Although my grandfather assured me that the roots of the Anzarut family resided in Aleppo and the Levant dating back to 1700s, some Anzarut descendants believed that previous to that date, our familyh sources allegedly resided in Gibraltar. The dominant old merchant families of Gibraltar were divided between those of Spanish, Genoese, Maltese and Moroccan Jewish descent.
There was also a rumour of a possible connection prior to our alleged Gibraltar roots which would source the family name to the Island of Lanzarote which is part of the Canary Island Archipelago...whence the derivation to Anzarut. This allegation was also confirmed by another cousin, Ezra Charles Anzarut of Melbourne who was decorated several times, and became the recipient of the “Officier de la Légion d'Honneur” accolade several years ago.
According to yet another cousin of mine, Prof. Doctor Marcel Erdal of the Goethe University in Frankfurt (Germany) who is a specialist in Turkic, Syriac and etc..he states that it seems unlikely (as it was previously believed) that my Anzarut ancestors would just have appended that name to the name "Cohen", to differentiate the family from all the other Cohens who lived in Aleppo at that time. According to Marcel, the name Anzarut is neither Arabic nor Hebrew. It is of Syriac origin, and loosely translated is a plural form of "the Pure Ones".
Since writing the above, and through painstaking research, I have discovered that Anzarut is actually the medicinal secretion or sap of a tree growing in Iran (Persia); the very ancient medicinal properties of which were considered a panacea....which seems to agree with the answers that my grandfather Leon Anzarut gave me.
He had been told by his father Ezra, that the name Anzarut derived from some sort of plant or spice that our merchant ancestors carried on their ships importing and exporting these.
Sam Benady a contact of mine who lives in Gibraltar informed me that Sarcocolla or Anzarut is called Anzarote in Spanish.
I also found out that Jacob was born in Aleppo, and so had his ancestors.
I should add that there is no mention of an Anzarut family in the archives of the Jewish community in Gibraltar. We do know that previous to the name change to Anzarut, our ancestors’ family name was Cohen. But there again there was absolutely nothing in the Gibraltar archives.
My mum asked my Uncle Raymond about it, and between roars of laughter, he explained that the Gibraltar story had been a total JOKE...a complete invention of his when he was filling forms to renew his British passport.
The origin of our Anzarut name
Dr. Ahmad Parsa Ph.D. who is President of the Museum of Natural History and Professor of the University of Teheran made a thorough compilation of Iranian medicinal plants and drugs of plant origin, and the name Anzarut figures in this compilation. Anzarut (Arabic).
It is also called Sarcocolla flesh glue and is a sweet sap that is secreted by the plant and is found in Arabia and in Persia. The dried sap is pale yellow, like pale yellow amber, but is soluble in water and alcohol and has no smell.. Anzarut is applied when softened and then it dries to the consistency of plaster and has been used from early times to this day by Parsi bone setters. It can also be applied warm as a compress to alleviate toothache, earache etc....
I have since discovered that Kew Gardens in England have some "Anzarut" in their inventory.
I received a most interesting letter dated March 30th 2014, from Juris Zarin an archaeologist working in the Persian Gulf which reads as follows :
“ Dear Mrs Edna Anzarut-Turner,
I am a Near East archaeologist working in the Persian Gulf. I spent 10 years working on an Indian Ocean medieval period site called Zafar (el Baleed0) in southern Oman, and am currently writing a book on the results.
The Indian Ocean trade in spices and goods incorporated goods coming from Cairo and the Levant and sent down the Red Sea to Zafar.
It included in historic lists (1200-1400 AD) all sorts of spices which were taxed.
It included Anzarut (in Arabic).
As you know, this is Astragalus sp or the sarcocolla plant which only grows in North Iran/Iraq and Syria and E. Mediterranean. This plant product came from Cairo to Aden and then Zafar by the Karimi Merchants who were Jewish (see S.D. Goitein volumes)
Your remote ancestors were most likely merchants in Aleppo or Cairo and eventually became named after the product they sold to Aden and Zafar (probably the anzarut went all the way to India, Indonesia (Sri Vijaya) and Canton, China (see Wheatley, 1959).
