Marie Berlin’s Autobiographical Notes

In this document Marie Berlin begins by using the pseudonym ‘Margot’ for herself, but on p. 14 (the original page numbers are given in square brackets), with one exception on p. 27, lapses into the first person.

8 February 1971

Margot was not only a friend of mine but whose life, whose aspirations, and whose deep understanding of her surroundings were near to her and became near to me when she used to tell me of it. I love to dwell in it, because also she failed very much to make a success of her life. She failed and she felt she failed, to bring happiness into her years, and she knew well that it was her weakness in acting as a person without strength. When she was 3½ she went with her grandmother to the Great Rabbi of Leuba. Her grandmother, who married her husband without seeing him, was bitterly disappointed in her marriage, but when she mentioned, a few years after her wedding, to the Great Rabbi about divorce he was appalled. He told her ‘You forget about it, you cannot divorce him because he is not to your taste. He has done no wrong, he is not very bright but it is your husband, and you have to live and have children with him.’ The little girl I’m speaking about was my great friend and her grandmother must have had all-the joy of her life in that little girl.

When she came to Leuba with her grandmother the wife of the Great Rabbi stroked her head and said ‘You, my dear, are like your father and I think you will go far’. Small as I was I was extremely happy to hear it, because I so well understood the deep meaning of her words. Her relations to her grandmother were deep, loving and full of her admiration for that great lady. Margot lived most of her life when she was small in the house of her grandmother. When she was 5 a teacher came, a lady teacher, to teach her Hebrew first of all to read the Bible. One day her mother decided to leave the house of her mother and to go to live in a flat on her own. This was when Margot was 4 years of age. Margot knew so well the way from the grandmother to the flat, and one day when she came in she found a young very handsome man with a small brown beard sitting in a fur coat in a corner. Margot said ‘Shalom’. She asked ‘What is your name?’ He said ‘Solomon Isaac’ He did not get up, did not embrace her, and she was sure that he is a stranger who came to visit her mother. She said ‘I know my mother will come soon. I should advice you to sit here and to wait for her’, and then she said ‘Shalom’ and off she went. But so very young and small as she was. When it was later told to her that this was her father she was appalled and she never had the strength or the desire to call him father. She told everyone ‘He is Solomon Isaac. She called him to the age of 7, only S.I. she could not find an attachment to him and she never wanted to go near him. She has seen almost everywhere the parents embrace their children. Kiss them and sometimes give them presents. The cold attitude puzzled the little child and she was thinking deeply and telling herself ‘But fathers are not like that. There is something missing in that man that makes him not a real father’. [several pages missing]

[7] Even his appearance was not attractive at all. He was short, dark, and very fat. Perhaps when he spoke to people who were of lower intelligence, than himself he must have been understood, and quite suitable to be a devoted husband. But he was brought up in the house of a millionaire, from morning to night always alone. His adopted father was not only very wealthy but also very clever, and witty, and also he shouted at the people who served him. Everybody knew that at heart he was good and also not civilised, he was really very human and very pleasant. His wife whom we shall call Iette, was tactful, and spoke deliberately, almost always the right thing. She was also musical, and had a good voice, but at heart she was hard and unforgiving. Margot really cannot remem[8]ber that her aunt praised anyone. She could speak for hours about her maids, who are probably dishonest, and at heart enemies of hers. At about 8 o/c ev. evening, after dinner, her husband, Jahu used to go out and have an amusing evening with his friends who were on most occasions non-Jews. They liked him for his wit, his generosity and generally for his pleasantness. They used to have a glass of wine, or Schnapps and he used to return home about 11 or a little later under the influence of alcohol and went straight to bed. When she saw that about 9 or 9.30 he is not back she took a walk through her very big salon. She used to walk there and back, and sing all the Hebrew songs she knew. Margot told me that her aunt used to sing her songs with so much sadness that she thinks there were also tears when she sang; but she sang beautifully. Margot who was supposed to do her preparation, used to leave the pen and listen to her aunt. [9] I think that Margot’s mother has made a tremendous mistake in putting the girl in her aunt’s house. Margot was capable, very bright, but most of her time was taken by her aunt. She had to go daily for a walk with her aunt and shopping. That took away Margot’s best hours, when she could sit and contemplate and enjoy ‘the beautiful writings of Russian and German lit: and poetry: She used to go to school at 7 in the morning, because at quarter to 8 there was prayer in the school. She knew the prayer by heart and having a good voice she was pleasant to listen to. She was so very thrilled when passing the second house, 2 dressmakers used to be always at the window, kissing their hands and wished her good morning. This was indeed a very loving send-off. M. was tremendously uplifted and started her long walk to school.

[10] Margot’s life in the fabrik town was not a happy one. Her mother managed to bring 2 little girls from Russia with a maid. She could not acclimatise with the new surroundings, hard anti-Semitism, and dislike for her way of life, and little Margot had to manage all that; not only had she to see that the 2 maids in the house should be happy but also she had to accustom herself to a new life which was so severe and unhelpful that she had to find her way everywhere on her own. She was recommended to a teacher whose name was Kalning. He was quite friendly but also he had a school to manage. She found that his knowledge of Russian and German was not worth while to imitate. She also was very much longing for a friend, but there were no pleasant girls in the village. There was a red-haired watch-maker who had no children and there was a grocer who was severe, forbidding and unpleasant, and his oldest [11] child was supposed to be Margot’s friend. That girl’s name was Augusta. She spoke a very good German and that was all. She had to work hard in her mother’s home, and she had no time and no desire to speak about songs, concerts or anything like that which is such a joy to the human mind. But having nobody else, Margot used to visit Augusta. One day she sang a very lovely German song. A’s mother came in with her father, and said ‘You have a good voice’. But M. took quickly her coat and ran away. M. used to go every week to the fabrik office where she used to get her weekly money to spend. There was the old cashier who was very fond of the child. He used to giver her all kinds of compliments. But in later years when she grew up she knew well that the cashier saw a little attractive woman in her.

