Holocaust Memorial Day: Jewish survivor in Surrey recalls horror of 1930s Germany
North West Surrey Synagogue invited schools from Guildford and Weybridge to a series of events to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
An otherwise happy childhood in 1930s Munich for six-year-old Beatrice started to unravel at one memorable point.
Now 85, Holocaust survivor Beatrice Gould recalls the time vividly.
“Some children who I used to play with came up to me and said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t play with you anymore because you are a dirty Jewish girl,’” she said.
“Of course I was very upset. I went back to my parents, crying; they tried to explain but they couldn’t.
“From that moment on I was very conscious that I was different.”
With Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday, the North West Surrey Synagogue in Weybridge held a series of events with the theme Don’t Stand By, highlighting the horrors and experiences of one of the most infamous chapters in human history.
Mrs Gould, who now lives in Guildford, spoke on Tuesday morning (January 26).
“I was born to Polish parents, which is what saved our lives,” she said.
“When the Nazis were putting people in the concentration camps, they couldn’t do it to us because we were Polish and not German Jews.”
As Nazi fever swept through Germany in the 1930s, Mrs Gould remembers one of the huge rallies that marked the time.
“It was in 1937, at the end of my road there was a very wide street the Nazis had built to march into Austria,” she said.
“I was taken to a rally by a Christian neighbour. There were crowds of people, I remember it vividly like it was yesterday.
“The army were marching, with Hitler, Goering and Goebbels at the front.
“Everyone was shouting ‘sieg heil’ – I knew it was bad but I found it exciting.”
One year later the authorities tried to send her and her family back to Poland.
“They came and said you are allowed one suitcase. We went to a local prison for two days – I remember the food was disgusting – then went by coach and train to the Polish border,” she said. “We were to be left there and told to walk; it was November. This was happening all over Germany.
“We stopped at the border and one man from each carriage – in our case my father – was chosen to go to a meeting.
“He returned about half-an-hour later and told us we were going back to Munich.
“I didn’t know why for years, but then I found out the Polish were saying at the border ‘We don’t want any more Jews here, send them back.’”
Mrs Gould had a large family – her father was one of nine children so there were plenty of aunts and uncles.
Many of her extended family fled Germany before being captured, going to America, Canada or England.
Her father’s youngest brother, only 18 or 19, was sent to a concentration camp, and Mrs Gould later found out he died there.
While another wealthy uncle managed to pay his way out of a camp by signing over all his property and money to the Nazis.
By June 1939 it was time to get out of Germany.
“Four uniformed SS officers came to the door and told us we had one week to leave,” she said.
“We packed up and sent our things to family in America, then went to live in Naples, Italy, hoping to get a boat over there.
“There were so many refugees there, by August we still couldn’t get a ship, so eventually we took a train to Paris.
“We were there the weekend war was declared, Sunday September 3.”
It was in Paris Mrs Gould’s father obtained a permit to go to England.
“He was warned we were taking our lives into our hands because the Channel was full of mines,” she said.
“But my father decided to take the chance.”
They headed to an aunt in St John’s Wood, north-west London. There were few schools open and most of the children had been evacuated. Now there was the issue of the Blitz.
“Some times when I walked to school, if the air raid sirens went I would work out if I was nearest home or nearest school and make a run for it,” Mrs Gould said.
She would go on to become an actress – she had a small part in 1953 British film Genevieve. It was in the 1950s she met husband Harry, a civil structural engineer.
In 1965, due to Harry’s work with the European Space Agency, Mrs Gould was set to live in Germany once again.
“I was pregnant and we took our two young sons,” Mrs Gould said.
“In Germany many children had alienated themselves from their parents because they blamed them for what happened, there’s still a lot of guilt there but we must not judge everybody.
“At one stage we went to Munich and took time to visit our old landlady. I thought of all the things she could’ve done so I couldn’t be friendly with her, although she was very nice.
“But she had suffered so much in the war, her husband was a political prisoner, poor woman.
“It taught me a terrific lesson, never be judgemental, you never know what people are like.”
Mrs Gould would go on to raise four sons, two live in America and two near her in Guildford, and has eight grandchildren. Harry has sadly passed away.
Holocaust Memorial Day continues to be an important date, perhaps now even more relevant.
“I feel for the refugees, fleeing war and discrimination. It’s not always religious but very often,” she said.
“The main point for me is that people remember and say ‘never again’.”