• serving as a British soldier

    'For the first time I stood to attention when “God Save the King” was played.'

    It was November 1940 and Herbert Sulzbach had just found another way to fight Nazism – as a British soldier. On this occasion, he was at a church parade of his company. Most of his fellow soldiers attended the synagogue but Sulzbach – a non-religious Jew whose Service and Pay Book described him as 'Protestant' – went to the Anglican Cathedral with a few others.

    'Our Pioneer Company was a mixed confusion of Germans, Austrians, Poles and Czechs – all refugees from the Third Reich. There were men from all age groups from eighteen to fifty, and all professions – uneducated people and intellectuals, former civil servants and lawyers, young enthusiastic freedom fighters and older disillusioned men.'

    Most of them were Jews, and many – like Sulzbach – had been recently released from internment. Aged 46, he was one of the older men.

    'The drill is not easy for us older men. I am feeling my bones, but no doubt it is healthy.'

    At first, he found the constant company and the lack of any private life difficult. All 350 men had to get ready in forty-five minutes before breakfast,

    ' and there are always fifty of us in one little room to wash and shave – but this is a soldier's life.'

    His duties brought back many memories.

    'Yesterday my section had guard. It was a marvellous night; the moon rose behind a church, which was silhouetted against the sky. Then you saw far away on the horizon the flashes of guns and searchlights – a hundred or more miles away – and my thoughts again went back a quarter of a century. It seemed to me that no time had passed since then. I am back in uniform and the picture is the same – only I am on the other side!'

    And he was realistic about the dangers of his situation:

    'Please never write abroad, not even to a neutral country, that I have joined this country's army as all letters can reach a Nazi spy.'

    (photo: Herbert Sulzbach as a British soldier in 1943)

    (©text: Ainslie Hepburn, from Sulzbach papers ©photo: Yvonne Klemperer)


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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