Margot’s mother had no other way than to send the girl to the village school; but when she was 2/12 in the school she said [12] ‘I am not going to that school any more; the teacher knows much less than I do, they are rude, and dirty, but I have not heard an anti-Semitic remark’. M. remembers the last or before last evening in that school. When all the pupils have collected a little money and bought a little chest of drawers. We brought it to the teacher at 5 in the morning. He was very kind, and thanked the children very sincerely, and Margot enjoyed the proceedings. Nobody mentioned to her that she is a Jewess or that as such she has to be hated. When she mentioned to her mother that there is a boy’s school in the village, and that the teacher seems to her to be a very sensible man, why not try the teacher? The arrangements were made by Margot. She spoke to the teacher and was amazed at what a horrible Russian he spoke. When she came for her 1st lesson the maid opened the door, and said good morning – in German of course – but when she left, she met the wife of the teacher; and also she was used to meet with expressions of sharp unapproval in the face of Mrs Calning the teacher’s wife. There was so much hatred that M. didn’t really want to return back to that teacher. She already knew where she was wanted and where she was hated. [13] In a few weeks’ time she told her mother ‘I am not going back to that teacher. I certainly know much more Russian that he does’. At that time M. must have been about 9½ and her mother decided that she should go and stay a few weeks with her aunt, the rich woman, the sister of Margot’s g’mother. In all M’s family she could not understand how this woman Aunt Iette, could fit in, because all her relatives were friendly and approachable, but this woman was hard, and never forgave any one anything. When she started to speak about her maids, of whom she had 2, she could speak for hours about their faults, but never find anything she could praise. But very soon the brother of Margot’s father came to the house and decided that the girl should have a good school. There was one in town, eine Töchterschule and he took that little girl to that school. The first time the directrice saw the girl she said ‘You have a stain on your frock’. The girl said ‘Yes, I have one; But I am not staying in this school because you, the mother of the school, are Anti-Semitic’. She got up and told her uncle who was in the room. ‘Let us go home, I will not be at school here’ Margot felt that her Uncle Victor approved of her decision – [13] The directrice was amazed to see the developed child at 9½ take decisions. The D. made a jest ‘Come let us have a chat before you leave’. But the little girl said ‘Adieu’. And when she came out her uncle Victor and she had a good laugh. After that Margot started to look for another school. She found a school where there are more Jewish children than non-Jewish, and she thought that is something for her. She went alone, a tiny little girl, to that school. She had money with her, and asked to be settled in one of the forms. When she came to school there were no anti-Semitic remarks. Her form consisted of about 18 childrens, 2 of which were non-Jews; the rest were all Jews. She used to come to school about a quarter to 8 and there was prayer. She used to enjoy the prayer.

Margot’s life in that school would be really very pleasant, because the 2 old German sisters to whom the school belonged were kind and approachable. They were German but at that time a German wasn’t exclusively an Anti-Semite. All the teachers in the school were Russians because we girls had to have a proper language. Neither the Germans nor the [14] Letts could pronounce the Russian words properly. We also had a teacher, a Russian, who gave us history; he used to tell us stories which were most fascinating. One day he spoke about Peter the Great and said that P. the Great, like all R Tzars had a man who used to make him laugh. His name was Balakiref. Before our teacher said the name of the comedian I said that the court jester’s name was Balakiref: The teacher and all the pupils looked at me and the teacher said’ You have the book of Balakiref’. He looked very approvingly and wonderingly, but didn’t say any more. There was one girl near me who name was Rabinovitch, who made my life a misery. Also she replied to all the teacher asked her correctly, but she as whispering incorrect answers to me when the teacher called me to give an answer to his questions. Why she hated me I cannot explain; but one thing is clear, she was very happy to make my life a misery. She had a sister in the same class who was very aimiable and also very good as a pupil, [15] but she was far away and couldn’t help me. The persons in the form who had a high opinion of me were 2. The one gave French, and Russian literature. She was the daughter of a general and was an aristocrat in all that she said and did. The second was the teacher of history, who used to tell me very frequently ‘You are wasting your time in this school where you are surrounded by envy and misunderstanding. Why not leave here and take private lessons, and prepare yourself for a greater future’. But how was I to explain to anyone that I was only between 10 and 11 and had to go home and carry on the duties of the house, and see that all the children should be well. We were 5 children, 1 boy and 4 girls, and I was the eldest. I was sorry for my brother and 3 sisters, some of whom, were also at school. The greatest difficulty was to keep the 2 maids working, cleaning, and above all being happy in our household. I use to love to be at home and to be a little mother to the children, but the anti-Jewish atmosphere of the Germans whose house was near to ours was something which has given pain, and made me grow up quicker than I should. I used to lie at night and think how that hatred can be cured – [16] At that time many decades ago I became devoted to Zionism. I did not dare mention this to my father or mother, or to any of my friends. But in my heart I was sure that I may have some compensation for the sufferings of my childhood. I remember well that in the morning when I rushed to the omnibus which took me to school, or to the boat, I was glad to come in time. But there was a woman in the ship who had a shoe business in Riga, and she was sitting the whole time only speaking about Jews, about their attachment to their children, about their cleverness in business, about the Jewish women being so modern and well-dressed, and about her antipathies to them. One day she came to me in the ship and said: – ‘Now you are a clever little girl and speak a good Russian. I have a girl of 8; wouldn’t you like to give her lessons.’ I remembered well that I have to travel with that woman every day, and that I am not to be rude. I said in German ‘I would love to but really I cannot spare 5 minutes of my time because I have so much to do at home.’ She said, ‘What! You a little girl and you have so much to do?’ I said. ‘I have 3 little sisters and a brother. My father is always away, and my mother is not well enough to look after them, so that I have to give them time [17] and as much love as I can.’ I turned, and didn’t speak to her any more, but since that day she did not speak about Jews when she went on the little ship; she found plenty of items, not to be quiet even for 5 minutes, which made me very happy. I don’t know why I have that way of thinking, but I have never been rude to anyone if I could help it. Of course I was used to Anti-Semitism because Riga’s Christians were all Germans. Even the police force was elected from Letts, Poles, and Russians. But I must say that a higher ranking officer visited my father frequently, and he was kind, his face was always laughing, and his jokes were so simple that I couldn’t help being happy listening to them. I think that what blackened and made my childhood so sad was the family Wallenburger who lived next to us. There were 2 daughters and 5 sons. One of the daughters was very nice and I and she were good friends; but the eldest daughter Johannah was an anti-Semite in the full sense. I suppose it was something which nobody could blame her for. She only heard bad reports of Jews. She also couldn’t understand that a nation like Jews or Arabs, could be dark e black hair, could have their own way of living, [18] their own religion, their own diet, and that parents could be so warmly devoted to their family. On many occasions on a Sunday I saw Lettish workmen from our factory lying in the street prostrated after having had too much alcohol. The community of that little town was so used to this fact that they passed them by without a remark. So was I. But as the Germans were of a higher calibre they used to take their alcohol at home, and I never saw a drunken German in our village. I never could understand why my father has chosen to place his family so far from Town. I, the little girl, after school, had to run and fetch meat for the family and bring it home. The AntiS family and my duties towards my family made my childhood a very sad time, without promise of anything better. But I must mention one thing which happened to me which I could not forget for years. My brother was born on a Tuesday, and the daughter of the Jewish director came with her sister to visit my mother, and bring flowers and congratulations. My mother was very happy, because after 3 daughters this was a boy. Sonia looked blooming, she was extremely pretty and nobody wd. guess that there is a sad [19] thought in her head. But about 5 or 7 days after she went into her father’s bedroom and put herself into his bed, and shot herself. I suppose that when her sister was thought to be dying, having had a child, her brother-in-law came to her and told her – ‘when my wife dies you will be my wife’. She believed that her sister will die, but it is so difficult to predict Fate. Her sister survived to be the mother of her newly born son, and the wife of her husband. In the meantime Sonia became pregnant by her sister’s husband. When Sonia’s pregnancy was 3½ months old she cold find no way out but to kill herself. That evening the news had gone through all the village, and I, a girl of 11, could not digest it. I remember at school the next morning I stopped laughing thinking of that event. It took several years for the population to get to know who the man was. What I even now can’t understand was how Maria could continue to live with her husband, and have 2 more children by him. About a year and 3 months later the mother of the 2 daughters, Bella, died of cancer. She took it all very much to heart, and the event carried her to her grave.