Quite a story I read when I looked up Anzarut.
Emigration of Sephardi Jewish merchants from the Levant, and the Ottoman Empire to Manchester
Manchester 1843 : The first two permanent Sephardi merchants who settled there were Samuel Hadida of Gibraltar, and Abraham Nissim Levy of Constantinople. They became part of a group of eight merchants who settled in Manchester during the 1840s. These included apart from the above-named : Isaac Pariente of the Barbary Coast, Joshua Padr of Constantinople, Moses Ben Messulam of Constantinople, Myer Hadida, Samuel Ventura, Joseph Azula, Samuel Kutura of Corfu, Moses Bensieri of Gibraltar, Nathan B. Lyons of Turkey. (See one of the Books, "The Making of Manchester Jewry, 1740-1875 by Bill Williams.)
There is no mention of any Anzaruts from Gibraltar.
Between 1850 and 1862 Aleppo was agitated by serious rioting by Arabs against the Ottoman rule. The principal industry at that time was silk-weaving and cotton printing.
Because of the disastrous economic situation that ensued due to the political upheavals, my ancestor Jacob Anzarut ( 1830-1891) and his brothers decided to leave Aleppo, which was then their place of residence and sail for Manchester which was the hub of the cotton industry.
Life in Manchester
The Anzaruts left Aleppo for Manchester in 1861. Britain had emancipated its Jews in 1856. Jacob, who was now 31 years' of age, and his siblings applied for British citizenship in 1862, and he received his British naturalization papers Certificate No. 5016 was issued on 16 April 1866.
Like the rest of the Anzarut family, I am British by birth and by descent, and according to official British Government requirement, whenever we must renew our British Passport, we must produce an affidavit which was signed by the British vice consul in Alexandria which has the stamp of the British Foreign Office and erroneously states that we Anzarut are British because of Gibraltar ancestry, when in fact we are British because of Jacob’s naturalisation.
My Uncle Raymond’s hilarious “Gibraltar” joke was taken seriously by everyone, including our extended families who to this day argue that we owe our British citizenship because of our Gibraltar ancestors.
We do know that Jacob had four brothers and two sisters:
Joseph :(b. c 1837 died in Manchester 24th August 1890.) He married Sarah Picciotto, and left no descendants.
Solomon : ( born 1847/48 died 20th August 1906)
Abraham : ( born 1838/9 and died c 21st Feb.1902)
Moses (?) Unnamed brother.
Bennot Sitt : (b - . Died November 11th 1915).
Mazal Dwek (born 1846 died September 26th 1920) were the two sisters.
We know of these siblings because they were named in Joseph Anzarut's will.
The Anzarut brothers were very prominent members of the Sephardi community in Manchester in 1874, (according to an excerpt from the books on Manchester Jewry by Bill Williams.)
My ancestors are cited as having been among the founding members of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue in that city.
Jacob, his wife, and his only son Ezra happily settled in Manchester. The family was very prosperous as they owned ships. They were well-known for their great philanthropy. Ezra was two years' old. When it was time for him to go to school, he attended Manchester Grammar School.
The firm of Jacob Anzarut & Son came into being.
My great great grandfather Jacob owned a very profitable shipping business, that dealt with the cotton industry. The mills in Manchester produced a very fine and beautiful cotton cloth called “madapolan” in French which was woven from Egyptian cotton fibre and was considered the best cotton in the world. The quality of the fibres were constantly being improved through the use of checker plots in Egypt run by the French government monopoly at the time.
Jacob was extremely philanthropic: see below.
I have also added some information provided by the British National Archives regarding his shipping business.
Full economic recovery came to Aleppo after 1880 when a railroad was built. The Turks had successfully quelled the Arab uprising against them, and the economy boomed. This attracted the interest of several merchant families that had left the area to settle in Manchester, and some of them returned to the Ottoman Empire.
Jacob passed away in Manchester on 8 December 1891 and was buried there.
