Dorothea travelled with her husband who worked for the British Council. She lived for a time in Otto Hahn’s house (he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944)
INT: And he was still working with the British Council?
DB: He was still with the British Council. He had a very good job, he was Director of what was called ‘International House’ and it was a place where students could come from all over the world and learn English and speak English. And there was like a lovely café and he made lots of friends in Edinburgh, got to know a lot of painters and poets and all kinds of people to do with the festival. He was very…I envied him a bit. Here I was stuck with the kids and he was sitting in Princes Street in this nice place. So he was there for two years and then they said “Well it’s time you moved on.” And that’s when we moved to Gottingen.
DB: Right. So in Gottingen I said, well Alison, she was two by this time, “She better just go to a nursery school” and the only option really was a German one so she grew up speaking German really.
INT: And the other two?
DB: And the other two went to a British Army School; there was a British Army School.
DB: And Keith, awkward as ever, he said “I don’t like that teacher. I am not going to school.” Haha! And he didn’t for about three months, I think, he just lay on the floor. “I’m not going to that one, I don’t like the teacher”. And he just didn’t go! Until luckily the teacher was moved and then he was alright.
INT: And how long were you in Gottingen?
DB: We were there for four years and of course we got friendly with the army people and there was the N.A.A.F.I to do the shopping and Alison, we had a little Dackel [dachshund dog] and one day Alison just walked out and then a workman came to our door, he said “You know, we’ve just seen this little girl with a Dackel walking across the road into the park.”
Well that was Alison, she was very independent. And then we had pretty awful…the… you know, the houses were all owned by Germans or Nazis and they took them away from them and put people like us and army people in them. And the people who owned our house were pretty awful so they, in the end we said we really want to move from there and across the road from us lived Otto Hahn, the man, you know, the German physicist, who became… he was really instrumental in working out the bomb for the Germans, a physicist, a very famous physicist. And Keith was very friendly with his wife, he used to go over there and she always would talk to him and give him cups of tea and things. So they said “Oh you could move to our house.” And that was just round the corner, another very nice house, so we did that. We lived in their house for a long time.
INT: In a separate flat?
DB: No we had the whole house.
DB: They just had a flat because there was only the two of them, you know, they said “Well that’s fine.”
DB: And…and we lived among other quite famous physicists and people you know, got to know them. And Donald worked in the university, didn’t like his boss very much, he wasn’t very nice but he had a very nice assistant, nice lady. Some nice people and some not so nice people and I got to know some people and…and there was a very, very good German theatre, well at that time it was the best theatre in Germany, in Gottingen.
INT: And was it more difficult for you because you had been a Jewish refugee?
DB: It’s hard to say really because we were so much among the British company now, you know. I had a…I mean this old lady, she was a German, there were German friends but they understood, you know, where I came from and who I was. So it was both good and bad, some of it was not so good, some of it was fine. But and then of course I did have German friends, I mean from before. So I went to see them in Munich, old relations, and…there’s so much you know, I can’t tell you it all.
INT: Of course not.
DB: An awful lot.
INT: And I believe you then ended up in Iceland, is that right?
DB: Ah but not much… quite a lot later than that. I mean from Germany we moved to Persia, to Tehran, and…
INT: Again with the British Council?
DB: Yes, yes, and that was not always good. But Donald didn’t like it because he thought it was like a factory. So many people wanting to learn English, he had these thousands on the street waiting to sign up for the classes, you know, and he was really getting terribly fed up with it, didn’t like it. We had a very nice villa which we rented from actually Jewish people. It was Persian Jewish people who had emigrated to Switzerland and we rented their house. So we had a very nice house with a swimming pool, a dog and a bit of a glaiket lady/servant who just sat at the door awaiting for orders, you know. And she was what they called Turki, she was Turkish really, and that’s why we had her because I could speak to her in Turkish. But then one time, we had Jewish friends, very good Jewish friends who worked for the Jewish Alliance and one summer we left them with the maid and he was a doctor and he said “You better get rid of her, she’s got TB”!
INT: Oh dear.
DB: I said “Oh I didn’t know that.”
So they fed her penicillin and, you know, all kinds of things like that. And then in between I said I must go and see my folks in America so I managed to go with Alison. You know I’d already gone with Kirsten and Keith before but this time…was it from Persia? No it wasn’t from Persia, it was from Italy…Anyway we stayed in Persia for two years and then had to leave really. It just was unbearable. There was so much antagonism you know.
INT: Towards the British?
DB: Towards the British. And we were moved. But the children in Persia went to a German school because it was the only one that really looked after the children properly.
All the others you couldn’t be sure that they wouldn’t be abducted by some people or something. So they went to the German school and one time Adenauer came and, you know it was the photographs of Adenauer with Alison dancing for him. But they were good, you see, they looked after the kids properly. So, of course, when we went to Italy I said “Oh well that’s OK, there’s a German school here in Milan.” You know, the kids can just go there. And that’s what they did, they went to the German school and by this time I had already been to America with Kirsten and Keith, although I won’t tell you all that story, but this time I said “I better go with Alison.”
So we took the liner, ocean liner, and went to America, Alison and I and I said “Oh this is a good chance for Alison to get to, to go to an English speaking school. So when I took her there the teacher didn’t like her, she said “Oh she’s no good. She’s far behind in age.” And, you know, she was awful.
INT: Because you were going to stay a bit with your parents?
DB: Well about two months or something.
