Friday, 28 October 2011

Schoolroom Drama

Part Five

There was an acknowledgement amongst the Jewish community that, while knowing we were superior to any non-Jewish groups, we did as little as possibly to exacerbate people’s hostility. This unspoken assumption of our superiority must of course have stirred up anti-Semitic feelings, but there was no question of our demanding equal consideration – one quietly knew we were better, but must not invite anyone’s attention our Jewishness.

The fact that our family did not adhere at all strictly to the mores of the religion did not lessen this feeling. Perhaps this is not so surprising and could well be common to most religions: most people regarding themselves as Christians probably practice little orthodox Christianity but still feel part of their group, but do not feel themselves to be God’s chosen people. Not that I ever heard such a thing expressed in this way – there was no need to put words to it – we knew we were superior without that!

As a child, I felt a certain difference, but as my mother encouraged friendships as far as possible exclusively with Jewish children, it did not make things difficult, except that I was not encouraged to make too much of a bosom friend of the lodger’s daughter, Joan Bull.

My last few months at Godwin Road School (I was nearly eleven years old) were rather nightmare ones. Jewish children were very much in  the minority but only occasionally encountered hostility. One teacher, Miss Read, sister of the Headmistress, was particularly anti-Semitic – in later years I recognised her as a Fascist in the making. She was good at making the few Jewish children scapegoats and one day I was jigging about in my class seat (I often could not hear the lesson, being partially deaf, but nobody, least of all myself, knew this) she called me out in front of the class and said, “If you want to bump up and down, I’ll bump you,” and proceeded to shake me vigorously by the shoulders. I said nothing of this at home, but when I undressed ready for bed my mother saw bruises on my arm and the story came out. The next day my mother accompanied me to school and proceeded (much to the delight of the children) to pummel Miss Read across the room, loudly proclaiming she would not have her child mistreated just because she was Jewish. Miss Read called wildly for her sister and pandemonium ensued. At the end of that term I was given a note saying I was not to return and would be transferred elsewhere.

My mother was not accepting that and fought it, with the help of a local Councillor, a Miss Wordley. The school had to take me back but I was ostracised and given little tuition: no pencils, pens, paper, needles, etc. I said nothing at home, wanting no more schoolroom fights, but at the end of that term my mother withdrew me, at her request and not giving the school the satisfaction of expelling me. Miss Wordley was a teacher at Upton Lane School and I became a pupil there. Unfortunately all this was at the time when I should have been taking the 11 plus exam to try to get into the West Ham Secondary School, which I just might have passed, but the chance was lost.

However, West Ham has a “second-chance” scheme at twelve years old for what were called Central Schools: this I took and passed, and left Upton Lane after a year or so for “The Grove” in nearby Stratford. Education at the Central Schools tended to be geared to clerical / technical teaching, and was for three years only and led to no leaving qualifications such as matriculation, so everyone left at fiteen which I duly did, and got my first job as an office junior with Lacrinoid Products Ltd., Rainford Road, Forest Gate. Kay stayed at Godwin Road School until she left at fourteen as did most children, except the tiny minority who passed the 11 plus.

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