[20] Why my father wanted us to continue to live in the village is not easily understood. The way I can explain it now is that he was the great man in the synagogue, the great man in town, and generally considered the high person of the village. There was enough food for his pride. When I was 12 I was going to live with my aunt who was childless. She was the sister of my g’mother, extremely rich, had a beautiful house in the aristocratic part of Riga, and she gave me a little room where to sleep. As I mentioned before, I was a pupil at the Klima school. There are 2 items which darkened those days. The girl who sat near me, has tried always to spoil my life in school, but she didn’t manage because I finished school as a clever girl. I made no friends in that school because of their knowledge and their general development were much lower than mine. My aunt who used to come in the evening and invite me to play cards with her was a very horrible event in my life. She took my evenings in which I could have prepared my lessons, and when she lost at cards she lost her sense of proportion and used to blame me for her loss. I tried to let her win because I didn’t want to hear her outcry, but it didn’t help – she was incurable, and nobody knew how cruel she could be [21] to her maids, to me, and to all her relatives and those of her husband. She hid it very deeply in herself and the only time when she expressed her opinion was her conversation to me after the card playing. I was happy to run to my room and not to have her following me.

At about 15 I finished school; I had good marks but could have had much better ones if my chattering and hard-hearted aunt would not take so much of my time. She of course considered me as a companion and forgot entirely about my duties to the school. When I finished school I left for home. I was very happy to leave my aunt and all her surroundings. I think I would have been attached to my uncle if my aunt wouldn’t have an influence on him. I came home and life started to become difficult. 2 sisters one 7 and one 8 years old both at school, my only brother being 3 years of age and a little sister 2 years of age. There was a woman in the house who looked after the 2 small ones: she had been with them from birth and was v. devoted to them, and they were attached to her, and that made my life much easier, because I knew the 2 tiny children were in good hands. The ones of 7 and 8 were so v. much attached to each other; they wore the same coats, the same dresses, and the [22] same hats, and they went to the same school. As the second one was only 1 yr younger, they were in the same class. My duty was of course to see that they should be clean, eat properly and sleep properly. But they were a nice 2 sisters, and did not create a problem. But when my father came home, and found that I am at home from school, he told me that he is very glad that for many years he hasn’t heard me calling him S.I. ‘Nobody would ever understand why you should do so, especially my friend the author.’ This friend wrote a book, and was v. eager to include me as a girl of 4 years, and since then being 15, not having in her heart her father but thinking of him as some one outside her family, and to whom she should not attach herself. I lived at home like a little mother: I saw that everything should be clean and healthy. But it was a village and when I wanted to listen to an opera or a concert I had to go by myself in the evening and come back at 11 at night. I never had fear in my heart that somebody might attack me: However I used to be deeply offended, and a feeling of offence and revolt used to wake up in me when Lettish women to whom I had never [23] done any harm, and whom I had never met in my life, used to meet me with the bitter sound to my ear, ‘Here comes the Iudsche’. But what I couldn’t understand was why the proprietor of a big chemical factory, when he passed me, used to tremble with anger and say ‘Da kommt schon die judsche’. About 5 yrs later I got to know that Rutenberg was originally a Jew, became a Christian, and married the daughter of a clergyman. I never heard a word of offence from her. It took only one year in which I so very hard tried to study music, before I had 2 pretenders to my hand, with offers to marry me. One was the brother of Mrs Rutenberg who is going to be a Bishop. I remember well that I used to travel with him to my school, and very often back from school home. He quite simply met me in the street, stopped me and said ‘I will not keep you waiting but it is a long time now that I feel in love with you. I would like to marry you, and either you become a Lutheran or I take Judaism. He was very handsome and his name was Hans. I told him if you take J. what will happen to you? You can’t [24] be a bishop and you are not born to be a businessman. I think that God Almighty who is to me and to you the same God has created you and me to be good friends as long as we live, but not to marry. If you find another girl, you will tell me good-bye. You will find another girl, and we shall part’. He invited me on many occasions to the house of his sister, but I refused. I so well knew the husband of his sister, the wealthy Mr R. who was certainly my enemy.

