A number of years ago, my father was interviewed for the Jewish Migrant Oral History Project. Thankfully, I have a copy of the interview, and I will be publishing excerpts from it in his memory.
Interviewer: You wouldn’t necessarily have taken much notice that there was a war coming on but do you remember people talking about that? Do you remember conversations being had about what was going on at home?
Dad: Well yes. They’d left everybody behind. My father his mother. My mother, her family, a very large family. She was very worried about them because they were in a bad part of what had become Poland. Also they were slightly more prominent than my father’s family, financially speaking. My mother’s family had a small abattoir, a tavern which was like a pub and something like a motel except instead of cars, there were horses. Human nature being what it is, they were singled out first. Germans had barely crossed the border, started World War Two, when my grandfather on my mother’s side was beaten to death by Poles. My grandmother and her family ended up in the Warsaw ghetto. My mother had a brother and a sister who was married with a young girl. The sister with the young girl went together with my grandmother into the Warsaw ghetto. The brother was a bit more astute – he was supposed to have been a bit of a rogue – and he got away. My grandmother survived the Warsaw ghetto, her daughter and granddaughter didn’t, and she ended up in Auschwitz.
And this is where my memory gets a bit romantic because I was very fond of my uncle, my mother’s brother. He came and took her out of Auschwitz. He bribed a guard or two. The story goes he knocked out somebody’s gold teeth and he used them as bribes. My grandmother then was left with a Polish family. She spoke fluent Polish and she became the housekeeper, masquerading as a Catholic Pole. During the rest of the war she had to listen to them celebrate every time there was a German victory or Jews were killed. Anyway, she got away with it. Ended up in a D. P. camp where my mother found her through correspondence in ’46. But she was old and she was ill. She was in her fifties.
There was a quota system here in Perth, Australia for three, and my grandmother missed the quota and things were pretty tough. I think ’46 was the worst year in the D. P. camps. They hadn’t realised just how bad people were living there. So my mother went and tried everything. She had a friend, a school teacher, a Miss Harrison who had later told her she had some Jewish blood and she said, “I think I may be able to help. I’ve got a cousin, he’s just got back from the war and he’s been elected MP for Fremantle, Kim Beazley, senior.” (father of Kim Beazley, former leader of the Australian Labor Party – ed.). So she arranged for my mother to meet Kim Beazley, and he said, “Look I can’t help, I’ve just been elected, I have nothing to do with Immigration. There is nothing I can do.” He spoke nicely. Anyway, as we were leaving he took my mother by the arm and he gently said, “Now if it was my mother, I would get her to England if you have relations there, and from England I would get her to America, and from America I’d get her to New Zealand and once you have her in New Zealand you are home because no papers are necessary to get from New Zealand to Australia. And that’s what my mother did. She mortgaged and borrowed and begged – didn’t steal – and got her mother here some time in ’47. It took about a year.