For some strange reason his place of birth on his official death certificate states Beirut, India!!
Life in Beirut and Ezra’s story
The Anzaruts did a great deal of travelling from Manchester to the Middle East for cotton business purposes. My great grandfather Ezra, Jacob’s only son and heir would frequently travel to Syria on business, and was introduced to a suitable young lady called Rachel, who was one of the daughters of a prominent and very wealthy Damascene banking family called Farhi.
They were married, and settled in Beirut where their fourteen children were born. One of them, a baby girl called Marie, died in infancy when my great grandparents were in Alexandria, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Beirut.
The third eldest son was my grandfather Leon David.
The Anzaruts were Cohannim and were an Orthodox practising Jewish family. They were so pious that my Gt. grandfather Ezra would build a synagogue as close to where he was living as possible, so that he would not have far to walk during the Sabbath or the High Holy Days.
He built one adjacent to his large country house in Aley (in the Shouf Mountains of Lebanon). This synagogue had electricity, which the one in Beirut lacked. He also built one in Camp de Cesar in Alexandria (Egypt), within a few minutes’ walking distance from the family villa.
These synagogues were always built "In honour of his father Jacob".
I was informed that the Anzarut synagogue in Alexandria has now been turned into a mosque. The one in Aley was badly damaged by rockets during a Lebanese Civil War. One of my relatives who was in the IDF and was stationed there for a while, took photographs of it.
The exterior walls are still standing. In the middle of the floor in what was the Great Hall, he found the Anzarut alms box, which he took back to Israel. I was shown it when I visited the family in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, Gt. Grandfather Ezra and Gt. Grandmother Rachel were not only extremely philanthropic but they were also very hospitable, and the Sabbath and High Holy Days were a time for wonderful family gathering and togetherness.
One of my father's cousins Ezra Charles of Melbourne (Australia) recalls that the dining room table was so big that it could easily accommodate three large families.
My Grandfather Leon told me that Gt. Grandfather Ezra was a very loving and proud father, but was rather formal and aloof with his children, but he always had an amused twinkle in his eyes when he spoke with his young children and his eventual grandchildren He was very kind, and they loved him dearly.
My Gt. Grandfather was given the title of " Ezra El Kebir,' (Ezra the Great) a tribute to his great philanthropy.
According to an Israeli historian who contacted me, Ezra el Kebir was the founder and first president of the Jewish community in Beirut.
He mentioned that he was writing a book on the Jewish community in Beirut at the time my ancestor resided there. He discovered that the name of Ezra el Kebir kept cropping up, and that he seems to have been a very important and highly respected figure at the time, not only by his co-religionists but also by the rest of the non-Jewish population.
I was later sent a photograph of the prominent and wealthy Jewish businessmen of Beirut. My great grandfather is sitting in the middle, and my Farhi great Uncles are standing behind him.
Ezra demanded absolute respect. It was customary for his children and grandchildren to kiss his hand when they saw him. My Gt. Grandmother Rachel on the other hand, was a relaxed, nurturing and loving human being, according to her grandchildren. They all adored her, and whenever they visited the villa, they never left empty-handed, as she showered them with gifts.
In the very large three storey stone country house in Aley, it was the tradition to keep the entrance doors open during the Sabbath, and the High Holy Days, when all the poor of the area, including the Druze inhabitants could come and eat to their heart's content.
Nothing was ever stolen, in spite of the fact that all the silver and valuables were left on display. Not one of the Druze, or any poverty stricken guest would have ever considered pilfering anything.
When we were in Israel many years ago, visiting ancient Jewish tombs in a cavern near the border, I met an ancient looking Lebanese Druze who came from Aley. He was selling entrance tickets from a small tin can kiosk.
When I informed him that I was an Anzarut, he became very excited, and stopped yelling at our three sons who were boisterously hopping over the rope barrier and hopping back. He threw his arms around me, and said in Arabic that Ezra el Kebir and his son Leon (my grandfather) had been so incredibly kind and generous, that when they died, they must surely have gone straight to Paradise.
