• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Nazi Germany refugee writes book about growing up in Oxford

Byoxfordnewspaper

Sep 6, 2022

A REFUGEE who fled Nazi Germany as a child has written a book about her experiences – in spite of a near-death experience while finishing it.

Irene Gill, 89, escaped Berlin for Copenhagen, in 1936, with both her parents half Jewish.

Ms Gill, who now lives in Headington, was three years old when she left Germany with her family.

Following three years in Denmark, she arrived in Oxford as a six-year-old, and has lived in the city for the majority of her life.

Inspired partly by those currently fleeing Ukraine, Ms Gill has put pen to paper, summarising her experiences as a refugee.

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She told the Oxford Mail: “I’m very concerned there’s so many refugees, and I was a refugee a long time ago.

“It’s not just war-torn countries people are coming from, there’s also countries where people are hungry too.

“There’s still an undercurrent of contempt but mainly people are more welcoming than not.

“I’m very conscious of being foreign, and my book describes my efforts when I was a German refugee.”

The family was provided a home in Thorncliffe Road, North Oxford, after arriving from Denmark.

Oxford Mail: Irene Gill has written a book about fleeing Nazi Germany, and life as a refugee in Oxford. Picture: Ed NixIrene Gill has written a book about fleeing Nazi Germany, and life as a refugee in Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

“My father had come to England before, he was teaching here and a house in North Oxford was made available,” Ms Gill said.

“I was six when we came, so I had to go to school, where I picked up the language very quickly.

“The most important thing for refugees is to pick up the language.

“All the roads nearby had refugees living in them, it was a real refugee community and in amongst them was the original English inhabitants.”

Ms Gill has written the book with the help of her son, Tom, with the whole process taking approximately a year and a half.

“We remembered things I’d forgotten. It’s been very enjoyable to bring it all back to life,” she said.

“I want people to learn about international tolerance and things I feel very strongly about such as anti-racism.”

Oxford Mail: Irene Gill has written a book about fleeing Nazi Germany, and life as a refugee in Oxford. Picture: Ed NixIrene Gill has written a book about fleeing Nazi Germany, and life as a refugee in Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

Mr Gill, a professor at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan, revealed getting the book published almost never happened due to his mother suffering a life-threatening experience.

He said: “I’m so happy that my mother has been able to put this important story out there.

“She suffered a ruptured aorta in February, it was a medical emergency which is very often fatal.

“While she was in hospital, I was desperately editing the proof of the book.

“I was able to get to the hospital, to put the book in her hands – something I didn’t think I’d be able to do.”

‘How to be a refugee: Life lessons learned by one who escaped the Holocaust’ retails for £15. For more information, please email Mr Gill at tpgill60@gmail.com

Read more from this author

This story was written by Liam Rice, he joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Liam covers politics, travel and transport. He occasionally covers Oxford United.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Liam.rice@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailLiamRice