Back to search results

My East End Story

© Mrs Jean Rubinstein (2001)

I was born in the East End of London. A place called Mother Levy's home. It still exists as a school. It was a place where most Jewish women had their babies. It was a haven for Jewish women who emigrated here from Russia and survived the Pogroms against the Jews. My parents were born in Russia, in Kiev, the part of Ukraine where the Cossacks were allowed to run wild without constraint, always having their guns fixed ready to murder at random. They were continually in a drunken state, their shiny bayonets ready to plunge into anyone who crossed their path.

One such person was my mother's brother. They were having a conversation about their parents when he was attacked and bayoneted for no accountable reason except he was in the way of their madness. He died where he had been walking, with my mother. That horrendous event stayed with my mother for the rest of her life. The Cossack never looked back at his victim. That terrible gesture made her neurotic, for the rest of her life.

My mother was the breadwinner of the family, happy to try anything, full of inspirations and frightened of no one. She really did do and go where no angel would.

My father was a delicate man, scared of his own shadow, could not take in the fact that he would be allowed to stay in Britain legally. Always terrified he would be sent back to Russia, he worked his nervous system to shreds and ended up with five duodenal ulcers, to which he suffered most of his life. I gave him the name of Fagala, which means 'delicate bird'. My father was frail in every sense, especially work-wise. What he was capable of doing, we never found out, but he was much loved for his gentleness and polite conversation. Mummy bombarded her way in to everything. She wanted a better life and had the zest for it, she was also the compassionate one. My parents will feature throughout my story, how their unconventional life did not conform to social standards.

My brother was born five years prior to me. I was told he was defiant. My prognosis was and still is, he was very misunderstood, by parents who did not understand him. As I grew up I imagined what a frustrating time he had trying to make our parents aware of how his feelings were not taken into consideration.

He was a very talented young man, his ideas, for aeroplane designing, was magnificent. He painted portraits, designed scooters for children that folded up; won many first prizes at the Jewish Free School he attended. All his efforts and ambitions did not materialise because my parents did not become naturalised. When he left school, the passion of his life would have been to join an aircraft company. As it was wartime he could not make his dream become reality. His childhood aspirations were shattered. My parents did not realise his bitter hurt or his ambitions. His idea was to achieve great heights of fame. Instead he became a qualified engineer. The one person who helped and believed in him was a cousin. My brother died in America aged forty-eight years old.

I was born on the fourth of January, 1930. I was told I was a sickly child, who caught all the childhood diseases before I was two years old. My father, it seemed, was the one to take me to the hospital or the doctor. I can imagine the agony of trying to make people understand Yiddish.

My father came to Britain first, my mother followed on much later. It took him some time to send papers for Mummy. Because they were not correct, for her admission here, she was arrested on the way and put into prison. She became ill with Typhoid fever and lost her hair from the disease. She must have arrived all right; otherwise I would not be here. How they must have suffered trying to find a decent place to live. There was no D.S.S., no housing of immigrants and of course, no finance. How they would have revelled in the help that is distributed now.

My parents sordid life together began in a place in the East End, called Underwood Street, a two by four flat riddled with vermin. This was the palace of dreams my father presented to a woman bereft of a family and a spell in prison with a disease that she had to endure alone.

My parents had been married in Russia two years previously, had a child, a daughter, who died at one year old. When I think back at my mother's eccentric ways, she was truly entitled to behave as she did. My father's relatives always lived in homes that were well furnished with bathrooms, sheer luxury. No help was ever offered from them.

The first house we lived in was a place called Dunk Street, next to a bakers. I was told we were extremely poor and Mummy went to the market every day to buy marrow bones to make into soup, which we supped three times a day. Living next door to the baker was another drawback. We became infested with cockroaches. Daddy winced when Mummy told him to go and complain. He was no hero. She went instead, armed with a stick, shouting and cursing in Yiddish and threatened she was prepared to go to the Health Authorities. She did not know where they were situated anyway.

Having instigated the drama that the cockroaches were making her children ill, the baker suggested he gave her two loaves of bread every day, gratis. He asked her to keep it quiet for the moment. He said he would try to keep the vermin under control. Holding the bread tightly, a big grin on her face, that said, Chova was great. We now had a little extra to eat, how welcome it was.

We lived in this particular house for some time. It was very cold in the winter and Daddy built up large fires to keep us warm. It was my show time to sit and watch the glow of the fire and then the embers as they were crumbling they looked like little people coming and going. I made up for the toys that my parents could not afford and for any doll I might have had.

I do believe, in having foresight; to read peoples' faces, to look into their eyes and sense their innermost thoughts, comes to me with ease. It is also very important to listen to voices, as it brings out the true character. I had very interesting lessons from the clients who ate in Mummy's restaurant. It might seem egotistic but I have never made a wrong judgement of any person.

I find it most amusing when people ask me what is my impression of them. My answer is can they accept what I am going to tell them and not go away feeling despondent or disbelief, whatever the judgement. My mother sensed that I would know about the future and the everyday occurrences that would happen. At only two and a half years old, I looked into her worried face, said nothing and understood what she wanted to hear. These feelings, of knowing the hidden characteristics of a person, came quickly to the fore for me and have held me in good stead.

At the age of three our family life had not progressed one iota. I remember quite clearly sitting on the steps outside the front door. My mother asked me how I would feel if she had a stall in the market, selling chickens and what would I do when I came home from school and no one would be at home. I said I would wait for her until she came home; I would sit quietly on the steps until she appeared. Then came the question, what if someone tried to take me away. I answered, I would only wait for her and not go with anyone else - she promptly cancelled that scheme.

My father, who could not find any work, became ill from frustration and thereon appeared the first few ulcers which were with him most of his life. He did try to work for my uncle, his sister's husband, who manufactured ladies' coats and suits. It was a large factory, with quite a number of staff. He was taken into their office and offered ten shillings a week, which is now fifty pence. My mother was outraged and never spoke to the family again.

Once again my mother had to think how to earn some money. There was an empty shop and living accommodation in Fordham Street, a small turning off the New Road, Commercial Road End. Whether or not she applied for a licence to open the shop or get a kosher licence for doing so is another story.

I think the shop was open for a few good weeks until Mummy and Daddy stopped plucking the birds and they consequently had to close. We were happy in Fordham Street, I even had a new dress and shoes for the Jewish holidays which was Passover. I was very happy because I was allowed to play with other children in the street. It was a once a year ritual that children played with cob nuts around Passover time.

We had to find the bottom half of a shoe box or matzo box, cut small squares out and number the holes. Of course we all aimed towards the highest number. Whoever claimed the most nuts, received the same from the other players.

The Café
My mother never buried her head down for long. The new idea was to open a. She left my father to look after us and scouted off on her own. Came back a few hours later and announced she had found another premises with living accommodation, which was in Great Garden Street, near Vallence Road. How she was going to accomplish this was another hurdle. The shop had to be painted, kitchen fixed for cooking, samovar to be acquired, tables, chairs and crockery. There was no money for all this, we didn't reckon on Mummy's miracles. We never found out how all this was accomplished. We then called her "Chova the Great" or "Sarah Bernhard".

I gathered all this was set up by my mother's acting accomplishments. When Mummy's tears started, with wringing of hands, chest banging, she was irresistible.

Everything for opening the shop was now ready and the family moved into the premises. I cannot remember whether we had curtains on the windows. I don't think it honestly mattered. We were at last going to be stable, hoping it would be for eternity. We had beds to sleep on with linen that had been washed but never ironed. Mummy did not know what an iron looked like then. We were told to stay upstairs as my parents had to arrange the tables and chairs for the advantage of seating as many future customers as possible. The grand finale was to dress the tables with sarata, a Jewish word for oilcloth, so they could be wiped over after being used. The counter was placed near the kitchen; the samovar was gleaming with a glass cabinet beside to hold the rolls to be filled at the customers' request.

The counter had a large drawer, which was to be used as a till, the cash-drawer, the salvation of all our dreams. I was, at five years old, going to be the trustee, to protect the money that was going to flow in. The café was opened on a Tuesday, as most Jewish people thought it was a lucky day. To this very day, I have never discovered why a Tuesday, or a Saturday, would be the most fortunate - sheer superstition.

My father, who was great with nail banging, put Mezuzahs, which holds a commandment on all doors. This was a Jewish ritual that had to be observed. To my mother it meant that no demons would survive in her home. We also had to spit out three times, if we thought anyone had come into the shop bearing an evil eye (Anahorra) and was envious of what we possessed. The other ritual was to turn two glasses, upside down, so all their jealousies were smothered.

I was afraid my mother, the cook, would not accomplish all that she hoped for. She had to learn the fine art of presentation, but did not take her long to adjust. She cooked for the taste of each individual so that they became a satisfied client.

The money started to flow in when the furniture makers called 'Chippicks', who were renowned imported carpenters from Cyprus. Their factory was situated quite near to us. These young men became valued customers and friends. The café became very busy from early morning till very late in the evening. We became very close to the boys. They were very home sick and Mummy provided a home from home atmosphere for them. We knew most of them by their first names.