As I travelled everyday on the little ship I used to meet the owner of the ship Mr Augsburg. He wore a black coat with golden buttons, also a hat of a policeman and I often used to think ‘my dear Mr. Augsburg what a lovely face you have, and what a kind expression – almost Jewish.’ He used to speak to me with much pleasure and I saw that the conversation with me was something he really wanted. Though I was only 10 or 11, he spoke to me as if I were a grown up He used to play about with my plaits and I used to laugh. I was very much in love with his kindness and though he was officially a Christian I felt the Jew in him. It took 10 yrs. of my life to be awakened to the fact that [25] the Germans in Riga were nearly all Jews. There were Augsburg, Vogelsang, Frankel and Rutenberg. Also the director of the beer fabric whose name I have forgotten, were all Jews. And indeed they had Jewish faces and were extremely developed businessmen.

As you can see that was my life when I grew up and at 13 I was already a grown-up girl. The surroundings were most hostile, everywhere on the street or in the shops or in the omnibus I used to meet with unfriendly remarks or with cold unpleasant faces. But youth is youth and I felt that I am in the spring of my life. I studied, and when I was free from the school lessons and from the duties of the house I used to read very much. I don’t think there was any German author between Göethe, Heine, and the present writers which I have not read, and I think that I had a very healthy sense of judgement, because what I thought of Göethe then I still think of him I also loved to read Zola and other French writers, in translation of course.

In my school I was something of an exception also I was mentally a little higher than [26] all of them. We had no common language. They were children of parents who cared for them; also I had parents, but they did not care for me. I had to be patient and sensible to my mother. At 15 my father came home in the morning about 7 o/c, before I left for school, and all of a sudden he tells me that he has seen a young man. He comes from the Ukraine, where they have a big house and a big shop; he is the son of a rich merchant and my father thinks that he is a suitable young man for me. I wasn’t at all surprised or frightened; I said ‘All right, does he want to see me? Let him arrive’. In about a week’s time an old lady arrived who was a relative of the young man’s family. She was nice, and pleasant, and was very much surprised that a little girl like me has managed the school, the house, the maids and everything round me. I also lit the candles on Fri. night, and kept the Shabbat very [27] strictly. She as far as I could see, was very well impressed by me, and I knew well that a very favourable description of me would be given to the father and son. It is remarkable that at 15, unless I fell in love with the young man, I certainly would not dream of marrying him. The young man came to us; he wasn’t young at all. He must have been 35, twice as old as I, and so very stupid, because he explained to my father that if an accountant finds at the end of the day that there is 1 [ ] too much in his accounts it was just as wrong as if there were 1 [ ] too little. My father, being a very clever man, thought ‘it really doesn’t matter that the young man is idiotic as long as he is the only heir to a very rich father’. My aunt who was so hard towards me, has excelled herself this time, by telling father ‘This is not a husband for Margot’. I was tremendously pleased and grateful to my aunt that she broke the whole affair. The young [28] man kept on writing and so did his father, but it was above human understanding that a 15 year girl, bright and capable should marry such a degenerate.

It was spring and I had to prepare myself for the school exams, because they were the last. I knew I will go through, but I wanted to go through well, with a good certificate of course. I had trouble with my aunt, who took my precious time, and I had to work in the night, so as to be ready for my exams I would finish my school with a much better certificate if I would not live with my aunt, but would be in a private room. But my mother thought this is best for me, to be with my aunt. Many precious hours were wasted because my aunt didn’t take into account that I should have a good certificate, and perhaps go on with my learning. My mother thought that a girl should know a language or two, should be a witty housewife, and above all, should marry early; because she never forgot that [29] she had 3 other daughters to marry, and a son. Although my mother was certainly not a good housewife, neither did she know how to fascinate her husband. One thing was clear to her; a woman must have love and attention from her husband, and she must be his darling. She sent me to school, and also the other children, without consulting Father, because she felt that his attention to the children was not fatherly; she knew well that Father was not attached to her, and that he has eyes and ears and a heart for another woman, but she was married, by now she had 5 children, and there is no going back. But she knew well that she is not appreciated by him. This all has led to the fact that our education was entirely in her hands. I very early in my life disliked my Father, since the first meeting we had, and in my heart he was always Solomon Isaac. There was one person more whom he loved very dearly, and that was his only brother who was young, handsome, well-educated, [30] a good book-keeper and loved music. He was 12 years younger than my father and was very much up-to-date. He used to go to the opera and take me with him when I was 9, 10, or 12. I have seen with him ‘A Life for the Czar’, and ‘The Jewess’. He wanted to make something of me, but as he was brought up as an orphan, without parents (his mother died very early, and his father when he was 12) he felt he could not be responsible for me and my future. I loved Uncle Victor very much, he was up-to-date, good hearted, and gay. He was good-looking and well-dressed. He also was very kind to my mother.

Now my really most hard life starts. My father when he was at home used to come to the dining-room, just when I had my breakfast, and offered several young men who would like to marry me. One was quite well-situated, but v. sad, and I could not bring my heart and my brain to think of him as a husband. The second was a widower, whose wife [31] died a year after their marriage, and left a daughter, and nobody could say with certainty but everybody thought the reason of her death was her husband. My mother was terribly upset in case I married this man. There were 1 or 2 young men who were engaged in the factory as book-keepers who would like to marry me, but that was out of the question, because they were not wealthy enough.

