Bob explains how he met his wife, what kind of jobs he did as a civilian during the war and the restrictions which Jews and foreigners experienced at that time.
INT1: How did you meet Barbara?
BK: Well, I was acquainted by then with a guy called Sidney Shear He plays the piano at the, very often at the Jewish Care
BK: Anyways so… Sidney Shear was a close friend at the time and one day he said – I think that is the book, “I’d like you to meet my fiancé”. So we went back to the fiancé’s house and there was also this other girl sitting in the corner working on her German homework.
She was very pretty, so my German came in handy. I helped her and we’ve been married happily ever after
INT1: And how long, how many years have you been married?
BK: 1953 to… what is that? 57 years?
INT1: Um, o…once you start working, ah, my question is, was… was it hard to get work? Obviously, once you started as a commercial traveller…
BK: It was very hard to start. Very hard to start this commercial travelling
INT1: Was it?
BK: Uh, visualize a young man whose pretty well lost in civilian life, going around with a little couple of cases with a few skirt samples in them… knowing nobody in the business, right
INT1: So, and did you make a difference? Well, your English is very good, do, do you think people knew you came from abroad?
BK: By that time I think I still had a bit of an accent. Not much, I never had much of accent, but you could tell that I came from abroad, yes
INT1: Mm. And did that make a difference to people’s attitudes?
BK: No! They were just curious about my accent. That’s all
INT1: That’s right, and…
BK: That’s still going on
INT1: …and and… I don’t hear an accent. Um, did you have any reason to tell the people you were working with your Jewish origin or was it an issue?
BK: It was never an issue except with golf clubs
BK: I couldn’t get into ANY club. You must all know that then
INT 1 & 2: Mm
BK: There wasn’t one, not one club that would accept a Jew. Not necessarily a different story. My accountant – when I started business and I needed an accountant, a one man business. And he one day said, “Listen Bob, why don’t you play golf?” I said, “Because nobody would take me.” He said, “you’re la… you’re laughable. That’s ridiculous, it doesn’t happen!”
I said, “It happens.” So he went away and came back a month later and said, “Bob I’m ashamed, I couldn’t get you into my club.” And that’s what it was like at the time
BK: Oh yeah ! Then I got one interesting job. My mother helped. She was a great helper, my mother. She took charge. Um, so she remembered that there was a Nottingham man… big manufacturer of ladies’ stockings. You know the old fashion stockings…
BK: …with seams and fully fashioned. He ma… in a big way he manufactured those. My mother went to see him and said, “Can you give my son a job?” and he employed me. And they trained me to work this very fancy machinery… very, very long big machine; thousands of needles doing anything
BK: Um, only I was useless with my hands. So I broke one
BK: Which was thousands of thousands of thousands of pounds worth
INT1: Oh dear
BK: Oh, it was located in a town called Ilkeston near Nottingham. And, um, Ilkeston was still I think in dark ages; they never seen a foreigner before. And nobody trusted me. Nobody wanted to talk to me. I was enemy alien by then
INT2: Of course, because the war was on
BK: Yea. Um, the only people that trust me was the girls in the factory the men didn’t
BK: And my English wasn’t all that good so it was hard to communicate and when I broke that machine I was in dog house. But Mr. Noskwith that was the name of the owner and the company by the way was Charnos. They’re still in business now
BK: Mr. Noskwith gave me one more chance. Ah, in the interim, the guy was sole in charge of me came to me and said, “Norbert, Bert whatever they called me those days, I’m getting married will you be my best man?” That was the funniest situation in my life by the way. He didn’t even like me. And I didn’t like him. But he asked me because he had nobody else I suppose
BK: Came the day, the great day I was dressed up in my best finery and I remember belting up the aisle, I handed the ring to the bride-groom, I went back down to the aisle to be the usher. I was usher and best man. And I went out to the car big bridal car and they came out, she was in a beautiful finery, opened the car door for her, she stepped in, and then I had the door opened for him and I slammed it on his hand
BK: Ah, I did not do much good for his honeymoon
BK: In fact, I never knew, I know he drove off swearing! Blood curdling swearing…
And that was the last I heard of him actually
BK: And then I broke another machine. And even Mr. Noskwith had to fire me. These was complicated machinery!
BK: All the fine needles; hundred of needles knitting away at the same time you see. The end of fully fashioning bit, the machine picked up a stitch, transferred it to next row of stitches; like in knitting
INT 1 & 2: Mm Hmmm
BK: It was knitting. Ah, so eventually… (laughs) I was knitting!