There was one rebel who did not want to work in the factory. He opened up a barber a few doors away from the café. Johnnie was very distinctive, always immaculately dressed. His curly hair was always slickly greased. The smallest finger on his right hand had the longest nail I had ever seen. He strutted every where with his hand on show, so that his nail was very visible. I have since learned that having a nail like that has a bad meaning. What his shop was used for is another story. He wasn't a nice person.

No one told us that the corner shop in our road, selling newspapers, sweets etc. was a place where every-one could go to dance. When the shop closed in the evening there was a small side entrance to take them into a courtyard which was amazingly big for where it was. The small band that played their romantic music nightly made my brother and me think we were in heaven. We used to watch the couples arrive in dinner suits and flowing gowns. We ran from the front bedroom to the back to watch the dancing and listen to the music. I still remember clearly that the tango was the favourite. To think of all this was happening just off the Vallence Road, E1. We looked forward to this magnificent show every evening.

When I was ready for school my father found one that was near home called 'Deal Street Infants'. Ages ranged from five until seven. I made friends with a very nice girl the same age as myself. She had three other sisters. They were a happy family and I loved being with them. Unfortunately, living in their block of flats was a horrid little man who never took his dirty cap off. His nickname was Jack the Cap. His was as bald as a baby's bottom. He was unmarried and frequently accosted two of the sisters and was later found to have had unlawful sex with them. They were frightened to tell their parents. When I was told, I immediately spoke to my father and he told their parents. They went to the police and the man was arrested. Of course, my freedom was curtailed and I was not allowed to go to my friends again. It frightened me too, I did not respond to everyone as I did before. When my father was not available I was taken to and from school by one of the Cypriot boys.

Great Garden Street's, café life, held many ups and downs. Mummy often worked herself into a frenzy. Mum's life was one long misery of hard work, whose life did not warrant a 'thank you'. My father's disability to help in any way added to that misery. He was continually admitted to hospital with bleeding ulcers, which he brought on himself. He was afraid of being himself.

Mummy very often went upstairs, opened a top window and sat with her legs dangling outside and said she was going to kill herself. At first this frightened me but as the performances grew many, many times I wished she would. It made me feel uncomfortable, that I could not understand the true meaning of my mother's circumstances.

To try and ease up a little my parents decided to employ a live in help, which happened to be a young Welsh girl. She stayed a few weeks and decided to take a moon-light flit through her bedroom window with the aid of many sheets tied together. She took with her money from the till and the two money boxes that belonged to my brother and myself.

Daddy was disturbed by the noise the girl had made opening her window, as everything creaked. By the time he made up his mind to investigate what was happening, the girl had fled, leaving the sheets flapping in the wind. It was very funny, watching Daddy running up and down the stairs shouting, we have been robbed, in Yiddish, clutching his long johns by the crotch. He always slept in his underwear just in case of what we did not know. The pants were heaps too large. Mummy always bought them that way because she did not want them to shrink in the wash. Crotch in one hand and his long grey woolly socks in the other, seemingly confused at what to do next, never being in that position before, he sat down and cried. Regaining his dignity, he went into the girl's room to rescue the fluttering sheets from the window. One by one he untied the knots in the sheets and examined them for holes, just in case they scraped against the outside wall.

Everything was highly valued by Daddy, empty boxes, pieces of string, but his favourite pastime was banging nails into anything. Not one nail or screw did he ever throw away. My mother gave him money to buy a hammer and a screwdriver and for years hence, he had to carry them wherever he went. He was sure that, at some time, someone would need a nail knocked in to keep things from falling apart. He made sure no one was ever going to open that window in the girl's room again.

I cannot recall if my mother owned a night-dress or my father a pair of pyjamas. My mother always slept in a vest, liberty bodice and her well-lived-in corset, with a thin pair of knee length knickers. The fleecy ones were kept for daytime. Mummy went downstairs after the girl left to see how much money was taken, it was all gone. This is where Mummy's Russian tongue came alive. My brother and I knew it wasn't a delicate phraseology. Waving her hands at us, she shouted in Yiddish 'kinder gay shleffen', meaning children go to sleep. So we did, there wasn't anything we could do.

It seems that I developed a hanging wart on my chin. My father was appalled that his daughter had this ugly thing on her beautiful face. He found an old-fashioned way of getting this wart off my face. Every morning he bought a pigeon; then we went to the abattoir to have it killed the kosher way. When the bird started to bleed he took the thick, hard gore and put it on the wart. This was a daily ritual until the offending wart became black and dry and fell off. There was no mark where it had been. Daddy was very happy his treatment had worked; so was I.

The Restaurant

We lived in Great Garden Street for quite a few years. My father became very low in health and was in hospital most of the time. One time, I fell ill with diphtheria and scarlet fever, dreadful diseases in the 1930s. I was taken to an isolation hospital across the river by ferry to Woolwich Fever Hospital. I was very poorly for a few months. Mummy was not able to visit. My father, with his pigeon English, dared to leave the East End, get on a ferry and visit his darling daughter. He came laden with bags of food, which unfortunately I could never receive. We were not allowed visitors to the wards but he was able to speak and see me through a large panelled glass door. He stood looking at me for some time and telling me in Yiddish to hurry up and get better so he could take me home. I asked him whether Mummy still kept the water melons and bananas in the shed that was in the back yard. That was my little hideaway; I crept in there every day to indulge myself of bananas and melon.

When I was able to come home, my mothers culinary dishes had improved immensely. She decided she needed to go forward to a better life and move to bigger premises. The shop and living accommodation was found in Philpot Street off the Commercial Road, East 1. The place was spacious with a large basement but again no bathroom. Fortunately we were a bus ride away from privately owned bathroom facilities, which we visited frequently.

We were not a café anymore; we had become a restaurant with table cloths, serviettes and jugs of water on tables. When a customer came in, bread was put beside them; they were very accommodated and fussed over. Most importantly the meals were delicious. The clientele were mostly prosperous people who owned factories locally and enjoyed every morsel of food.

Mummy became a competitive shopper. When the butcher saw her coming, he knew he was going to have a barney with her. She liked to buy certain cuts of meat which he was pleased to do for her. The chickens were also brought home whole so she could open them up herself and I took over that chore when I was in my teens. After driving the butcher bananas, she asked him for the bill. He stated a price, she said it was too much and started to walk towards the door. The poor man shouted, 'come back', did a multitude of swearing, where upon she put her preferred payment down on the counter. Mr. Ziff, the butcher shouted in a shrill voice, 'don't come back any more'; Chova went home happy.

She practised this charade in all shops, warehouses and cigarette wholesalers. She said the 'Black Cat' cigarettes manufacturer was a relative, I never found out if this was true. Mother herself smoked eighty cigarettes a day, lighting one from the other. She also loved a gamble, never putting money on the name of the horse, only on the jockeys; her favourite was Sir Gordon Richards. She also played a good game of cards.
War-time and Evacuation

Daddy was in his usual place, one of the local hospitals, I cannot think of one that had not known his presence. A cure was very evasive at that time; that came much later. Meantime I attended the local schools, each time we moved, I moved school. People were listening to the radio intensely; the news became worse every day. Everyone was becoming badly frightened that war was imminent but went about doing their own thing that was until the third September, nineteen thirty-nine; the day that was dreaded by all.

A few days later the first air-raid siren went. People stared at each other in a crazy way. The synagogue in Philpot Street was allocated as a bomb shelter because it had a huge cellar, deep down underground. Whoever could get there started stampeding down the stairs, screaming, crying. The small children, trying to go down the steps, were pushed aside and I was one of them, it was horrendous. Ten minutes later the all clear went, and then all went back to normal as possible.

At Dempsey Street School, where I was a pupil, Lionel Bart was in my class. I mention him because he became famous. He was actually a very clever young boy and a good artist.

The school was preparing for the war to become dangerous. Gas masks were issued to each child and we were shown how to use them. It wasn't long before the German planes were bombing London, mostly the East End and surroundings. The authorities considered it was now time to send the children out of London, to be evacuated to the country. When I told my parents that the school was being evacuated, my mother was happy and my father cried.

The day came when the children were put on a bus, to go to the station; the names were taped onto our coats. Most of the children were crying for their parents. I did not cry but was apprehensive. I teamed up with a very nice girl called Emmy, frail looking and very homesick. We became friends and said we would stay together.

The journey was tedious and we were all hungry. The first stop was Maidenhead. There was a hovering of teachers and councillors trying to get some of the children billeted with the local families. They were not accommodating. Emmy and I were taken to a very beautiful house, belonging to an artist, surrounded by huge gardens. To us it was a palace. The gentleman was willing for us to stay, his wife looked at us and decided we did not suit the surroundings. We were picked up again and, as it was late, we could not be settled anywhere.

We were then taken to the local mental home for women. We were bathed, given a hair wash, something to eat and then put in a ward with very disturbed patients. I did not cry, I was too frightened, my eyes rolled from side to side, wondering if any of the women were going to approach us. Emmy could not stop sobbing and ended up in bed with me, bringing her pillows for protection. We sat upright all night, keeping alert, just in case. We were called for early next morning, after breakfast we ran out.

