Oral History Interview - Mrs Balia Stern

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Oral History Interview - Mrs Balia Stern

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Filmed oral history interview with Mrs Balia Stern, born 1938 in Austria. She discusses moving to London with her parents in January 1939 and memories of the Blitz.

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


Ok, my first question is how and why did you come to London? [00:00:03 ]

I came with my parents in order to escape from the Nazis. I arrived in January 1939 to London and as I was only 6 months old at the time I can’t really remember anything about the journey.

What did you do during the war years? [00:00:25]

During the war years I was only a little girl so I didn’t do very much, but I remember that we moved from London to Bletchley to get away from the bombs.

What do you remember about London during the Blitz? [00:00:44]

What do I remember about the life during the Blitz…Well I remember when a bomb fell in Bethune Road and destroyed a house together with a whole Yiddishe (Jewish) family, I can’t remember what their name was. And at that time, I was, when that bomb exploded I was sitting in my bath in Heathland Road, where we lived and the ceiling came down into the bath where I was sitting and from the shock I lost my speech and I couldn’t get it back for a whole year and as there was no therapy in those days, I just finished off stammering very badly, but Boruch Hashem (Bless G-d) it passed after a while.

When we lived in Heathland Road, just across the road there was a house and they had a restaurant in their house for people who didn’t have where to eat or where to go and it was called Locks restaurant and they made the most delicious food and all the people who didn’t have families, like men who came from Europe alone, their families got killed or whatever… They used to eat there – weekday and Shabbos (Sabbath). Ok, what else do I remember…

Anything about rations? [00:02:09]

Yup. The food was rationed, that means there was very little food available so it had to be shared out equally between everybody. So we got a book called the ration book, which had little stamps in it and for each stamp we would get a certain amount of food. But there was very little and there really wasn’t enough food to go around, so we managed with less.

Where did you live in Stamford Hill? [00:02:37]

First in Heathland Road and later in St. Kilda’s Road. And that was during the war.

And what were the jobs and wages like at the time? [00:02:46]

Well I wouldn’t know that because I was only a small girl.

Your father? [00:02:54]

My father was a Rav of 69. Now you asked me before about shuls and so on. So after Dr. Schonfeld made a Minyan (Quorum) in 35 Lordship Park, which later moved to 69 Lordship Road, which became 69 as we know it today, my father was the Rav there until he was niftar (passed away) and then Rav Feldman took over the Rabonos in that shul and he is now Rav today.

Which Batei Midrashim (synagogues), Chadarim (Jewish schools) and organisations were in Stamford Hill at the time? [00:03:25]

Baatei Midrashim (shuls), I’ve told you already. Chadarim and organisations – there was Yesodey Hatorah School, there was the Avigdor School… I don’t think there were any other Jewish schools. And then eventually Satmar opened – that was the first Yiddish speaking school in London, eventually Satmar opened… and after that, many years after that all Chassidish (Hassidic) schools opened – Belz, Viznitz, Ger, so on… But that was still in the future at that time. Ok. In Golders Green there was the Hasmonean and I think that was the only frum (orthodox) school.

What organisations were there? [00:04:57]

Well there wasn’t what we’ve got today – Gemachim (lenders) for all sorts of things, because people were very poor during the war. Most people who left Europe arrived in England without anything, except the clothes which they were wearing and until they established their parnosah (fortune) again it took many, many years, so there were no gemachim like we have today – anything you needed you had to find for yourself.

So there was no like, no organisations at all? [00:05:14]

There was the kedassia, which is the Hechsher (stamp of approval) for the kosher food in London, but it was very hard to get kosher food.

Which Batei Midrashim (synagogues), Chadarim (Jewish schools) and organisations were in Stamford Hill at the time? [00:05:15]

Which Batei Midrashim (synagogues), Chadarim (Jewish schools) and organisations were in Stamford Hill at the time? Well, the only frum (orthodox) schools were the Yesodey Hatorah and the Avigdor which was not quite as frum. Yesodey Hatorah started off as a boy’s school, which is now in the original building at 2-4 Amhurst Park. Um…The Avigdor catered more to children from English homes not so much to the refugee children. And then, there were no Chadarim at the time but then Getters Cheder (boy’s school) opened and that was the first Kol Hayom (full day) Cheder and then after that, after the war many other Chadarim opened, after the war. And today Boruch Hashem (Bless G-d), we have so many Chadorim and Kein eiyin Hora (without the evil eye) they’re all full to the brim, so Boruch hashem.

Organisations, there were none as such – we didn’t have the Gemachim that we have today, where you could borrow things for nothing and you could borrow dishes and you could borrow centrepieces for Simchas (celebrations) and you can borrow basically anything. You could borrow, you could hire… You can hire a wedding dress today, in those days there was nothing like that. So everything you needed you had to supply for yourself and because the people were very poor at the time, why were they poor? Because they came from Europe with nothing – they left everything behind, they came to England just with the clothes on their back.

And em, and Dr. Schonfeld single-handedly organised the kindertransport, that means he brought over about 10,000 children from Europe and found places for them to live in England so that they would establish Im Yirtzeh Hashem (g-d willing) good Yiddishe (Jewish) families. [00:07:16]

And what was the other part of the question organisations and…

Chadorim and Schools… [00:07:31]

I just said that. Bikur Cholim. Bikur Cholim was not organised as such, people who wanted to do the Mitzva (commandment) visited ill and old people but there was no organisation as there is today like Satmar, Bikur Cholim or something like that. There was nothing like that.

How did you get hold of kosher food? [00:07:47]

There was actually one Yiddishe (Jewish) shop in Stamford Hill and that was Breuer and Spitzer in Manor Road and any kosher food we needed we had to buy it there and they used to grind their own coffee, the shop always smelt deliciously of coffee and we loved going there.

Um milk, there was kosher milk but it was delivered by the goyshe (non-Jewish) milkman together with the goiyshe milk and it was delivered with a horse with a carriage with such a thing behind it and we always had to check to make sure that we got the right milk. In those days you had to, the milk came in glass bottles and you had to rinse out the bottles and put them back on the front step where it was collected the next day. There was no such thing as disposables in those days, everything had to be washed and recycled and reused…Um meat there was a bit of a problem because there wasn’t much of a shecita (ritual slaughter) in England that was accepted from everybody. Then my father in law Mr Stern – Mr Betzalel Stern - opened the first kosher shecita house in England and then he had a shop in the little town called Letchworth outside London and there he used to divide up the meat according to the rations and he used to bring all the meat to 69 and then everybody came to collect their little parcel of meat from there because that is what they got in their ration book so that’s how much you need per person and so he really established the first kosher meat in England.

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