I was free in my mind because I was young, and those which my father has chosen, people from good Jewish homes with plenty of money, had to be turned down. It was very pleasant for me for 2 reasons. The first was that the 3 men they have offered me were absolutely revolting to me. And that is not surprising; the one, who wanted to marry me very badly, was the nephew of my mother’s friend. I have mentioned him already, but I do so again because 18/12 after he has married another girl he died of diabetes. My father didn’t want to mention his name; he knew well that he had made a mistake.

[32] My father came every morning during breakfast with another selection, and started to encounter all the desirable young men who are ready to marry me any day, at any hour. I told him, ‘I am very young; I shall think it over and let you know’. In the meantime he used to go away to the forest for 3 / 4 months and then I felt myself free. I loved to go on sleighs over the river; then I liked to go to the opera, and because I had a good voice, I dreamt to be an opera singer. My future husband had an aunt who had a son. He was very musical, and studied in Petersburg I invited him to our house, I sang before him; I sang a piece from the opera ‘Carmen’ without knowing the notes. He said ‘I am not surprised, I am astonished that with a voice like that you do not want to study.’ I said ‘If you can get permission for me to live in Petersburg and I should not have to pay for my tuition, and if the Conservatory will think that I am worth while to have 1 meal a day, then I have decided to go.’ [33] A fortnight later a letter came telling me that all my conditions are accepted by the Conservatory and all I need is a passport. The passport had to be got from my father because I was still very young and the police would not give me one. My journey had to be postponed. I was heart broken, because also I knew very well that I am a better artist than the gentleman Mr. Gainsborough [correct transcription but it should be Ginsburg – JH] who sat near me. I also knew very well that I shall never be in Petersburg because my father will not give me a passport and there was no chance therefore to go. I knew well that my warm hope of singing well is 95% dead, but there is still 5% which may conquer the 95%. I have not given up hope.

In our vicinity not far from our house was another house where a father and mother and 2 daughters lived. The father was a policeman, the mother was a strong forbidding housewife, and 1 of the daughters used to go every day to Riga to earn her living. She worked in an office. But the other girl was a real perfect musician, a violinist. The father [34] was a Russian, and knew very well what good music meant. He didn’t mind a daughter being at home, not earning anything. His compensation was 2 hours good music when he came home in the evening. He used to speak to me Russian and he used to say ‘I think that you are a silly little girl, not taking your faith in your hands and going to Petersburg where I am sure you would become famous’. How could I explain to a Russian Inspector that my father is an old-fashioned Jew with heart and soul given to his faith, deeply in love with his Rabbi. He would fight to the last syllable if I went. I was also terribly sorry for my younger brother and sister who had just started to go to school and very much wanted my help. How could I explain that they had just started whooping cough, which takes 7 weeks to get rid of. I loved my brother and sister very dearly, because my mother was not the sort of person for children to be left with. Also my father was the whole day in Riga, on business; the children would be left in the hands of the nanny, and they would not develop. [35] And I was sorry for them, because I loved them. I felt that if I left them something might happen to them, and I would never forgive myself. If I would be a strong person that idea would not kill my idea of going to Petersburg, but I was weak, and was glad that I have something which holds me back from going away to the large town. When I came to Riga with all the household, I only then felt that I had done something very silly in not going to Petersburg. 7 days of the week my father went down from his bedroom in the morning, when I had breakfast, and always the same question ‘I have 3 young men who want to marry you. It would be a shame to let them go you have to select one’.

Now I started to dream about going to the University. Of course I didn’t dare tell my parents or grandmother than I thought of it. Out of the question. All I knew was that all parents of children who lived in that fabric town were admiring me, and though of me as a very wise little girl, too old for her age. [36] The winter passed very peacefully. The children could not go to school because whooping cough is contagious. I was looking after them, and also after the servants in the house. I then discovered that a nephew of my father and my mother was in love with me. I certainly did not like that because I had no feeling for him. But he was a man of great abilities and I knew that if I marry him I will be a happy woman.

Now, when my parents, my brother and 1 of my sisters, also my husband and his parents, his 2 sisters and 2 brothers have all gone my mind is clear, and I can describe my past as if it all happened yesterday. I am now very much surprised and sometimes amusing myself, why I have not taken my life into my hands in spite of my parents’ objections. I would have satisfied my inborn desire to build the land of Israel. I could have been, I am sure, very active and very useful in a neglected land but then I thought of my brother and the 3 sisters. One of my sisters lives in Israel. I don’t think she has the slightest idea how much she owes to me for being there. But I had no heart and no mind of leaving my father with the 4 younger children, and [37] just running away. I am absolutely sure they would not have survived my absence. But 30 years later Hitler managed what I couldn’t. He killed them all. And when I think about my past, I really don’t know what to think. Would it be wise of me, with a very warm admirer whom I loved with all my heart, and soul, but who was not religious, he did not do all he should on Sabbat, and he ate all he wanted, either Mosher or not Kosher – to leave everything and go with him to Palestine? This is a question which I have never solved.

The fear of my father lived with me day and night. He has never punished me, neither has he spoken insultingly to me, but his power over me was so great and to such an extent that I couldn’t break it, and now I think that it was at that time very foolish not to go to Palestine with my loved one. A few years passed and I married another man. After I married, I wanted my brother and my 3 sisters to free themselves from the bondage of my father, and to continue a free life. My sister in Israel never thought that she is in some way a prisoner. On the contrary, she admired my father. [38] My father was not too much amused to speak to her, but as he felt that she believed in him, so he patiently listened to her. But my other sister Zelma, she was very clever, and she understood that she has nothing to expect from her father. So one day she decided to leave home to go to France to study French and to be a free person. There was a teacher who had 3 pupils and who hoped that the parents will pay him for taking the pupils to France to study French. But when he saw that our father did not send him anything, then my sister was left without help. She went to Berlin where there was a Professor who was very well acquainted with my father. She went to him and he gave her some money to live in Berlin till Father would send her some money for her return. He wrote to my father; my father has repaid the debt by sending him a cheque. My sister came home, but she was never happy. Zelma went away to Moscow without telling Father; but she told us that she is very bored at home, and hopes to earn her living with the French language and live there in Moscow. I cannot say that my mother was very upset when she left. Ida wasn’t married yet, and she couldn’t marry before Ida, and mother thought that Zelma, with her [39] strength, would find happiness in Moscow.

