September 1995 
I was born on 14 March 1929 in a maternity hospital - Auerspergstrasse 9, Vienna, if I remember correctly. My parents, Karl and Margit Struempel, were married in, I believe, 1923 and had been trying for a long time for a child. I believe it was a difficult birth for my mother and I know that subsequently she had to spend quite a long time in a sanatorium; I do not know whether this was because of problems with my birth, or other reasons such as tuberculosis which at the time was rife throughout Europe; in any event by the time I was, I think, 3 years old she was fully recovered and the only other ailment of which I was aware was an incident in the flat when, whilst bending over, she suddenly cried out: "Die Hex hat mich geschossen!" (The witch has shot me) - it was a sudden back pain, possibly slipped disc: "Hexenschuss" is colloquial German for lumbago.
My mother and father were both born in Vienna; mother on 12 June 1896 and father on 18 November 1893. At my birth I had my maternal grandmother, Emma Hofmann (or Hoffman, I can never remember the correct spelling) nee Hoenigsberg, and my paternal grandfather, Moritz Struempel, still alive. (Struempel was of course my parents', and my, name; I changed my name to Strong on 1 January 1950). Emma died in the summer of 1936 at the age of 77, from cancer; I had known that she was ill (but cancer had not been mentioned) but when she died I was not told until after her death.
My paternal grandmother had died, I believe, a few years before my birth, but my maternal grandfather, Max Hofmann (or Hoffman) died only about a year before I was born, in 1928. He and his brother, Albert, who died some time in the 1930s (I remember him only slightly) had, I believe, founded the small bank at Wipplingerstrasse No. 25,just on the edge of the Vienna innder district (1st Bezirk); my father had presumably joined the firm around the time he married my mother and was, I believe, a partner in the firm.
My first ten years were spent in a first floor flat at Pichlergasse 4, in the district of Alsergrund (Wien IX). I assume it was a rented flat and my parents continued to live there until they left Vienna in late 1939 or early 1940 when the travelled illegally to Yugoslavia; there they were interned but were able to correspond regularly with me until the German invasion of that country in 1941; soon after that the letters stopped and I heard no more from or of them. All enquiries after the war met with no result and the natural conclusion is that they were removed to one of the extermination camps where they met an unknown death.
My father had a brother who lived in Belgrade but died, I believe, before the war; he had a daughter, Ivanka Ristic (known to me as "Pussy") who survived the war living in Yugoslavia and during the 1960s visited us in England; she subsequently died. I also vaguely remember a sister of my father's, "Tinschi", but cannot recollect what happened to her.
My mother had three sisters: the eldest, Flora, lived in Brno, now the Czech Republic; she was on her second marriage, to Robert Loew. She had a son, Kurt Klauber, from her first marriage, who had ambitions to be an actor (he must have been some 12 - 15 years older than me), and another son by her second marriage, Peter Loew. Very soon after the end of the war I received a letter from Peter Loew (this and lots of other letters are still somewhere among my belongings) telling me that Flora and Kurt had both been shot dead at the same time in one of the extermination camps, in his presence; he had somehow survived although was pretty ill and weak. He subsequently emigrated to Australia where he changed his name to Lom, but although there was some contact for many years between him and Olga (see below) we have heard nothing from him for a long time. He was (is?) a photographer and was about 9 years older than me.
Flora was my favourite aunt, mainly because she was wealthy; Robert ran a business in Brno selling lamps and chandeliers; I remember being impressed by an invention he gave us which was a large circulating tray for use at the dinner table, enabling different dishes to be passed around the diners. I cannot understand why this sort of appliance never seems to have come into general use. Flora was a frequent visitor to Vienna and invariably brought me presents, hence my fondness for her. We paid occasional visits to Brno where my aunt lived in a large detached house; I remember there was a life-sized stuffed brown bear on the landing leading to the bedroom I stayed in. Journeys to Brno were usually by car, although I cannot remember whose; we certainly never owned one and neither of my parents could drive, although I believe my father was taking lessons in preparation for his expected emigration to England.
