Catherine


I’m wondering now if I’m the only person who remembers… it’s extraordinary what they say and what they read… it’s not how it was.

The Germans told everybody that this is the last measure... they put me in a… what do you call it? It looked like a bath… that was the whole point… of all the things it was a pram… they put me in a pram… a new pram with a wonderful big canopy… do you know that was the first thing that caught fire… while I was in it… I can see it in my mind… everybody shouting and screaming… nobody made a movement to help… this is an important thing… I was there… I saw it… I wonder why it is I can remember these things?

I used to be running about picking up little bits of bread for people and they’d give me a halfpenny or something… we had nothing… people don’t believe it… you couldn’t get food… first you had to have the bread to make the toast… and coal… running up and down the hill… my brothers and sisters… looking for coal… everybody used to look after everybody else… we never knew that half of them stole from each other… there was a lot of fiddling… people shouting at each other and screaming… life’s very awkward you know? The things you remember and the things you don’t remember… bombing morning noon and night… we couldn’t sleep… you could go out and pick up a bomb in your hand… houses left like little bits of coal.

I’m glad we left Germany… they had that awful rough way of telling you to move on… stars and people to pull you down… the Germans said I was taking their bread… unbelievable! I thought they’d all gone mad. They gave me a silver umbrella… I don’t know why I was given it… somebody must have liked me…  but who liked Jews? They were thrown out from everywhere… for no reason at all… and mostly such nice people… they all started crying… so we all cried together… it was very difficult… when somebody gave me a piece of bread… and it was a big piece… I broke it up and offered it round to a lot of people… all well dressed… they said thank you before they went… what could I have done?

I actually saw them hitting people… for no reason except it was their… their worship… instead of worshipping the almighty or anyone else you might like to think of they worshipped hating people… terrible thing is when you look back on it is what on earth did these poor people have to do with it? They had no money, no food. What really tipped it off was me… they still tried to murder me… the … with a huge, silver umbrella… it was their new invention… and it was only me that it came for... for no reason… I was drowning three times an hour back then… looking back it was the most important thing I ever did… I can’t forget it… that the wind and the rain always settled on me… but when it comes to agony… the Germans thought they had something special.

My father was always frightened of me showing myself… he heard the people whispering, whispering, whispering. I wanted to dance on the stage and my parents almost went green with agony… a few girls like me thought they’d give it a go… but he thought worse… so I had to stop. I just thought they looked so pretty.

My father wanted to be British... so the people would make more room for his own children… so they wouldn’t be killed… oh such terrible times… you couldn’t hold on to your bread… but to find out that London was without bread because of a strike… and they said it was the Jews… me and my mother and father that was taking away their bread… my parents especially suffered because they didn’t know what to do with the children… it was a bit more serious than laughing… I often ask myself how did my parents manage? But they just didn’t… we didn’t starve… the bread may have been stale but we didn’t starve… they used to wet the bread to make it soft… pat it with your hands.

So we shared… my brothers and sisters… William… Sadie… Catherine… Wednesday… Thursday… don’t know that one… this one was Selfridges or something… 2… 4…6… about 8… I can’t guarantee every one…. seven or eight. I was the third or forth child… I always wanted to be someone special… I wanted to go on the stage. I thought I might have been a dancer… I always regretted not trying… as it turned out I opened a tobacconist with my father.

Nothing really changes… people are the same generation to generation… and now look at me standing in this empty shop trying to look back on the things inside me… you think you’re remembering all these things but they just won’t stick in the head.

I know that later I stood on speakers corner… yes, I did… and it was raining… my mother was only worried I would catch a cold… she didn’t understand what I was talking about… I got all the people together… and all the bread that I had… and I cut them up small so I had a piece of bread for everybody… I thought that would be a good idea… in Hyde Park there were people who were rich and respectable… lots of money but they would not give a child a piece of bread… I really saw it… I wanted them to see it… I could never understand it… the rich people were terrible… separately they were nice people but they were afraid… of me! I mean look at me! They wanted to take the bath of cold water were they put me to rest… for no reason at all… they wanted me to lie in that bath until the end… until I die… such treachery… you wouldn’t believe it now would you?

I didn’t ever want any children… I thought they would all have been crying for bread… then there would be another strike and they would start calling me bloody Jew again. It carries on.

I once thought I might try to write my story but that sister of mine thought I was mad for writing my comments… she didn’t know a thing… I carried on writing... All the flies and fleas came out of the boxes we opened… I grew up in all that dust… all the birds… the bees… the humming bees… all the people wishing. In the East End there were lots of people and lots of stories and this one “Ancient Mysteries” is mine… you picked me to be first and said, “Sit still for a minute”, when the government… no… the people, ordered it.