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The Jufra Club in the Second World War

by Harold Pollins

Originally published in Oxford Menorah issue no. 174, 2004, page 10

In the year before the Second World War Britain admitted hundreds of refugees from Nazism. Some came to Oxford. A local Refugee Committee was formed, including local non-Jewish luminaries of the city and university, such as the Mayor and the University Vice-Chancellor.  As early as May 1939, in a note about Oxford,  the Jewish Chronicle reported ‘the increasing numbers attending the synagogue on Friday evenings, many of them refugees from Germany and Austria’ and a month later the newspaper stated: There are now something like 300 German Jews in Oxford, whose Jewish population has thus increased tenfold within the past year. ‘ There were 30 boys installed in a hostel in Linton Road as well as a group occupied in agriculture on Oxfordshire and Berkshire farms. The latter used to come to Oxford for meetings of Habonim until the war began and travel restrictions prevented their attendance. In February 1940 the Refugee Committee reported that there were 700 refugees in Oxford and 300 in the surrounding areas.

It is well known that female refugees were admitted to Britain in most cases only if they had a domestic worker’s permit. They were obliged to take up housework. One of them, then Mrs E. Lesheim, published her reminiscences in Menorah in July 1974 which were reprinted in Freda Silver Jackson’s Then and Now (1992). ‘We did not know a soul here [but]…The first family who opened their home to us and cared about refugees at all, I mean a Jewish family, was Walter Ettinghausen, or rather his wife Vera.’ Walter was a Fellow of The Queen’s College and Senior Treasurer of the Jewish congregation. In the 1930s, according to Isaiah Berlin in a chapter in Freda Silver Jackson’s book, Walter Ettinghausen had become ‘the  unofficial, unpaid head and quasi-rabbi of the Jewish community in Oxford.’ Through Vera’s endeavours a club for German-Jewish (and no doubt Austrian-Jewish) women and girls was established soon after the earliest arrivals. It was called the Jufra club of which she was the first chairman and they met at 149c Banbury Road. It was most interesting that the Ettinghausens were active with the refugees as very few of the latter joined the Oxford congregation.

The Jewish Chronicle printed reports of some of the club’s activities, their meetings held on alternate Wednesdays, from 5 to 7. This chimes with Mrs Lesheim’s reminiscences: ‘Every two weeks on our days off, we gathered for some kind of entertainment. Vera Ettinghausen herself very often played to us on the violin or her mother, Mrs. Schiff, on the piano. These evenings were for some time the most remarkable point in our lives. About 12 or 15 people, only women, gathered there for a couple of hours.’  In fact the club did a bit more. They also had lectures and discussions. As early as July 1939 the club, which had a reported membership of over 50,  held a meeting at which Mrs F.H. Heinemann spoke on The German Housewife in England followed by a discussion.  Later in July, Miss Ilse Koch gave an exhibition of classical and modern dances, and in the following month, August 1939, Mrs Pompan spoke on ‘Stories of Jewish adventure (the Chevalier of Geldern)’. In the first week of the war the club decided to have a series of talks and discussions on English history, literature and art. In November there was a recital of gramophone records followed, a few weeks later,  by ‘a discussion on the status and working conditions of domestic servants.’  This was obviously of interest to domestic workers as must have been a talk in March 1940 by Miss Fanny Nadler on The Escape from Domestic Service.

In the same month a dance was held at 149c Banbury Road at which £10 was raised for ‘Jufra House’, described as the permanent home of the club. More than 200 people it was said attended the dance. Yet the Jewish Chronicle did not report any other activities of the club until twelve months later, in April 1941. ‘The Jufra Club has served for two years as rallying point for German-Jewish women and girls and has now been reorganised on a broader basis. Mrs Ettinghausen who has been chairman since it began has relinquished it in order to give the Club greater independence. Meetings will continue to be held at 149c Banbury Road. The Club proposes to organise periodic entertainments, a dramatic section and other activities. Miss Ilse Cohen is new chairman, vice-chairman is Mrs I. Herzog, Treasurer is Miss G. Simon and Librarian Miss L. Vorchheimer.’

Mrs Lesheim in the letter mentioned earlier said that during the war the refugee women moved out of domestic work into other occupations. Maybe as they became acclimatised there was no need for a separate organisation for them and this may account for the absence of references to it after the April 1941 reorganisation. Or perhaps there was no-one available or all were too busy to send reports to the Jewish Chronicle.


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