Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We went to a presentation of "I'm not going back," a memoir of the evacuation from London by Kitty and Ralph Wintrob, at the AACI Netanya. They are from Toronto, Canada, but Kitty was a Jewish girl age 11 growing up in the East End of London during WWII and she was evacuated at the start of the war as were almost all children in London and other big cities that were expected to be targets of German bombing. After war was declared on Sept 3, 1939, almost a million and a half children were evacuated from London into the countryside. Athough the evacuation was very efficient and well organized, at the other end the treatment of the children varied considerably, there was no organization that looked after the children's welfare. The population were essentially told they had to take one or more children and it was up to them who they picked. It was not only random, but often the children were badly treated, being expected to be servants or even worse.

One must admit at the outset that the treatment of Jewish children in Europe was of course much worse. Kitty pointed out that often children and even adults assume that the "evacuation" in England was part of the Holocaust in Europe during WWII, when children were simply murdered or shipped in trains to concentration camps where they were murdered en masse. In some locations, children were massacred and even thrown into burning pits alive. But, of course, in England, none of this happened, so we must strictly distinguish between evacuation of all children in England and transportation of Jewish children to death camps in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The experiences of evacuation in England were extremely varied. Kitty and her best Jewish friend were evacuated to a small village near Bishop's Stortford, NE of London. They were taken into a hall and people randomly chose them. A young couple chose the two girls together, which greatly pleased them. But, when they arrived at the isolated cottage they were very disappointed. The couple were very poor, they had very little in the cottage and very little food (even though they received a small allowance from the Government for taking them). They were shown into a bare room with two mattresses on the floor and that was their room. They were given sandwiches of ham and cheese. When Kitty said that they were Jewish and could not eat ham, the woman asked her where were her horns (this is a true story). When Kitty told her Jews did not have horns, the lady took out the ham and gave them only the cheese.

During the beginning of the war there was a period of a few months when nothing much happened, called "the phony war" and there was no bombing of London. So after a while Kitty got fed up with the situation and was allowed to return to her parents in London. When the bombing started she was returned to Bishop's Stortford, but this time to a different house. At first the older couple treated them well, but then began demanding that they do "their share" of the housework and eventually they were given chores starting early in the morning, including scrubbing floors! After a while Kitty couldn't stand this, so she plotted her escape, saved her money and then ran away and took a train back to London and to her parents. Although bombs were falling in London she refused to go back, although her friend stayed and they lost contact with each other.

I was also evacuated from London, although I was somewhat younger (7 at the end of the war). At first we were sent to Kent, south of London. By then the authorities had learnt that it was better to send the mothers with the childrten, since so many ran back home. The British tricked the Germans into believing that their bombs were falling too far west past London, so they reduced their range and bombs started falling in Kent. Se we went back to London and were then evacuated to Northhampton, in the center of England. There we lived in a large house with a local family who were very good to us. We became friendly with them and they visited us in Lodon after the war to celebrate the victory.

But, my uncle Berny who was evacuated to Wales with his younger sister, he was 10-12 and she was about 6, had a much worse experience. The people they were sent to were anti-Semitic, they abused the children and locked them at night in a coal celler under the stairs. They escaped and somehow he managed to get them back to London. He could not remember how he accomplished this feat, to go hundreds of miles with no money, sleeping in ditches and eating handouts. But, as I said we all survived, saved by the English channel.


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