THE STORY OF THE SQUARE
Quilt 2, Square 9
Artist: Hedi Levenback
I arrived in Birmingham, Warwickshire, on February 22, 1939. I was 14-1/2 years old. My mother had died when I was six. My father was sent to Dachau on Kristallnacht 1938. He was released in 1939 and was able to emigrate to France but did not survive the war. Since he had not returned to Vienna before I left, I never saw him again. The aunt who had reared me after my mother died went to Shanghai and eventually came to New York in 1949.
As arranged in Vienna, I stayed with the Blanckensee family who were in their thirties and had two young children. My Viennese High School English served me fairly well but at the beginning Mrs. Blanckensee and I conversed with the aid of a pocket dictionary passed back and forth between us in front of the open fireplace. Mrs. Blanckensee introduced me to the books she had read as a girl and my English improved rapidly. Both Mr. and Mrs. Blanckensee were active in the Birmingham Refugee Committee. Mrs. Blanckensee would take me along when she visited children who had been placed, mostly with Jewish families, in the Birmingham area. I would be her translator since some of the children barely spoke English. Many of the children had a hard time with separation and their behavior would baffle the foster parents. Mrs. Blanckensee counseled them thereby providing me with an informal introduction to social work. Soon after I arrived I was enrolled in Edgbaston College — actually a private High School.
Although the months before the beginning of the War were very intense, life with the Blanckensees was comfortable and I was accepted as a member of the family. I waited anxiously for the mail that was then delivered 5 times a day and would bring news from my relatives in Vienna. Eventually they too would emigrate to England except my aged paternal grandparents who (surprisingly) died in Vienna in the early 1940s. They had found it unbearable saying good-bye to me before I left.
When war broke out in September 1939, I had to separate from the Blanckensee family and was evacuated with my school to Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. I witnessed the wartime separation of children from their parents. Unlike the refugee children, however, most of the evacuated children were eventually reunited with their parents. The Birmingham children joined their peers at Tewkesbury High School. I lived a small town life with four different families — grocer, clerk, garage owner and plumber but maintained my contact with the Blanckensee family.
After graduation from High School I joined my relatives in Bedford, where I met a GI who was to become my husband several years later when we were all in New York.
Amazingly I still have contact with three of my classmates from my Tewkesbury High School days as well as my English teacher whom I greatly admired in my High School days.