We were taken by car to Reading in Berkshire, to an office to find a family who would take us in. Finally, we were taken to a village called Upper Basildon, the other village was called Lower Basildon. We were taken to meet the family, mother, father, two sons and an Airedale dog called Paddy. The home we were going to live in was a wonderful cottage situated in a long lane. At the back of the cottage was a glorious wood where I spent many hours cutting down smallish trees for logs. The lady needed these to boost the oven that she cooked on and the huge fireplace grate that kept us warm in the winter. I had never known such peace.

There were beautiful fields just across the lane with haystacks and bales of corn. The lady greeted us with cold drinks and said she hoped we would be very happy. I answered in a throaty voice, we hope so too, and if we were not treated nicely we would walk home. I must truly say that the years spent in this home were some of the happiest in my life. We were treated with loving care. My father did not take long to find our address and then came most weekends with two suitcases filled with wonderful goodies. He always came Friday afternoon and went home Sunday, after lunch. I had thick curly hair, that my father insisted I wore it in curls, he thought I was Shirley Temple. Daddy was presented with honeycombs from the lady's father, who kept beehives in his garden. He loved the honey, hoping it would help his ulcers. Daddy, in exchange, brought him tobacco, as he smoked a pipe.

I would take a whole book to describe the many wonderful things these people did for us to make us happy. I was asked every day, should anything happen to my family would I like them to adopt me. It was amazing as I was the only Jewish person they had ever met. The school that Emmy and I attended was run by a Welsh school master who was mostly bad tempered but he obviously liked me and called me 'curly'. I was the only child allowed to play with his children. Looking back to these years, my life was fun. There were only two shops in the village but they were well stocked with most things. I had a very loyal fan, a young man, who wasn't very bright, but thought I was Shirley Temple. He came every day to hear me sing a ditty and do a shoe shuffle, then go home happy.

Our stay with Mr and Mrs Timms lasted two and a half years. We had to go home as our second mother, Mrs Timms, contracted breast cancer. She became very ill, her family were distraught and so were we. I knew that the best time of my life was ending. The villages were now being occupied by Australian and New Zealand soldiers. A bomb was dropped by one German plane that must have strayed. The bomb landed in a field and left a huge crater. The sightseers came from villages far and wide, armed with cameras. This was the closest they came to the war. My father came to take Emmy and myself home. The war was not yet at its worst. I did not know that number thirteen, Philpot Street, had been blown to pieces.

Return to the East End and London Ablaze

When I arrived at New Road, my new home, I was surprised to see it had been well established. Three floors of rooms, big cellar again and still no bathroom. Emmy's mum collected her and was amazed how she had grown. She was never able to visit Emmy, she could not afford the fare money. Emmy was happy to be home, she was the homesick one. I rejoined Dempsey Street School and settled down. I was nearly a teenager and life was hectic helping at home as Daddy was ill again and in hospital.

Trying to shelter from the bombing day and night was hazardous. The air raids were becoming more frequent. London was ablaze with fire bombs, the smell of burning was offensive. Buildings collapsed like packs of cards but the firemen were more than brave. Watching these men doing their job gave the masses courage. The firemen never faltered in trying to keep London safe.

My brother was in his teens and assigned himself to the ARP. He went happily along with the men to put the smaller fires out. This went on for months until my mother found out and put a stop to it. My brother was furious; it was something he could do without Mummy performing. My brother never went to a shelter, he said if he was going to die he would do so in bed, in comfort.

My attendance in Dempsey Street School was quite good. Unfortunately I was not a champion pupil. Maths, which should have been my best subject, was the most hated. My desire was to be a clothes' designer and maths would have been the most appropriate of all lessons. I should have imbibed, I was very surprised when it was suggested I go to Myrtle Street Central School to be helped with maths, learn French and get to know more about art, which would help me pass to the London College of Fashion.

I was so happy that some of the teachers had faith in me and of their recommendation. My father was elated, not only because I wished to do something creative, but because the new school was located five minutes walk from home. My time at Myrtle Street was most enjoyable, I was popular with the students and teachers. The teachers knew my parents had a restaurant, surmising I knew of the most tasteful snacks. When it was break-time for them, they asked me to buy their sandwiches.

The French master at this school was most annoying. He had a habit of squeezing himself onto the desks of the girls in the class, manipulating his arm so that his elbow was able to touch the girl's breast, which he constantly rubbed himself against. It didn't take long for the girls to catch on to what he was doing. The next time he tried to sit with the girls they stood up as soon as he sat down. He realised he was caught out and never sat down again with anyone. It's amazing what a mind can recall.

London College of Fashion and Return to the Restaurant

My time at this school passed very quickly, my sketching became good and I tried to keep up with the maths, which is still a sore point with me. I was fully convinced I was not an Einstein. I was told I would be able to go to the London College of Fashion if I passed an interview with the head of the college. I was advised to take a parent with me, unfortunately neither of my parents were available, so I went alone. I managed to answer the questions put to me and I was admitted as a student. Attending this college opened my eyes to a small category of the world.

There were many foreign students attending who were overwhelmed with the class of education they were going to receive. I myself was intrigued as they were, this college was famous not only with designs of clothes but for teach hairdressing. Hats were designed to go with the glamorous hairstyles and the clothes to go with them. It was magical to a girl from the East End.

Precisely a year later I had to leave. My father fell gravely ill once again and my mother was frantic for help. Anyway, when I arrived home from the West End it was 5.30pm. The college was situated in Oxford Street, W1. I had to change from my uniform into overalls to help in the restaurant. Mummy never closed the doors till well after midnight. It became very tiresome for me. I had to give one or the other up. College lost, Mummy won.

Mummy tried very hard to live an Orthodox life, in between cursing and swearing in Russian. She did so at anything that annoyed her. My mother worked very hard and we benefited from that. We had money, food and shelter. My mother loved to visit rabbis to try and sort out her life, she loved to listen to their salutations but never took any notice. She happened to visit a rabbi that lived in Clapton, E5. His name was Rabbi Twersky, he kept open house and was very revered. His home was always crowded; people came from afar with their problems. He was an extremely kind man and very patient. He took his time with each person and with his wisdom gave them a gratifying answer. When asked for a blessing it was given with profound faith. My mother became obsessed with this family. Every Thursday Mummy cooked stuffed carp and the first batch was always sent to the Rabbi with cholas and home-made cakes. I remember the Rabbi's children came to visit us in the restaurant but never ate or drank in case it wasn't exactly kosher. They were indeed a beautiful family.

I soon became adjusted to the smoky atmosphere of the restaurant. It seemed everyone who came in to eat had to smoke in-between every course. My mother added to the pollution, her average intake was eighty a day. I have to repeat this number as I cannot now believe she inhaled all this smoke and did not die from cancer. She lived with bronchitis most of her life. When she started to cough it took ages to calm her down. She loved every moment when she had a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, especially if there was two inches of ash to flick about. My father often reprimanded her smoking habits, especially the ash. She told him in explicit Russian what to do. He did not answer her tirade.

The air raids were very prevalent and ferocious it was hell let loose mostly in the evenings around seven, eight o'clock. Having a full shop of customers, relying on us, for hot food, it was impossible for Mummy or me to run for shelter. She always placed herself on the first step going down to the cellar, chanting and praying. Badly frightened, she started to pull at her teeth, broke most of them and ended up with a mouthful of stubs that, later on, had to be extracted by the London Hospital.

My father had now to be admitted to the hospital himself, then, duly shifted to their annex in Brentwood, which was miles away and took hours to get there. Mummy said as Daddy was always going to be in and out of hospital it would be good to have a lodger. Just in case.

The person she chose was a refined gentleman called Moishe - a lonely man who never had any relatives. This gentle creature was a very small man, had he stood in a strong wind he would have been blown away. His room was medium sized with a small built-in cupboard, big enough for his few clothes that he possessed. He did not have a wash basin in the room, so a stand was bought, containing a basin and large water jug. Moishe was content, he had his meals in the restaurant and that was his life. He once complained of Mummy's smoking and the ash hanging off. He never mentioned it again after she read him his rights.

My father was away in hospital for a long time but over the East End the bombs and fire bombs never stopped raging. The clanging of the fire engines were constant, to the relief of all around; every fireman a hero.

Early one morning, when both my mother and I were still in bed, Germany sent over one of their very new V2 bombs, which completely devastated a whole block of flats and a hospital, just off the Vallence Road, abutting Whitechapel, E1. Hundreds of people were killed and maimed, the carnage was indescribable. The smell of death affected all around. For months and months it was the worst topic of conversation but no one could help bringing it up. Hitler's targets in the East End were taking its toll heavily. Because I lived so close to this appalling destruction of life, I dressed and ran towards the debris. I saw for myself the horrendous injuries, adults with hanging limbs. Spattered around were the bodies of the dead, inclusive of many children.

Sojourn in Blackpool

Seeing all this shattered my confidence. I could not stop crying. Being a strong minded, young person, I could not believe people would violate one another like this. My mother decided to send me to Blackpool, as my aunt and uncle were there. She chose a customer called Joe to take me. I called him Joe the Grapser, a Jewish word for the 'burper'. He did this the whole time. He was eating and even though he was a slob Mummy seemed to trust him. I told my mother I could not go without seeing my father. I used to go every day so he wouldn't feel that we had forgotten him. It took two and half hours to get there and the same home, in complete blackout.