DB: Just paying a visit. And…So poor Alison, she really had a bad time there in America, not very good. But I had lots of friends there, you know, both relatives and friends and we had quite a good time. And then on the way back again on the Italian liner I met two very nice ladies, English, and they were very good with Alison, really kind you know, and when I got back to Italy of course there was Donald and he had looked after the kids with the help of our cook, Italian cook. And she was a very good lady, she came from the country, she was a real country lady and the kids had had a wonderful time, Donald looked after them really well, took them skiing and all kinds of things.
They were asked to join a television programme which came up every week I think where they had to be an English speaking family so that was Donald and the wife of the British Council boss in Milan, and Keith; they made up the family and…haha! They were on the television and they got paid very well for this programme, just fun really. So that was fine and we had a wonderful flat right in the centre of Milan and then Keith went on the bus to school and the bus was on a circular road in Milan, you know, and so sometimes the, the conductor would look after Keith and sometimes he wouldn’t let him off at the school, he said “You haven’t done enough Italian yet, you have to stay on the bus.”! Keith didn’t mind, he stayed on the bus. But he went to the German school in Milan, which was a very good school and…but we were only there for two years? Two years I think. Not long anyway. And made friends outside Milan and even now Kirsten says to me “Oh you abandoned me there in the children’s home that I didn’t want to go to”, you know.
And Alison went to a children’s home, she was a bit better about it.
INT: Why were they in a children’s home?
DB: Well, you know, we had so much to do in Milan. There was so much going on that I thought, well they’re better out of the way in the countryside and it’s nice in the mountains and…
INT: Oh you mean a kind of boarding school?
DB: No they were just children’s homes really.
DB: And the school that Kirsteen and Keith had to go to was part of their proper school and they just had camps you know.
INT: I see.
DB: So I thought, well, that’ll be alright – no, no… I had to fetch Keith back, he wasn’t happy and Kirsteen now says she wasn’t happy there either but she didn’t say anything.
INT: Was that in the summer holidays?
DB: Not really no. It was sort of school camps.
INT: I see.
DB: And so…well after that, then we came back. That’s when we went to Iceland and of course going to Iceland meant I couldn’t take the kids because, well I didn’t want to have to put them in an Icelandic school. We did take Alison with us for a year and tried to teach her ourselves, that is a special…
INT: Home teaching.
DB: Yes, I forget what it’s called. But it didn’t work really terribly well.
And the kids by this time now went to Dollar because I said “if they have to go a boarding school I’d like them to be together” and Dollar, of course, is a coeducational school and Donald happened to know the headmaster from times past, teachers all know each other. And that turned out to be quite a bad choice in a way because…what happened? He got chucked out this man. Did the school go on fire or something…? There were problems.
DB: But anyway, they were at the school and they were allowed to come…every holiday the British Council paid for the kids to come to Iceland to visit us and they did that and they had a very nice time in Iceland, you know. All got friendly especially with the British and American Embassy and the woman, the, well, girl then, who was the same age as them at the American Embassy, they’re still friendly over here now because she is now married to a Scotsman and she won’t go back to America, she lives here.
So they still see her and they still, they still know the British Ambassadors kids and you know, its all been fine really in a way, difficult in some other ways but there are connections.
INT: And during all this time were you just a mum at home or did you do anything yourself ?
DB: I would be, well I was by this time back in Edinburgh and so I thought well what am I going to do? I’m not going to sit here fiddling so I looked up the paper, I looked at The Times and I thought what’s important? you know? What jobs are there for somebody my age?
INT: How old were you back then?
DB: Well I was forty-something.
DB: And it was either chiropody or social work.
DB: I thought chiropody, poking in people’s feet, I don’t fancy that. I’ll see what social work will be about. So I applied here to Moray House and they looked at me and they said “Well you’re OK but you haven’t got any experience.” I said “What are you looking for?! What more experience could I have?” I thought I had plenty. Maybe not exactly social work but, you know…
INT: Of life.
DB: Of life, that’s right. They said “Well that’s not right. We need social work experience.” So they put me together with a very nice man who took me on as a sort of…
INT: Apprentice I suppose?
DB: Supervised me really.
He took me and he put me together with a very nice Jewish lady who was just a year ahead of me and she took me on as a kind of, well, anyway helper and she worked in clinics and I worked with her for a year. And then I went back again and I said “Now I’ve done that, you know, am I alright to start on the course?” And I did, that’s then when I started a Social Work course here at Moray House and did two years and qualified and started working as a social worker.
INT: And what, what were you doing as a social worker? Who were you working with?
DB: Well I first worked for, out in the country, for a country practice and after two years I started working in Edinburgh. But again mostly out in the country.
INT: And Donald, was he retired by this time?
DB: No, no, no, he was in Iceland.
INT: Oh you left him behind in Iceland?
DB: Yes, oh yes.
INT: I didn’t realise that.
DB: But not that long …he wasn’t…he came back to…but not the same time as me, I think he stayed longer.
DB: I’m not telling you…No he came back and he said “Well I’ll teach”, that’s right. So the job he got was in Dunfermline so he had to cross over on the bridge every day.
DB: And after a year he thought “I can’t be bothered with that anymore.” And he got a job at the Blind School and of course he didn’t have a clue about teaching blind people but they said “Well you’ll have to do a course.”
In Wiltshire or somewhere there’s a college for teaching of the blind and Donald did that. He did a course, he went and qualified and they liked him a lot. The kids loved him in the Blind School, he was there for years and years and years until really late on when he shouldn’t have been teaching anymore but they said “Oh it doesn’t matter. Just come and take the kids.” You know, and he did that until he was in his eighties.
INT: Oh I see.
DB: Yes he was in the Blind School for many, many years. They still know him there.
INT: Of course.
DB: He’d go swimming there and they were very nice to him. That’s right, I nearly forgot. Yeah. He worked.