BK: Out of that factory from frying pan into the fire because got a couple more jobs and there weren’t much cop or I wasn’t.
Oh! One more thing that’s interesting. Not… my point of view. They introduced legislation that all foreigners if they wanted to move from here to there, they had to register that they were going somewhere. Well, Ilkeston was seven miles from Nottingham where my family was. So we… I was in digs in Ilkeston. Terrible digs. But, when I wanted to go to Nottingham for the weekend, I had to go to the police station. They had to stamp in this special book and they wrote inside, “Subject entitled to move from so… …… somewhere…… Um, may move from Notting… Ilkeston to Nottingham for twenty four hours and report back to…” Bloody ridiculous! We were the Polish-Jews who wanted to be on the British side!
BK: We couldn’t have wanted anything more. Anyway, this happened for quite some time. So every… even… every time I wanted to go to Nottingham I got on my bike, literally, and rode the seven miles Nottingham back again, get the book stamped again. Even twelve hours stamp the book. And that went on for a while. Anyway, I got jobs in Nottingham. They were rubbish. So was I. So I eventually went to London, to begin with on my own. In London I got a job with some nice Jewish guys; two partners. Um, it was quite a good job. I was given reasonable responsibility. Um, it was right in the heart of London, in Poland Street
BK: Just in Oxford Street
INT 1 & 2: Mm Hmm
BK: Um, and that was good; at last I made good friends. Only London get… was getting shit bombed out of it, it wasn’t cozy at that time
BK: It was an experience to see what happened in London and to hear the bombs and the sirens and alarms, the alerts. That is a terrible memory. Terrible memory of going to the tube stations and see… seeing people living there
INT2: Mm Hmm
BK: In tents! They, im… improvised homes!
BK: And there were sitting and troops playing music. It was something else. That was Britain in those days
INT: Mm Hmm
BK: And to see those bombed out houses. Eh, uh and I had this other job in again in London. I did reasonably well with these people. And as I said I kept trying the army and eventually I made it. And I told you guys that…
INT1: And, and you were part of, was the British army, wasn’t the Jewish brigade so that was quite (precious?)…
BK: No, the Jewish brigade were tough cookies
BK: No. But they… they mostly came out of Israel. Out of Palestine
INT1: My, my father-in-law was in the Jewish brigade that’s why
BK: Well they were very very tough guys they were. All of them… and very…
BK: …And very hero worshipped. Us, who were not in it, thought they were wonderful
BK: They helped in the capture of Tobruk, which was one the major British victories
BK: Well, I guess a lot of them joined from here. I don’t know how but…
BK: It was based on Israel. I think. Listen, I was… I think. Anyway…
BK: …so we, I fought my own war which wasn’t very dangerous one because I was in the intelligence corp. In fact I made sure I never heard a shot fired in anger. Would have been very indignant if anybody had fired at me (laughs). Um, so after four years, two years which were spent on war crimes interrogation… I tell you something that was unbelievable. I think about now I,m telling you I was twenty one?
INT2: Mm that’s pretty young
BK: And bit young for this incredibly responsible job. I mean we had some famous Nazi war criminals some wound up in Nuremberg. And there was a woman, you would have heard of her, who came before me for just a few hours and I allowed her to sit ’cause she was a woman across the desk.
And she crossed her legs and tried to be very seductive. Her name was Irma Grese, does that mean anything to you?
BK: But when I saw her she had beautified her as much as she… herself… as much as she could. And, she actually said to me, “What, what, why, there were far too many Jews. What would you do with them?”
INT1: ‘Cause what, what was her job in the concentration camps?
BK: She was deputy commandant at Belsen. Her husband was I think commandant. They had family business. And her hobby was making lamp shades out of human skin
BK: She was very notorious for that. Why, I didn’t have very much to do with her.
I think I sent documentation to be put in. She went to, she was sentenced to death. AND she was hanged. And I’m told that she said, “hurry up boys” when she stood in the scaffold. She was really tough cookie but a cow. And her husband got the same treatment eventually, he, he was hanged as well
INT1: She didn’t try to deny what she had done?
BK: She was proud it. That she couldn’t have denied it. I mean…
BK: In fact, she used to have the prisoners pursued by dogs. You know what happened to Jewish concentration camp inmates.
They left early in the morning for work, they were marched for two or three hours, got to work, maybe a gruel for soup, food I mean, beaten up all day, marched back maybe fourteen hours all together, and they were dying on their feet and when they got in she sent, set her dogs on them. Um, she was unspeakable. Well, there were a lot of unspeakables. And that, but that, that was my war.