In this section Henry explains how he trained as a chef and finally set up a successful catering business. He talks of the political, musical and other interests pursued by the Jewish refugee community in Glasgow. He describes how orthodox religious rules in Glasgow caused him some problems as a caterer.
INT: Yes. So when was it you were released from internment then? What year was that?
H.W: Internment, must have been 1941
INT: And by then you were aged what?
H.W: Sixteen and a half
INT: Sixteen and a half, so you went back to Mrs Harwich?
H.W: I went back to Mrs Harwich and then we decided what I should do. I was offered, I could have gone to study, I could have gone into their upholstery business but I decided to go back into catering and I, I found a job in John Smith and Company; the Grosvenor in the Corn Exchange. Big Glasgow catering company and I worked; I worked in the Corn Exchange Restaurant under Chef Hausdorfer in the Rogano and in various places.
Eventually I went to the Beresford Hotel. While I was in the Beresford Hotel I started off as a, obviously, as a chef de partie and I became sous chef and eventually in the Grand Hotel I became head chef; I was in charge of The Grand. The Grand Hotel in Sauchiehall Street which is that 1930’s building, you know it’s now student residence. There’s modern this, you know
H.W: Opposite Elmbank Street, you know
H.W: That was the Beresford not Grand sorry, Beresford Hotel. Then I went on from the Beresford Hotel to the Grand Hotel which was at Charing Cross; it is now a motorway. That was the big Grand Hotel; belonged to the co-operative. I became chef de partie there, I became head chef there (chef de cuisine.) my whole career was there and eventually I left there and went to France
INT: When was that?
H.W: 1953, I went to France and worked for a few months in France by which time I was married and then I came back here and then I went back to the Grand Hotel. But after that I went out of the Grand Hotel; I did other things.
So that’s quite an interesting period. I, you know catering in these days; when I started it was war time and rationing was fairly strict. You could buy so much fish and when it was finished it was finished – there was a limited supply. Nevertheless there was only a price restriction in, in Great Britain. There was only a price restriction. You could not charge more than five shillings for a meal. You didn’t need coupons like in other countries, [You did not need your ration book] You could go to a restaurant. This country was quite different from other countries. You could go to a restaurant during the war here if you had the money and if there was enough food. It didn’t, it had nothing to do with your rationing. is another story, it’s fate.
We all wanted to do something. I wanted to join the Merchant Navy. I wanted in the Isle of Man in the internment camp we were given, if you wanted early release, you were given the chance to join the Pioneer Corps.
Well, the Pioneer Corps was the lowest of the low. We wanted to fight, we wanted to fight Hitler with something better than the Pioneer Corps; so I didn’t join the Pioneer Corps, I was released.
When I came to Glasgow I went to the Labour Exchange in these days known as the ‘Broo’ in Waterloo Street.
H.W: Still the Broo I wanted to join the Navy (I didn’t get [in]). I wrote letters to my MP (didn’t get). I wanted to go to Hillington, you know to make munitions, whatever. In the Labour Exchange at Waterloo Street sits this young boy, I don’t think he was a year older than I was and he looked at me and he said ‘Specky’ (He called me ‘specky’) ‘Specky’ he said ‘You’ll go naewhere, we also need people to cook for the public’
Now, this seventeen year old clerk in the Labour Exchange, any application I made he tore it up and threw it in the bin. Incredible. So I spent the war here in Glasgow in, cooking for the public so to speak and in the Grand Hotel eventually I was responsible for starting kosher catering.
INT: At the Grand Hotel?
H.W: Yeah, the Grand Hotel
INT: Yes. And then you started up your own catering business?
H.W: Yes, yes I first went into business with somebody else with pet foods and birdcages (that didn’t work out) and then I started up my own catering business
INT: When was that?
H.W: That must have been, let me see, 1960, yes, ’62, something like that. So that was quite successful
INT: I’m sure you catered for my Bar Mitzvah
H.W: Yes I did. Oh yes definitely
INT: That was 1961
H.W: Well, there you are. Yeah, you were one of the first. Your mother
INT: Was I one of the first? Yes
H.W: I remember your mother lived in, in the West End
INT: Gardiner Street
H.W: A steep street, I remember that
INT: Yes that’s right. A hill
H.W: I remember that very well
INT: That was between 1960 and ’61
H.W: Yes, that’s right, there you are
INT: So yes you catered my Bar Mitzvah
H.W: Yes that was at the beginning, yes
INT: Yes, that’s good. And how long were you a kosher caterer in Glasgow?