Aunt Olga lived in Vienna, in Neubaugasse in the 8th Bezirk. Her husband, Hanns, was an "Installateur", a professional plumbing engineer. Soon after the Anschluss Hanns was briefly imprisoned in Vienna, because he was a born jew, although in fact they had both earlier in their lives converted to christianity. She was my least favourite aunt, as she had a rather prickly termperament; she was note for never being able to keep a housemaid for any length of time - either they left because of her temper or they got the sack. I always felt her husband was somewhat long-suffering. They were obviously quite well off in Vienna and had a car - a convertible Steyr, I remember - in which I sometimes had rides. They had the wisdom to leave Austria quite early on (I believe in about December 1938 - the Anschluss had been in March that year) and came to England under some kind of sponsorship to live at first in Crowborough, Sussex. It was partly, at least, thanks to them that I eventually came to England to be fostered in the nearby village of Nutley. Olga had two children, Erny and Eva. They at first remained in Austria; Erny (born about 1916). Erny was for several months in Dachau concentration camp, but was released some time before my departure from Vienna but after his parents departure; I remember answering the doorbell of our flat one day to find him at the door, shaved bald. He eventually emigrated to Sweden where he had a successful career as an electrical engineer mainly concerned with installing portable loudspeaker equipment. He married a Swedish girl, Gun, and they had two children, Lisbet and Peter. Erny died in the 1980s and I no longer have contact with that family.
Eva came to England at or about the same time as her parents and was a nurse (she is about 7 years older than me) during the war; near the end of the war or shortly afterwards she married an American soldir of Austrian origin and went to live in the States; this marriage was unsuccessful and they divorced. Eva had an affair with an American which resulted in a boy (Kenny) in the late 1940s; later she married a retired American soldier with whom, as far as I know, she is still living (1995) in a small house in Maryland. We have not been in contact lately.
Olga and her husband were forced to move from Crowborough soon after the war started as "enemy" aliens were barred from the southern parts of England; they moved to the Midlands and Olga had several different housekeeper-type jobs, eventually in Leamington Spa where for several years she kept house for a well-off family who treated her well; I sometimes visited them and enjoyed playing with the family's terrier, Jane - some photographs still exist somewhere with me holding Jane. Eventually Olga and Hanns became independent and lived in a pleasant house in Dale Street, Leamington; Hanns managed to get a job in his professional line (although not to his professional abilities) until he reached retirement age. Soon after that Olga and Hanns both emigrated to live with Erny in Sweden, first in Solna and then in Sollentuna where Erny had a good-sized house. Hanns died in the late 60s I believe, and Olga in about 1975 and the age of over 90, after having had a bad fall, broken a hip and spent her last days in hospital.
I did not know Aunt Ida well. She lived in Braunschweig, Germany, having married a local man whom I met only after the war when I visited their son, Hans. Ida visited Vienna occasionally and I remember how worried she was about German rearmament - she could clearly see what was coming soon after Hitler's rise to power. Her husband, Franz, a non-jew, I believe became a member of the Nazi party. It seems that as a result, soon after the war started, he was ordered to divorce Ida. Instead, Ida put her head in a gas oven. Their only child, Hans, stayed with us in Vienna before the war whilst he was a student at Vienna University and I got to know him quite well; he was a keen chess player and taught me the rudiments of the game (which I never really took up seriously). I believe having completed his studies he returned to Braunschweig and on outbreak of war was enlisted in the German army; he served on the eastern front and although later we were in intermittent contact he never spoke much about his wartime experiences. Soon after the war he married Anneliese; they eventually had four children. Hans and I first met again after the war when I invited him to come to London for the coronation in 1952; he stayed in the house where I was a lodger at the time, in East Acton, London and as I had not been lucky in the draw for a seat at the coronation parade we watched it on television. Over the years I have paid the occasional visit to Braunschweig but we have not been in touch for some years now. Before he retired (Hans is about 7 years older than me) he was director of the local slaughterhouse in Braunschweig and they lived quite comfortably in a flat there.
Life in Vienna
My earliest memory was when I was about two and saw a Zeppelin airship passing overhead; at the age of three I remember a holiday in Carinthia, at Velden on the shores of the Woerthersee, where I have a vivid memory of a steamroller on the road outside the villa at which we were staying. At the age of four our holiday was in the south of Niederoesterreich in a village called Payerbach where we rented a house; there I remember becoming very fond of a little girl aged 7. From the age of 5 until the Anschluss our summer holidays were always spent in in the Strandbad Klosterneuburg, where my father had bought (or rented) a chalet which he painted green. This was a sort of Austrian Butlins, but without any of the "wakey-wakey" loudspeaker. On the banks of the Danube, it had a swimming pool where after much effort I eventually learned to swim and a playschool which I went to nearly every day.
School in Austria began at the age of 6; I had gone to a Kindergarten from about the age of 3 although I remember little about it. I remember my first appearance on stage where, with a group of other children, the performance consisted of clapping - whom or what we were clapping I cannot say. Once at school I must have learned to read quite quickly, because on reflection I was a very precocious child. Our flat had many books including the librettos of many operas and the plays of Schiller, Goethe and Shakespeare and I was soon reading a lot of these. I could never understand why my parents, who were clearly very musical in their tastes, did not have a piano or even a gramophone, although I believe they frequently went to concerts and operas. In any case, I never developed a serious taste for music although I have enjoyed it as a background, especially Strauss waltzes, Mozart and Beethoven.
