Jenny was born in St Albans shortly after the Second World War. A SAMS member since 1994, Jenny recalls the community using rented space for religious services before acquiring its own building. Here she relates stories about her family’s history, a recently discovered cousin and her tenuous connection to Jack the Ripper:
When my husband Rick and I joined SAMS there was a hard core of about fifteen or twenty families. It’s a very sociable, warm, lovely community, and the egalitarianism is great. In the early days, the Ark and prayer books had to be moved from room to room at the Quaker Meeting House. Once we had services in a bleak, disused building at the old St Albans City Hospital.
My parents were childhood sweethearts in Kilburn, north London. They fell in love with St Albans when they drove out here in my father’s car. In 1932 they opened a ladies’ clothing shop in the building that’s now the Peahen and became founders of the small Jewish community. My father was on the board of management for many years. During the war he was in the Auxiliary Fire Service. He’d drive into the Blitz in the East End and the City. It was dangerous work. He was only five foot two and when my mother was in the shop she’d often see the fire engine hurtling down Holywell Hill but couldn’t see him – only his flat peaked helmet above the steering wheel! My mother chaired the synagogue’s Ladies’ Guild and organised its members to visit soldiers at Hill End Hospital. The Guild evolved into a group of around sixty members, which I’ve chaired since 1976. We fundraise on a small scale to benefit a range of charities.
I was born in a St Peter’s Street nursing home. My maternal grandmother gave me a teddy bear, Marty, who has survived mostly intact. Rationing was in force until 1952 and I can clearly remember taking my ration book to the Maypole Dairy, near the clock tower, to get sweets. I could just about reach the counter! I helped in my parents’ shop and often went with my father to the West End wholesalers. Being born into the ladies’ fashion business meant that my mother and I were well stocked with clothes from the showrooms. Sometimes my father even brought dresses back for my friends.
I was almost the only Jewish child at Holywell House School, near where Café Rouge is now. At Hatfield Girls’ Grammar I was the only Jewish child. People ask how I coped, but I had no problems. I’d sit outside the hall during prayers, rejoining the other girls for notices. Nobody commented. In those days the Oswald Road synagogue had a thriving Sunday school, with plenty of people my age. Rick and I started going out together when we both travelled to work in London by train. We got married in 1966 when I was nineteen-and-a-half. We moved to north London for a while but hated it and soon came back to St Albans.
My mother’s parents came to England from Warsaw, Poland, around 1864. Their business was selling tailors’ trimmings in a shop on the corner of the West End’s Berwick and Broadwick Streets. My grandmother, who spoke no English, went around with a tray of trimmings, encouraging people to come to the shop, above which the family lived. It’s a Japanese restaurant now. My grandfather taught himself English. He had a twinkle in his eye – there was a family rumour that he was having an affair with the rabbi’s wife.
My father’s parents came from Klodawa, Poland, in the 1880s, with my grandmother’s whole family settling at 124 Cannon Street Road in the East End. My grandfather was a tailor’s cutter who died of tuberculosis in 1916. My aunt’s son, Lionel, was shot down over Holland in the Second World War. A few years ago we discovered Lionel had married a non-Jewish woman and had a son, Barry, whom we traced and who had no inkling about his Jewish family. Lionel had changed his name to avoid being identified as Jewish in the air force, and his gravestone displayed a cross. Barry had it altered and now there’s a Magen David on the gravestone.
One of my grandmother’s relatives was married to Aaron Kozminsky, suspected of being Jack the Ripper. There wasn’t enough evidence against him so he was never charged. He ended up at the lunatic asylum in Leavesden.
Interview and story by Caroline Pearce
Interview date 27 July 2015