Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (12 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 12: She finished college and got a job in a school in Hendon. She moved to Golders Green with friends. She did remedial work at school, she had some experience training deprived children but she was not happy and got a new job in Edgware. In 1950 her friend from the camp came to England as domestic servant and later was trained as a secretary. She moved with this friend and another girl to a flat. She stayed in Edgware for 10-11 years, made good friends and met her future husband at the school, he also taught there. At first they were just good friends but in 1960 he came often to watch television in her house and the relationship intensified. She was longing to have her own family but she was having medical problems during this time, panic, palpitations, and dizziness. The 1950s were very miserable years - difficult to meet nice people socially. She travelled abroad, also with school parties. The Czech embassy would not renew her passport as she did not want to go back. She had good time with her boyfriend and married in 1962. She had her own home for the first time. She got a nervous breakdown after getting married and had to stop working. Her husband coped very well and pulled her up. She never went back to work, only did some supply teaching. She didn't get properly better until the 1970s when she started painting. She found that she could not have children, they wanted to adopt but met with difficulties from both Jewish and Christian organisations as she was Jewish and her husband not. By now they lived in Muswell Hill and went to Islington Council who helped with adoption. There was the possibility to adopt a Greek Cypriot boy aged 3, who was very disturbed. His mother was prostitute and the father was in prison. The mother left child in restaurant and did not return. The child was very pretty but hostile and difficult but they decided to take him even though his mother did at first not agree to the adoption and insisted in visiting him. Eventually the mother consented to the adoption. But they had very difficult time with the child - was difficult and troublesome until grown up.
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.