This section deals with Isis Metzstein’s arrival in Scotland in 1939 and recounts where he was cared for and where ie went to school. It also describes how other members of his family managed to come to Britain.
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INT: When did you arrive in Scotland?
IM: The 28th of June 1939
INT: And you remember it very well?
IM: No I don’t…I remember the arrival, I don’t remember the date. I just happened to have recently looked at the document which was stamped with the 28th of… Of course we arrived a day earlier in London but as far as arriving in Scotland – the 28th of June.
INT: And how old were you then?
IM: Just a few days short of eleven
INT: Oh you were very young. How and why did you come to Scotland?
IM: Because the people who were taking me into care were Scottish. There was somebody in Berlin. My older sister, it may have been her teacher (I’m not sure of their relationship) had connections in Scotland with groups of people, I think they were some Christians, they weren’t with the Brethren, but people like that.
IM: And they took up individual children into their home.
INT: And where exactly did you stay? Here in Glasgow was it?
IM: No, it was outside Clydebank. A place called Hardgate. Not a terribly well known place
INT: No, not a lot of Jews there I don’t suppose?
IM: In fact there was one, I think, somewhere up the road but no there weren’t any Jews really.
INT: So what was your impression of Scotland and the people? It must have been very strange for you.
IM: Well actually it wasn’t all that strange It wasn’t all that strange. The people were very friendly. The family I went to were very accommodating – they had a boy the same age as me and they were actually… I mean it must have been as strange for them as it was for me because they were very ordinary, nice ordinary, upper working class people. They worked in Singers and places like that, when Singers was still around.
And to have a strange child, Jewish child, who couldn’t speak English, arrive in their midst – they were very… I use the word ordinary, I don’t mean that negatively I just mean they had never explored the world, the way people do nowadays. I think their idea of adventure was to go to Edinburgh for a day, yes, and it must have been very strange for them.
INT: Of course. And did you find that you picked up the language very rapidly?
IM: Yes within about 6 weeks I think
INT: Really? That’s amazing
IM: That’s what happens. It’s not me, I’m not very good at languages, no. I went to a local school in Duntocher and within 6 weeks definitely I could speak to the other children and incidentally, just for the record, I had no problem there either. There was no bullying. They thought it was very strange and asked me funny questions but I was a kind of exciting newcomer. So, I found the transfer from Germany to Scotland fairly painless apart from, of course, missing my family and all the other things. But the reception and the welcome was very easy.
INT: That’s good. Did you meet or even mix with the local Jewish community or were you…
IM: There is no local Jewish community.
INT: Oh no, but with the wider Glasgow area?
IM: Well, I don’t know how to explain that. I stayed with these people till about May…May/June 1940 when the Germans finally got, got to invade France and Holland and all that and there was a certain doubt about German or strange children being around I think. Also, the Jewish community here set up a hostel in Skelmorlie for local evacuees and when that happened the community, whatever they were, they collected as many of the Jewish children that had been living with non-Jewish families and sent them to Skelmorlie.
So, in about middle of, near the middle of 1940 we lived in a hostel, in a Jewish hostel. But it wasn’t for refugees as such, it was for the local children from Glasgow – Jewish children.
INT: I see. So, I know I was going to ask you about the refugee centre – that’s not the refugee centre?
IM: No, no
INT: That was something separate?
IM: That’s not the refugee centre. We went to Skelmorlie. and then later in Castle Douglas. And of course, as the war progressed, the local children went back home and what was left, the residue, was all Kinder Transportees
INT: Yes, I see
IM: But it wasn’t originally set up for that.
INT: And you went to school there did you?
IM: I went to school in Castle Douglas. The rest of them went to Kirkcudbright, the older children. But I was back here in 1943 and then went to Hyndland.
INT: And who were you staying with then?
IM: My mother
INT: Oh she had come out by that time?
IM: Well she had come out before the war of course. But originally she was in Dorset in the south coast with my older sister, as a domestic cook and nursery maid.
