Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (14 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 14: Son in detention centre. Overall it had an effective result in her son's life, he admitted the effect later to his parents. At 16 he started working with greengrocers. He moved out and shared a flat with a nice man who became a friend. Later he met a girl in a Pub who was also adopted and who worked in a mental hospital. They managed to get a council flat lived together for 2 years before they got married. They now have 2 children and he works as rent collector after being unemployed for some time. All her 3 children now get on well. Mrs. Birkin spent 2 years at art classes, worked for an exam in History of Modern Art, had a very good teacher, was inspired by modern painting and suddenly wanted to put her experiences into painting. She went to talk to her teacher John Cherrington - who was the only person who really understood her. She went to his art classes after getting History of Art A-level, he taught her techniques and she started experimenting with painting. Her husband decided to take early retirement and they moved to Hereford and bought house there. While the new house was being decorated they lived in a cottage and it was there that she first started thinking about painting her holocaust experiences. She started with drawing sketches.
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.