Rachel Beniso: The Evacuation from a Jewish perspective

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As is the case with many Gibraltarians of her generation, Rachel Beniso (b 1924) remembers the hardship and adventure of the wartime evacuation. As a Jewish woman, though, she remembers the novelty of meeting English Jews. There was also the excitement of living in London as well as, clearly very difficult and dangerous times. Whatever hardships she faced, however, the knowledge of the Holocaust puts her own trials and deprivations into perspective.


Audio interview (17th September 2014):





RB: We were young, my…you know, my brothers and myself, we were 15. For us, it was… How do you call it?  No, not an experience.

IN: Adventure?

RB: An adventure. Fifteen days in the hold of a ship. Actually, when they told us to, to get our things, and pack and come, they said: “Bring with you a mattress”. Mind you, the mattresses in those days were not the stiff mattresses.

IN: [Yeah]. They were rolled up, no?

RB: They were… You rolled them.

IN: Sí

RB: What was that for? As soon as we got to the ship, we laid them on the floor and we slept in the floor for fifteen days. And I can remember because I’m always very seasick; I don’t know how I managed it. And the food was, you know?… But, actually my dad, he managed to come over. Because first, we went to Casablanca.

IN: Yeah.

RB: But, well, you know that story as well. And my dad stayed here because he was under 48. But just at that time, he was 48 and he came to London. And you know, we were in the ship and then from there to Swansea. We were aware we were seeing, you know, the U-boats and…

IN: Yeah.

RB:  It’s terrific! Pero…as I say, we weren’t frightened. Then, we went to Swansea and from there to right, to London, to Russell Square right in the middle of The Blitz.

IN: Hmm.

RB: The first night we were there, we got the bombs.

IN: So ah, how aware were you in 19, in the 1930s, about what was happening to Jews in the rest of Europe?

RB: Well, we’re unaware of everything. […] The first thing we did was look for a job because I’ve always been very business-like. I was only 15. And I looked for a job and I thought not to work on the Sabbath.

IN: Yeah.

RB: Which I found, I had to go half an hour in the train. But we were unaware of what was going on.

IN: Ok.

RB: Ah, we were…and I was in London and I was amongst Jewish people.

IN: Yeah.

RB: And some of them probably were running away from uh, from Germany.

IN: Right.

RB: But nobody said anything about the Holocaust.

IN: Right.

RB: We didn’t know any… And I think actually when we came back from…  You know, we went through a lot in the evacuation.

IN: Right.

RB: But I think it was, I…  At least I think, in my case, I played it down because after I heard what’s happened in the Holocaust, for us, it was a plaything.

IN: Absolutely.

RB: But we went through a lot in the evacuation, you know?

IN: And why were you with Jews in London?  Why weren’t you with anyone else?

RB: [Because] I went to, to work in a Jewish place.

IN: Right.

RB: And the…

IN: So what was it like seeing English Jews?

RB: Very good, okay.

IN: Because they’ll be Ashkenazi Jews [predominantly].

RB: [They] were mostly Ashkenazi.

IN: Yeah.

RB: But we… I was, at least, I wasn’t very unaware what the meaning was between Ashkenazi or Sephardic. I didn’t know.  Because once I had a friend come here and he said: “Oh, he’s Ashkenazi.” I said: “What’s that?  What’s the difference?  He’s a Jew no? He’s a Jew.”  Yeah.  Some are German Jews and some are, you know?  They have like Sephardic Jews, you know? But we didn’t…I mean, during the war, we didn’t know anything about what was going on in…

IN: It, it does put your boat journey into a certain perspective, doesn’t it?

RB: Quite, quite.

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On 17/02/2016
By Andrew Canessa

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