I had several changes of school in Vienna, originally because it seems where we lived was on the borderline between two school catchment areas; I therefore started (my first few days) in one school (Waehringerstrasse) but soon moved to another in the opposite direction of our flat (Galileogasse), but then back to Waehringerstrasse and once more back to Galileogasse, I believe. Finally, after the Anschluss, all jewish children had to go to selected schools and I was transferred to one in (I think) Panzergasse. My school record was always good academically.
Early life in Vienna was comparatively uneventful. My parents were non-orthodox jews who nonetheless observed Friday evenings as eve-of-sabbath occasions and also observed, though with no great ceremonies, jewish festivals such as Chanukah for which I remember we had the typical candlestick on the table, and also passover suppers during which hebrew prayers were said. We entertained frequently friends and relatives; every Wednesday we had a visit from a man I called the "Wurstelmann" (sausage-man) because that is what he ate - I think he brought them with him for my mother to cook. My parents often played bridge and even the German form of monopoly which I remember used to fascinte me (it was called "Spekulation"). In my early year, whilst my grandmother was still alive, I shared my parents' bedroom and sometime would wake up during the late evening and go into the lounge to see what my parents were up to, when after a few minutes on my mother's lap I would be put back to bed. There were several "uncles" - friends of my father - who frequently visited; one was the family doctor. I had rather more than the usual children's illnesses as a young boy, although nothing really serious; measles twice, chicken-pox three times (including once in England), and frequent bouts of flu. One of these occurred soon after starting school and I remember my father visiting school to find out what stage my reading and writing instruction had reached - he brought back an exercise book with the latest letter of the alphabet that had been introduced during my absence - it was a "P" - for me to learn. Teaching in Vienna at that time was strictly serious, although the teachers made it interesting. The first letter we were taught was, of course, "A", and the teacher began that lesson by drawing on the blackboard an apple-tree with a ladder beside it forming the letter "A".
Despite their jewish religion, and possibly just for my sake, Christmas was a festive occasion in Vienna for us. Every year we had a Christmas tree - a real one - which each year seemed to be higher than the one the year before. It was put up only a day or two before Christmas and I was excluded from the living room where it was whilst "der Weihnachtsmann" (Father Christmas) decorated it, including real lit candles (the risk of fire never seemed to be an issue), and placed the presents. I remember once knocking at the double door of the room in order to enter and see the white-bearded gentleman and what he was doing, only to hear him say in a deep voice: "Nein, da darf man nicht herein!" ("No, you're not allowed in here"). My mother was a good mimic. Our Christmas was, as elsewhere in Austria, celebrated in the evening of Christmas Eve when the "Bescherung" (giving of presents) took place - although I have no memory of anyone except myself receiving anything. As an only child I was, of course, spoiled fairly rotten and had lots of present each year, both at Christmas and for my birthday - although still quite a lot fewer, I believe, than my grandchildren now receive!
My father's main hobby was stamp collecting, and he introduced me to this at quite an early stage and I began my own collection - lost after leaving Vienna, although I started a new one in England, the album of which is still among my belongings somewhere although I have long since given up the hobby. Another hobby of my father's was handicrafts and modelling as well as woodwork, and quite often I would wake up in the morning to find a newly-built meccano-type toy or a wooden assembly of something to play with, which had been built overnight, I was told, by the "Heinselmaennchen" - a set of friendly imps who were traditionally supposed to perform good deeds during the night.
Whilst still at Galileogasse, in early 1938 just before the Anschluss, I remember having heard a rousing speech on the radio by the Chancellor, Dr Schusschnigg, urging Austrians to vote for continued independence in the forthcoming referendum/plebsicite and to adopt the greeting "Heil Oesterreich!". The next day on arrival at school I joyously made this greeting to my school mates, but met with little response. The German occupation began a few days later, just after my 9th birthday.
Whilst my memory of my early schooldays is now vague, there are a few events in the Panzergasse school which I remember well. All our teachers there were, of course, jewish, and we had a particularly unpleasant and harsh class teacher, Herr Rainer, who was fond of handing out punishmens - none corporal, as this was forbidden even then in Austria. We also had a lady teacher who was "played up" a lot. On one occasion this lady left her hat on the hat & coat stand after leaving the class. The hat fell down, invitingly upside down, and the more unruly members of the class began to spit into it and egging the rest of the class on to do likewise. I duly followed suit. Soon Herr Rainer came in and found the mucus-filled hat where it lay. When he demanded who was resposible for this outrage, no one at first would own up; but soon my conscience got the better of me and I raised my hand. No one else did so. Although I protested that I was not the only one, it was only I who was punished by having to write out some 1,000 lines copied from a book. I believe my parents were asked to pay for the hat to be cleaned.
