Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (16 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 16: In 1985 a synagogue in Birmingham had a memorial and asked for the loan of her pictures. Later there was an exhibition on Ann Frank in Manchester and she was asked to leave them 2 pictures on loan from the Imperial War Museum. Other official war artists were exhibiting there. There was an opening in the Town Hall. Her art class in Hereford had an exhibition in the City Art Gallery and she was given one wall for 10 of her paintings. Another exhibition in London is planned. One of the pictures of the 'death march' is not yet finished. She has difficulties in putting Germans into her paintings, hardly any appear. Her paintings are about the prisoners, she wants to show their psychological suffering - like parting, e.g. of mother and children - which she sees as some of the worst sufferings. She also wants to show the resigned attitude of the prisoners. She does not want to paint the German brutality in order not to immortalise them. She wants to paint what happens to peoples' minds. She thinks she was lucky to have been at the right age to have had a chance to survive.
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.