Leon David’s story
Leon David went to live in Beirut where he assisted his father Ezra in the running of the family firm Jacob Anzarut and Son. They were very close.
He was my beloved grandfather and I called him Nonno.
I remember my grandfather to be an erudite, extremely interesting, multi-lingual warm and very kind man with a keen sense of humour.
He was known to be an extremely honourable man, and was highly regarded by everyone. Leon, was considered a "young prince" in his youth.
My grandfather prospered greatly, and life was good. He had initially trained as a physician. That truly was his first love. He was, however, obliged to give it up in order to assist his father Ezra with the important family business in the Middle East. He always deeply regretted not having been allowed to practice medicine.
I was sent a photo of my nonno on a visit to Edie Sellinger, a nephew (on my grandmother's side) who had settled in "Palestine".
My grandfather had travelled there with his valet, who made sure he was dressed to the nines, with a boutonnière in his lapel.
The bottom of his trouser cuffs were elegantly turned up so he would not get them soiled. He is holding a silver handled walking cane in his hand, and of course an elegant hat on his head. Edie (the nephew) is holding a rope tethered to a cow that my grandfather had bought him.
Rokhama (Edie's wife) told me that when Edie decided to go to Palestine, he went to my grandparents, and asked them whether they would pay for his fare. They did, and gave him enough for a "First class" boat fare, as they did not know that there were other classes. Thanks to that, Edie and eight of his friends were all able to go by travelling "steerage".
Edie, who was an agronomist, ordered strawberry seeds from the U.S., and he and his friends started a moshav in Kfar Azar. He tested the soil in that area, and found that it was perfect for growing strawberries. Kfar Azar is famous in Israel for its delectable strawberries.
Leon and Caroline’s story
My grandmother Caroline, whom I called Nonna, was a Viennese lady whose family had emigrated to Turkey for business reasons. Leon was in Constantinople on a business trip for the family firm of Jacob Anzarut and Son. He was invited to dinner by a family called Mizrahi. They had two daughters who were friends of my grandmother.
According to my grandmother’s niece Lydia Erdal (whose 102nd birthday was celebrated on 30th November 2016) my grandmother’s siblings strongly urged my grandmother to drop by and visit at the Mizrahi house.
My grandmother was a bubbly, very lively young lady, who had a tremendous sense of humour, and was very attractive. My grandfather was very handsome extremely well-travelled and refined. According to Lydia, my grandparents fell in love at first sight. This was not at all what the Mizrahi family had in mind .
They were married in Constantinople.
A second cousin of mine found a photograph depicting my grandparents as bride and groom in Constantinople. They were sitting in an open car. At the wheel was one of my grandmother's cousins Sigmund Weinberg (who owned the first two cinemas in Istanbul, and the first photography shop (this was something quite revolutionary in those days.) Next to him was another of my grandmother's cousins, Carl Carlman (who owned one of the first department stores in Constantinople on the Grande Rue de Pera).
The photograph was taken during the time of Sultan Abdel Hamid who refused to allow cars to be on the streets in Turkey unless they had a horse harnessed to it. It is therefore a very special photograph as it shows the first car in Turkey. My grandparents, Sigmund and Carl are surrounded by Turks wearing a fez and gawking at the satanic metal monster that moved without a horse.
My grandparents went to live in Beirut, where Caroline adapted to the Anzarut Sephardi ways to which she added her own very elegant Viennese touch. They built a beautifully decorated large villa and were extremely happy there.
My nonno used to tell me about his travels all over the world. How he contracted yellow fever in Tahiti and the natives looked after him and cured him. He would show me a yellow spot on his cheek which was the only sign left of this deadly disease. He spoke at length of the Boer War and his trip to South Africa, and the wonderful time he and my nonna and their children spent in Aley in Lebanon.
My nonna’s family came from Vienna, and left Austria to reside in Constantinople. She too had fascinating stories to tell me about her childhood. During the holiday period the whole family would cross the Bosphorus by boatand go to an island called the Tchiflik Polonais. The Ottoman government allowed Polish expats to settle on this island as they had pig farms, and enjoyed eating pork which was a forbidden food in Muslim Turkey.
