The Loughton hostel in was the town of Loughton in the county of Essex, about ten miles north-east of London. It opened in January 1946 and in December 1947. The hostel was run by Habonim, a socialist Zionist youth movement.
The hostel was in Holmehurst House, a large country house, which is now a private home.
“The building, once a private mansion, was by then rather dilapidated,” Malka Tattenbaum, a member of the staff, wrote later, “but its situation in the countryside was beautiful. Thanks to the efforts of the boys and the staff it was turned into a very pleasant home. One of the first things I did was to replace the bunks with proper beds, to give a home-like atmosphere, as different as possible from the camps. I also had curtains put up, and changed the china and cutlery to make the atmosphere less like that of an institution.”
Tattenbaum collected together a group of people to act as friends of the hostel and they helped in various ways; for example, traders in the East End of London generously contributed food to supplement the rations.
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To greet the boys, the staff set the table with sandwiches, cakes, chocolates and biscuits.
Reuma Schwartz recalled the difficulty of keeping discipline in Loughton. ‘They were so rough in the yard. The only way to get them quiet was to say ‘food, food’.”
Every morning there were three hours of English lessons. On Friday night there was always had a special meal, with a white tablecloth, wine and candles.
There was much debate in the hostel about Palestine, then part of the British Empire. The Boys’ interest in Zionism was heightened in the summer of 1946, when, in a surprise dawn raid, British security forces entered a large number of Jewish settlements in Palestine and seized weapons that were being hidden there. In London, the Zionist organisations called for a mass protest demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Many boys left their hostels to participate, under their own banner. “We played a part,” Ben Helfgott, one of the Boys, later reflected, with pride. It was their first public involvement in post-war politics.
In 1948, many of the boys from Loughton went to fight as volunteers in the Israeli forces.
Tattenbaum also recalled that she “noticed that in the dining-room a photograph of Stalin had been put up. I understood the reason for this – the Red Army had liberated some of the camps – but after discussion the warden and I persuaded them to substitute a photograph of Herzl, explaining the importance of the Zionist vision of a homeland for the Jews.
Epping Forest Council have set up a project which launched in 2021 and aims to commemorate the Loughton hostel.
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