H.W: Until 1990
INT: Until 1990?
H.W: Yes, 1990 that’s right
INT: And what can you say about your experiences as a kosher caterer?
H.W: Experiences, my experiences as a kosher caterer were very interesting, you know. People say – how can you do that? Very simple, of course, if you have to earn a living you can do that. It was interesting in the respect that you got to know a lot of people and you got to know people, you know, you are doing a function for them. You had to go discuss the menu. It spread by word of mouth; it moved very, very quickly because obviously what we did was the right thing at the time. It boomed very quickly and it, I didn’t have to do any advertising. Within two years it absolutely, it grew out of all proportion because we tried to get away from chopped liver and chicken soup; we tried to broaden things out, you know.
Obviously I had different background because people, let’s face it, in these days here, they were extremely blinkered, absolutely blinkered. I mean anything out of a can, you know it didn’t…. It might not be kosher you know I mean, I remember the supervisor went to me
‘You can’t give mayonnaise’
I said ‘What do you mean I can’t give mayonnaise?’
‘But it’s white in colour’
I said ‘It has nothing to do, it’s not made with cream or milk’ you follow?
H.W: They had no knowledge that mayonnaise is made from eggs; but people had no knowledge. They were rather inhibited. So we broadened that out.
We also, but interesting experiences obviously. Most things, with most people I had very good relations. It went very well, people paid their bills, one or two didn’t pay their bills. At the very beginning somebody didn’t pay their bill so I took them to court. I was told you don’t do that. I said, well, I said ‘Watch me’ I’m not, I mean…
It established, after that I had no trouble. No trouble whatsoever. People are people, look at it, I mean
INT: You say you were bringing in more continental styles of catering to Glasgow?
H.W: Yes. Yes, oh yes. For example this is how somebody said to me ‘Look, can you not do something like prawn cocktail?’ So we used salmon, you follow?
People, you know. Other people, then people came back from abroad – ‘Could we have crudites on the table?’
Ok. Half, half of them go ‘Henry, what is this? Have you no time to cook the vegetables?’
You know, it grew and people grew with it and people began to learn. But at the beginning it was very, very restrictive, very restrictive
INT: So you were educating?
H.W: Well in a way yes
INT: The community
H.W: Well, we brought in different things and that’s how, that’s how it is.
INT: How did you meet your wife Ingrid?
H.W: How did I meet my wife Ingrid. When we came to Glasgow (Ingrid came to Glasgow later). When we arrived in Glasgow I was with a Jewish family, most people were with Jewish families but some weren’t. But when you are young and you are refugee and you have a problem with language etc, first of all you try and get together.
So there was the refugee centre, the House on the Hill in Sauchiehall Street which was a most important place. We were very active there, yes. There were discussions, there were theatre groups. Most people, of course we were the young ones. We had a choir and we were very politically active, of course, that was very much so. Very left wing (as it was in these days) we marched on the 1st of May, we fought, we performed all over Scotland. In the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, in Aberdeen for Mrs Churchill’s Aid to Russia Fund to raise money for a second front or whatever.
It was also very, very left wing… very big communist influence as well, there was no question about it.
I mean I wrote pamphlets with Heini Prais and it was an amazing, amazing group of people. Fairly, fairly intelligent, some of them very clever, very high powered. Very politically active. My Ingrid’s father wasn’t keen. He said ‘You shouldn’t get involved in that’
Well, yes you see, now when you are older, you look back on this and of course you get involved in that. But there is such a thing as MI5, let’s face it. You know, you might be sent back if, if you, if you misbehave. But we were very politically active and this is where I met Ingrid. It was on a Sunday we went rambles, I mean remember, none of us had money, most of us had no jobs (we were still studying or whatever).
On a Sunday we went out on walks with the number 4 tram to, to Clarkston and Croftfoot and up in the hills. But we all, well you brought a sandwich or something but as we were very egalitarian you weren’t allowed to eat your own sandwich because you had money and others didn’t so they were thrown in the middle and you took lucky dip. This is, this is how things were. There you are.