And when the Germans finally got to the Channel ports the authorities here thought that people of German origin were possible spies and they might signal to the German submarines. So they had to leave Dorset and they came up to Glasgow.
INT: Right, and so you were all together then?
IM: Well, 1943, not right at the end but 1943, most of us were sent away from Castle Douglas and came back to Glasgow and those who had families were sent back to their families. That’s how I rejoined my mother and the other children, my brothers and sisters. Since I arrived in Britain, I never spoke German. At first I lived with a family who couldn’t speak German and then went to the hostel and by that time we could speak English and very rarely did somebody in the hostel speak German, or at least that I know of.
INT2: But you lived with your mother?
DM: Well, she spoke German to you and you answered in English.
IM: Yeah, I answered in English
DM: Which was the usual setup wasn’t it?
IM: She started speaking English and finally we only spoke in English.
INT: And was that a subconscious or a conscious decision? I know a lot of refugees who came at the same sort of time chose not to speak in the continental language that they had started with.
IM: No. Again, it’s circumstantial. If you look at my record, everything is virtually circumstantial. I didn’t plan these things. The fact remains that I came here, couldn’t speak to anybody in German, didn’t get together with my mother until, from ’39-’43, so by that time she was mostly speaking English. But she spoke a whole lot of languages – she spoke Polish, Russian, Yiddish, German and a bit, quite a lot of English. So she was an incredible English-speaker by 1948/47 and I never spoke German again. Or very rarely. My sister. She came over and she went to people in Clydebank. My younger brother went to people in Kilmarnock. They were separated. And then we came together in the hostel in Skelmorlie and my mother and my sister came back, came up from Dorset where they were, and then my sister went to London. I’d a brother already in London.
DM: And you were five siblings who got reunited.
IM: We weren’t reunited for very long. My sister went to London almost right away.
INT: And did you all come as part of the Kindertransport?
IM: No we didn’t. My mother went, came, entered as a cook in a stately home. It was quite an experience for her, poor soul, because she had to disembowel deer and cook venison and pork and things. I mean that’s something she wouldn’t have physically touched never mind been involved in cooking it. And my sister was there as a children’s nurse and I think they were there for something like, nearly a year…ten months I think and then the serious war broke out and they were told to leave and they came to Glasgow. But my sister, very early after that, she went to live in London.
INT: Your mother must have been very brave to allow her family to be displaced in all these directions.
IM: Well not quite as… Yes I wish I could agree but simply it’s not as simple as that. As so happens my mother had a visa for, to go to the stately home, to work in the stately home with all the children on the visa.
IM: But she didn’t want to, I think it was really my sister, didn’t want to take that risk. So we were sent off but we could have all gone with my mother. But my mother only came and my sister only came to Britain just a few weeks, a month or something before the war broke out. And that being fortuitous timing.
If they hadn’t had that we all would have been trapped in Germany. You can imagine what would have happened then. So we were very lucky but my sister, I think, was the main operator in this thought. I think she thought it would be safer to send all the children away in case something untoward happened.
DM: She was about 17/18 wasn’t she? She took control of the situation then.
INT2: That’s very young.
IM: Well my mother was too busy earning a living.
IM: She had 5 children and no husband.
INT: So, what risk? I’m not quite clear. What risk did she think would be run if you all went to Dorset with your mother?
IM: No, in case the war broke out.
INT: I see. So she wanted you out quicker, I see.
INT2: The older sister went down to London…
IM: I already had a brother who was in… near London. He came out under a different system. When young men became 17 and too old for the Kindertransport there was another arrangement to get him out of Germany and my brother [Joe] had that. And then there were, obviously as I say, the three young children [Isi, Jenny, Leo] and they all went to different people. Then in 1943 we got together with my mother again and I went to school in Glasgow, to Hyndland.
INT2: And so did your siblings (apart from the ones who were down in London), did they go to Hyndland as well?
IM: Well my sister did, my younger brother was too young for that. He went to a school somewhere… St George’s Cross? I don’t know. And that’s it, that’s how we became a family again. But my brother, my older brother and sister didn’t stay long. They shot off, they wanted their freedom.