Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (13 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 13: Adoption of 2nd son with the help of a midwife who looked after unmarried mothers. The boy had been put into adoption 2-3 weeks after being born. Older son was prepared for arrival of new baby and the baby was collected in Manchester where he was with foster parents. They moved to bigger house in Muswell Hill. A social worker, who knew she wanted a baby girl, came and told her that there would be one available - she was 3 weeks old. They went to look at her and the husband fell in love with her and so they agreed to the adoption. There was a difference of 18 months between the two younger children. The second son jealous and ignored her at first, the older son ignored the sister altogether. But she loved them. The children knew right from start that they were adopted; that they were 'chosen' and the daughter was very pleased about that. The middle son never told people that he was adopted and did not discuss it. The eldest son, because of jealousy, told his sister that Ma and Pa did not love her. Her husband taught (French) in Southgate and was the head of the upper school. When the daughter went to the nursery school Mrs.Birkin joined art classes which she found interesting and which also helped her to make friends. She started painting there, conventional as well as modern. Later she went to Camden Art Centre and life classes. Painting helped her to cope with problems and health in the sense that it made her physically better. She specially liked strong colours. The oldest son was very difficult. He was very disruptive at home which affected the younger children. He got worse as he got older. He was sent to special boarding school in Colchester. He started stealing, fighting, the school could not cope, he end up going to 3 different schools. When he was 14 he went back to normal school and back home. It was awful for years. One day a friend asked to live with him and his mother. He told them bad stories about his parents pretending he was starved. While still at school he was taken to court 4 times and got warned but he got away with it. After he moved in with his friend they started to steal from cars. The police came as he had bought a stolen motorbike and had no licence. The police found a room full of stolen goods at his friend's house. Mrs.Birkin's son went to court. He was sent to a detention centre which was real shock to him as previously social workers had believed it was all his parents fault.
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.