I was still at home, looking after the family and mother was always out. I used to manage the meals, the house, the servants. I used to get the money for housekeeping from the factory office. I was only about 16 when the cashier who used to give me the money made love to me. He used to tell me how beautiful, clever, and altogether what a developed young woman I am. I did not take him seriously. His daughter was my dear friend and it was much better to take him as a man who had a great love for women, and who did not mind sharing his feelings with them. I generally was much admired by elderly men; there was one director of a fabrique who when he came to the little ship which used to take we to town, only waited until we left the ship to tell me how beautiful I was and how very much in love he was. I once asked him ‘Director, but you have a wife?’ ‘No, I never married, and I am ready to marry you whenever you dictate’. I used to run away from him. I was very much wondering ‘Why is it that elderly people stick to me’.

[40] But now I am starting to be a big girl; I am nearly 17, and I went to my aunt, just to visit her. There was a man, his name was Leo. He sang beautifully, all the Russian operas, and especially he was very fond of ‘Carmen’. He used to see me every day; he was well off, and he built a railway line between Petersburg and the south. I think the town was Riga. He used to come very often to Riga and used to want to see me, but as he did not look after Sabbat as he should and he did not eat Kosher, I could not bring myself to introduce him to my family. But he was the greatest love in my life. About 3 yrs later he married another woman. He had 4 children with her, and at the same time, I married my husband. Leo went to Petersburg with his wife and I went to London with my husband. Whether he was happy or not I never knew. I only knew that when his son married a very wealthy girl in London, where he came from Petersburg during the war he asked me in a very quiet tone, when we [41] were alone in a corner, ‘Tell me, did you love me?’ To which I said ‘I loved you with all my heart and soul, and why you didn’t marry me, still puzzles me. I was afraid of my father, but you were not afraid of him, and if you would then have married me, my father would be very proud of you, because you come from a very good family, and because you are clever and gentle’.

I saw very well that neither he nor his son are happy, that his wife was no attraction for him. Of course he loved his children, most of all his only daughter, who married a man, and as she was not attracted, either by her mother or her mother’s friends, she agreed to her husband’s persuasion and left with him for Palestine. Her mother, who had not much to do in London, gave in to her husband Leo, who couldn’t find anything worth doing, and they went to Palestine also. But she was there only a few months, and returned to London, disappointed, with a strong decision never to go to Israel. [42] Leo started to find what to do in London and he thought that if he buys land and builds houses he may earn a living. But one day, when he wanted to sell me a house in Golders Green, I said ‘I am sorry, I would rather live in Hampstead’. To which his wife said something not only offensive but also hurtful. Of course, I bought the house in Hampstead. Leo used to come to us every Sunday, and as he wanted a large sum to build houses in Golders Green my husband used to lend him the money up to £7000 £8000. He always very honestly paid the money to the hour. My husband and I were very fond of him. I never invited his wife and she never invited me. But we used to meet in friends’ houses. When I was 24 I started to have grey hair. My husband persuaded me to colour it to make it dark brown, just as I was born. She never missed a chance, when people praised my hair to tell them ‘But you don’t know, it is coloured’. [43] It seems that Leo was living a very dull life. His wife who lived for more than 20 years after her wedding in Petersburg a life of riches, surrounded by rich friends, felt abandoned, poor, and unable to fight for an existence. She really only cared for good living, good clothes, and a good home. Palestine was no interest to her; but Leo was from the beginning to the end entirely different. To him, a rich life in London did not appeal; although his wife arranged a marriage between his eldest son and a rich girl, Leo thought it will not last. When the second war came, and Mischa had to go to war he Mischa told his wife’ It would be best if we would divorce. I may be killed, but if I come back I don’t think I would like to keep on living with you. And so if we divorce now, you can find a friend and I do not think of a second marriage’.

It was as he said Mischa’s [wife] couldn’t find a friend because she was not pretty, neither was she attractive in any other way; although very wealthy she was far from being generous. Her father a very simple man who came from the ghetto in Russia and had very poor parents was God-fearing and inclined to do good with his money, but unfortunately his wife came from a slightly more intelligent family, but she was not properly balanced. She used to get excited and [44] her temper was not reliable. The children never knew how to speak to her, not to excite her. Her husband was very kind but died early: at about 65. She was left to live until she was 83.

The second daughter married a cousin. It seemed as if it was the right marriage but when the old lady died at 83 Golda’s husband very soon left her. He also took the money which the parents left to him, and as much money as he could get out of the business. He went to live with a non-Jewish person. Golda was very disappointed, but having been born in London she knew well that she has to fight for her existence with the help of lawyers. She got her money back, and she had her daughter with her. She was discouraged and not happy. But the greatest disappointment came when her daughter married a man of the Christian persuasion and so both daughters had Christian husbands. It was charity from above that the father died knowing that his daughter married a Jew. [45] Also Mischa left his wife, her mother died not knowing that her daughter intends to marry a non-Jew. But it is remarkable that Jewry, and what Jewry stands for, Jewish learning and Israel, have not had any value in the house of these 2 girls, otherwise they would never leave their faith and marry somebody who is non-Jewish and possibly anti-Semitic.

When I look round and when I see how many have married non-Jewish husbands, I am perplexed how they could give their life to a man who has no feeling of admiration either for the Old Testament or for anything which we went through in the 2000 years since we were thrown out of Israel. They cannot help it. They have no feeling. They have a developed affection for the non-Jewish young men, and they marry them. But of course they cease to care for Jews, or Jewish troubles; then they should not be surprised that we Jews look at them as strangers.

