Adult Years - Whilst the children were small, I needed help in the house
Whilst the children were small, I needed help in the house. An au pair seemed the obvious solution. Now the question arose where to find a suitable girl. I spoke to Auntie Tante Georgel Schmidt, our old family friend in Frankfurt, who had helped us during the Nazi years. I have spoken before how she had hidden my father under packing cases in her shop and sent food parcels to my grandparents in Theresienstadt. It is doubtful they ever received them.
But before her deportation, my grandmother had given her, family jewellery, china, books and other memorabilia for safekeeping to pass onto me after the war. With the past in mind, an au pair from Germany did not seem an obvious choice. However, Georgel made enquiries and interviewed Gisela Wendler, a student who wanted to study and perfect her English. She came to us, a good-looking blonde, blue-eyed girl who settled down quickly, was good-tempered and helpful.
Her main duty was to look after little Daniel, David and Ruth. Gisela was very ambitious. She was studious and studied in the evenings. It must have felt strange at first to come from Germany and work for a Jewish family, especially as the daughter of the director of the German Railway. I learned later from Georgel Schmidt that in such a high position for some years, he must have been a loyal member of the Nazi party. Gisela admired Nick and told us she had learned more with us than during all her years at school and university. Eventually, she did very well at a prominent advertising agency in Germany.
Our next au pair was Louisa from Italy. She had met our family in Milan and wanted to come to us to learn English. Now Louisa came from an old and wealthy Italian family. She was beautiful and wonderful with the children. She attended English classes and fell in love with her teacher. I could not understand what she saw in him – he with protruding teeth and in no way handsome. But things will happen and she confided in me that, alas, he was Church of England and she Catholic. I foresaw terrible complications and sent her back to her family. And what did he do? Of course he followed her to Italy, poor as he was. Louisa told me she would spend on one dress what he earned in a month. But they were determined to get married and she was cut off and disinherited by her family. Louisa and her husband settled in Milan. He became a ‘professore’ at university teaching English and was very popular. They had two children and only then did her family make contact again.
The third help was not an au pair, but a Mother’s help. She came from Sicily. I remember meeting her at the railway station and saw a group of women on the platform talking loud in Italian. I looked at them and prayed ‘o Lord, please not THAT one.’ But that is the one I got. A woman in her thirties, who wanted to know immediately where I had my ‘machina’- car. She turned her bedroom into a Sicilian den with brightly coloured drapes and tassels and of course a crucifix.
She smoked like a chimney. I had little Italian and she no English. When the kitchen steamed up, she drew hearts with arrows on the window panes with the name of her amore. She would not eat brown bread and demanded, her boyfriend wrote to her she had to eat only white – she was no peasant.
During a cold day in winter, she hung out her washing which froze on the line. This was a disaster. She came screaming into the house blaming me for having ruined her clothes which she dumped stiff like hard board on the table. I can’t remember her name, only funny goings on.
For instance on Sundays, she dressed in a tight fitting skirt and top, revealing the contours of her behind. There were high-heeled shoes to complete the picture and off she went up the hill to our park. She returned in a foul mood. Noone had pinched her bottom, she complained and she felt thoroughly disgusted with the English. I had to rescue her from the passport office in Picadilly, when she did not realise it was her turn to be called, but simply moved on to the next chair to queue all over again.
I had one more help. She was Spanish and rather pleasant. My mother-in-law came to visit and the two conversed in Spanish and Ladino. Quite amazing that Ladino, based on old Castillian was so easily understood, and could be compared, the Spanish girl said, to Shakespearean English spoken now in everyday language.
Now that I am 82, I have a Polish girl, Agnes by name, who speaks no English, but cleans the house thoroughly without stopping for tea or coffee and loves weeding the garden.*
*This memoir was written by Lore in around 2005, approximately two years before she passed away.