When my father saw me he cried as he had heard the news and didn't know if anything had happened to us. My brother went once and poor Daddy had a relapse. One evening on the way home, going towards Whitechapel Station the siren went. I could hear the planes moaning as they were laden with bombs ready to drop all around us. I was ready to run all the way home, I heard someone call me darling in an American accent. However brave I was I did not wish to be accosted. I ran as fast as I could and ended up smack into a lamp-post. I felt my forehead expand into a large lump. I was certain I had a black eye. I felt very distressed when I reached home. My mother looked at me and said 'you should've been more careful', but made no attempt to leave her game of cards, speaking with a half opened mouth, not to disturb her dangling cigarette and ash.

Her games were mostly played with four to six policemen from Lemon Street (Aldgate) station. I can say this now, I am sure they retired many, many years ago. They obviously preferred the warmth of the restaurant with food to pounding the beat.

It was now time for me to pack my clothes and go with Joe to Blackpool. He was an unmarried old boy, in his late forties at that time, he was old to me. He had masses of curly hair which he pushed under a large Stetson like hat. When he spoke or was eating his manners were hard to take. Joe called for me next morning and off we went. When we were seated on the train, poor Joe became over-protective and tried to snuggle up next to me. He told me how lovely I was and could I possibly love him? I looked at him, amazed at this suggestion. I knew what would put him in his place, all I had to say was if he didn't behave himself, I would tell my mother.

When we arrived at our destination, my aunts' boarding house was full, so we booked into another place. We were situated near small cafes, restaurants and bars. All were advertising for help. Looking much older than my tender years, I applied for a job and was taken on immediately. How could anyone go wrong serving fish, chips and mushy peas. My bodyguard, Joe, sat in a corner watching me all the time. I made friends with another young girl that was employed. The French Navy had arrived in Blackpool, the sailors were very frequent customers. I think they loved the mushy peas.

I remember very well the day that two of the French Navy's, most handsome, young sailors, came in for a meal. I was overawed by this vision of beauty. My friend and I drooled while we served them. When they were finishing their meal they asked us if we would like to show them around. At fifteen years old my dream of Eden had happened on earth. We made an appointment to see them the very next day. I knew that I was fat, I was hoping that some of the fat was in the right places and thought surely he didn't wish to be seen with me. Looking at myself in the mirror, hoping that the image looking back wasn't lying, I looked quite pleasant.

My friend from the restaurant had come to wait with me. Lo and behold the two French angels appeared for our dates. I had a vision of my mother, standing before me, waving her finger saying don't you dare and my hair being pulled. I certainly did not dare, I have to say we were treated as princesses. Had I been a few years older I might've assented to whatever this young man wished. I did not go back to my job next morning. I told Joe I wanted to go home, I missed my mother's yelling and I wanted to see how my father was.

Return from Blackpool

When I arrived home, I could not tell if my mother was happy, her face hid all expressions. A few days later, Daddy was allowed home from the hospital, I went for him. We were happy to see each other. I noticed he had put on a little weight because he had been safe, away from Mummy's nagging. It wasn't long before his ulcers started bleeding again, this time from his mouth and bottom. I made him go to bed, the only way I could think of helping him was to warm up a whole bottle of brandy. I would carefully pat and rub his bony limbs, chest, head, shoulders and back, to encourage warmth and colour back into a near-dead body. I sat with Daddy until his pain eased. I knew he could not go on without proper treatment. I told my mother he had to see a specialist. He was emaciated, not being able to eat or drink. I had to scream at my mother to make her understand that the man would die if he wasn't seen to immediately. I did not realise how stubborn my mother was. She at last asked our local doctor for a letter to the London hospital.

I had to play at being in charge of all the takings, while my mother was away for two hours. Daddy received first class treatment with medicines until he was strong enough for an operation. Mummy invited the specialists over, every lunchtime, to taste her dinners. They were so in love with her cooking, they sat and ate in the kitchen, they examined what was in all the saucepans and ovens. Word of my mothers heavenly cooking became famous. Students from the hospital came from the beginning of their studies to their becoming qualified doctors and consultants.

We became very busy too, with a hoard of men from the Yugoslav merchant navy. They had defected from Tito's regime. They were very nice people; they stayed in London before emigrating to America. I had a favourite who I nicknamed 'Poopsie'. He was a gentle, darling person. These very nice gentlemen became a wonderful crowd of friends and customers. This happy phase lasted many months until they emigrated.

The Bank of England

One evening, when my mother and I were both cleaning the restaurant, she told me she had accumulated a few thousand pounds in the old five and ten pound notes. These notes had become old currency. It was decided by the government to minimise the size. People started to complain that they were clumsy to handle for business. My mother began to cry wildly how she was going to change all this money. Legally the time to change the money at the local banks had expired and now had to be taken to the Bank of England. I was to be the messenger to the Bank of England. She put the notes into a hold-all, carefully counted, I dressed up for this outing, making myself look years older. I walked to the bus stop clutching the bag as close as I could.

I went on to the bus and sat quietly in a corner. I watched every bus stop in case I might miss the one for the bank. I arrived in the city where the bank was situated. I alighted, crossed the road, hoping that all would be well once inside the bank, not looking guilty or red-faced. When it was my turn to go up to the teller, I told them what I had in the bag and the amount and the circumstances, why this money had not been exchanged. I said my parents were foreign and did not understand the language properly but were in business, with my help, did not confide in me over money matters, only when they had to. I was asked my age, I stated I was seventeen and mature enough to know what I was doing.

They lectured me, how to get home safely and were surprised I did not come by taxi. The money was exchanged and I went home the way I came, by bus. When I arrived home Mummy took the bag, went up to her bedroom and locked the door. She counted the money to see that I brought home the same amount I took. I waited for my mother to say thank you. I received a half smile; that was the limit she intended to go. It was expected of me to obey mother's command, as always.

Serving in the restaurant one lunch time, I felt a searing pain in my groin and was violently sick. I went to the London Hospital's casualty department and was told I had to have my appendix operated on. I told the doctor I would have to go home and tell my parents and to collect my nighties. I packed what I could, then took myself back to the hospital. I had my operation, it was my father who always came to see me. My friend Poopsie too was a constant visitor, never Mummy. My most embarrassing moments in the hospital were the students who went round with the doctor. They were the young men who came into the restaurant to eat. I always feigned sleep in case they wanted to examine me. When it was time to go home I felt weak and needed rest. My mother did not allow this, it was back to the old routine. I developed an abscess, my mothers remedy was a hot water bottle at bedtime, no doctor, no rest.

A Bombing Casualty

The dreaded war had become fierce, the German air force were now raiding during the day. Such was the time when my father decided to go to bathe at the baths that were privately owned. These baths had a glass roof, my poor dad was bathing himself when a VI bomb fell on or near the Troxy cinema, which wasn't far from the baths. The glass roof broke up in pieces and fell onto his private parts and cut him to ribbons. He dressed and walked all the way home. I asked him why didn't he get on a bus. He replied he was bleeding too much and it would not be nice for other people. How he managed to arrive home in that state was down to sheer determination. When he came in the door my mother screamed and panicked. I took Daddy across the road to the hospital. They saw to him immediately, sewed him up in quite a few places, then inserted a tube in his penis. I could hear him screaming, they never had time to put him out, and he was awarded a war pension.

Meanwhile, my mother was doing her good deeds for the families that came to her for help. One of the ladies who was blessed with eight children and destitute, her husband and eldest son, both in mental hospitals, had no means of support or relatives. Who could she go to? Mummy told her to come every Friday with empty bags. They were filled with precious foods, fish, chickens, meat, cholas (bread) and a few pounds, when Daddy wasn't home. Many of the Jews who lived in the East End survived through the goodness of other Jews. The people who came to Mummy for help were of different religions, she never turned anyone away. There was always plates of soup, sandwiches, tea. If they could not pay, she looked at the heavens and said God will pay her. She received a multitude of blessings but no money.

Mother developed a bronchial cough from her cigarette habit. She found a small chemist that introduced her to a special mixture. This medicine must have contained alcohol and some sort of drug. She went through hundreds of bottles, never taking it by dosage, just gulped it from the bottle, it was nectar to her. She bought a dozen bottles at a time, she was always on a high, and the smell was atrocious.

Another of my menial tasks was to try and do some ironing. Of course we did not have an electric iron, there were no points in the place to accommodate this modern machine. My ironing was done by an old fashioned monstrosity that had to be heated on the gas stove. It became unbearably hot and could not be used. I did try and ended up with blisters.

A Friend Called Miriah

I had a wonderful friend called Miriah. When I was allowed out we went around together, we enjoyed each others company and always happy to do things together. Most of the time we spent afternoon tea dancing at the Astoria in Tottenham Court Rd, W1. They had two very popular bands playing every day, Jack White and Harry Lauder. I did not dance as I didn't know how, listening to the music itself was heavenly. The throng of the professional dancers, who decided the dance floor was theirs, had to make way for the luvvy-duvvy couples who too wished to shake their bodies about.

