It didn’t help that at the new school my mother again asked that I not participate in the daily prayers. Instead of participating in the prayers, I had to stand outside and then go in afterwards for daily announcements. The kids immediately wanted to know why I didn’t say prayers.
“Because I’m Jewish. I say different prayers.”
“Well then say your Jewish prayers.”
So I said some Jewish prayers and they all ran away screaming, “Mumbo jumbo! Mumbo jumbo!”
Between 1940 and 1942 the Royal Air Force fought off the Luftwaffe and the bombings started to die down, so I went back to Croydon. By this time I was nine and my parents sent me to a very good private school where I was taught how to be a proper English lady.
But I encountered anti-Semitism there too.
A girl came up to me one day. “My mommy says if it weren’t for the Jews we wouldn’t be in this war.” She said. “Why don’t you go back to your own country?”
“I was born here.”
“No you weren’t – go back to your own country!”
The bombings continued to subside until 1944 when Hitler sent over the new V1 bombs nicknamed ‘buzz bombs.’ Buzz bombs were unmanned missiles that made a noise like a motorcycle, then the engine would cut out, you’d hear a ‘whoosh’ sound and you knew you had maybe a minute until impact.
At the time my mother worked in London. She’d drop me off at school and then catch a train to London. One day we were walking to school when we saw a buzz bomb on the horizon and then we heard the engine cut out. My mother threw me on the ground and got on top of me. The buzz bomb landed a few hundred yards away and blew out all the windows of the buildings on the street. A few of the buildings just crumbled from the shock of the blast. The bombs were so powerful they didn’t need to hit a building to make it collapse – many buildings collapsed just from the shock wave.
After that I was sent back to Wales to live with my grandfather who was a cantankerous and nasty old man. I was there for six to eight weeks and then found out my former school was organizing a summer boarding camp in the countryside West of England. There was a big difference this time around because all of the children were old enough to know the danger our parents were in back near London. I was terribly homesick and worried all the time.
In 1944 Hitler replaced the V1 buzz bombs with V2 rockets that could fly much further – they could reach northern London and beyond. My grandmother lived in northern London and one dropped at the end of her street. The force of the blast made a cabinet fall on her and the handle of a skillet went into her eye, blinding her in one eye. She used to joke: “I’m blind in one eye and I can’t see out of the other!”
By that time it was the end of war in 1945. We knew the war was ending because of the BBC broadcasts. It was very innovative at that time – the BBC sent correspondents to broadcast from the battle at D-day, Arnhem, Holland and other huge battles where you could hear the explosions in the distance. The broadcast journalists were right where the war was being fought. We knew the end was in sight.
When the war ended a funny thing happened. The British are normally reserved people, but during the war there was a tremendous spirit of unity. We all came together and took care of each other. We wouldn’t allow Hitler to alter our course of life because we would not be beaten by him. But the moment victory was declared, that sense of togetherness and friendliness disappeared. It went right back to how it had been before and left everyone with a sense of loss.