In this section Bob describes his first jobs in Britain when he left the army after the war. He also talks of his time before that as a soldier in the British army.
INT1: Did you work when, when you arrived here?
BK: Yes, I started out as a small time commercial traveler. Working for somebody called Harold Rubin. He was probably my step-brother-in-law
INT1: Oh right
BK: I acquired a few of those
INT1: (Laughing) Right
BK: And he launched me. And it was only a small way, but I grew from there
INT2: So were you… did you remain living in Ayr at the time?
BK: No. Oh, I came back to Glasgow within months
BK: Within months. And I found digs here. (Laughs) Digs. Um, I won’t go into but… the truth it was dreadful to begin with
BK: …1945 we didn’t know front recording. I, we used to write little reports…
INT1: After the war ended, your war ended at really 1949…
BK: I couldn’t really easily get a job. There were plenty of demob soldiers who couldn’t get jobs.
But like all Jewish boys in London I had connections. So I was offered a job in a night club. I was sort of the only one who could be trusted. I had to handle the money ’cause the nightclub business was notoriously…
INT1: I’m sure still
BK: Probably still. Anyways, I was the main money man and it was a fantastic life. But we worked all night and not during the day and during the day theoretically I was supposed to rest.
BK: Anyways, I was, I did that and also with my sister tried to use my de-mob money to start a little… dress making business that failed at no time at all, so that was my money gone. And that’s when I came to Scotland
INT: So when you were working as an interrogator what age were you then?
BK: Twenty-one or thereabouts.
INT: And did you have any training?
INT: Or did you have any protocols that you were expected…?
BK: What happened was that I was a corporal in the Pioneer Corps – that’s the worst regiment in the British Army. A lot of us refugees were shunted into that. Some were put onto the Isle of Man as prisoners, others, in our case, were in the army.
I was promoted to corporal and became a drill instructor to the worst scum in the British Army – the Pioneer Corps. I kept trying to get in the Intelligence Corps because I had four languages by then fluently. Obviously Italian, French because I lived in France in the interim, English…anyway.
INT: And German.
BK: And German. And German was an important one. So I kept trying to get in the Intelligence Corps and they kept rejecting me. One selection officer actually asked me if I could drive and I said ‘No sir, but I can speak four languages’ and he said ‘No, we’ll teach you to become a driver’. I swear to you.
INT: It does make you wonder about the British Army.
BK: Well…I don’t know how we won the war. So anyway…But then came D-Day.
BK: And on D-Day I was moved to London to Kempton Park, which in those days was an interrogation camp. I was made sergeant and became instantly an interrogator. First of all with the incoming flood of prisoners of war from D-Day, from the beaches of Normandy.
BK: Thousands and thousands came in and we used to have sort of…..to question them briefly, get their records straight.
There were too many of them to do anything else. But when I got past the prisoner of war stage I was put on war crimes interrogation and that was when I felt I made a contribution. You know we had some very nasty people.
INT: So did you decide on your own questions?
INT: And were you just told to go in?
BK: We weren’t even trained but, you know most of us, the sergeants, were of the same background as myself.
BK: Mostly German Jewish refugees who had landed in Britain. They might have been in the Kindertransports, I don’t know. They had landed in Britain, landed in the army because, like me, they wanted to be in the army. We didn’t want to be foreigners, we didn’t want to be whatever it was, we just… So quite a few of these sergeants with slightly foreign accents and my kind of background. Well not quite my background.
We… Listen, you have one of these Nazis standing in front of you. You know without even questioning what his history is, you know he’s worked in a concentration camp or in a ghetto or he’s beaten up Jews or he’s done whatever and we worked on that principle.
We prejudged. We did prejudge, there’s no doubt about it, but we weren’t so far wrong and that’s how it went. After the war it still went on for about a year because the prisoners were still coming, the baddies were still coming before us and that’s why I mentioned a few names. But it was an experience and a half for a young man.
INT: I think you must have had terrible nightmares at night as well.
BK: I did. For a while I was hypersensitive because at that age you’re not… But I did have some nightmares, I still have occasionally of some of the people I’ve mentioned.
But altogether the animals that came before you and tried to persuade you that they’d ‘always loved the Jews, their best friends were Jews, they’d never met anybody but Jews, Jews were wonderful’
I’ve written about that. That ‘they used to invite them to their picnics’- like hell they did. But by that time the Germans were our prisoners and they lived in fear and trembling and it wasn’t always unjustified or unwarranted because we didn’t give them a very good time. No physical ill-treatment. None. We didn’t do that but we still didn’t make them very happy.
The threat of imprisonment hung over their heads and that was the thing, we were twenty-one / twenty-two by then and we had the power to make judgments. I could say this guy’s a baddie, I recommend twenty years imprisonment. They never served all that time. Never ever because the British Army again… you’ve no idea. Higher officers thought that if a German could speak English he’s a gentleman, he couldn’t be bad… But meantime, we used to pass the judgement.
INT: So when they were sentenced to imprisonment for twenty years where would they be sent?
BK: To camps, internment camps.
INT: Internment camps in Britain?
BK: No, most were in Germany
INT: Mostly in Germany, right.
BK: Where I was stationed, I was stationed in Germany by then. No we had camps and what happened was…say I, for example, interrogated him in an interrogation room and if I thought they should be dealt with further I passed my recommendation and the recommendation for sentence and so on. The ones we didn’t consider dangerous or really wicked in a big level we just released. We had the power to release them as well.
BK: So they knew they had to be good with us. Good boys or else. But in some cases I went as far as a thirty year sentence. One or two of the people I’ve written about. But they weren’t implemented. A year or two and they were out; all the Nazis were out in a year or two anyway. And that’s how it turned out. Eventually I got very tired of what I did and the minute my military service ended I quit and that was it.