I would like to tell the story of my experience when playing with the [46] Wallenburg children. The eldest daughter, Johanna, had her birthday, and I took 2 tickets in our best theatre, and invited her to come with me. When we wanted to sit down I found that between me and her there was a lady. I said to Johanna, ‘But surely we want to sit together’ she did not answer one word, so I asked the lady would she like to take my seat and I will take her seat. The lady didn’t mind changing her seat, but Johanna was very disappointed because she was quite sure that the whole theatre was looking at her, Johanna Wallenburger sitting there with a little insignificant Jewish girl. But I had my great satisfaction, and never invited her to sit with me again. That family was employed by my Uncle, they made a living from a Jew, 4 children were deeply anti-Semitic and 3 were not. I was very friendly with one of the daughters called Meta, who was very friendly and well disposed to me. At the beginning of the Second War, when I came to Riga to see my father, 2 members of that family came to see me. The mother asked me whether I could ask the Director to give her better accommodation. I asked her, ‘How [47] many rooms have you in your present house?’ She said ‘5’. ‘And how many people are you?’ She said ‘3’. I remembered well how she and her 2 children considered me as something very very low standing, and that I would not be suitable to be invited to her house. I also remembered that when Mr Wallenburger visited us my mother asked me to sing, and I sang the famous song ‘Kennst Du das Land’, by Goethe. He sat there, not very happy, and I was very sorry that I sang.

I don’t like to make myself look like a sacrifice to something but there is no doubt that I was very badly treated by the Germans in Riga, as a child as a young woman, and later as a grown-up young woman. But because I was always so very busy with my school, with the house and the servants I took anti-Semitism as a sign of the time. I did not try to fight against it, but it made me very bitter against the German population in Riga. The Jews who lived in the little place were kind to me, and considered me a clever little girl, but my desire was much greater, and I never could get friends who would help me to get along.

[48] Leo, my love and my dearest friend, could not stand the humiliating life with his wife, and not very clever children, so he thought best of all to leave life and to finish suffering. Sterna lived much longer, but finished very tragically. The son who married a Jewess was not attached to her. The second son, who married a Christian, was attached to her, but of no assistance in her sad life.

The only great and tremendous satisfaction I had in my life was that my son is growing up and studying among people who consider him clever and good-hearted.

I must say that beside his knowledge I could not quite understand there came something in his life which puzzled me still more. He fell in love with a woman, pretty, very sweet, excellent family, a Jewess but she was married and had 3 children. The eldest son was born into a Jewish family but unfortunately the father lived only 4 months after the child’s birth and died in [49] Elsas Lothringan. She was left with a child on her hands and decided to take her child and her old parents to America. On the way she got acquainted with a man, clever and well educated, but poor. He was already divorced from one wife and had a daughter, who was being brought up in an institution. He of course thought ‘Here is a rich girl, with only one child, young and pretty, quite a good match for me’. He being an Austrian knew so well how to speak to pretty women, and he got her very soon, and they married. She had with him 2 boys, but it seems that whom she really loved was Isaiah. Isaiah tried not to meet them, but when they came to this country and settled in Oxford, not to meet was an impossibility. Isaiah was sometimes very sad, and blamed himself that he had not offered her marriage before the Austrian, but having had an English up-bringing, he did not think it proper to offer her marriage, especially during the war when he had to stay in Washington, in the office of the English Embassy. [50] I think that Isaiah took a very large risk in marrying a wife with 3 children. The eldest never knew his father but he is a very fine boy and very much attached to his wife and to his 2 children. Michel’s wife is a very charming person, but she must have some Indian or Negro blood in her. She is clever, and we are great friends, I and she. Michel loves her, and that is all that is wanted. They are very much in love with their children, and they are not looking for a gay life, but are happy to be at home with their 2 children. I do not know who their friends are; all I know is that they are very happy to come to me. The children are clever, and the little girl is extremely amusing.

I still think that the happiest period in my life was when I was a little girl about 6 or 7 and lived in that small town in the ghetto where I was so much attached to my grandmother. The whole little town – and it is little because I could go about it everyday when I was 5 or 6 – was only consisting of Jewish houses, and Jewish inhabitants. It was called Rudnja. It was a charming place, and very dear to me. I think my best memories go back to that period – Little as it was, [51] it had 2 churches where, on a Sunday and other holidays the people from the surrounding villages came to worship. Among the Jewish houses there were 2 who had liquor and all kinds of alcoholic drinks to sell. All the agricultural labourers from the surrounding forests and fields used to come to town. I have seen many drunken people, but they never touched anyone nor were ‘rude to anyone. I have seen one young woman having her baby near her breast. She was drunk, and could not go straight, but she was nice to her little one, and gave her breast to the child. In summer there used to be one or two market days. This was a great event. From all the villages the people used to come, between two and three hundred of them. They brought all their goods for selling – there were all kinds of fruit, but no oranges and no grapes. They had thick linen, which they wove themselves on a very primitive machine, for sale, also furs from dead sheep. They also sold chickens and butter. [..] It was so gay in the market, that I did not want to come home. [52] Some of them had harmonicas and played beautiful Russian tunes. It was late at night when I returned home, and the person who was upset and missed me was my dear grandmother. ‘Where have you been? She asked, and I told her and she was amused. But that ideal was finished when I was 8, because my mother took me to Riga.

