helga brosh 224.
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For most immigrants, veteran and new, aliya is remembered as an upheaval, a change of lifestyle and language, and a challenge to make new connections and establish a social network.
Helga Brosh experienced this twice during her childhood, leaving her family in Vienna and traveling on the Kindertransport to England at four; after being cared for by loving guardians for 10 years, she was reunited with her parents in Israel at 14.
"The second transition was the more traumatic," she admits. And indeed her welcoming smile and calm, soft voice belie the fact that life has been a roller-coaster. She has experienced both joy and celebration as well as personal tragedy in her family life.
When Brosh's parents sent her on the Kindertransport from Vienna in 1939, they soon received a short message from her guardians, a Jewish couple in Liverpool. They were able to keep up occasional correspondence, sometimes through distant relatives, and knowing that she was safe and well-cared-for sustained them throughout the war and their exile on Mauritius.
Brosh's guardians had no children and they soon established a deep and lasting relationship with her. They wanted to adopt her, but knew that one day she might be reunited with her biological parents.
"Some of the children called their guardians mummy and daddy," says Brosh, "but my guardians explained that although they loved me like their own, they were not my parents and should be called auntie and uncle, which I did for the rest of their lives."
It was wartime in Britain too, and the family was evacuated to Southport. On returning to Liverpool, Brosh was soon integrated into the school system and the local Jewish community, making many friends, some of whom live here today.
Meanwhile, Brosh's mother was too unwell to leave Vienna, but in 1940 they managed to get passage on a clandestine vessel headed for Haifa. Selling all their possessions and valuables to buy food and water was only the beginning of a perilous journey. The unscrupulous captain had sold the ship's fuel on the black market and the ship came to a stop near Cyprus. There were some engineers among the Jewish refugees and they locked the captain in his cabin, then set to work burning everything possible on the ship to produce sufficient fuel to reach the shores of Palestine.
Theirs was one of three ships intercepted by the British and they were destined to be deported on the infamous Patria. The Hagana, fearful that they would be sent back to Europe, planted a bomb in its engine intending to merely incapacitate the boat, but the plan went terribly wrong and the old vessel sank, killing 200 people. Brosh's parents had not yet boarded and were taken to Atlit. From there they were deported to Mauritius, where they spent the rest of the war, the men in prison cells separated from the camp of the women and children.
Eventually, broken in health and spirit, they got permits to return to Haifa in 1945. It took another two years to heal, get work and a flat before they would call for Brosh to join them. She was living in a comfortable home with caring guardians and getting a good education, but in 1947 a family member visiting Liverpool advised them that it was time for her to join her parents. The move was delayed because of the War of Independence, but in 1949 Brosh set off with a Youth Aliya group to see her parents for the first time in 10 years.
"I traveled with children, concentration camp survivors who had been recuperating in England," recalls Brosh. "I remember all the railway stations on the way until we had a period of transition in Marseille and continued on the ship to Haifa."
Her guardians had bravely waved as the train left London and only many years later did Brosh learn that when the train was out of sight, her "aunt" fainted, heartbroken.
"I was a very difficult teenager, I was torn apart," says Brosh. Her parents lived in a small flat in Haifa's bayside suburbs and she had to share a room with her grandfather. "My father was expecting a child of four and we had many a quarrel," she says regretfully.
Although her childhood in Liverpool had been in a traditionally Jewish environment, the more stringent Orthodoxy of her parents was alien to her. "I was very mixed up and wanted to return to England."
A year later her guardians visited for a month and spent much of the time with Brosh. They discussed with her parents the option of taking her back with them, but they all concluded that she should have another year to see if she settled down.
And that was the turning point. Brosh was keen to transfer to the Reali School. Her parents were doubtful that they would find the six pounds a month and bus fares, but somehow they managed it. After that, Brosh got a scholarship and her life changed. She enjoyed school, made friends and later graduated from a teachers seminary.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
When she met Rafi, they knew they would spend their future together. He had graduated in chemistry at the Technion and had a scholarship in the US. Brosh opted to stay here to get her teaching certificate and they were separated for a year. Rafi returned as soon as possible, stopping off in Liverpool on the way to meet Brosh's guardians, who still kept a close connection with her.
They were married in 1955. Rafi was offered another scholarship overseas to get his PhD but the army wouldn't release him. He continued to work at the Technion and later as a chemical engineer in industry.
Rafi's death from cancer at 56 was not the first family tragedy. In 1979, their youngest child, Eran, then 10, was killed in a traffic accident. Rafi never recovered from this loss, suffering from heart problems, and Brosh is convinced that this contributed to the cancer that killed him.
When Brosh was widowed, her older children were already married. Nurit, who works at the Technion, has two sons, while Kobi, working for the Haifa Foundation, has two daughters.
Brosh has lived in the same apartment throughout this time, familiar with the neighborhood and her circle of friends. She spent her working years as a high-school English teacher and is now retired.
She attends lectures and courses, plays bridge and is in close contact with her children and grandchildren.
"I only started talking about my experiences in latter years," she says.
At one time her son served in Cairo and his daughters went to the American school there. One day Brosh received a letter from Michal, one of the girls, telling her that they were learning about the wartime experiences and the plight of refugees. She wanted more information about Brosh's childhood. Brosh's children had also had close connections with "Savta Nellie and Saba Max," the former guardians, and Brosh wrote her a long letter about her story and the feelings of a young child in transition.
"But it is only when I had my own children that I realized what my parents endured, firstly in sending me away and later with all the settling-in problems when we were reunited," she concluded in her letter.
Reflections for future immigrants
"There is a different kind of challenge today," says Brosh. "Coming to live in a new country is difficult at any time, but it is easier to come with family.
"There is much more information about Israel for immigrants today, those from free countries can come on pilot tours, surf the Internet and prepare themselves. But the lessons of those hard times can be used today to understand people in transition."
Brosh explained that a Jewish refugee organization in London is currently collecting the stories of the Kindertransport children and a number of British universities are interested in using these experiences for research.
"In a way I was fortunate to have two families, the best of both worlds," is Brosh's conclusion.
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