One day my mother allowed me out earlier than usual. Miriah and I decided we would try and go to the Lycium Ballrooms as it was called. We knew it was a popular place for the American soldiers to jive and boogie. Many big bands - big noise - we watched amazed as the girls were thrown over heads and under legs. We were there about an hour when we were confronted by my brother of all people. He was as surprised as us, coming face to face with his little sister, our fun-time was over. We were then escorted to the nearest tube station by a very self-righteous young man, tutting all the way. He did not tell my mother.

Miriah often stayed with me in my pigeon loft room and single bed. At least we had plenty of nails knocked in the door to hang our clothes on, no hangers but nails. This was my father's pleasure; he loved knocking nails into anything. It was quite different when I went to Miriah's home. The atmosphere was warm and comforting. I could not stay there, as there was more family, than rooms. When it was time for me to go back home, I felt depressed. When I opened the door to the restaurant I was confronted by heavy cigarette smoke and smelly people. My mothers greeting was 'There is plenty of washing up to do in the kitchen.' Mummy could not think of doing anything as she was in the middle of a card game. I became very used to this vision of heaped up crockery waiting for me whenever I went out. To this day, my mother's untidy way of life made me what I am, very, very neat and orderly.

My father had fixed a narrow mirror in my room. When I looked into the looking glass, as Daddy called it, I was filling up in the right places and slimming down in the fat places. My figure was becoming very evident, this was my time for looking good. My mother took her hand from her heart and gave me money to buy some dresses. She did not come with me, which would have been something to talk about. I had to go to Chapel Street market in Islington to buy the clothes, as a cousin owned a ladies shop there. The clothes I purchased were all the same colour, red, I looked and felt it was me, at last. Mummy had forgotten I required shoes, nice bras and knickers for my complete transformation. Everything was talked about in the kitchen. My mothers words were 'Such a big to do', 'Such a lot of money'. Then, holding her head, she walked up the stairs to have her three hours afternoon sleep 'steffil', as it was too much for her.

I changed into my overalls and waited for the customers to arrive for tea time, when the factory workers had their break. When my father was around, not in hospital, we relished those hours of tranquillity. We sat and talked together, nothing of importance, just chit-chat. When we heard Mummy coming down the stairs we parted company and sat far away from each other. Had we sat together, her mind would have told her we were speaking about her. I have to add, she was a fantastic woman in her own way.

When she was cooking and cut her finger, sometimes a big chunk, she would cut a large onion in half, take out the very fine skin that was adhered to the outer part, wrap it round the cut, she always kept a reel of cotton to wind round the wound and let it stay on for a few hours. The wound healed like magic, something that was learned in Russia. I must add, I was stupid not to learn the language. It was there with my parents, spoken between them, when they didn't wish me to know their secrets. I love the Russian way of expressing words.

My parent's way of life was truly old fashioned. They did not move on with the years, they did not know how to make themselves happy in a normal way of life. There was no privacy, no loving family get together. Mummy came alive when the place was filled with people. Partners for cards and smoking, but that is how she made her living. She made her clientele happy, she fed them well.

I was an interesting young girl and I know I was attractive to very many customers. Much older than myself, these people were owners of large factories. They came later for their lunch and requested I sit with them, while they ate, and chatted to me. They classed me as being much older than I was and intelligent. They were gentle, fine and courteous. I was asked out many, many times. Had I been twenty years of age, times would have been different. It brings back lovely memories. I was flattered in the restaurant; our clientele were neither young nor old. Their jokes went out with Father Christmas, I laughed with them and that made them very happy. Laughter was very rare and valued in war-time.

In the days of my youth, one did as we were told. Reverence for parents was the last word, being in the company of younger people held no fascination for me. I was more compatible with the 'Oldies', they had more wisdom and wit.


I had a proposal from a father for his son, who was an only child, that I would be well rewarded if I married him. But this young man was very spoilt and had troubles from running wild. When I met him years later, pregnant with my beloved daughter, he was apologetic for not asking me to marry him. I looked at him, handsome as ever and knew how lucky I was that I didn't.

Another young man, who was a regular lunch client, tried to make it known that I had assented to have a love affair with him, I don't know why. I smiled and was courteous to all people. When I confronted him he said nothing, so I tried to persuade him, by dousing him with the jug of water that was on the table. He said he was obsessed with me. I told him that lying was a very bad way of trying to make me like him. He still came into the restaurant for his lunch with a smile.

My friend Miriah came round early one Saturday afternoon and asked my mother if I would be allowed out for a few hours. Nodding yes, she said as long as I was in by eleven o'clock. That, Saturday evening, dancing, listening to the music at the Astoria was most pleasurable.

We were standing around drinking tea when we were asked questions from a group of Austrian, Jewish young men and girls and was asked if we always came here to dance. We said yes. One young man seemed very interested in me. He asked me where I lived, I told him, thinking we would never see him again. We went home happy, at last someone had spoken to us. Miriah stayed over that night and helped me serve Sunday luncheons. We were amazed when Paul and three of his friends sat down for lunch. These were the young men we met at the Astoria.

He said he had come to see me, he liked the way I looked and was interested. He asked if he could take me out on a date. I had to ask my mother's permission, which she seemed to allow gracefully. On one of our meetings he told me his age. He was quite a number of years older than me, I was used to that. He was always very pleasant and a gentleman. He was always well dressed and was generous money-wise. When we had been friends for a few weeks he told me he owned a shoe factory and would I like to see it. I said 'yes please', what young girl would say anything different. To this day shoes and bags are something I would die for. I thought it would be a small place but it was large and he was proud of what he achieved. He showed me all this to become serious with one another. I became anxious, my thoughts were mixed up. Not wishing to hurt his feelings I went along with his ideas of how he would like to live his life.

To convey when he would like to see me he had to come to the East End personally, as we did not have a telephone. God forbid that we should have this modern instrument in our home. He had come to tell me we had been invited to a party in St. John's Wood, at a very large apartment by a special friend for Saturday evening. I wasn't keen but I thought what could go wrong? Paul came for me and I went happily along. We were greeted very pleasantly, Paul, it seemed was well known. Romantic music was playing, the couples were dancing and drinking, their embraces becoming ardent. Wow, I thought to myself, what next.

Looking round, the couples were disappearing into separate rooms and I was left looking at Paul, waiting for him to come out with the suggestion that I might enjoy sex with him. The thought of having sex with anyone at this stage of my life was unbelievable. To think he had brought me to this place to indulge myself, like the behaviour of his friends. I was so incensed I yelled at him, grabbed my coat and ran to the nearest tube station, thanking the Lord I had enough money to get to Whitechapel station. I was so upset that I told my mother, who I never confided in, what had happened. With a cigarette hanging from her lips and a straight face, said she would kill him. Miriah came the next day, being Sunday, she always helped me serve the luncheons and I told her what happened. We were always busy, her help was appreciated. About three in the afternoon, Paul walked in with his two friends, all sat down, saying he would like to speak to me. Please would I sit down and listen to him.

I went to the table, listened to his sincere apologies said he had not met anyone who didn't have sex, make love, after going out for a few times. He now respected my wishes and hoped we would resume going out together. I was very angry, told him what I thought of him and his friends and not to contact me ever again. He looked at me and said he could not believe I had said that to him. I then asked him to go.

Then, one evening into the restaurant, came this handsome Adonis, masses of dark brown wavy hair, big brown eyes with the longest of eye lashes. I had seen this instant was the time that young girls capitulated to the older man. My thoughts went haywire; I could not stop staring at him. He was definitely the most handsome, beautiful man in this world.

I stared at him and sensed that he was very hungry and he did not have too much money to spend. I gave him a triple sandwich, which he ate with relish, and a large cup of tea. He paid his bill and left. I thought I would never see him again. Even now, I would love to speak to him, a most loveable personality.

I was wrong, he became a constant, regular patron. I wondered if he lived locally or was a drifter. I had a feeling something wasn't quite as it should be. He was immaculately clothed, shiny shoes, fantastic finger nails, as if constantly manicured. He was never around during the day, but came into eat every evening. He told me he was Jewish but did not originate from the East End.

He told me in confidence that he had deserted from the armed forces and would wait until the war was over, then the deserters would be exonerated and not imprisoned. He had a natural talent of making friends. As he needed money to exist he must have applied for work from the local businesses. They gave him tasks and paid him well, especially if the wives were in charge. Harry cast a spell on everyone, how many of these women were seduced by him will never be known. I think he got to know every available young woman. When he did go out, during the day, he was always invited to someone's home. Occasionally he went missing for days. I knew he was being cared for by a besotted female. When he did emerge from his trysts and come into eat to me he was a ray of sunshine. He could not do or say anything wrong. He joined in most evenings and played cards with Mummy and the old boys, including a notorious game of dominoes.

When the sirens sounded, I went across the road to the nearest shelter. I took a book with me, it was a time to rest from my business duties. There were a few seats available, I took one and sat myself down in a corner. I did not know that Harry had followed me, when he found me in the corner, he took me in his arms, held me close and kissed me to thank me for looking after him when he came into eat. I loved it; it was what I had hoped for. The kisses and embraces became a ritual with the sounds of sirens. I had a feeling he truly liked me, he had to respect my wishes, that I was a very nice girl and staying that way.

