INT: Good. When did you arrive here in Scotland and how old were you when you came?
JSS: Well, first of all I did not arrive initially in Scotland but in England on the Kindertransport. I had been working for quite some time in agriculture as a farm labourer or farm pupil, whatever you like. I can enlarge that later if you want me to. In Scotland, the first time I came to Scotland was in 1944 in June, early in June 1944, after I had been called up. I say called up because I had volunteered in May, I had some problems in volunteering in May simply because I was in the reserved occupation and I had to say that I was a hay carter that was apparently not enough reserved and so I got in. So I came here, the first time in 1944, I spent 6 weeks being in general training in Maryhill Barracks and from there then after 6 weeks I went to Colchester and joined the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, Light Infantry. If you want me to continue this aspect very quickly?
INT: Yes sure
JSS: And I after a short time in there, the best of 3 or 4 months, the opportunity came to volunteer for special services. I volunteered both for commandos and the parachute regiment. The parachute regiment needed people at that time because they had just lost a lot of people in Arnhem I guess? But in any case they called me first and I became a paratrooper there.
INT: Goodness and did you ever have to go out of the plane and battle? Did you have a chance of showing off your skills?
JSS: Not really because the war was coming towards an end at that time and we were standing by, standing by, we were not used at that time. And then there came the, the European theatre would disappear. I had an opportunity initially, or I thought I had one but it didn’t work out, to drop onto Norway at that time but it didn’t work out. I was with the intelligence office, I was in the intelligence section of the para’s at that time and then we put aside, the battalion it was moved aside, moved our camp amongst other things and then we were going to go… to fly east. The seaborne part, they had already gone to the far east at that time and then the Japanese war came to an end and for a short time I was trying to learn enough Japanese to make sense of any maps that I could find and instead of that they decided to send us into the one theatre that I did not want, particularly want to go, to Palestine. So we were sent to Palestine and first up in the Gaza area and then to Tel Letwinsky.
INT: I was trying to find what (Tel Letwinsky) was called now because we couldn’t find it on the map and actually we couldn’t find it on old maps either.
JSS: Well that was the name that I had, I was not there very long but it was I will say a British…barracks is too good.
INT: An outpost?
JSS: It’s not an outpost. The outpost would be Gaza because nothing much happened there. From there they went into Tel Aviv for example, on one occasion, I was getting very angry at them but that’s beside the point. I didn’t go on this but they were all in favour. Bevan’s policy was anti Jewish and pro Arab. You probably know that as well as I do. In fact he made a statement at some stage to say that he would solve the problem but he didn’t solve the problem and he handed them… he evacuated, he evacuated. There were lots of things but Israelis would be able to tell you much more of the anti Jewish policy and it was only after they used to hang Irgun or fighters that they had caught and so on. And then Irgun got two British sergeants, they were actually intelligence sergeants, caught them. And they threatened that they would retaliate, which they did, and they hung these two which was a pity. But after that the hanging of Jewish Irgun or other fighters stopped. There were a few Jewish boys in there and when it became very obvious… and the British powers, that they were really much more interested in siding with the Arabs there. The Jewish boys were taken out of the unit and sent to Egypt to work in POW camps and so the rest of my work was really in POW camps again on interpreting and intelligence work and identifying potential war criminals and so on. But it was all a waste of time; Britain had lost its interest in the war criminals. Their main interest was what was happening in Greece where the communists, there was a big communist problem going on there. It was really largely a waste of time.
INT: And what happened in the end to these people, the prisoners of war?
JSS: They were sent back. Nothing happened.
INT: Nothing happened.
JSS: I took one group, OK, you asked… So later when we were stationed… forget them for now. I took one group to Port Said and the reason was these were all German spies, now I mean spies. Most of them had been captured in Iran or what was then Persia. Some of them were apparently civilians, German civilians, others were from the… Abwehr was the army.
INT: Was it the regular army?
JSS: Yes but there was the SS and the Gestapo and so on and the Abwehr was the military side that had been captured. So there were all sorts of individuals that were there and it’s really incredible. I had the job to take them in the lorry, ten or twelve of them, with a couple of squaddies with me, through a lot of desert to Port Said to be sent back to the UK initially but actually to be employed in Berlin which at that time was the last thing I wanted. The first people to be repatriated to the best of my knowledge from there were people that I would have thought should have been hung. However, that was the job, I had my pistol there and I don’t think they had any intention of escaping at all, they knew then what was going to happen. They were going to be used for intelligence work against the Russians. I mean all I did was make sure that they arrived at the other side with my two squaddies.
INT: So say again, they were going to be used in intelligence…
INT: Against the Russians.
INT: …against the Russians.
JSS: In Berlin, I think that’s where they were finally, but I lost all further contact. I’m pretty sure that’s where they were used. It was interesting to some extent. And then I was, my time was up, I was released in 1947, September 1947 with having reached the dizzy heights of war Substantive Sergeant.
INT: And what age were you then?
JSS: In 1947 I was 23.
INT: And you say you were a Substantive Sergeant, is that right? Is there a word substantive Sergeant?
JSS: War Substantive.
JSS: In other words the regulars didn’t have the war substantive. It meant that as soon as the war finished as far as they were concerned the rank could be reused or changed because of money.
INT: Ah right.
JSS: But it was nice at least to have the war substantive which means whilst there was a war on… but that was irrelevant. That rank was arrived at…on extra regimental duties, I hope you have got there, because it was extra regimental duties in prisoner of war camps. The prisoners of war were German prisoners of war who had been captured mainly in the Aegean area. Some, there were allsorts, and if you want me to I’ll enlarge slightly on that.