There were horses and donkeys waiting on the island for my nonna and her older brothers and sisters. They rode into the forest, stopped by a waterfall and crystal clear brook, and alit in order to enjoy their picnic meal.
My nonna remembered the musical sound of the waterfall and the chirping of the birds in the trees. One of her brothers or a friend would play the harmonica, and everyone would sing along with it.
They would then hike in the forest, and then climb astride their horse or donkey, and journey on till they reached the village and the inn where they would be staying. They would then call the innkeeper “Gertrude…Gertrude” and Gertrude would pop her head out of the upstairs window and excitedly call in German “How wonderful..they have arrived, they have arrived”. She would gallop down the stairs and welcome them in.
After a delicious and lively supper everyone went to bed. The mattresses were filled with straw and leaves, and my nonna. told me that whenever she moved there was a sound of “shhhhhhhh shhhhhhh” made by the straw filling.
Everyone was so tired after the bracing fresh air, and the wonderful supper that they would all sleep very soundly.
At home in Constantinople, there was a grand piano. The family loved music and my nonna played beautifully. The house was always filled with extended family and friends. They played parlour games like musical chairs, or charades, and then would burst into song when someone played the pieces in vogue on the piano.
World War I and departure from Beirut
Just before World War One was declared, Caroline & Leon held a lavish ball in their villa in Beirut. All the British diplomatic corps and Ambassador were invited. Leon asked the British Ambassador whether it would be wise for the Anzaruts (being British) to stay on in Beirut as this was part of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turks would be siding with Germany. They were assured that they would be perfectly safe.
In the wee hours of the morning, there was savage banging on the door of the villa. Armed Turkish guards stood outside. They arrested my grandfather Leon who was taken away and interned by the Turks. War had just been declared.
My grandmother Caroline dressed hurriedly, calmed my dad and my uncle who were little boys, and rushed to the British Embassy. There were Turkish guards everywhere.
The Embassy was completely deserted. The Ambassador and every single member of the British diplomatic corps had fled the country directly after attending the Anzarut ball.
Caroline, who spoke fluent Turkish bribed some officials who then released Leon but warned that my grandparents had to leave Beirut forthwith else they would all be imprisoned.
My grandparents returned to their villa, packed some belongings and left. They said goodbye to their staff, who were all weeping and asked the wealthy Lebanese owners of a neighbouring villa to please keep an eye on their property while they were away. No sooner had my grandparents left, than those same neighbours went in and plundered the place.
After the war ended my grandparents returned to Beirut for a visit, and to check on their property. The villa had been looted. Their neighbours informed them that the Turks had taken everything. Upon visiting these neighbours who refused at first to let them in, they discovered that was not the case. The neighbours had helped themselves to everything.
Alexandria - The pearl of the Mediterranean.
My grandparents and their two little boys, Edgar and Raymond settled in Alexandria. It was a beautiful, modern, very clean and elegant multi-lingual cultured European type of City. The street names were not in Arabic, but in English and French. Arab fellaheen came from their villages to find work there.
My Auntie Eileen was born in Alexandria. She was a very pretty little girl and my second cousin Lydia Erdal who lives in Jerusalem, reminisced over the phone. “Your auntie Eileen always won first prize at all the children’s parties as being the most beautiful child there. I have photos that show what a very lovely and regal looking child she was."
The Anzarut cotton shipping business boomed. My grandparents built a sumptuous villa in Mustapha Pacha on Khallil Pasha Khayat Street. My grandmother told me that they had ordered special marble from Cararra (Italy), and that it was customary for good luck to put a great deal of money where the excavations were, before laying the foundations of a house. She used to laugh and say that if anyone ever dug under the villa they would find a treasure trove that would make them rich.
I was told by another one of my Anzarut second cousins, that it was the only other house after Gt. Grandfather Ezra's house in Camp de Cesar to have a master- bathroom, or “ensuite”. My grandparents had also ordered all their furniture from Maples of London.
