Oral History Interview - Mrs Renee Hochberg

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Oral History Interview - Mrs Renee Hochberg

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Filmed recording of an interview with Mrs Renee Hochberg, born 1921 in Vienna, Austria.

This interview was recorded as part of a project exploring the Jewish History of Stamford Hill, 1930s-1950s.


00:00:00 Hello and nice to meet you. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. My first question is, how and why did you come to London?

I came to London because I was one of the people living in Hitler’s Austria after the Anschluss. I was brought up in Austria, but Hitler’s Anschluss - it means he wanted to join Austria to Germany - was in March 1938 and after that, I mean, we saw that things were getting worse and one tried to find a way out to leave Vienna… and then I was at the time when I did come I was in a group of young girls and boys who went on the Westbanhoff – that was the railway station that led to the end of Germany beginning of Austria, the other way round actually… and I came, I was in the train to Oostende where I changed from this particular train where there were lots of girls and lots of boys who also wanted to go to England. I changed in Cologne and then went on a train to Antwerp where my mother was at that – sorry, I meant my grandmother was at that time staying…who had already stayed there for half a year also as a refugee. I stayed with my grandmother for 2 days and I enjoyed her presence very much.

00:02:19 Daughter: When you were talking about the journey, I asked you what the journey was like, how you felt on the journey.

I felt – it wasn’t exciting

Daughter: you were very frightened

I t was frightening. We were looking forward to leave Nazi Germany but we were frightened what would be at the other end.

Daughter: And then they warned you before the journey what you should expect…

I was warned by somebody that on the last station in Germany before leaving Austria, before going to Aachen which was the… and Oostende that there would be personal

Daughter: personal checks…

Checks, body checks for everybody…

Daughter: to see if they are not hiding money or jewellery…

Because we were not allowed to take money or anything, very little money only, and I was warned that people would be searched. Ladies would be searched by men and men would be searched by ladies and I was very frightened of that. In the end it was quite normal, it was nothing extraordinary and in Cologne we had the train stopped. I actually managed to write a little letter to my parents and I don’t know whether they ever got it.

00:04:09 Anyway I went to Antwerp, I was there for 2 days. My grandmother had a furnished room by a family Fogel at that time.

Daughter: You never managed to trace that family…

No, I never managed to trace the people, I don’t know who they are, who they were actually.
Anyway my grandmother stayed with them for quite some time and I was there for 2 days and then I went with my grandmother for a walk… and she showed me the shops and that was – it was amazing for me because in Vienna after the Anschluss the Germans managed to get the most of the good fruit and vegetables into Germany… and we didn’t see, and bananas and grapefruit we hadn’t seen for a year or so, so I was quite amazed what I could see in the greengrocer.

00:05:18 Anyway after 2 days my grandmother took me to the station and I went to Oostende to by the channel crossing and that was the first time I saw open sea.

Daughter: And what did your grandmother tell you when she left, when she said goodbye to you?

When my grandmother left me, she…. me that I should be careful that I should never go alone with a man.

Anyway, I was a young girl and I was looking forward to the sea journey and it was difficult but I just had to eat very easily. Anyway when we came to Oostende – on my journey to Oostende, I stood mainly on the deck in order to see the white cliffs of…

Daughter: of Dover, it was very emotional, being separated from family.

00:08:00 So what was it like to arrive in London?

Well, I was amazed at the vastness of all. Things were so big. I mean, Vienna was a town, but nothing like that. Then we got out of the station, we got on a bus – on a double decker bus – which was something I had never seen before. Then I went to where my uncle lived in Hampstead and from there I went overnight to a distant cousin who was actually also a refugee, but she had already been here for a few months, and I stayed there overnight… and my surprise for breakfast was that they offered me a cup of tea which in Vienna when anyone had a cup of tea with milk it was only when somebody wasn’t well, so it was something very strange.

Daughter: Imagine being offered a cup of tea when you think it’s like a medicine, it’s a real English thing to drink a cup of tea.

So anyway, that day was a Friday, and on Friday afternoon I went with my uncle to Enfield, to a family who knew me, who had taken before refugee children to have them in their house during the time,

Daughter: it started off with just a few, and then during the Blitz

It started off with about 5 or 10 children, and during the Blitz of London which was in 1940, there were about 35 people in a 5-bedroom house… and it was rather cramped, but this family Lewin was very nice to us all.

Daughter: A frum couple who had no children.

Yes, they had no children, but he was actually a mashgiach in a butcher shop in the East End.

Daughter: He was baal korei, baal tefillah, baal tokeia, everything, yes?

He had a minyan in the house, and he was the baal tefillah and he was the baal korei and on Yomim Tovim he blew the shofar. He was everything, but he did it well.

Daughter: she taught the girls how to do things in the kitchen, Mrs

Yes, she showed girls what to do in the kitchen, they were helping a little bit in the kitchen. Anyway, I was there in that family for 2.5 years.

Daughter: That’s where you got to know your very close friend.

00:03:30 So what do you remember about Stamford Hill, the way the transport was here in Stamford Hill when you came?

At that time I knew nothing about Stamford Hill at all, but later on I was invited together with my uncle to a chassunah of a friend. It was actually, at that time 69 was in 19 Lordship, no sorry 35 Lordship Park, and that’s where the chassunah was… and that’s when I first saw Stamford Hill….and then, a little bit later, then I was in the nursery, I was working in the nursery – in a boarding nursery – during the war.

