Marcel Anisfeld

Marcel Anisfeld

Born
17 September 1934
Nowy Sącz, Poland
Died
10 November 2023
London, United Kingdom
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Words by
Lance Anisfeld Son

If you were in possession of a piece of stationery from H.Forman & Son, when Dad ran the business, you would see his chosen motto emblazoned across the top. It was “Quality & Service”. And the more I think about those two words, the more I realise that they not only represented the way he ran the family enterprise, always ensuring both a first-class product and a level of service which meant never saying no, but those two words also represented everything that Dad was. He was quality, through and through, in every aspect of his life, and he lived to serve; being the most dedicated son, son in-law, father, grandfather and husband one could ever hope to meet.

Quality & Service

My sister Candi will speak after me telling you more about Dad, the family man, but I would like to tell you his story about his upbringing which you will see was instrumental in making Dad, the great businessman he turned out to be.

As I am sure all of you know, Dad was a Holocaust survivor and in recent years had been increasingly involved in Holocaust education. He was extremely proud to have been interviewed by Natasha Kaplinsky and at another event for survivors, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, on Charles’ birthday, no less, Dad gathered the old folks and led them in a chorus of happy birthday.

Here is Dad’s story, written by him just a few years ago…

I was born on 17 September,1934 in a small town in Poland called Nowy Sącz in the area of Galicia near Krakow. My parents, Regina and Ozjasz also had a daughter Jacqueline.

My parents were well off and lived in the centre of the town in a luxury flat. My father was a director of a local bank and also had a food business, which he ran from the age of thirteen with his brother Motek, aged fourteen. Their parents both died very young. Life was good for us and although there was quite a lot of antisemitism from the Polish people, we did not suffer from this as my father was kind and generous to the locals.

In September 1939 the Germans marched into Poland and were approaching our town so my parents decided to move east and travelled to Przemysl. The Germans arrived soon after us. We were not badly treated by them and I even remember a German officer offering some sweets to my mother for my sister and me. When the officer left my mother would not give us the sweets as she said they may be poisoned. There were bad stories going around that the Germans were taking all adult men and sending them to labour camps.

We moved again, further east, to Lvov which was under Russian occupation. We found things difficult during this period. Food was scarce and we had to queue for everything including bread. Some of our family including my maternal grandmother, who remained in their home town, wrote to us and told us that there were no shortages under the Germans and life went on normally. My father, as did many other people, put our names on a list to obtain a permit to travel back home to Nowy Sącz. This list was getting longer and longer, but no one was allowed to leave.

extraordinarily challenging start to life

Some weeks later, in the middle of the night, we heard banging on the door of our flat. My father opened the door and there standing in front of him were two Russian soldiers with fixed bayonets. They screamed out orders, “You have ten minutes to get down to the street”. Other people on the same landing as us asked politely, “Where are we going?”, and the answer was, “You put your name on a list to go back to the Germans and now you are all going”.

By the time we got down to the freezing cold and dark street there were hundreds of people already there. We were marched to the railway station with very few belongings as we could not pack much in the ten minutes they gave us and we were afraid of being shot. At the station we were pushed into cattle trucks without any windows or seats. Again people kept asking where we were being taken, but this time there was no answer, just screaming soldiers pushing and shoving the people into the carriages. The train with about twenty carriages soon left for an unknown destination. It stopped once a day and the doors were opened with a bucket of soup being placed inside for everyone to feed.

Days went by and we realised that we were not travelling back to Poland but eastwards where the temperatures were lower and the snow was deeper. Eventually after about six weeks we were told that we had arrived at our destination, a village in Siberia called Asino, in the district of Omsk. “Why had we been brought here?”, we asked, and the answer was that we were considered to be German spies. We had supposedly learned all the Russian secrets while we were living in Lvov and wanted to pass these secrets and information onto the Germans. How ridiculous! Families with young children and babies and elderly parents all spying? At that time we hated the Russian regime, but we did not realise that, in fact, the Russians saved our lives by taking us away from the Germans and imprisoning us in the wilds of Siberia.