The huge and superb Persian carpets were made of silk.
My grandmother was an avid gardener, and in spite of the fact that they had several gardeners in their employ, she would often bend down to weed, and prune the roses. Something that was unheard of then. She was also a gourmet cook, and insisted on going to the kitchens and putting her two bits worth, much to the annoyance of the capable cook and other kitchen help.
They employed a very large family to work in the villa. They had valets, lady’s maids, two chauffeurs as they had a Bentley and a Rolls Royce, as well as a very efficient and demanding housekeeper.
The milkman would come to the back door with his cow and milked the cow, while the scullery-maid gave him the milk jugs to fill. If my grandparents needed more milk, the milkman had to fetch another cow.
The milk was boiled in large pots over a Primus stove. It was left to cool, and produced a very thick one and a half inch layer of cream. This cream was carefully removed, cooled, rolled into a thick cigar shape, and sprinkled with sugar. It was a most unhealthy but absolutely amazing delicacy.
They had ice-boxes then not refrigerators. Huge blocks of ice would be delivered on a donkey cart by another hawker.
Fruit and vegetables were also delivered to the house. The vendor would stick a very sharp knife in a watermelon and remove a small piece to taste. If the scullery maid did not find it ripe, he would do the same thing to another one until she was satisfied.
The three children, Edgar, Raymond and Eileen had the dubious pleasure of being brought up by very strict governesses, they were either trained British nannies or Schwesters who were trained in Vienna in special finishing schools, and spoke fluent German, French and English.
My Auntie Eileen who was very fond of chocolate refused to say “Shublade” (drawer as in chest of drawers) in German, and would say “Shubcolade”, much to the chagrin of her Schwester (the Austrian nanny).
My dad and my Uncle Raymond were mischievous impish pranksters. Their specialty was to pretend to be very friendly with a boy they disliked at the Alexandria Sporting Club.
While my dad joked with the boy, my uncle would slip an unshelled raw egg in the boy’s pocket. As a friendly gesture, my dad would give him a very vigorous pat on the back followed by an even more vigorous one on the pocket. The egg would smash, and my uncle would then ask the boy for a handkerchief as he had something in his eye.
The boy, very flattered to be asked, would immediately put his hand in his pocket and precipitously pull it out, his fingers dripping with stomach-churning rancid smelling yolky eggy slime.
I would listen to these stories with absolute rapture. My dad then assured me that he and my uncle Raymond were very fast runners, and no enraged boy who chased them ever caught them. So that was all right.
On another occasion, my grandparents were entertaining the Japanese Ambassador and various Japanese aides and trade commissioners in the rose garden of their villa. They had warned their two boys long before, and had told them they must behave.
The french doors of the living room were wide open. My Uncle Raymond sat down and started playing on my nonna's impressive grand piano, and my dad accompanied him on his violin.
Much to my grandparent’s bewilderment, the Japanese dignitaries stood up. The music stopped, and they all sat down. The music started again, and they all stood up. The music stopped, and they all sat down. This went on for quite a while.
After the Japanese guests had left, my grandparents went indoors, and looked at the music score from which my uncle and dad had been playing. They discovered it was the Japanese National Anthem. As a form of mea culpa, my dad bought a Japanese bike with his pocket money. The first time he rode it, the back and front wheels decided to each go their separate ways..the bike had split in the middle. He went back to riding his Raleigh pdq.
When I was a little girl I took over from my Uncle Ray who had left for England, and I became my dad’s “partner in crime”. It was great fun.
We used to de-tick my dog Blackie once a week using tweezers. We would drop the ticks in a cigarette tin filled with petrol. This killed them instantly. We would then casually walk in the street in front of our home, and my dad would gently put the closed cigarette tin on the pavement, and we would go and hide. After patiently waiting, an Arab would come along.
Hoping to find a few cigarette stubs that he could smoke, he would invariably pick up the can, open it….and as we expected, would let out a behemoth sounding yelp peppered with swear words, and throw it as far as he could. That was so much fun.