My life in the little town near Riga was a very hard one for a little girl. I was surrounded by Germans and Letts. When I found a little Jewish girl with whom to play. She was also hard and unforgiving. I found that the 2 merchants who lived in that little town – one had a grocer’s shop and the other was a watch-repairer – the first had 7 children and they were all engaged in some trade, but their psychology was not Jewish. They never served a poor man and they were only interested in collecting money. One day I came in to my friend, whose name was Gustl, and I found her sitting and crying bitterly. Her mother sat not far from her, and I think she was knitting. Nobody told her not to cry. I under[53]stood later that her father gave her a good beating She was only 15. I left her crying and I left the house. For me it was a sad event, because nobody has ever beaten me. My mother, as I mentioned before, once gave me a slap in the face. I didn’t understand, and I don’t understand now, why I had deserved it. I considered my mother good-hearted, but I never thought that she was clever, or developed. My mother was far from pretty, short-sighted, and had very little hair on her head – I don’t know why – but as at that time all Jewish women used to wear wigs, scarcely anyone knew about her scarcity of hair. She had a sister-in-law, the wife of her husband’s brother and she knew about it.

My childhood in that little town, Mila[n?]hof, was very unhappy. I was surrounded by anti-Semitic people. I used to fight them in my heart but I never went in to an open fight. My mother wanted badly to move to Riga, not to be in Milanhof. I have a suspicion that my father didn’t let her move because in [54] that little town he was the greatest Jew. I had no proper friends there, with whom I could share my ideas and my knowledge, and life was very hard for me. My piano teacher who was Polish, her mother, 2 sisters and a nephew, have introduced several Jewish young men to me, but I liked no one. I was very musical but who will think of letting me develop musically? There was no question about it – my fate was to marry.

The nearest, best, and richest boy was my husband. Of course, he was the man who will inherit the big fortune, and besides, he used to go to London and sell timber at the age of 18. As it happened, the big fortune which was land in Russia, had been left to The Bolsheviks, and all we had left was with the money which my husband, very wisely, has sent away to England. My husband very wisely decided that we cannot rely on the good heart of the Bolshevicks and that we must leave Russia at once. His mother was dead, and all his family consisted of 3 brothers, and 1 sister. [55] They were all married, and also there was no reason, yet they refused to come with us. We came to England in 1921, with not much money and only one very good friend, an English merchant who remembered us very well and kept our money safe. To me the change from Riga to London was tremendous. For instance when I came here my English friend came to meet me at the station. And when he explained that we had come from that terrible Russia, they didn’t even open my luggage. That made a tremendous impression on me. The liberalism and good will of the English people made a wonderful impression on me. I used to go about under a spell. I could not understand why the postman, when he gave me a letter, told me ‘thank you’. Altogether I was surrounded by well-wishers and by good people. Every morning about 4 or 5 ladies used to sit down outside my flat in Surbiton. And used to gossip. They had very happy faces and they amused each other very much. Not far from my flat there was a dark woman selling flowers. I always being fond of flowers used to go on Friday to buy flowers for the week-end. She asked me [58] once whether I was a Spaniard or an Italian I said no. She said ‘What are you?’ I said ‘I am a Russian Jewess’. I think she was very happy to know it, for she said ‘Ah, yes, yes, a Russian Jewess’, and was very pleased.

When I took the flat I also took a girl whose name was Edith. Edith was engaged to be married to a soldier. He was a nice man, and used to come to visit her. Also her father was a very nice man. He lost his feet in the war with the Germans, and used to come on a Sunday to visit his daughter, in a wheelchair. For me it was a revelation. I had never seen well-educated Christians so friendly and pleasant. One day I had a disappointness. I went to an office to ask for a girl to serve me, as I knew that Edith would be getting married. The lady at the desk did not ask me much. She said ‘You are a Jewess’. I said ‘Yes’, ‘Then I have no maid for you. I was deeply offended. I said nothing, but got up and went out. I was dazed; I didn’t [57] expect it in England. The next day I did not know whether to buy Kosher meat, as there was no Kosher butcher in Surbiton. When I went in to the butcher’s shop, I saw a Jew selling meat. There were a few women before me, and I quietly started to cry, for it was moving to find a Jew in a non-Jewish shop. His name was Vogelnest. He asked me why I cry. I said ‘I am here about 10 days, and I haven’t seen a Jew. You are the first Jew, and the first man to sell me Kosher meat’. Then he replied ‘I have no time to talk to you now, but may I come and see you; tell me the number of your house’. He came the same evening to visit us. He told me not to be downhearted as the English people were very kind to the Jewish immigrants. Then he said ‘If you like I will give lessons to your son’. My little boy was in the room, and he asked Isaiah what he knows. Isaiah told him, and he said ‘No, I am no teacher to him, he knows far more than I do’.

[58] 7 January 1972

I only met in all my time in England – and I am here since 1922 – 3 people who told me openly, without hesitation (they were all 3 shop-keepers) they didn’t want to sell me anything, and they told me why, not because I am bad, or poor, or ugly, but because I was a Jewess. Of course, this made a very terrible impression on me because, for some reason, I never expected anti-Semitism in England, and so open too. But, like everything else, it made me think that to be a Jewess in England is not something to be proud of. Of course the later years have shown me that England is not anti-Semitic, and these were just 3 very unpleasant episodes. I broke a leg and was in hospital, and my son, my little boy of 11, was very very well treated in the house of the high master and his wife. Also I had a maid, Edith, she and her fiancé did not know what to do to make me happy. I really wasn’t very eager to leave Surbiton and to go to London. There was a little Jewish community in Surbiton who were extremely kind to me, but my landlady wanted her house, and also my son had to go to a very good high-school in London, so I moved from Surbiton to London.

[59] Of course one doesn’t know how the future develops. When we came to London we took a nice large room in a hotel in Kensington, opposite Barkers. It was a lovely hotel, and we enjoyed very much living in it, but on the second day when we arrived, mice arrived behind the windows, and of course they have nothing else to do but to spring about. We took a room at John Barkers; there were no mice, neither were there any other animals, and we continued to live in this flat until we got a home to live in. Our home was in Upper Addison Gardens, and we were quite happy there. The only thing, there was a terrible noise on the top of the house. One day the clergyman came in to see why there was such a noise, and he was very much surprised that it wasn’t our flat at all, it was the one on the top. The real reason why we left this house was the terrible noise from the top. There were children who used to run about all the time.