November 01, 2011
By Esther Starobin
Yet again I had to go to the post office to retrieve the package from our Aunt Hannah. How embarrassing! The package was none the better after its trip from London to Washington, DC. I had to take the bus with my high school classmates to reach home. Hanging out from the package were arms and legs—yes, several—of woolen underwear. What was Aunt Hannah thinking? No one wore such items in America. How could she think my sisters and I would need them?
My aunt was a tough woman and I doubt she even gave a thought to what people would think of her actions. I have been told she came to Norwich, England, with my oldest sister, Bertl, about a year after I was sent there. She apparently watched everything with an eagle eye. My earliest memory of her is in London when the Harrisons, my foster family, and I went to visit. She lived in a small apartment with Bertl. I have memories of one end of the table being for meat, the other for milk. Bertl told me Aunt Hannah kept strictly kosher.
Aunt Hannah—Hannah Lemberger—one of my mother’s sisters, had gone to England via France before I was born. Since she was not a citizen, the only job available to her was as a domestic. When the Kindertransport started, she found homes for my three older sisters. However, mixed with her caring about her sister’s children was a fierce temper. Aunt Hannah took Bertl’s ration book whenever Bertl threatened to move out. Eventually Aunt Hannah would return the ration book. For years Bertl would not consider baking because that is what Aunt Hannah did when she was angry. As I look back I think life must have been very hard for my aunt.
Aunt Hannah continued to be very concerned about us when we left England after the war to come to the United States. Although she never had a lot of money, she continued to send us packages. Some were better received than the underwear. I remember she once sent a beautiful pocketbook. And when my sisters had enough money to telephone her in London, she spent the entire few minutes telling them to reverse the charges.
Alan, the son of the family I lived with in England, received a scholarship to the London School of Economics. When he first went to London he lived with Aunt Hannah. This arrangement was not a very happy one. Alan’s recollection of the time was that there was a lot of tension in the house. Aunt Hannah was living in a house that she had managed to save enough money to purchase from the family that had housed my sister Ruth. She lived there with her friend until her death in 1961.
When I was still in high school, Aunt Hannah came to visit. Since I was home early from school, I was delegated to take her to the kosher butchers. This was my first experience in such a place. Frankly, I was horrified by the back-and-forth conversation between the butcher and the customers. Another day I came home from school and decided to try something from the refrigerator. After I found out I had snacked on brains, I decided I had had enough of my aunt. I went to the next apartment building and spent the evening in my sister and brother-in-law’s walk-in closet doing my homework.
Soon after my first daughter was born, Aunt Hannah was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bertl went to London to help out and say her good-byes. My husband, Fred, our daughter, Deborah, and I stayed at Bertl’s home to take care of her children while she was away. Aunt Hannah had cared for all of us deeply and made sure we were safe when our parents could not.
Our younger daughter is named for Aunt Hannah.
©2011, Esther Starobin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.
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