Trude Silman | A child refugee

Trude grew up in Bratislava, then capital of Czecholsovakia. Aged 9, she escaped the country by train with her aunt and cousin and arrived in England, where she grew up in a series of foster homes and boarding schools. Later a scientist and teacher with a family of her own, Trude is still researching what happened to her relatives and has never found out what happened to some of those who stayed behind.

Trude was born Gertrude Feldmann, the youngest of three children in a happy middle-class family in Bratislava.  Trude's birth in 1929 coincided with the Wall Street Crash, which led to the collapse of her father's bank and dented the family income. Nevertheless Trude has happy memories of her early life, with walks in the hills in summer, skating and tobogganing in the winter, ballet lessons, and three different languages spoken at home.  Treats and holidays were provided by her extended family of uncles and aunts, who proved instrumental in helping Trude and her siblings survive the Holocaust. While Trude attended a Jewish school, her family was not particularly observant and she doesn't recall experiencing anti-Semitism as a child.

Trude's father Adolf Feldmann      Trude's mother Elsa Feldmann

Trude has limited memories of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, though she vividly remembers hearing him "shouting his speeches" down the radio, and hearing reports of her father's sisters in Austria being ill treated and brutalised by the Nazis. In March of 1938, when things became particularly tense due to the Anschluss of Austria, Trude's father sent the family to stay with his mother in the relative safety of the countryside. The same happened again in October of that year when British prime minister Chamberlain went to see Hitler to discuss the cessation of the Sudetenland to Germany. For the Feldmann family the writing was clearly on the wall, and Trude soon realised that her parents were doing their utmost to get their three children out of Czechoslovakia to safety.

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    Trude at 8 months          Trude in Bratislava 1930           Paul and Trude in Yugoslavia 1934            

Trude's sister was the first to leave on 31 December 1938. She was taken in by an English family near Kew Gardens in London, and lived happily with them until her marriage. Their older brother Paul found a job at a furrier's in London and travelled there in May 1939. Trude recalls the sense of escalating danger. She remembers being sent home from school in March 1939, when the Germans invaded Slovakia, and looking out of the classroom window to see tanks in the street.

Trude has a limited memory of the trauma of leaving home. Her aunt had managed to get permission to work in England as a domestic servant, and took her own daughter and Trude with her. They left one morning, bundled in a taxi, and suffered a 4-day journey by train, stopped numerous times by officials. Eventually they took a boat from Flushing to Harwich, followed by another train, and finally arrived at Liverpool Street station at midnight.

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Trude's first months in England were terribly homesick. The unfamiliar food and cold, draughty houses were completely alien to a nine-year-old child who spoke no English and had just seen her family broken apart. She pays tribute to the kindness and generosity of foster families who she stayed with and who did their best to help a traumatised little girl. Trude returned to London to stay with an uncle and aunt who were waiting for passage to America, but was then evacuated to Rickmandsworth and subsequently Cornwall where she spent the duration of the war. She remained close to her brother and sister through letters and occasional visits. The three of them shared the rare Red Cross letters that their parents were able to send, and which could take 6 or 7 months to reach them.

      Trude in 1939         Trude, Paul and Charlotte in 1943

Trude loved learning and had a passion for science. She moved to Leeds to study at Leeds University where she met her husband, Norman and built a happy family life with their two children. Her brother and sister also married and settled in England. Trude did not give up on the search to find out what happened to her parents. She discovered that her father died in Auschwitz. However, 72 years since she left Bratislava as a child, Trude is still searching for information on what happened to her mother.

Trude still lives in Leeds, where she is an active member of numerous voluntary organisations including HSFA. She is a regular speaker, especially in schools, where she talks about her experiences as a child moving to England and spreads a message of tolerance and hope.

Trude in 2010, copyright Paul Banks

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Videos

    • Chapter 1: Trude describes her early life with her family in Czechoslovakia (5 mins 13)

    • Trude Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2: Trude describes the frightening changes after the Nazis' rise to power (6 mins 03)

    • 2 trude chapter 2
    • Chapter 3: Trude describes leaving Bratislava on a 4-day journey to London (4 mins 14)

    • Trude chapter 3
    • Chapter 4: Trude tries to settle in England as a 9-year-old refugee (4 mins 43)

    • 2 trude chapter 4
    • Chapter 5: Trude is evacuated to North Cornwall and waits anxiously for news of her parents (5 mins 11)

    • Trude chapter 5
    • Chapter 6: Trude describes her search for information about her parents (4 mins 11)

    • Trude chapter 6
    • Chapter 7: Trude reflects on the Holocaust and its impact on her life (4 mins 35)

    • Trude chapter 7