Soon after this incident, we arrived in class one morning to find Herr Rainer had not arrived. He never came back; clearly he had been arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp. This was none of my doing, however!
For my parents, life at the Anschluss at first continued fairly normally although my father's business was soon confiscated, and on at least one occasion my mother, whilst out shopping, was with others ordered to get on her hands and knees to scrub markings (presumably anti-Nazi ones) from the pavement. My parents to my knowledge began to make preparations for emigration, and several countries were discussed as possibilities, including Cyprus and Ecuador. There was also apparently a distant relative living in the United States and my father tried to arrange to emigrate there, but for this it was necessary to have an affidavit sworn by the US citizens to the effect that we would not be an economic burden on the state; unfortunately no such affidavit was ever forthcoming. Finally, therefore, my parents arranged for my own exit to England, by arrangements made with the Isralische Kultusgemeinschaft in Vienna and the Society of Friends (Quakers) in England.
During the 15 months which I spent in Vienna after the Anschluss there were many examples of life going on normally. My cousin Hans was living with us at this time; he bore no appearance of jewishness and seemed to lead a normal life studying at the University, and sometimes took me out to the cinema (forbidden soon after the Anschluss for jews). My own appearance was not absolutely typically jewish, but on one occasion in a cinema, whilst my cousin had left my side briefly, I was challenged by some yobs about whether I was a jew, which I naturally denied. On another occasion, however, whilst walking home from school, I was attacked by a gang of youths who recognised me as a jew (perhaps because they saw me coming from a school designated for jews only) and were beginning to tie me to a bench preparatory, presumably, to beating me up when a passer-by challenged them and made them release me. For me, however, this was an isolated occasion.
My father, also, had little appearance of being jewish. I remember him telling us when an old colleague recognised him in the street and questioned why he was not wearing the swastika badge in his buttonhole - as we the common practice for most men soon after the Anschluss. His explanation was met with astonishment by his colleague, who presumably then had nothing further to do with my father.
My father also often used to take me out on trips locally, including going rowing on the Donaukanal; again, something that could not have been done legally by anyone jewish at that time.
At home life continued much as before at first; but then came Kristallnacht - 9 November 1938 - after which things quickly became much worse. The justification for Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) had been the assassination in Paris of a Nazi diplomat, allegedly by a jew. The following night both in Germany and Austria most synagogues and jewish businesses - such as remained - were attacked and usually destroyed. Many news were arrested. I remember that evening well; my mother was unwell and lying on a couch when there was a knock on the door of our flat and three Gestapo men in uniform arrived, accompanied by the concierge. They searched the flat and were about to take my father away when the concierge - with whom my father had been on good terms - persuaded them not to arrest my father, telling them he was a "good type" . Unlike most others, therefore, my father escaped a concentration camp until much later.
Eventually my parents were able to arrange a housekeeping post, presumably with the assistance of my Aunt Olga, in Sussex. Olga and her husband Hanns lived in Crowborough and it was in the nearby village of Nutley that my parents were to become respectively chauffeur (my father had in the meantime learned to drive) and cook/housekeeper to Lord and Lady Castle Stewart who lived in a large house near that village. I was to be sent ahead, by means of one of the "Kindertransporte" which were being organised by the British Society of Friends and in Vienna the Israeltische Kultusgemeinde (Israeletic Cultural Organisation). I duly obtained a German passport, embossed in red with the letter "J" for jew and showing my name as Herbert Egon Israel Struempel. (This passport should still be somewhere in my belongings but I was unable to locate it when I searched for it a few years ago, for the purposes of helping to prove my antecedents.) I was due to leave for England in early June 1939, but shortly before my planned departure I developed one of my, at that time frequent, bouts of illness which was diagnosed as having possibly eaten contaminated ice cream. I therefore missed that particular transport, but finally left Vienna on 20 June 1939, in the evening. My parents took me by taxi to the West Station, fully labelled up with who I was and where I was going; there was a tearful farewell and I never saw my parents again.
The train was a special, entirely filled with jewish emigrants; I was put in a compartment with several other children in charge of a 17- or 18-year old. It was a third-class compartment and, like all in that class in Austria, had wooden seats but I do not remember any discomfort and stayed awake most of the night, only then to fall asleep for a large part of the journey through Germany the next day.
