. All the time she felt lonely and did not enjoy her college life. She had dizzy spells and again anaemia and got treated for that. She made friends with one girl at college who took her home to Cornwall for holidays. She had a nice Christmas there and boating in the summer.
Interviewee's note: Describes early life; born in Prague. Family background, grandparents, family name was Hoffmann. Earliest memories, Jewish school, teaching methods. Arrival of Germans in Czechoslovakia; effect on schooling; father lost his job. Train to Lodz Ghetto. Life in the ghetto. Death of parents and the effect on her; she worked in a tailoring factory; memory of hearing gunfire of approaching Russians. Summer 1944, evacuation from the ghetto; taken by cattle truck to Auschwitz. Description of conditions and routines there. January 1945, the Germans moved prisoners out, beginning of the death march. Description of death march; birth of a baby, joy of hearing bombing outside Dresden. Arrival in Flossenburg camp in March 1945, 10 days there, then by coal truck to Belsen. Details of arrival in Belsen and conditions there; food, gypsies, typhus. Arrival and reactions of the British Army. The Germans forced to clear away the dead. The camp was burned, prisoners re-housed and cleaned. She was filmed for newsreel a few days after liberation. Edith had contracted typhus and was sent to the hospital. Entertainment in the hospital (Scottish dancing and a visit by Yehudi Menuhin). Journey back to Prague; Russian soldiers in Prague. Loneliness; loss of her family and belongings. Decided to go to UK in 1946; impressions. Went to Belfast by boat to visit her sister; attended high school in Londonderry. There was a Jewish community there. She did a teachers' training course in London. After that she worked in Hendon and Edgware. She married in 1962 to a non-Jewish man; they were unable to have children so they adopted two boys, and a girl. She dedicated herself to her family thereafter. She started painting based on the concentration camp experiences; it had a therapeutic effect on her. She exhibited and sold her work. Talks about her paintings, and about being lucky to have survived the holocaust.