4. Robinson and the War: London 1940-1946
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CHAPTER FOUR Robinson and the War: London 1940-1946 I was glad that, if any of our cities were to be attacked, the brunt should fall on London. London was like some huge prehistoric animal, capable of enduring terrible injuries, mangled and bleeding from many wounds, and yet preserving its life and movement. —Winston S. Churchill' IN JUNE OF 1940, as France fell prey to the Germans and their Vichy collaborators, England braced herself for an invasion from across the channel. Britain, as Churchill said, was now alone. After the desperate yet heroic evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, the military at home was in disarray, "almost unarmed except for rifles."2 OnJuIy 19, bold from his victories in Western Europe, Hitler delivered a triumphant speech in the Reichstag. He was looking forward to the speedy collapse of Britain and the capitulation of the British. Throughout July, however, a steady stream of American armaments poured into England. Thousands of loyal citizens spent sleepless nights unloading the precious military supplies, making certain they were widely distributed and ready for use. By the end of the month, Churchill was confident, despite the heavy losses of materiel and weapons at Dunkirk, that Britain was again an armed nation. INTERNED AND RELEASED Meanwhile, Robinson and Fleischer had witnessed firsthand the shocking defeat of France. Luckily they had made good their escape, and were now safely in England. Having disembarked in Falmouth, their first night was spent sleeping on the floor of a local school. The next morning, a Sunday, was bright and clear, which seemed an auspicious sign. Suddenly they were in a different world, far indeed (at least in spirit) from the beleaguered chaos and despair of now-occupied France. To Fleischer: The sight of orderly life, people going to Church, flower pots in nicely curtained windows, the courtesy of bypassers—all that was in such stark 1 Churchill 1959, p. 377. 2 Churchill 1959, p. 334. 92 - Chapter Four contrast to the total disintegration of French society, the panic and exasperation of its people. From sworn Francophiles we turned ardent Anglophiles.3 As subjects of the British Crown with passports from Palestine, Robinson and Fleischer were entitled to board a special train to London reserved for British subjects. That Sunday morning, while waiting for their train at the station in Falmouth, Fleischer happened to overhear a conversation between two fellow refugees that sparked his anger. Two Polish politicians were making a bet. Both were well known: one a prominent Zionist leader, the other a Polish Socialist. The Zionist was prepared to wager that within a week the British Empire would fall to Hitler, and this so enraged Fleischer that he could barely contain himself .Just as he and Robinson were about to board the train, he faced the "prophet of doom." All he did was quote a famous Hebrew saying: "The eternity of Israel will not fail," whereupon the Polish pessimist burst into tears. The indignation in Fleischer's voice must have been plain, and his words had their effect. Upon their arrival in London, Robinson and Fleischer, like thousands of other refugees, were initially interned at the Anerley School for the Deaf and Dumb. There they were kept for preliminary surveillance, to be examined, sorted out, and eventually released (or so they hoped). The school itself was completely isolated, its gates always locked, with sentries posted night and day. Worse than the discomfort and isolation, however, was the boredom. There was no way of knowing how long it might be before they would be allowed to leave. After talking it over, Robinson and Fleischer decided to contact the only person they knew in London, their former classmate from the Hebrew University, Chimen Abramsky. Finding him, however, was not a simple matter, since neither Robinson nor Fleischer knew his address. All they knew was that Abramsky's father was an eminent rabbi, and a member of London's Rabbinical Court, so the message they sent was mailed in his care, bearing only the designation "Whitechapel," the middle-class Jewish quarter in London's East End. All they could do now was bide their time. Meanwhile, Chimen Abramsky had just been married—on Thursday, June 20, 1940. When the card arrived from his former schoolmates, Jacob Fleischer and Abby Robinson, he was completely taken by surprise . The card was brief but explicit, saying only that they had managed to escape on the last boat from Bordeaux, and that they were now 3 Recollections ofJacob...


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