My dad also taught me how to make a very loud and ominous“Phtssssssssss” type of hissing noise with my lips and teeth any time a cyclist rode by. The cyclist would unfailingly hop off his bike and worriedly check his tires. It was great fun.
My grandparents lived quite close by in Alexandria, and my dad would take my hand and run very fast from our home to theirs, and I would wail and say he was going too fast. “Well you must learn how to run faster” “ DADDY I can’t! my legs are not long enough” “Well they have to grow” he responded. “Daddy they CAN’T GROW TODAY” “too bad” He grinned at me. “Daddy can we stop and have an ice cream..a dandurma” “hahahaha”, he laughed. ‘DAAAAAADDDDY” “hahahahahaha” he laughed even louder. My dad was hilarious…he was my best friend.
We frequently went for long walks on the Mediterranean corniche. I would get tired, and start complaining, and then I would hear a tinkle, and excitedly find a piaster on the sidewalk. My dad always suggested I give it to him so he could put it in his pocket for safe-keeping. Hoping to find more piasters, my fatigue disappeared.. unfortunately I found none. I then started complaining again..and to my great joy heard another tinkle..and there was another piaster on the ground. My dad looked after that one too. All in all I always found a dozen piasters every time we went for a walk by the corniche.
When we returned home one day, my mum asked my dad ”Edgar..why do you always wear the trousers that have a hole in the pocket when you go for a walk with Edna”? My dad stifled a giggle, put the forefinger of his right hand to his lips and answered “SHHHH!”
After supper, we would all go to the study, sit down in comfortable armchairs, and listen to my dad read from the French classics. Corneille, Racine, Pascal, Victor Hugo, etc.. He would explain to me the difference between each author’s life, concept and thinking. It was fascinating.
My dad enjoyed making radio sets as a hobby. He would buy the components and different types of complicated metering apparatus made in Germany from a friend of his, and he would then draw and design the wireless sets.
Although they were called wireless, there were a great many wires that had to be soldered, and I used to have to hold these without moving or breathing so he could solder them neatly together.
One day as we were wire soldering we heard an unexpected sound coming from the unfinished wireless set. It was magical….Beethoven’s violin concerto with Yehudi Menuhin playing. The wires had not yet been soldered, and I had to hold them together so we could hear the sound. It was very difficult to stay perfectly still, but somehow I managed to do so.
My dad and I stood absolutely transfixed as we listened to this beautiful concerto; it felt as if a miracle had occurred.
We were great lovers of classical music, and my mum started taking me to philharmonic concerts from the time I was three. We always had front row seats, and the other concert goers would call me “la petite mélomane”. They were very amused to see such a young child sitting there, listening with rapt attention to the music.
My dad had a magnificent rich tenor voice, and would sing beautiful opera arias , especially when he was in the shower. His knowledge of Italian was excellent, and he changed the dramatic poetic lyrics as he went along. His translations were very naughty saucy ones, to the great amusement of my grandparents and his friends. I still remember his beautiful voice singing his personal unexpurgated and quite salacious version of several famous Italian arias..
My nonna would sing Austrian lullabies and folk songs to me when I was little. She would also sing popular operetta songs that were in vogue when she was young, like “Du bist verrückt mein kind du musst nach Berlin. Wo die Verrückten sind. Da gehörst du hin.” And my dad would join in. I recently discovered that one of the folk songs, “Ach du lieber Augustin…alles ist hin.” which was a very lively joyful sounding one had to do with a drunken Augustin falling in one of the deep black holed pits where the corpses of bubonic plague victims were flung during the Great Plague of 1679 that had devastated Britain and Europe.
My grandparents’ home was a most welcoming one, and friends would frequently drop by. My grandmother called them “bilbillèmes”. Am0ng the German speaking ones was Mrs. Sperer, who did not seem to have ever had a Mr. Sperer She used to teach German to the Royal family children at the Palace. Mrs Sperer decided to give me proper German lesson, and was very impressed that I understood the Der Die Das and grammar so quickly.
