Survival – but at a price

Hounslow marked this year’s National Holocaust Memorial Day by an event in the Civic Centre. Sue Barnett had been invited to speak about her own experience, born as she was in 1938 to a Jewish family which had lived in Hamburg for generations.

She was much the youngest of 4 children. Her father, Arthur, had been taken away one morning at 5.00am just before she was born. With no means of support, her mother and siblings had to survive as best they could. Mother had to walk the 2 miles to the hospital to give birth. Soon after, she bought Arthur’s freedom, conditional on his going straight to Shanghai. At the train station, her mother did not recognise him. It was to be another 9 years before he would meet his family again.

The 3 elder children all went by kindertransport to the UK. A cousin in London then managed to arrange for mother and Sue to come to England – they got out just 6 weeks before the outbreak of war. They lived in one room in Reading. The other children went from one foster arrangement to another, some of which were ‘not always easy’ and when old enough, Sue went down the same track. A hostel in Tunbridge Wells (now ‘The Beacon’) proved the best but she had to leave that when her father eventually arrived in England. They set up home in Reading. Sue found this an unhappy time. Her father was strict and found relating difficult. The 3 of them were cramped, their living quarters a small sitting room, little bedroom, no kitchen and once a week use of a filthy bath. They did move to the ‘luxury’ of a 2 bedroom council house.

On leaving school she trained as a teacher and then married her husband (of 54 years.) She said this was the first time she had experienced happiness, aged 24. He parents and siblings had all survived, they all ended up in England, but they never came together again as a family. A story, she said, of ‘survival but not of happiness’.