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N.

 

N. grew up in Israel, where she met her English husband. After living in Cornwall, she came to live in Exeter with her two daughters. She is an Art historian and teaches at the University, as well as teaching Ivrit.


What I know I know mainly from my mother, sometimes my sister. I have the emotional knowledge but a lot of it is not memories. They are things that I was told...

When the Yugoslav fascists took over, my mother was pregnant with me, my sister was then seven years old. My mother was very worried. There was a convent near where we lived. One of the nuns died and they said they would take my mother as if she was the nun and without actually announcing to the authorities that the nun had died, and my sister could go into the orphanage... and that way they would give her help and hide her from the fascists. So she was there for quite a while and everything seemed to go very well, and then one day, the fascists did arrive and took her and my sister. It must have been somebody who told. Who it was, we don't know...

The fascists took them to Rad on the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia and there they were in a concentration camp. It was 1943.

When she became very heavily pregnant they put her away from the other people in a sort of sick-bay. She was there with an old, obviously dying Jewish rabbi whose son had been shot right in front of him, and a totally mad gypsy woman who paced up and down all the time. She had no-one to really talk to.

The rabbi said to her 'Look, I'm going to die.' It was a cold winter and he had a little bit of blanket and he said, 'Look. I prefer you to have it.' He gave up all his rations and blankets to my mother, saying, 'The only thing I want in return is that if it should be a boy will you give him the name of my dead son - to survive me?' My mother agreed.

Well, my sister came one day and told my mother that she had noticed that when the British and Allied 'planes came bombing the guards didn't stay at the gate. My mother said, 'Next time you hear the aeroplanes you must come and get me and we can just walk out.'

Well, I was born. Apparently the gypsy woman helped my mother. She stopped pacing up and down and knew precisely what to do. She forgot her madness and sorted everything out. From what I have been told she said to my mother, 'Don't wash her, leave her like that.' Later on when my mother had escaped she washed me in sea water and I was very sore - but that was later on.

The old man was very disappointed because I was a girl but he still wanted to give me a name. He gave me a name which means 'the rare one'. My mother said, 'Why did you call her that?' and he replied, 'Because it is so rare in such conditions to have such a beautiful and normal child born.'

Everyone was so undernourished but I suppose a baby growing inside its mother takes everything it needs from the mother. Even today my mother and sister say what a wonderful baby I was - beautiful. I don't think I was really so wonderful. I think it was by comparison with everyone else.

Four days after my birth there was another bomb attack. My mother grabbed my sister and said, 'We go now.'

So, she took the blanket and we walked out of the camp.


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