INT: Good morning Suzanne, today is the 31st may 2013 and we are here to interview Suzanne Ullmann, and generally what we do is we ask what your name is at birth and where you where born.
SU : I was born in Budapest in 1935, 8th of December and my name….Hungarian name is Ullmann Zsuzsanna Louisa, Susan Louise Ullmann.
INT: And are you an only child, or ?
SU : No I have twin brothers who are two years younger than myself, and a twin brother and sister who were actually born in London during the war.
INT: So are you the eldest?
SU : Yes I am the eldest.
INT: Would you like to tell us a little about where you grew up in Budapest? Was it a typical Jewish community?
SU : My father went on business to London in 39 and my mother went to visit him and she was unable to return. She went to visit him in 1940, during the war when the war had already broken out. We got stranded in Hungary when I was 4 and my brothers were 2, my parents had been living with our paternal grandmother in a flat, with a nanny.
INT: Was your father still in London?
SU : Yes throughout the war my parents were in London and we were separated for 7 and a half years. And the younger twins, a boy and a girl, were born in England during the blitz. I don’t know when the blitz was, 1942 they were born.
INT: So where you able to keep in contact or?
SU : Well I have just finished translating my grandmother’s letters from 1940 to 1942 and then correspondence stopped. And the letters went via Geneva, the Red Cross, Thomas Cook, some she sent to New York and they were posted on from New York to London; some she sent to relatives in Los Angeles, and as not all the letters arrived she started numbering them after a while so that she knew…And some didn’t arrive at all, and then correspondence stopped in 1942.
INT: It must have been very traumatic for you at the age of 4…
SU : Well…. a child accepts whatever comes, she (Suzanne’s little grandma) says we talked about my parents every day, and in one of the letters she quotes me as saying I am really embittered that they are not here and not coming back, and I said why, and she said because the war is on, and I said well they could take an airplane, or they can walk, suggesting ways, so I missed them terribly
INT: So what age did you start school in Budapest?
SU : In Hungary I went to nursery school for a while and I loved school but there wasn’t much money, because my parents weren’t there to earn the money. I went to primary school later on but the war disrupted education…
INT: Was your grandmother working?
SU : No my paternal grandmother was rather a helpless figure, she was actually German but in 45 years in Hungary she never learned to speak Hungarian. But it was my maternal grandmother who really did all the work and she lived elsewhere. My mother came from a poor family and my father from a rich family, so there was a great tension. They didn’t want the marriage to take place so my father courted my mother for six years and it wasn’t until his father died that he was able to marry
INT: How did they meet?
SU : They met in a sort of Academy of Economics, because there was something called the numerus clausus, because only 20% of Jews were allowed to go to university; there was a restriction on Jewish attendance, so they couldn’t go to university so they went to this Commercial Academy and they met there.
INT: Did you have a Jewish life?
SU : Well I remember my maternal grandmother we called ‘little grandma’ because she was very small and when they introduced me to my grandmother I said, she isn’t grand she is small, and the other we called ‘old grandmother’. She was older and more set in her ways, I remember every morning she would read her prayer book and she would sort of bless us, but we didn’t really have anything else.
INT: So you were obviously quite young while living there, living with a generation that were much older, so did you make friends at nursery school?
SU : Well I was only allowed to go there for 6 weeks initially, I get this from the letters I have just found and translated, and I just loved being there with the children, otherwise no. The nannies would take us to the park, if it pleased them but in fact we were quite ill treated according to my maternal grandmother, especially later on, you know when the Nazis came in, things got very bad like when food was short we weren’t fed enough because they where feeding their sweethearts and own children with the food available, no I just had my brothers, so we fought a lot, because we were very restricted in space.
INT: Do you remember much of your life or do you find reading the letters they remind you?
SU : No I remember it vividly because the things that happened impress themselves on your consciousness because they where so unusual, I remember the various nannies and the way they treated us. I learned things from the letters which where not clear to me, the fact that they brought their lovers up and had orgies in my parents’ bedrooms for instance, I was conscious of people being there but I didn’t know what, I was protected by my ignorance from a lot.
INT: And I imagine it would be difficult for your grandmother to complain because of the situation
SU : Well it was extremely difficult because little grandma lived elsewhere and didn’t have influence at home, she had the brains and knew what was going on. And elder grandma didn’t know what was going on but she had the money, and when she (little grandma) complained what was going on, old grandma just raised the salaries. It was a very abnormal situation.
INT: Did old grandma live with you?
SU : Yes when my parents got married they lived with old grandma, she was quite naive, she loved us, but in one of the letters she says to little grandma, if my son wouldn’t have got married he wouldn’t have had these children and I wouldn’t have all this bother. But then she says to my parents she really does love the children, these things came out but she wasn’t quite up to the situation.