Daughter: First say that you had 3 choices when the war broke out. 3 choices what you could do.

Yes, we had to do the work of national importance, it was called… and we could choose either to go in the woman’s army,

Daughter: or to go in ammunitions factory

Or ammunitions factory, or nursing. So I chose nursing, and I found a job in a kindergarten nursery.

Daughter: in a boarding nursery, where there were children who were either orphans or their parents were in the war.

The bedrooms were down in the cellar, which was a precaution against air raids, so in the cellar of the house where the nursery was, there were like bunk beds, and the children slept there. All the nurses there had regular night duty, every few weeks another one. to just be there, you see the children were only little, about 3 years, 4 years.

Daughter: and that’s where you got your qualifications.

That’s where I got my qualifications

Daughter: as a nursery teacher

00:05:58 At the end of the war, we were told to look for –

Daughter: It was before the end of the war, you got the job at the Beis Yaakov kindergarten, it was still war time.

Yes, it was still wartime when I started kindergarten at the end of 1945,

Daughter: You got a job in Beis Yaakov kindergarten in Manor Road

I was interviewed by Dr Schonfeld a’’h, I was accepted to take the Beis Yaakov kindergarten.

Daughter: Now tell the story of what happened in the blitz

00:06:36 During one siren bomb raid, the children were sitting around the table, saying Modeh ani, whatever, and suddenly there was an enormous bang, and there was an explosion, which was actually a direct hit in Green Lanes. In Manor Road, most of the window glasses were broken, but nothing happened actually in the house, except…

Daughter: one thing happened, that the ceiling

Oh yes, the ceiling, part of the ceiling fell down during the raid on the table where the children were sitting, but nothing happened

Daughter: nothing happened, you said you told the children to lie down on the floor, they all lay down on the floor. The ceiling fell onto the table and nobody was hurt, not one window was smashed in that building. The whole of Manor Road had loads of windows smashed.

00:07:59 Anyway, that was a few weeks before the war

Daughter: It was during the blitz when there was very heavy bombing in London.

It was already after the blitz… they were called v1, v2; there were no pilots in those last few weeks of the war. They were pilot-less aircrafts, and you heard the aircraft on top, and then it suddenly stopped, and that’s when the pachad (fear) started

Daughter: There was no time for air raid warnings, even?

They had warnings, but it didn’t take long

Daughter: So this bomb that fell when you were in Manor Road, in which part of Green Lanes did it fall?

Actually in Enville Court, it’s being built on that place, where the bomb fell, opposite the water tower was the target

Daughter: They used to bomb a lot there

That was actually the water, the pumping, now they made an indoor climbing thing out of it

Daughter: that used to be a real pump for water, I used to hear the pump, we used to hear the beating of the pump, I grew up like that. There were real reservoirs there, water was pumped for us.

00:00:00 I worked in a factory – that was my first job in England – which sold straps for underwear

Daughter: and how many?

A few thousand a week. I was there for quite a while, until the blitz started actually.

Daughter: You didn’t say what you had before this job, the very first job you had you had to sit there cutting off threads that the machinist left hanging. You were doing this from morning to night. Only after that you got the more promoted job where you could start making shoulder straps

Daughter: How much did you earn?

I think about 30 shillings a week. 20 shillings was a pound at that time. I had to pay £1 – 20 shillings for my upkeep (rent). I put away 5 shillings or something like that to be able to send to my parents, who had no means of earning any money in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). They had only just arrived on an illegal transport, it was called Aliyah Beit, I think. They went along the Danube.

Daughter: They arrived penniless, they had nothing

So I sent them a pound of my meagre earnings
They produced underwear for Marks and Spencer, some kind of underwear.

Daughter: You used to work near Tower Street

No, it was called Featherstone Street, near Old Street.

00:02:27 Anyway, we arrived in the morning on the bus. We could see the flames from everywhere. That was after the bombings after the night. The factory relocated to somewhere in the country, I don’t know where. We – the girls that had been working there, were without any work. Then I found a job to make buttonholes on the machine, and I should say one thing, that the whole thing of machines was something completely new to me, and I had to learn how to use them. More than once I caught my finger in it as well.

00:03:35 How did the rationing work during the war?

Everybody got a ration book and in the ration book there were vouchers and some ration books had little pages of vouchers and we had ration books I think for mainly food and also clothing

Daughter: What food could you get from the rations?

We got – basic food you could get anyway, but… was hard to find…I think peppers

Daughter: and eggs

And eggs, I think you had 2 eggs a week per person… and when you bought it you had to show that they took out the coupon

Daughter: and you were allowed a little bit of butter as well

Yes you were allowed 2 ounces of butter a week, less even, I can’t remember

Daughter: and then clothes

Clothes, but the clothing coupons actually lasted very much longer than the… and it was by a chassunah in ’47, 2 years after the end of the war but we had still coupons at that time and I remember I bought … it was given… where I could buy a nice top and a skirt for the coupon that I had… and then if I wanted to have another dress for the chassunah I had to buy it on the black market

Daughter: you got ration cards on the black market

Anyway we had to work out where you could get it and then you can get it.

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