This is where I met Ingrid and met lots of people who we were very friendly with and stayed friendly. How did we integrate into the larger community? Well, that also came later. I mean we joined the Music Society and people ask us ‘When you come like that, you can be accused of being clannish – you stick to yourself’
Well alright you do. As a group of refugees, the foreigners in a country, of course you stick to yourselves. If you don’t want us to stick together you have to invite us we can’t knock on your door ‘Let me in’. You have to do it, it has to come from the other side. It, it takes a long time but it did come and we became very integrated obviously. But, you know people said ‘You’re clannish, you all stick together’ and I always said to them, I said ‘Look. Scots emigrate to Canada, what’s the first thing they do? They join a Caledonian Society’
I mean this is, that’s how it is, yes. And then of course they come back home on holiday. We had none, this home for us did not exist.
While I was in that refugee centre there was something called ‘Free German Youth’. It sounds terrible but the Freie Deutsche Jugend was this left wing push; people going back to Germany trying to rebuild after the war. Well we never, ninety percent of us did not have this intention; ten percent did. Well obviously some people went back to help re-establish a new country. When I was in Berlin at the Jewish museum the other day, last year, it produced a booklet written by a chap who came to interview me once, years ago and when I see my name there – “Heinz Wuga”, I was the, the Gauleiter so to speak for Scotland. I mean it, you know, if MI5 gets hold of this, of this kind of thing you are not allowed you get expelled.
So it was quite tremendous what went on but none of us, I mean, from all the people we knew here I think only four or five went back to Germany, to, to Austria or Czechoslovakia to rebuild democratic systems.
Fine, but we had no intention of doing that.
It took me, 1945, it took me until 1947 to bring my mother to Glasgow. The amount of affidavits you needed and I mean and you had to sign that she would not fall on the public purse etc. But eventually she did come here, safe and alive. She came here. She hated Glasgow, even though I was her only child she absolutely hated Glasgow.
What she didn’t like either, that I was married. You see, one son, this little boy and all of a sudden he’s a married man. Now, she liked Ingrid as a person, not as a wife. So, well true. But she was my mum, I mean a wonderful woman, my mother nevertheless.
She, I mean, I tell this quite openly, she never said a bad thing about Ingrid. She really, she respected Ingrid but not as a wife. So after two years my mother left Glasgow to live with her sister in Brooklyn, would you believe that? Absolutely, so much so and she was a very tough lady. In Brooklyn, she started working in restaurants and hotels.
She made a life for herself; she lived there for over twenty-five years. She even got a social security number and a pension; she became an American citizen, a very proud American citizen. She said ‘In the United States nobody asks me where do you come from, they ask what can you do?’
She has a point, you see here a woman in her fifties/sixties trying to get a job in Glasgow is fairly impossible. She worked for another refugee people making stuffed animals but she hated it and she went to America. Every year we with our children, we went to America one year and she came here the next year so we had constant contact.
Then eventually when her sister passed away she came to stay with us in, in Pollokshields and she passed away here in Glasgow aged 89 so… tough but she did it.
INT: What would you say was the attitude of the Scottish people to Jewish people when you were here?
H.W: The general Scottish public I don’t think I ever (apart from the odd anti-Semitic remark) I never had any problems. I think only once in the street was I accosted and possibly not because I was Jewish, possibly because I was foreign.
But I must say, people on the whole, I mean, Glasgow’s a tough city I know that, criminal city etc but really I had no problem, I had no problem with that whatsoever.
INT: What about your involvement in the Jewish community in Glasgow?
H.W: Right, the people I stayed with were a Jewish family; they took me to, they took me to Queens Park Synagogue. I became a member of Queens Park Synagogue with the family and when, when we moved and when I got married we moved to Pollokshields we then went to Pollokshields Synagogue; which doesn’t exist any longer. We got married in Pollokshields Synagogue and we, we had lots of friends, Jewish friends obviously in the Music Society, the Literature Society.