When I was allowed out to go for a walk I was always surprised to see him at my side. I loved looking in the shops, he wished to walk with me because it wasn't safe to walk on my own. I was seventeen, was attractive to many people, I felt and looked good, I wanted to be pleasant to everyone, especially Harry. He had more put on his food platter than anyone else. I never did find out if my mother noticed, if she did I never heard her complain. Harry had begun to know my mothers moods, he obviously knew that asking her to play cards would put him next on the list for a big free meal. My mother was now drinking her cough mixture like a tonic. The more she smoked, the more she drank the mixture. She began lighting her cigarettes with a taper, she played her cards in a smoky haze. Harry grew more confident in himself, most people had a genuine fondness for him, knew of his troubles and made sure no-one knew where he was or might be.

In the meantime the East End became inundated with American soldiers. We were happy to see them, they made very good customers. Some were Jewish some were not, they all loved mother's cooking. When they were on leave they headed for Mummies restaurant. They sat for hours, eating and talking, commenting on the lifestyle between America and Great Britain.

One such young man was a sergeant called Leonard Lassin, a particularly nice young man from Boston. He told me he was of the Jewish religion. He was really sweet. Whenever he came on leave, it was spent eating and keeping me company. I asked him why he wasn't out with his friends sightseeing. He replied he wanted to be with me and that made him happy. He proposed to me many times and said I would have a wonderful time in America. He was a constant visitor for two and a half years. When he went home I was bombarded with loving letters and proposals. I answered all his letters. He wanted to come back to England to change my mind. He could not understand why I didn't wish to marry him. He was very nice looking with dimples, six feet tall and all man. I often wondered about him and how he prospered in life. He wrote many, many times, until the time I was asked to stop all correspondence.

The restaurant was always full of Americans who came in regularly. They never became tired of asking me out. When they went back to camp they left me with their photographs, signed with love and kisses. My being in the shop was good for business. My mother worked hard but she was happy, she was making money and she loved it. All her headaches and tiredness were forgotten in the mad rush to Utopia. Coining in the money made her world go round. She never used a bank, she stuffed the notes in hold-alls and put them in a safe place, or so she thought, her wardrobe in the bedroom. She had my father put two heavy locks on the bedroom door.

Hitler's bombs and fire bombs never ceased, it was if the community became adjusted to the sirens and 'all clears'. We went shopping, ate, drank and hoped for the best. I was kept very busy and very happy to be so. If there was an hour or so of rest, Mummy imagined the customers had found another place to go and I was nagged relentlessly. I am often asked if all this had happened in this day and age would I have left home. My answer would be no, how would my parents understand and survive on their own. My conscience would never allow me to.

I recall an afternoon when my mother and I were having an unusual conversation, before her beloved siesta, when a person came in for tea and cake, for which I served him. I looked at him, maybe because he looked very sad. He was wearing a uniform and he turned out to be a German prisoner of war. I unfortunately turned to my mother and told her. She jumped up and started shouting at him in Russian, not very nicely, the poor man ran out as fast as his legs could run. She chased after him; I had to run to bring her back. Why did he venture to the East End, where the Jews lived, we could not understand. Seeing a Star of David prominent on the window, knowing that Jewish people lived there, how he dared enter and expect no reaction. I made Mummy a cup of tea and told her to go to bed for an early siesta.

The poor man was so frightened, I felt sorry for him, perhaps he was one of the Germans that had to do what he was told. How anyone living had thoughts that bombs, murder and mayhem would make them world leaders and were under the impression they could achieve this status were utterly mad. Our war-time hero, Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, was our hero. When he spoke on the radio, to give us comfort, we became strong hearted and had the will to survive. The ak-ak fire and the search lights did not deter the German planes, not one iota. When we survived the night of bombing we gazed around to find more streets had vanished.

We trundled home to see if it was still there. We made tea and I took up a large kettle of water to have a wash all over, we were covered in black pieces from the fire-bombs. When I had redressed in clean clothes, we opened up the restaurant once more. We had forgotten my brother had remained at home until he came down for his tea and rolls. I loved my brother dearly and was sorry that he was so misunderstood by these two foreign parents, who did not know how to bring up a child. I must stress, he had a brilliant brain and I was proud of him.

My Brother and the Affair of the Suit

My brother became friends with a young man, whose father owned a place that had been made into a gents' tailoring premise at the end of New Road. Seeing his pal dressed very smart, he wished to be attired the same way. This man's price for a suit fifty years ago was two hundred and fifty pounds. My mother gave him the money for the suit, which was superbly made and he looked fantastic. My brother thought the situation over and decided he would need another suit to change into. He didn't wait until she had her siesta, so she would be in a better mood. He approached my mother and in a posh voice said he would like the same amount of money to have another suit made, so that he would be able to wear them alternately. My mother became agitated and had hysterics. We were all standing in the kitchen, she began looking round at what she could pick up to throw. She chose anything handy and threw them in my brother's direction. I was standing beside him, kitchen knives, forks and the crusty bread had direct aim, missing my brother who ducked and caught me instead.

My dear brother had the same hot temper as his mother, he picked up the nearest chopping knife and cut his new suit to pieces. The tension was thick, then there was this very silent hush, the tears ran down our faces quietly, as if they knew they had to do it that way. We were all too emotional for any words. My brother received the money for two new suits. While I examined my scratches and bruises, Mummy looked at me and said, 'you should not have stood in the way', in Yiddish, then went to upstairs, to sleep, as usual.

I truly had sympathy for my brother as all his clothes and underwear was kept locked in a wardrobe, in my parents' bedroom. He had to plead for the key to get a change of clothes, underwear, etc. Everything was padlocked in case someone slipped up the stairs and stole everything. It was very difficult to live a life that way.

My brother had a funny habit when he ate, he did not like anyone watching him when he had his meals. He sat on the stairs away from everyone. I thought it was a good idea as eating in the kitchen was like a railway station. He wasn't a happy person; to get away from home he joined the merchant navy. This particular boat was going to Canada. He decided to jump ship and went to live with my uncle's family, who were well provided. He stayed sometime with them. When asked if he was going to marry one of the girls, he very quickly came back to London. My parents had not changed and neither did he.

When my brother found a lovely person he wanted to marry, my mother went berserk, as she was a widow with a small child. She was a very beautiful young woman with a place of her own. He would have been very happy with her but mother had the last word. My brother had taken me to meet her, I loved her, she was charming in every way. I cried for him.

He did meet another young lady whom he married, had two children, a son and a daughter. They went to live in America. I do not know much about his life there. I knew he was very unhappy, he loathed everyone and everything. He could not settle down, he came back to London twice with his family and furniture. Mother paid for everything, hoping he would become stable. He drove us all insane, then went back to the States, for the last time. His children have told me how unstable he was towards them. I was not surprised, he mimicked his mother. He died at forty-eight years old, his children are wonderful, so are his beautiful grandchildren. I am deeply sorry that he did not live to see his family grow up.

My brother's wife, Sylvia, remarried, not long after his passing. Her second husband passed away too. When this happened, for some unknown reason she packed up and disappeared and hasn't been seen for years. Her children have been looking for her ever since. I can only remember my brother as having a soft heart, who helped many people over their troubles.

Mother became ill with a prolapse of the womb. She found it difficult to walk. Having tried many things to help her to prevent an operation, nothing helped. She had to accept the fact she badly needed to be seen to immediately. She then entered the Middlesex Hospital in the West End. She was terrified. After the operation she was inconsolable, a young doctor took it upon himself to sit with her night and day, to encourage her and to assure her she was making good progress. He deserved a medal. My mother instructed me to buy six shirts, six ties and socks as a gift for his benevolence towards her. She then went to convalescence.

My father and I kept the restaurant open between us, we shopped, cooked and did everything Mummy would have done. Daddy was very calm when all this happened, he gained strength from a worried mind and he wasn't being hen-pecked. We were happy, when she finally came home.

On one particular evening the bombing was very severe. The sirens were going mad, we could smell burning and heard the fire engines rushing around, it was chaotic. We were full up with customers eating, drinking and making jokes, as if the war did not exist or we could have been blown up. Mummy was playing cards with her cronies, the time was pleasant, when in walked this red headed man, age in his thirties, asked for a cup of tea, than sat down for a few moments, then asked to speak to my mother privately. She took him into the kitchen. A few moments later she called me to follow her. Lying on the table was a vast amount of diamonds, rings, brooches, tiaras, diamonds that were positively new. The amount covered most of the table, truly a king's ransom. At today's market prices the value would be millions. The man wanted £5,000 for everything. My mother asked my opinion, whether to buy or not.

Even I knew this was not a kosher exchange. How could a few thousand pounds buy this amount of jewellery? It wasn't right and I said, 'no'. It was very tempting. Mummy faltered, then said, 'no thank you'. The man gathered up the stones and put them in different pockets. He sat down in the restaurant, had a large meal, paid, and was duly arrested outside the door. The police had been watching him for weeks, to see what he proposed doing. Thank goodness we knew what to do. Mother usually asked my opinion on many matters. She was very adamant that I could see into the future. I have a sixth sense, when I study any person, it is the eyes and the voice that send out vibes.

