Obituary: Greta Clark: Remarkable life story charting history

It was fun, Greta and her brother Hans growing up as prosperous assimilated Jews in Vienna, between the wars.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 26th March 2016, 7:00 am
Greta Clark  Viennese Swimming Champion, German Language Teacher, witness.
Greta Clark  Viennese Swimming Champion, German Language Teacher, witness.

Life was vibrant and cultured, they loved sports, their dad Sigmund always made money out of the shoe business even though the depression was on.

But then the Anschluss.

Hearing Hitler’s speeches from the loudspeakers should have told everyone what was going to happen.

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Nazi boys hauled Greta out of her apartment to clean the pavement. Another day she was walking in the street with a boyfriend who got yanked into a lorry by more Nazi boys never to be seen again.

And all the other cousins started disappearing. Her beloved grandparents got hauled off to be obliterated.

The evening they came to the flat to take the keys of dad’s factory, leaving the family with no income.

And her mother Olga, the European Bridge Champion paid to queue for other people to get exit visas. She didn’t make it out either, but saved up enough to get Greta and Hans away. Her father sent her those heart-rending pleas for cash to get him out of Sarajevo, before the Germans caught him. Which they did.

Three months in The ‘Draga’, that cramped exodus ship creeping along the coast at night dodging the Royal Navy. The training in the Zionist Youth came in useful in the ship’s hold fighting for space, she was young and strong. And because she was an optimist she knew it would work out.

Meeting George in Palestine in 1943, the smart, charming Merchant Naval officer who promised her a better life away from the refugee chaos.

And then the expat life in India travelling as an honorary Raj member where she saw Gandhi on one of his marches and learned the yoga she’d do every morning for the rest of her life.

Then to Cyprus where they all lived like birds in a tree in that Mediterranean paradise and all the five children had come, and all those friends and parties they had in the villa on Famagusta beach. It all worked apart from the end when they had to visit the wives of friends that got killed by Eoka. Lucky they didn’t get George.

But then it got hard again.

Greta dreaded the return to England where she knew they hated the Jews as much as anyone.

Living in Scarborough all those years from 1960 trying to get use to the Yorkshire people with their aggressive humour, trying to make friends with anyone who would speak to her despite her strange German accent.

She joined the International club, organised French afternoons so she could practice one of her four languages, became a language teacher at the Tech, trying to organise parties.

Trying to make friends with the people over the road at Royal Avenue who ignored her and George when they found out she was a Jew. Telling the kids not to tell anyone about her being Jewish.

Then all the kids and the husband left her on her own in the big decaying twelve-room Victorian house that she tried to keep up, renting out rooms, kept visiting the kids over in Australia and new Zealand every two years, took up painting, kept trying to make new friends over there, reading and writing always with that Viennese charm masking the iron will.

Then her health problems – the acute deafness, the pain in her limbs, things breaking down. But never complaining.

Of course it really didn’t matter. All that mattered was the kids and grandkids, the optimism was undiminished, new interests in art and literature to think about, any party she was invited to, although there weren’t many now. The sharp mind with all the culture of a lost empire humming through it and the iron will to push everything through even though she was on her own. And of course she was an optimist.

And then the final few years, helpless in the home.

Of course there are questions; What went through her mind as she lay there for those sad, inert years, fighting the pain, losing touch?

Maybe all the memories of her life-Sigmund and Olga and her nurse in Vienna before the terror hit. The good looking Hagana boy who had carried her onto Nahariya beach into Eretz Yisrael from the Draga.

Maybe the sound of the ack-ack guns in Haifa that widened the cracks in the flat that George and her looked up at? Or the time she heard the doodlebug cut out over London and she wondered where it would land? Maybe what Gandhi had looked like as he strode along?

Or maybe the time that all those French boys with pom-poms on their hats came to the beach in Famagusta, soon to go on the Landing craft to invade Suez?

Probably not many thoughts about Scarborough, because that was more about survival and coping with the bad memories that kept coming back.

Why did she wait so long to go, she knew what it was like after she worked in the Old People’s home down the road twenty years ago?

Maybe she hung on for so long because she remembered those Nazi boys. All outlived.