And Ingrid was a dressmaker in these days and got to know other people and eventually we, when Pollokshields Synagogue dissolved I went back to Queens Park and when Queens Park Synagogue dissolved I finally went to the Reform Synagogue which I feel very happy with. I could never have done that while I was a kosher caterer, you can imagine there were pressures, you know, there were certain, obviously there were pressures. But that I feel quite at home there, but I felt quite at home in Queens Park.
INT: Why did you decide to move to the Reform synagogue?
H.W: Because…why did I decide to move to the Reform? My background, my German-Jewish background is much more liberal; not as orthodox as the general community was here. Yes. So that really was not, was not a step away; this, this would eventually happen. I could not do that while I worked, the Beth Din wouldn’t have given me a license as a kosher caterer because I didn’t… I don’t want to go into the religious problems but there are lots of (as you can imagine) we had lots of problems with the Beth Din.
When I, first of all, when I applied for a licence. You know, I started catering, I started kosher catering no problem then all of a sudden people
‘But we have a Bar Mitzvah, if, we would like you to do the Bat Mitzvah but if you do the Bar Mitzvah the Rabbi won’t come’
Why? Well…this is how it was. That’s how it is. So I say to myself I better get a kosher licence otherwise I’ll not go anywhere. Rabbi Gottlieb. I don’t know if you remember Rabbi Gottlieb?
H.W: Remember Rabbi Gottlieb?
INT: Yes, very strict
H.W: Well very strict but, well he was very strict but nevertheless he had a… he said to me, he said, well, ‘You want to apply for a licence?’ He said
‘I’m not sure. We have a, should you really do that? We have enough kosher caterers here’
I said ‘But I would like to apply for a licence’
I said ‘Look, I’m not asking you for business advice I’m asking you I would like a licence’
And eventually he gave it. He said to me ‘Well we don’t expect you to lie flat on the ground on Tisha B’Av in the Synagogue but you have to, you have to conform to certain things’
So I got a licence and then Rabbi Gottlieb passed away then different kinds of Beth Din, then there were always problems, there were always problems with the Beth Din and some people extremely strict. For example, to give you an idea, obviously dishes meat, milk we know about that. Then we had a supervisor Reverend Balanow who became an extremely good friend of mine, I miss him very much he was a very nice man but he was very strict.
INT: He married Claire and myself
H.W: Did he? He was very strict, he was bound to be. He is a supervisor, he’s got to…
But he had, he had a little sense of humour and a little outgoing. So when things happened he would, he would put them right. On the other hand you get new dishes all of a sudden some frummer from the Kollel ‘New dishes? New dishes have to go to the mikveh. Have your dishes ever been to the mikveh’
I said ‘No they haven’t’
‘You better take your dishes to the mikveh’
I mean, we’re taking about thousands of pieces, so you know what I did?
I said ‘here are the keys, you can come to my house and take them’
I never heard anymore. But you had to, but I alright… I can understand it but they get carried away, they get absolutely carried away
H.W: So but we established a good relationship, yes, and may I say, you remember Rabbi Rosen?
INT: I do, yes, a very friendly man
H.W: Now I met him the other day. I met him two years ago; we were going up north and where do I meet him – in Glenfinnan
I said ‘What are you doing here?’
He was here to examine the salmon, you know for… Pesach
He said to me when I left, when I left catering, he said to me ‘You’re going out with a good name’ which was a very nice thing to say, yes?
H.W: That I appreciated, yes that I appreciated. We had, look we had things, we had… with certain debts somebody wouldn’t pay his bill, a very big bill so you can, what can you do? You eventually have to take them to court. Nothing happened. Nothing happened, he wouldn’t, he was fined but it didn’t matter.
Two years later the same man phones me up he said ‘I’ve got another daughter getting married – would you do it?’
I said ‘I will do it if you pay beforehand’
Apparently the man was a gambler. When he had it he was a big boy when he lost he went, he didn’t communicate you know, this is human nature. This is human nature and another man, I mean really I had hardly any debts, another man (he also had business troubles), he went away – he owed me a few hundred pounds. Not a big deal. Two years later he comes to a function here, he says ‘Henry I owe you something, puts out an envelope. You know, these are tales, it’s quite funny
INT: I won’t ask for names
H.W: No, no I won’t give you names. This is, this is, I mean this is, such is life