INT: Yes please.
JSS: There were hardliners, that was ‘hardline’ Nazis. They had already been identified by the time we got the majority of them. Then there were people that were involved but in some cases involved in war crimes which were of various different types that had been elucidated by other people who had earlier interrogated them but it couldn’t easily be proved so they were all a category. So they were ‘C’s’ or ‘B’s’ ‘C+’ was the real hard core. The ‘B’s’ were non political almost and the ‘A’s’ were really totally non political. And they were usually quite young and some of the clerks that we employed were mainly, at least that I employed, were all ‘A’s’. And they were nearly my age or very close to it. And there was no clear political…
I should enlarge a bit more on that. I served in two different prisoner of war camps. That was because the Jewish people in the parachute regiment were sent out of Palestine. The majority, except those who protested and wanted to serve there and there were very few. I don’t know, they could say they wanted to stay with the regiment which there always were, I didn’t have much choice and it never even occurred. So they were sent out, there were, in my unit, there were maybe between 6 and 10 out of the four or five hundred people that were there, a small group. And earlier, before we went to Palestine and so on, I was in the ‘I section’, that was the intelligence section of the unit. There I was a private, again if you want me to say a bit more I’m very happy to but it may not be relevant because eventually I left the ‘I section’ when the war had finished and we were, or just before the war had finished. We were due to drop probably on the Japanese mainland, the whole unit, and I learned for a very short time, learned is the wrong word because I’ve forgotten most of it, to identify Japanese regiment units from maps. If we got some maps we were meant to read… A total waste of time I couldn’t do anything of this sort.
Now our seaborne party, that means the party to accept the regiment and prepare things for it, had already gone out to India. We were still training in Britain but the war had then finished, that was after the Japanese surrendered. So Bevan decided to send the unit to Palestine where there were real problems, that was the last place I wanted to go to. I actually spoke to Captain Pengelly, he had been a Captain in the para’s, the name Pengelly is Cornish I think. Anyway he persuaded me that I, being in the unit and… he would be prepared to try to help me to look for my parents but I really should show some esprit de corps. I decided I’d been part of the unit for some time so I didn’t insist on trying to get to Europe after the war.
INT: So when you were 23 and released did you come back to Scotland or stay in England at that point?
JSS: I went to England, I went to Birmingham, I had decided for some time that I ought to do something positive rather than pretty negative things and that I needed to get back to the educational level that I expected, or I should say that my parents would have expected me to reach. When we were demobbed my brother and I were together and came together again at that time. He incidentally had been earlier and he was sent to ‘OxU’ Officer’s Training Corps and he just made that at the end of ’45. So neither of us actually…he was in the Royal Warwicks and neither of us actually did anything really useful during our army careers.
INT: But I was under the impression that you had to be in a Jewish Brigade as somebody coming from abroad, you were allowed to serve?
JSS: At that time, yes absolutely.
INT: Because it was later in the war then?
JSS: It was later in the war, it was ’44, and there was no question about that.
INT: That’s interesting. Then after the war ended what happened?
JSS: When we came out both of us wanted to get our university education. My brother who had been doing his matriculation and his Highers in Coventry, because we had been separated, whereas I was on the farm, he got an FETS grant, Further Education and Training Grant. In my case it was refused because I had been in farming and I had not been studying apparently at that time. So I got nothing from that. However, my brother and I for the first year shared actually his grant but then he went to University College London whereas I had my… sat my matriculation, my mature matriculation, both of us had to sit mature matriculation, into Birmingham University . So they had to offer me a place, so after the first year I got a grant from Birmingham itself. I also had some help from the family, Mr and Mrs Peskin, who are dead now, who had actually guaranteed for us children when we first came over as children, aged at that time 14 and 13. So I got a grant from Birmingham, not from the university but from the city, and from then onwards we went slightly separate ways. There were two things that I should say; first of all going back early to when we first came over to England we were both going to be interviewed by an educational psychologist. We had of course done no educational work at all for the last year in Vienna, after Hitler had came we were thrown out of our school and this was nearly a year later. And this man had obviously been educated beyond his intellectual capacity and he decided we were not worth educating. That is how I actually was interested in farming although I was not sent to a farming college but to work as a pupil on a… for a pretty dreadful farmer.
INT: How did he decide you weren’t worthy of educating?
JSS: He tried to interview me in Latin, he said “I see you’ve done Latin for at least a couple of years” and so on. Now I don’t know whether you have done Latin at all.
JSS: But certainly not colloquial Latin.
JSS: I obviously could not possibly hold an interview in Latin. That’s the way it goes. A second time almost the same thing happened to us when we got into Birmingham University, potentially into Birmingham University, because we had taken this mature matriculation into the university itself. There was a man, the admissions tutor, I don’t know if I should mention his name. But OK, his name was Dr. Ibbs at that time, Major Ibbs he called himself because he was something in the Territorial Army but he had not done very much elsewhere. He was an awful lecturer, he lectured in heat, however, he interviewed us. He offered me mining engineering in which I’d absolutely no interest whatsoever and he offered Gerhard, my brother, a year below what he could already enter in because Gerhard had taken an intermediate just before joining, the London Intermediate. I had learned matric but that didn’t make… We both didn’t accept this, eventually he had to offer something else so he offered me botany and biology and from then onward it went on. But he said “You would have been better off if both of you had failed”. He obviously didn’t like refugees or at least like… Don’t forget, we weren’t young men then and we were experienced, we had been living for quite a long time in the army and had made reasonable progress there.