We had many types of visitors and the detectives from Lemon Street police station were often having tea in the restaurant, under cover, dressed as tramps. They always sat at a table where they were able to watch a place called Rowten House and was mostly used by people from Ireland. The cost of a bed for the night was one shilling and sixpence. Of course all this was in London, wartime; they were on the look out for spies. The police officer said the Germans used young Irish-men, especially those from the IRA, knowing their hatred for the British. The detectives were always on their toes, utterly vigilant, they knew the men they were looking for would eventually end up in Rowten House and they would be ready for them.

The Character and Characters of the East End

I must digress for a while to bring you to the East End through my eyes.
The East End was cosmopolitan, whoever or whatever the immigrant, their first steps into London brought them into the East End. This was the beginning of a life for them, a sanctuary of peace. They came mostly from Russia and Poland. These people were Jews, the Russian Jews ran away from the Pogroms, the Polish Jews from the hatred of the Polish Communities.

Why? Does the word 'Jew' propagate such interest, as if they were a mysterious breed? It is a religion like Catholics and Protestants. I might add, Jesus Christ was born a Jew and died as a Jew. His mother and father were Jews, let all not forget that. Many of the immigrants were gypsies, from Romania and Hungary. These people stalked the East End from street to street for somewhere to lay their weary bodies down.

I was told that Underwood Street was the favourite place for many of the immigrants. There were many types of houses, small ones, probably where the lost souls were, big red houses, where the British-born Jews lived. The top floor of these places were made into tailors' work shops and had their names engraved on gold metal blocks. If and when they employed anyone, it was of their own religion. Nowadays this applies to most of the Indian sects. These people too do not trust 'foreigners', as they call us.

The East End will always keep more mysteries than we can imagine. The famous Blind Beggar in the Whitechapel Road had a murder committed there. They had hidden dens where they played cards, so called night-clubs, where you didn't go in alone. It was well known that drink was the big menace. The pubs were always full, mostly inhabited by people who never worked, we called them, 'wide boys', small-time crooks, burglars with big cars, always trying to find out where easy pickings could be had. Yes, they did have small automatic guns, coshes and knuckle-dusters, so called as they fitted across the knuckles of the hand in heavy metal. They were always carried in the pockets of the second in command and used often. Drugs in the Whitechapel area might have been around, but they were never traded openly. The young hoods were all dressed in a uniformed way. I used to call them the velvet collar brigade. All their over-coats were made in one style, with velvet collars and cuffs and a deep swinging pleat at the back with half-belt, Italian Fedoras and two tone shoes - always chic.
I shall always remember two other characters from the East End, Prince Monalulu who used to frequent Petticoat Lane shouting 'I've got a horse'. He could be seen many times on televised horse races, always dressed with his tribal plumes and colourful costumes. He was a much loved character. The other gentleman, had long flowing grey hair. He walked miles, every day around the East End always with his umbrella and a dead- pan face. He never spoke to anyone. He was a slim man, and always wore a suit. When I married, and moved to the Stamford Hill area, I was amazed to see him walking there.

There was also an elderly, Orthodox, Jewish man with a large piece of brown paper or newspaper in his hand. Should he hear the footsteps of a woman approaching, or get a glimpse of a female, he stood against a wall and completely covered his face until they had passed.

The East End, I remember was Whitechapel High Road that stayed open, with stalls, until twelve o'clock at night. Every Saturday my father walked with me, buying me peanuts, toffee apples, sweets etc. Each stall, had its own lights attached to the poles that kept the stall in position. Everything glistened as we walked along, giant sized doughnuts, biscuits, chocolate and sweets. We sometimes walked more than usual, and ended up in Mile End where they had a famous furniture store. When we went into the store it was always crowded. We walked round, touching everything, then we returned home. It was like an adventure. I looked forward to this every week.

Sunday was another day that people donned coats to visit Petticoat Lane, in Aldgate East. There were stalls that were filled with clothes, dress materials, curtains, bedding, as well as delicatessen stores owned by Jews. These shops were filled with smoked salmon, herring, eggs and lovely potato latkes, all hot and juicy. At Kossoff's Bakeries, there was hot rye bread, bagels and cholas,. There were also kosher restaurants, kosher tailors, and shops selling leather jackets and coats, by the thousands.

Another place was Hessel Street Market, off the Commercial Road, filled with small Jewish shops, bakers, butchers, and an abattoir where the animals were taken to be slain, the Jewish way. There was a special, small shop that made pillows, and duvets from fresh duck and goose feathers, and plush eiderdowns, that one's body sank into. The bargaining to get a few pounds off the price brought on fits of laughter. People enjoyed people.

There was a small theatre called 'The Grand Pallais'. The plays were entirely spoken in Yiddish. My mother allowed me to go every Saturday evening. I loved every moment. The most exciting time was when they put on a show called 'The King of Lamperdusa'. It ran for months and even attracted J.B. Priestly, who sat watching, not understanding a word. It was thought he was going to make a film of it. It never materialised.

A small cul-de-sac place, that was known as Black Lion Yard, off Whitechapel Road, hosted small shops that only contained precious jewels. You had to step down four steps to Black Lion Yard. One could walk in and out of these places quite happily. They were well equipped with alarms. My cousin Issy Saunders made rings for Kachinsky, a well known jewellers.

Sunday mornings were made for meetings between the workers of the ladies and gents tailoring unions, near Black Lion Yard. The highly discussed people were the bosses, for the paltry wages they were receiving and the long hours they had to work. If an official from the union showed up he was set upon screaming at him to get a living wage. Half of these men were full time gamblers. By the time Friday came they had lost their money betting horses. I used to see their wives and children waiting Friday evening by the factory gates hoping the husbands had some money left to buy some food, pay the rent. The children usually wore tattered garments and were always crying. They did not have help from the D.S.S. It did not exist. I was told there were soup kitchens to help out. I knew they opened places for Passover goods only. I hope they did have somewhere to go. The humiliation of the women and children begging was too much for my young years. I knew my mother helped a few families and I was proud of her for that.

Whitechapel itself boasted of a museum, a huge cinema called 'The Rivoli', shoe shops, gown shops and an exclusive hat shop, as many grand ladies loved the designs offered. The most loved shop of the ladies was the lingerie one. The bras, pantie girdles and corsets seemed to have a life of their own. The shop was situated near Black Lion Yard. They became famous for their beautiful underwear. They were the busiest place around. Towards Aldgate East, Blooms' Kosher Restaurants were always filled to capacity. They boasted they were the best, and they were. The other restaurants were Felds and Strongwaters, all Kosher.

Also in the same vicinity was a large department store of mens' clothing, called 'Gardeners Corner'. All along Whitechapel Road were high class shops, mens'-wear, and furniture stores of distinction. Sadly none of these places exist any more. When I lived in New Road as a young girl, there were shops of ladies and gents models, tailoring tables, and rails to put clothes on, bakers and trimming shops that supplied all to fit out gent's suits.

One person I mustn't forget is Tubby Isaacs, who was famous for his eel stall in Petticoat Lane. His clientele were film stars and gentry. His stall can still be seen even to day.

The meths' drinkers were a menace. After mixing meths with anything else, they acquired, they parked themselves on the pavements, anytime, anywhere, frightening passers-by. They would make huge fires to warm themselves as what they drank made them bodily cold. Wherever the police shifted them they continued doing the same thing.

The American forces in Britain brought the prostitutes out in full force. I know as I served them in the restaurant. I was amazed at their vulgarity. The age of these young people were not taken into account. They must have made much money as they opened up their own establishments.

Going down Petticoat Lane, one Sunday with Miriam, I had two half crowns in a little purse, in a side pocket that was stolen so silently I was stunned. It upset me, how could five shillings make anyone rich, and what could they buy for such a paltry sum.

When the Jews began to leave the markets the Indian communities took over the shops, stands and all they could manage. The businesses were shared by families. They worked long hours and attained respect. They know how to make a very good living. If they sell clothes, one can buy three articles to one only in a big store.

This brings me to another memory, when Mummy had the café in Great Garden Street, the Sikh gentlemen, dressed in their turbans came into the shop twice a day with two suit-cases containing beautiful lingerie. As we all watched fascinated as they took everything out to show us, no one actually purchased a thing, but all was put away gently and calmly, then said 'thank you for looking'.

Another phase in mother's life was she did not keep records of sales and purchases for the business. Then one day we had a visit from a gentleman of the tax office asking to see books that concerned the income she was making. As she did not have any of these things she was summoned to the Head Tax Office to account why she had not registered with them. I found her a wonderful accountant who said he would go with her to explain her situation. She would have to wait for the letter from the tax people. Mother could not wait, one morning, she dressed in her usual old coat, scarf round her head like a Russian, found out where the Tax Office was and decided to go on her own to confront them. She was away for hours. What she said, or did to them only God knows. Her slate was wiped clean and then I started to keep some sort of accounts. The Accountant was gob-smacked. My mother's vocabulary in English was a sort of slang. Sarah Bernard did a good job. I am still not quite sure how she managed to get out of this complex situation.

