Jewish survivors of the Holocaust

Ellis, Rachelle (1 of 5) Holocaust Survivors Centre Interviews

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  • Recording date

    2003-07-15, 2003-07-2003, 2003-07-29

  • Is part of (Collection)

    Holocaust Survivors Centre Interviews

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Ellis, Rachelle, 1925- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    van Gelder, Gillian (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Born Rahel Wolff on 11/10/25 in Cologne. Lived at 12 Frank Strasse which was bombed during war and no longer there. Lived there with parents and maternal grandmother until early 1939 when she came to England. Terraced house on 3 floors with an attic which was Rachelle's bedroom. Grandmother did a lot of the cooking as mother ran a kindergarten. Mother had wanted to be a nurse but her widowed mother and her 2 brothers had held out against this -not a job for a good Jewish girl! Took her nurse's uniform back and made her promise not to do it. Instead she did Montessori course and ran kindergarten in their house for Jewish children. Very helpful when father lost his work this brought some income. Mother Johanna maiden name Myer; born in Cologne but grandmother came from Holland and was one of 13 girls. Rachelle remembers visiting relatives in Holland in holidays -lots of memories round that. Parents never got out of Germany because wouldn't leave grandmother and were trying to get her back to Holland. Eventually got her back to Arnhem where she had a sister but both perished later. Parents tried to cross border illegally but were caught and sent back and didn't survive. Father Heinrich borne 1899 His parents had flat in Cologne. Father in textile industry .Parents tried to protect her from what was going on. Parents were Zionists and remembers going to film shows about early settlements in Israel. They also belonged to a rambling club and remembers being taken on rambles in the woods. Mother loved children but was unable to have any more. Sometimes unwell so Rachelle who was very tall went walking with father who looked very young. Remembers going for orange juice and waiter thought she was his sister. Father's indignant response but tickled pink. Their house had 5 bedrooms belonged to grandmother, and kindergarten was on ground floor and garden. Very Catholic area with church and remembers annual procession through streets with every house having little altars in the window. Children strewed leaves, and when procession passed everyone knelt. Mother said she needn't but she did kneel with everyone. Afterwards children stuffed flowers into cans and set them alight -beautiful smell. Relatives lived next door but doesn't remember other Jews. Synagogue about 10 mins walk. It was burnt but they brought a Torah from it when she came to England. Grandmother fairly orthodox and parents probably kept a lot for her sake, but father came from not very orthodox background, but they did go to shul every Shabbat and always had Challah, wine etc on Friday nights. Grandmother embroidered beautiful cloth to cover Challah. Immediate family only but occasionally had one of mother's brothers who had separated from his wife. He also came for Seder and had lovely singing voice. Rachelle had to sing Mah Nishtana. Uncle and his wife had 2 daughters who now live in Israel and are only known surviving relatives. Aunt taught at Jewish primary school but did not teach her. Anecdote: When she left hostel in England during the war and got job in hotel had a room there but was very unhappy. One day was visited by young man in despatch rider's uniform who produced a photo of 2 children in bath -him and Rachelle. Found her through father's sister who had come to Birmingham and were in domestic service there. After kindergarten went to Jewish primary school at about 5 yrs and has photos of herself there. Got scholarship to go to jaawne which had best teachers, as by this time Jewish teachers no longer allowed to teach non- Jews. School had very good reputation. Went there at 11. Primary school -lots of friends but Polish friends never felt quite at home visiting her parents -remembers prejudice against the immigrants from the East. She and another girl always top of class, but diphtheria at age 10 kept her at home for 6 months. All children sent get well cards but not allowed to touch them. Not good at sports. Most schools mixed boys and girls. Parents loved opera and she was introduced very early -first was Hansel & Gretel and had special green velvet skirt, aged about 10. Relatives had farm and during inflation period grandmother walked there to get butter milk and eggs. She visited relatives but memory hazy. No memories of holidays with parents -she used to go to Holland. Difficulty integrating into Jewish community here because husband, 2-Peter, not Jewish. Not a problem between them. After she won scholarship short walk to school. One day SS had gone in and were throwing books out of the window. Teachers said 'go home, we will be in touch.' This was 1939 after Kristallnacht. Started at school in 1937 -wonderful teachers had great favourite but she failed to get out. Only at this school about 2 years but loved it. Remembers notices on shops saying "Jews not served" and that all jewellery had to be given up. After the war father's sister's husband was with American forces in Cologne and met up with people who knew her parents and told them Rachelle was in England. They produced silver filigree dish and said her parents had given it to them rather than to the SS. Gave it to her uncle for her -now one of her most treasured possessions. Parents discussed emigration to Israel and one of mother's brothers went to Algeria but she never met him. He tried to get them out to France. Got them visa for England but they wouldn't leave grandmother. Got her out but had left it too late and were eventually taken to Riga and on from there. Documentation in Town Hall in Cologne where records were kept of Jewish community. No personal experience of anti-Semitism. In Cologne people lived alongside each other, but remembers the ghastly posters. Went to synagogue until the fire. Very happy childhood surrounded with love from parents and grandmother. Made it all devastating when lost it all, although did expect to be reunited with parents in England. Not a lot of contact with non- Jews though did know some people in the road just to say hello. She belonged to Maccabi but doesn't remember much as not sporty. Learned languages at school which helped a bit when she came to England. Father had own business but people he traded with melted away and he gave up. She was not brought in about financial problems but father home a lot more. Mother's father had been well to do and some beautiful linen, cutlery and filigree miniature furniture in the house. Father's mother came from France but grandfathers German on both sides. Father's mother went to Theresienstadt and doesn't know what happened from there. Two girl cousins a few years older than her -Miriam was pianist, and Ruth survived war in Belgium with her mother. Both now in Israel and she is in touch with them both. The move: headmaster contacted parents and said he'd been in touch with committees in England and children could go if parents agreed and gave committee parental responsibility. Has copy of form signed by parents. Head arranged time and date and remembers talking about it on basis that separation would be temporary only. Day before travel mother took her for walk and told her facts of life. Remembers leaving on coach and father with arm around mother who was crying. Last memory. One class with separate groups of boys and girls. Girls went to 242 Willesden Lane and boys to Shoot-up Hill. Boat from Hook of Holland to Harwich: sat up all night and were very excited at adventure. Arrived early hours and committee arranged a meal and then lots of local Jewish people came as hostel not ready and they needed to go with families for 2-3 weeks. Went to very nice family, no German but they spoke Yiddish which helped a bit as many similar words. Then went to hostel run by Jewish lady from Berlin -IS girls a few not from school. One young man with shaven head had been rescued from one of camps and he managed to get his sister Lore from Essen into group. ~ She later became best friend but now lives in America but they are still in touch. Rachelle was rebel and did not get on with matron who had no understanding of girls" emotional problems. School got evacuated to Northampton and she was billeted with 2 elderly ladies. One determined to teach her English and got her to read 'Gone with the Wind". After 3 years in England spoke without accent. Went to local school in Willesden but not happy and at 14 left school. The old ladies in Northampton got her a place to learn dressmaking in a store. Friend Lore very unhappy with her family and the 2 old ladies allowed her to come to them and got her too a place in the dressmaking. However they spoke German to each other and eventually lost the place because of anti-German feeling. Lore's brother in London was going to be interned in Isle of Man and wrote asking her to come and say goodbye. Left on her own, R got job in factory which she hated. Friend asked her to come to London and they went back into hostel which was now filled with older boys and girls. Got job in dress factory in London.

  • 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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