Jewish survivors of the Holocaust

Birkin, Edith, 1927- (10 of 17) The Living Memory of the Jewish Community

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  • Type


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  • Subjects

    Ghetto experiences; Camp experiences

  • Recording date

    1989-02-18 and 1989-07-01

  • Is part of (Collection)

    The Living Memory of the Jewish Community

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Birkin, Edith, 1927- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Thompson, Katherine (speaker, female)

  • Recordist

    Thompson, Katherine

  • Abstract

    Part 10: While in the camp she and her friend from the hospital walked into the forest - they were so thin that they could squeeze through the bars of the gate. They picked berries and changed them for other goods or for having dresses made from sheets. She pinched socks from a washing line by a country house. They were caught by a soldier who was very friendly, he fed them and invited them to dinner. While in the camp they used to ask for bones used in the soup, they picked off the meat and chewed bones. She was registered in an office to go back to Prague - together with a friend and other Czechs. They went in cattle trucks, but happy singing and when the train stopped they rushed off and picked flowers from people's gardens and made chains to decorate the train. They changed trains in Pilsen - American Zone. On their arrival in Prague they had no welcome but she was given the address of a hostel instead. She remembers walking alone through Prague -they were lots of Russian soldiers - she walked back to her old flat but no one was there. She went to the last flat where they lived before leaving Prague and where they had left belongings with concierge. She learnt from a friend of her mother, who just got back, that the Germans had taken everything though she could see some of her belongings there. She felt extremely lonely in Prague, she checked daily in the office to see whether anyone of her family had returned - but she found no-one. It was the worst time with the realisation of being alone and the total change to pre-war life. A friend of her mother took her in and she lived there. Her mother's friend had a son in England but she stayed in Czechoslovakia and got a pension. She started to go to an art school (design) and got an orphan's pension. At Christmas the government invited groups from the camps for a holiday in the mountains. It was a happy time, there was not enough snow for skiing but they walked, made friends, had a boyfriend and went to the midnight mass. Eventually she got in touch with her sister in England who could not come home as there was nowhere to live. So she decided to go to England instead. She stayed in Prague from July to January and then flew to England. She remembers eating lots of potatoes every day.

  • Description

    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.

  • Related transcripts

    Full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Voices of the Holocaust - link to learning materials based on the moving stories of Jewish Holocaust Survivors on the British Library Website

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