The Path to Rehabilitation

Liberation came to us in many ways and varied circumstances. Some, I imagine, were strong enough to be about to see the Germans run for their lives or saw them surrender. It must have been a sight to see, an emotion of a lifetime to experience.

I was flat on my back, ill, pretty well on my way out and certainly past caring. Needless to say I saw none of it.

Instead, I woke up one day to find myself in a hospital bed. A bed with linen, clean linen, I might add and people caring for me. Caring for ME!

It was not long before I was able to get up and found myself convalescing in a children’s home in Theresienstadt. My first HOSTEL.

I shared a room with four or five other boys. This of course was heaven when you consider the crowded conditions that I had been used to until then.

Erna, our matron, had two girls to help her and soon we became one small family. Some of us were more energetic than others, but we were all getting gradually used to becoming individuals again. I began to discover that I am a person in my own right – quite a revelation after years of propaganda about “vermin” and “parasites”, etc.

One could not leave Theresienstadt without a permit, add to it that it was a garrison town, life was inevitably somewhat restricted, a good thing in a way as it introduced us into normal life in a city in a gradual way.

The arrival at Prague was quite an experience. The friendliness and hospitality of the Czech people is something I, for one, shall never forget. It was in Prague that I went to a circus and to a cinema for the first time as a free person.

Then England by courtesy of R.A.F. Bomber Command. There were no seats or “mod-cons”. We sat where we could. On the floor, on boxes, anything at all. The R.A.F. men acting as kinds of stewards communicated with us in sign language. We spoke no English.

Carlisle aerodrome and then by coach to Windermere. Windermere, what a delightful place! On arrival I was shown into a tiny room with a bed, chest of drawers and wardrobe. A room all to myself! Has anyone ever lived so luxuriously?

It was a particular time of, certainly, my life when there could have been no gift more precious. For the first time in years, in my short life, I would have the luxury of a room ALL TO MYSELF. I could have danced in the street for joy. I could and would have except for a small “technicality”.

Well, the clothes in which we arrived were suspect – from a cleanliness viewpoint – and so it had been planned to have new clothes waiting for us on arrival. There was a hitch. We arrived first. No clothes, except for underwear. Well, we were issued these and nought else. Since we could not wear our old clothes, underwear was all we had. I just danced, metaphorically speaking, in my new room.

Windermere, my second hostel-home, was where a group of friendly people one of whom, at least, Alice Goldberger, is here tonight, helped me and the others in various ways; teaching English, etc. This was where I began to make friends with England and the English.

It was a happy time for me, I had the proximity of so many friends, sharing a dining room with them and participating in a variety of activities and yet being able to retire to the luxury of my PRIVATE room. I cannot recapture the wonder of it in words sufficient to do the feeling justice. However, I have no doubt that those who shared this experience with me will know precisely what I mean.

Windermere – “Wondermore” – as I like to call it, stands out for me for what it was, apart from its renowned natural beauty. It was my own reintroduction to a new life as an individual where living was no longer on the level of the animal’s instinct for survival but things of the spirit, of sight, sound and touch began to matter. Wonderful things were happening in “Wondermore”. A happy, happy time.

Three months or so went by very quickly and it was time to move on yet again.

Scotland. Darleith House was about three miles from the village of Cardross in Dumbartonshire. It was in the style of a mansion set in its own extensive grounds with a rhododendron-flanked drive leading to it from the keepers lodge about a quarter of a mile away.

It would be quite easy, again, to become ecstatic about the beauty of the setting and the general splendour of the place, which as my third hostel was about to become my new home, but to do so would be no more that to state a fact.

Here I must pause and say something for the people who planned all this for us. It was obvious that a lot of effort, accompanied by a generous breadth of imagination went into finding these places for our benefit. I feel that a deep humanity coupled with an understanding of our need to be in lovely surroundings as an antidote to the ugliness that we had encountered in our lives hitherto, was the visionary motive in all this.

To these people, whoever they are, MY SALUTE.

I settled down to study and my English began to improve, and although Polish and Yiddish were still used a lot, English gradually began to take over.

I recall an incident which amused us at the time.

Teachers would come up from Dumbarton for various subjects. One, a Mr Smith, taught us English. He was very good with us and we often shared a joke. Our English was beginning to be passable. One day, during an English lesson Mr Smith heard someone talking and it was not in English. “Boys”, he said, “unless you speak English only you will never learn the language properly”.

Up stood one of the boys and his reply, which although somewhat cheeky, was taken in good part as it demonstrated that we were making strides towards speaking the new tongue.

Here is what he said: “Mr Smith, you see, I have to speak Polish sometime because I am in the habit of telling myself jokes. If I tell them in English I shall not understand what they are about”.

Mr Smith seemed pleased with the effort.

Cardross was more a less akin to life in Windermere with the same aims, pursuits and above all its country setting.

Glasgow was different, and here I began to work, still living communally in a hostel. I was learning a trade and studying in my spare time. Gradually city life was something I was taking in my stride and soon feeling confident of being able to cope for myself. I moved with a friend from the hostel and into “digs”. Life has come full circle. I began a “normal” life.

Henry Green.