We crossed the border into the Netherlands at Emmerich, and I remember how we all sensed a complete transformation from the depressive atmosphere of Nazi Germany to the freedom of Holland. At the border we were met by some form of Dutch social workers who plied us with snacks - I cannot remember how we ate during the journey prior to that; I suppose my parents provided me with packed food. However, one of my first impressions of arrival in Holland was the taste of the local water - which was foul! Vienna was famed for the high quality of its drinking water (I do not believe this diminished with German occupation).
I was still in a daze for the rest of the land journey but we eventually embarked at the Hook of Holland bound for Harwich. By this time it was night again and I was very worried about being sea-sick on the boat, where we were provided with bunks, but the senior man in our little group reassured me that the slight movement (still in harbour) was in fact that we were already sailing and, reassured, I fell asleep. The next morning - 22 June 1939 - we landed at Harwich where everybody was first of all subjected to a medical examination. Having always had friendly doctors in Vienna, I was not impressed with the brusque attitude of the English physician - but I was nevertheless allowed to pass through and with the rest of the contingent boarded a train to London, Liverpool Street.
The train provided my first real impression of England, and although it was a third-class carriage - in those days there were still three classes on British trains - I was immediately taken with the high comfort of cushioned seats, which in Austria were unknown in third class - there only first-class had fabric cushioned seats; second class were leather-type cushions and as mentioned third-class were wooden.
At Liverpool Street Station we disembarked and were herded into a large reception hall to await our escorts. I had been told to expect Miss Harwood, who was the secretary of the Nutley Refugees Committee; she had written to us in Vienna and having read her letters was well acquainted with her rather stylised handwriting. The elderly lady who met me introduced herself as Miss Harwood, but when I overlooked her writing on some sort of document I realised at once that she was an impostor, and began to worry. However, on being challenged the lady admitted her false pose and introduced herself as Mrs Henriques, a Jewish member of the committee, who apologised and told me that she had only adopted Miss Harwood's identity because she knew that name was known to me whilst hers was not.
Mrs Henriques eventually drove me to Crowborough to stay for the weekend (I believe my arrival was on a Friday) with Aunt Olga and Uncle Hanns in their rented bungalow in that village. One of my memories of that weekend was visiting the local playpark and being astonished by the swings and slides - something I had never seen in Austria outside the Prater amusement park; I was also surprised when in my faltering English I told some children I was from Vienna they obviously had no idea where that was.
On the following Monday I was taken by car to Nutley to begin my new life, with the Hills family who lived on the outskirts of the village in a small detached house where I shared a bedroom with their only child, Roy (full name Frederick Gilroy Hills, and known at school as Freddy). Mr Hills worked in the village baker's shop; Mrs Hills, rather a forbidding woman and an ex-nurse, was just a housewife as was usual at the time for wives and mothers. They had had another child who had died, but preferred not to talk about this. A fairly typical working-class family; Mr Hills was an "old contemptible" - a member of the British Expeditionary Force in the first world war, in France, known by this term as a result of the Kaiser having referred to the British army as "a contemptible little force"; he was clearly proud of his wartime service and often talked about it.
The next day I started at the village school - a good mile away - where at first I was placed in a class according to my age but was quickly demoted to one lower, due to my poor English. However, I made reasonable progress there and was soon moved back to the original class. My learning of English was rapid, but not rapid enough because within a month or two it was time for the scholarship examination which would determine whether I should go to the local grammar school at age 11, or continue at the village school which had a leaving age of 14. Due to as yet incomplete English knowledge, I did not gain a high enough mark to qualify for a scholarship.
One example of my very early difficulties in understanding the language was when Mr Hills, one Sunday, invited me to go for a walk. I did not recognise the word "walk" and therefore looked it up in my ever present English-German dictionary (which I still have!) - unfortunately the word I found was "work", and (as ever!) I did not fancy any "work" which would, I assumed, be manual labour. I therefore declined the kind invitation, and only later found out what had been meant.
As I learned English, the tendency was to forget my German, although I frequently wrote letters to my parents which helped. They wrote to me and I responded always on the same or the next day, and in fact used to write daily in diary form which I then posted to them when I got their letters. Whilst they were still in Austria they used to send me international reply coupons to pay for the postage.
I was not very happy with the Hills family. The life style was, of course, completely different from what I had been used to; there were few books in the house, they were not a very well educated family and their son, Roy, was only an average sort of lad whom I did not get on with particularly well at first, although strangely enough we became better friends once I had moved away from them.