There were two very charming Hungarian sisters Beuji and Ilonka. They would say “Voy voy” instead of “oui oui” so my nonna called them the two Voyvoys. They were very jolly, had beautiful manners and were very fond of all of us, and we of them.
It was Rosh Hashana, and we were all sitting down at the dinner table when one of the Voyvoys told us that they had a brother who was very adventuresome. He sadly died in the”choongle”. “The choongle?” What on earth was the choongle? Ilonka explained that it was a place like a forest but with many more trees, and with big snakes and wild animals. Needless to say, it was impossible to keep a straight face; however as their brother had died in a jungle, it was a tragedy, and we all had to bottle and tightly cork our mirth.
There were other interesting German speaking frequent visitors including a rather beautiful and very elegant lady called Mrs. Pearson. My grandmother was extremely shocked when she discovered at a much later date that Mrs. Pearson was living “IN SIN” as she was not married to the very charming and handsome tall gentleman who was Mr.Pearson.
Mrs. Pearson gave me a book that her two daughters had liked when they were little. “Where the rainbow ends” I read the book over and over again. It became one of my favourites. I was delighted to find a very old copy at an antique bookshop in Sevenoaks (Kent), and immediately bought it.
And There was Victor Ninio whose only knowledge of German was the word “schwindler”. He had no idea what it meant, and called my nonna “Schwindler”. He was finally told its meaning, and apologized profusely.
There was another German Jewish couple the Popovs (??)who returned to their native Berlin several years after the war, because they needed their German pension to survive, and were only allowed to receive it if they resided in Germany. We were very shocked. How could they return to Berlin, especially as all their family had been murdered by the Nazis. They looked very forlorn when they came to say goodbye.
None of these people ever forgot us. These friends would come from every corner of Europe to visit my grandparents in London, and then my grandmother in Orpington.
There was “Inchallah Inshallah” and “Rabenou Halikki” two very gentle and devout Sephardi poverty stricken individuals who would come every Saturday to pray and eat at the table. There was Mr. Travis who would drop by with Blackie.
There was also a toffee-nosed very tall and skinny American white-haired spinster Miss St.Clair, who for years visited nearly every day, until she arrived during Yom Kippur and had to be told there was no food that day, as we were Jewish. “JEWISH??? YOU ARE JEWS??” She yelped in horror.
She lost her composure and hopped up and down in a hysterical fit; her thoughts in complete turmoil. She rushed to the door..then rushed back. She was beside herself. She had never met Jews before. We did not fit the image. It was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE. She repeated again and again that we did not look like Jews. I wonder what she thought Jews looked like?
My mother tried to calm her down and mentioned the famous concert pianist Gina Bachauer. Miss St.Clair had often told us that Gina and she were great friends. My mum told her the awful news: Gina Bachauer was Jewish. This was too much for Miss St.Clair and she put both her hands on her face in absolute horror. She ran out of the house as if the devil was after her, and we never saw her again.
World War II
The Second World War broke out. During the North African campaign, and the second battle of El Alamein between the Allied forces of the Eighth Army and the enemy Axis power, Hitler decided to send to North Africa one of his top Generals, Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox) to command the Panzer division of the Afrika Korps.
The enemy Axis powers of Italy and German seemed unstoppable and were about an hour or so away from Alexandria.
My dad told me that my mum had packed two suitcases in case we had to flee. He asked her “Flee where? We are Jews!! how far do you think we will be able to go lugging two heavy suitcases?”
My second cousin Dolly Heffez (née Anzarut) told me that her dad, wishing to protect his family at all cost, packed some belongings and they all caught a train that went from Egypt directly to Palestine. The trains were packed with terrified fleeing Jewish families.
They arrived in Palestine and stayed with one of his and my grandfather's brothers Gt.Uncle Charles, and eventually left for Beirut and stayed with his sister my Gt. Aunt Victoria Farhi (née Anzarut), her husband my Gt. Uncle Elie and their delightful children.