Flying Boats & Fellow Travellers

Mayer Hersh

In August 1945, Mayer was amongst the three hundred child Holocaust survivors who were airlifted from Prague to Crosby in Eden airfield near Carlisle.

He was taken to Calgarth where the children, known as 'The Boys', were accommodated in the hostels and treated in the sick bay. After about three months, Mayer moved to Manchester where he lives today.

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  • Ref. Number: FB002MH
  • Date: 18.12.06
  • Interviewer (I): Trevor Avery
  • Subject: Child Holocaust survivors.
  • Period: 1945

And so we arrived… some came in… we came to Carlisle airport and from there either by coach or by army lorries we were taken to Windermere. I came in an army lorry I remember. And the first thing we were taken to our barracks, which were occupied of course previously by civilian engineers building the flying boats. And each one of us got a little room, a little cubicle with a little cabinet to put some belongings into it. Of course we had nothing to put into the cabinet, because all we had was only what we stood up in. But we felt already great. We had a wonderful clean bed here, white linen, one to each person, and a little cabinet to put some belongings in. We felt we’re human beings. We’d been treated in a most humane way, with dignity and we felt great. Each one of us got trifle I remember. It must have been about half past seven, the sun was just setting I remember. And as it is customary when you sit down to a table in a dining room, and you serve the meal, the first thing that always arrives is buttered bread. Hardly the plate was touching the table, that we grabbed the bread as quick as possible, those who were quick enough that is, and packed our pockets with it for later. The people in charge of us took us into the kitchen and showed us how many stacks of loaves of bread they’ve got. And more was arriving tomorrow. There’s no need for that, we soon learned. And this is something I look back with great joy actually, as the result of suffering, but nevertheless great joy. Some of us of course even got hold of the knives and forks, putting it in the pockets, in case mind you you might not get it tomorrow. Because in the camps we never saw knives and forks, or spoons. You didn’t need it anyway. All you did have in the camps was a bowl for soup. And if you didn’t have the bowl, if somebody pinched it, you had no soup. You couldn’t put it in your cap. And so bad luck. So you guarded this bowl as the most valuable thing in your life. And so… and we never washed our bowl either. We always licked it out. A finger, and it was as clean as anything.

So anyway, so we also had a good time there in Windermere because the boys and girls in charge of us, were called ‘Madrichim’ in Hebrew, and they were wonderful. They actually are boys and girls that came over before the war in kindertransport. So they had this sort of affinity towards us, an understanding. They knew already we didn’t come from paradise, we came from some suffering. They still didn’t know how much suffering, but they knew persecution. That was enough. And they handled us with great understanding, and we needed that believe me, because we had to adjust ourselves to a different sort of environment, different sort of behaviour, which we haven’t experienced for quite a number of years. And so they kept us busy, either playing football or taking lessons in all kind of subjects, and also mainly the Hebrew lessons and others from the bible, the religious lessons. To bring you back somewhat to the original atmosphere you experienced at home. It was like, almost like home. And of course being together, the survivors being together was a good thing. I didn’t understand it at that time so much but I… now looking back in retrospect it was the finest thing. Because we were not fit enough yet to be separated and put into families, because we were not a material yet, we had to go through some processes. To adaptation. And bring us up to the level that we knew, as children in our own homes. But just at the formative years, of our teenage years, we were almost dehumanised. Our youth was taken away from us. The Nazis tried to take away our humanity as well. Thank god they haven’t achieved it.

And then we had a wonderful time there in Windermere. We would sometimes borrow the bicycles, from the local people and ride around in our underwear. After it was lovely warm days, we haven’t had underwear for a very long time, and we thought that was quite civil, quite normal. And nobody reported us to the police. [Laughs] It would have been a good laugh as well if they did. But we always brought the bicycles back in good condition, to the rightful owners. We also were treated actually to the cinema, now and again. All for free, because we had no money to pay anyway. And, the people didn’t know what to make of us really. Because obviously people in Windermere, they didn’t know all about… all that much about Auschwitz or whatever. And they accepted us for what we were, we were reasonable. And of course we were allowed to be in the… we were walking around doing whole areas, the Lake District and Bowness and Windermere and other places. We went for long walks and we really enjoyed it. We had a fantastic time.

Mayer's Photographs

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