Living close to the London Hospital, we had many customers attending the out-patient departments with frightening disfigurements. A young woman that was born with hands formed as feet. Her hands were usually bandaged. Her mother explained the doctors were going to operate to try and make her hands as normal as possible so she could look after herself. She had been a patient for some time. Another lady had the misfortune of having no nose, only a large hole in her face. The hospital surgeons were going to graft one on for her. These things made a frightening impression on me. I did not realise the pain and heartache these people suffered to try and lead a normal life. The London Hospital was their last hope. All these people were fighting a war of their own.

The East Enders loved the sun. As soon as it appeared, doors were flung open, chairs came out in the street, whole families appeared, and the women were still wearing their aprons. The conversations were heard, way above the traffic, passers-by were initiated into stopping and talking. If they didn't want to be friendly they were cussed and said they were too big for their boots. There were cups of tea being offered. Biscuits and big smiles, when accepted it was as if they were being accepted.

I always wondered how religious my mother was. I know she fasted on Yom Kipper and even went to the synagogue to pray. She actually did not smoke on this very holy day. She closed the restaurant on Rosh Hoshana. But for certain customers who were regulars, they were allowed in by the side door and fed, costa plenty.

This brings me to the very holy day, Saturday, shop closed, side door open. Mummy catered for forty to fifty bookies on that day. She was happy to do this as it brought in a lot of money. The meals were superb and the clientele always came back for more. My father was upset that his wife violated Shabbos, but what mother said and did was law.

My mother was a great believer in fortune telling either by cards, tea leaves or clairvoyance. She would go anywhere, if there was a session going on. A tiny lady who was wafer thin lived in a small flat, and was loathed by all husbands as their wives were ardent admirers of the occult. They lived their lives entirely on how this woman told them too. My mother loved to listen to her. She mostly spoke in Yiddish then broke into English in case anyone didn't understand. When she sat at this dark, stained table with her packets of cards she looked like a wizened little gnome. This was my conclusion of her as my mother took me with her one evening. I stared at everyone around me. The place was full and every one person wanted the cards read for them. This was a most unusual evening for all. She said she was going to read the cards for herself as she had a feeling that all was not well with her own destiny. As she laid the cards down, one by one, she glanced round at the faces looking at her. She said her life was coming to an end, very soon. It wasn't long before we read in the newspapers that she had been murdered by a small person that had crawled into a window that had been left open, her own prophecy.

When the restaurant was full of customers and all were having different subjects to talk about, what came to the fore were names of Jews who had become gangsters, names were spoken out loud, no-one was scared to speak out their names. I remember a few, but those poor souls must long be gone. They were always on the tongue if they came from well mannered Jewish families, more often they came from orthodox, pious Rabbinic people, and if they married out of the Jewish religion the parents treated them as dead, never ever allowed to enter the family homes again.

It seemed if we lost one group of people as customers, as we gained another. These people were all in the jewellery trade. No-one had established business premises, things were bought and sold, hand from hand many times. I was asked to re-thread jade and coral beads to make necklaces. I loved doing this and I was paid for my time. These people remained faithful for some time then vanished one by one, finding somewhere else to trade.

The police were kept very busy especially during the evening and night. Many docks were open bringing in goods from abroad. The police were told to be very vigilant and to walk in six of a company.

They were always on the look out for German intruders and had to be careful of drunken sailors, dope peddlers, gun merchants. These cliques always hung around the wharves, that's where all the dirty deeds were done.

There were many odd customers. This particular person was pedantic. He came in every morning around eleven o'clock always wearing striped clothes with an overcoat that had seen better days. He loved his coat passionately, when he took it off he caressed it. In position he always had kippers with onions and eggs. He had to have bread not rolls. He said the rolls were not delicate enough for the kippers. He had to have two cups of tea, one each side of his plate and stirred them simultaneously, having a sip from each with a teaspoon. He snorted continuously and every now and again he got up to examine himself in the mirror. It took him hours to get through his meal. I gave him a special nickname, Kipper Face. He made me feel nauseous, when he walked in, I walked out.

The other gentleman was a highly intelligent educated person. He was a customer for many years, well dressed and well mannered. He went missing for many weeks, then my brother came across him in Whitechapel. He was thin, bedraggled and dirty. He was brought back to us and Mummy immediately gave him a large meal. He ate everything. It was as if he had not had a meal for some time. He was given money for a bath and a bed. It is well know there is a thin line between genius and madness. We never saw him again.

Mummy had become reunited with a lady called Mrs Green. She and Mummy both had baby girls the same time, same day - that was me and Anita. Where they met again was a mystery, Mrs Green told Mummy she had two other daughters, and the one called Cora wanted to be a doctor. My mother came up with an idea as she had these specialists coming in for lunch everyday, Mrs Green could come in and speak to them to see if they could help her daughter get into the London Hospital to study medicine. Mrs Green came up with a different idea, she asked Mummy if she could use her bedroom, lie on the bed and say she wasn't feeling very well and talk to them on the subject of getting Cora into the hospital. Mummy put new bedding on the bed, made the appointment with the doctors to see Mrs Green, she undressed and laid down. Two doctors examined her, said she was okay and the daughter had to go through the proper channels to be accepted. When Anita was in her teens she was tall, slender and gorgeous, a very attractive personality. I stopped growing at five feet four, was rotund and pretty, well that's what I was told.

As so many unexpected things were happening, new people coming into our lives, I was kept occupied from morning until very late helping Mummy. I had to be with her she was over-tired continuously. Hearing the bombs crashing around her, having no man to turn to, her nerves began to crumble. She needed more sleep to retain her strength, the years of hard slog had begun to tax her mentally and physically. She looked to me not to let her down. She knew I would be there for her.

Harry had disappeared, gone to where his home was. It was months before he re-appeared, the bombing was slowing down, light-heartedness was taking over from doom and gloom, and Harry was becoming more bold in his freedom. The evening he returned he brought a friend with him who was actually as handsome as he was. When he had introduced me to his friend they decided to eat, pay and go. Harry said he would be back the next day.

He did come back the next day, in a very large car. He and his brother-in-law were partners in second hand cars allocated in Great Portland Street, and said he would like to become serious with me. I could not believe what he was saying. He even asked my mother for her consent. She smiled and seemed happy about it. I was seventeen. He made arrangements for me to meet his sister, his mother and brother. I met them all and was given the okay. Harry came to take me out very often, treated me as a princess and took me home at the time requested. As I watched him closely I knew he still had a roving eye. Harry suggested we go to the Ritz, tea dancing, this coming Saturday afternoon. Of course I said yes as I had never been there.

When we arrived the table had been booked. We sat down, had tea, a dance, then Harry said he had something to ask me. He wanted to marry me. I looked at him intently and said no, for that moment. I said I loved him very much as a person but I did not think he would make me happy. He stood up and said I cannot believe what you have said to me. He wanted to give me everything, it wasn't right. He took me home immediately. My mother was disappointed. It was many, many years until I saw him again. He was married to a very beautiful model and had a son. I was happy for him.

Finding Izaak and Marriage

When I was seventeen and a half, into the restaurant came a bevy of Jewish, Polish boys that had all been in the concentration camps. One young man called Sam said he had a very nice brother and he would like me to meet him. I said fine, not thinking anything would happen. He said his brother likes a girl with plenty meat on. I thought it rude and funny. Lo and behold, the next day at lunchtime, Sam appeared with his brother. As he stood in the doorway with his crutches, not uttering one word to each other, I said to myself that was the man I was going to marry. When we did speak to each other it was in Yiddish as Izaak did not understand anything in English. He soon was able to read and write and became a very good businessman. We married within the six months because we wished to be together. For the first few weeks when we started to date he kissed my hand to say good-night. He was the light of my life, my angel. He was demobbed from General Anders army, worked two weeks in a factory and from the money he earned he bought three sewing machines and started on his own. He was a workaholic. He lived to work.

My mother paid for the wedding to be held in Felds Restaurant, Whitechapel. All the Polish boys were invited. My mother pocketed the wedding presents. She also opened the restaurant on the day I was getting married and I served the customers as usual. I was given an hour to get ready for the synagogue. We married in the Nelson Street Sfardish Synagogue.

The synagogue service was led by a great rabbi, he was a small man with a long beard. His sermon to us was a wonderful story. I will remember him always. Izaak and I were married for forty-five years until he succumbed to cancer. We had two wonderful children Rozina and Lawrence and were blessed with grandchildren who are all beautiful. Izaak Aaron Rubinstein was the greatest person God ever gave breath to. My husband was a Holocaust victim and survivor. He was put in various camps for five hard labour years. He had been bayoneted in the legs and his neck thrashed with a branch of a tree for hours, and starved. He weighed sixty eight pounds when found. He always said, people must not hate one another and learn to forget. He said lives were ruined when they let hateful thoughts take over their mind. He was and is the most honourable of men. He was unique and special. My respect for him has never died.

I was grateful that I was blessed for having forty-five years with a man of his integrity, his enduring patience for his business associates, his wanting to believe that anyone could ever be disloyal to him. Not one day goes by without someone in the family repeating his quotations. He was always there with a solution to a problem. My life has had many downs because I did not heed his last words to me. I am a great optimist, my resilience to recover will see me through. The stories I have written, and will write, will succeed.

oxford heritage trail logo the spiro ark logo