On arrival, we were marched from the station to the centre of the village where we were told to make ourselves as comfortable as possible in a large wooden communal hall. Hundreds of us all lay down on the hard floor without seats or bedding. Within a few days of arriving we were told to cut down trees in order to build houses for ourselves. The snow was very often higher than the doors to the building and tunnels had to be dug for the men to leave for woodcutting. A few weeks later a number of wooden houses were finished; no heating, no lighting and no indoor toilets, just one room, divided by a hanging blanket for two families.

Many months later we heard that Hitler had declared war on the Russians and we were no longer considered enemies of the state. We were allowed to travel and settle in any part of Russia but we could not leave the country. Most of us decided to travel to Uzbekhistan and we settled in Bukhara. There was a large Jewish Uzbekh population and one of these families gave us a room on the top of their large house. We had to climb about a hundred stairs from a large square courtyard onto a terrace with a room at the side. The Uzbekh family made us feel quite welcome although they did not want us as permanent guests. Who knew how long we would stay there and who knew how long the war would last? No one.

My father, having been a businessman since early childhood with his brother found a source of food. His activities of buying and selling made him a ‘spekuliant’ (a speculator), which was one of the most serious crimes in communist Russia. Had he been caught he would have been thrown into jail for ten to fifteen years. So I, at the ripe old age of eight or nine, used to help my father carry some of the products to the buyers as it was safer than my father carrying things.

I tried one or two money making activities

My mother, whose father in Brzesko, in Poland, was one of the largest egg wholesalers and exporters, got a job in an egg-sorting government factory. Between my parents they could not earn enough to support us all, so, I tried one or two money making activities, as there was no school for us to attend. I woke up extremely early to buy one or two newspapers, which were in short supply, and then went back home and sat outside our house cut up the papers into small pieces and sold them to people for rolling cigarettes I also walked with a heavy metal bucket to the nearest well, fill it with as much water as I could carry and start making my way back home, often spilling half the water en-route, and with what was remaining, I stood outside with a metal mug and sold mugfuls of water to passers by.

For fun, we used to ask our local milk salesman if we could ride his mule, which he usually tied to the big wooden gate of our building. We used to play with the local children, but not too often, as they used to insult us about being Jewish. They used to punch us until my parents came along to rescue us.

In the summer of 1943 there was an epidemic of typhus across Uzbekhistan, due to lack of sanitation. There were no proper toilets, just holes in the ground, and no baths in most of the houses. People who could afford it would go to the local public baths but it was very expensive. There was also malnutrition and lack of medication. I was the only one in our family of four who did not contract this horrible disease, but both my parents and sister were laid up with it and only survived due to me selling or bartering any valuables that we had for medical help. I was the nurse and the breadwinner at the age of only nine. Thousands of people did not survive this epidemic, including my grandfather.

At this time we received a letter to report to an office to be transported to Iran to join the families of the Polish army of General Anders. From Iran we were to be taken to Palestine, where we could spend the rest of the war, but unfortunately, neither my parents nor sister were in a state to leave their beds and that opportunity passed. We started receiving some parcels from a refugee organisation which contained some second hand clothing, tins of tuna and Carnation milk. It was not much but better than nothing. We were excited each time a package arrived for us. It was nice to know that we were remembered, by whom I am not sure.

everyone was dead

During the war we occasionally received postcards from one or two members of the family from our home town. The news was always bad. My mother’s brother, who would not leave home, mainly because of his mother and the family egg business, was questioned by the Germans as to where the family fortune was. When he would not tell them, he, his wife and children, and his mother (my grandmother) were taken out into the town square and he was shot in the back of his head in front of his whole family and many of the town’s people. This was confirmed to me when I was in Poland in 1987, by a man who witnessed this murder. We did not hear any more about the rest of the family and I believe they were sent to Auschwitz, where they ended their lives. My father’s remaining brother, Dr Josef Anisfeld, and sister, Dr.Helena Sternlicht, also did not survive. She fought until her death in the Warsaw Ghetto.

We saw foreign delegations come to Bukhara, very elegantly dressed, which made us jealous, because we hardly ever had a change of clothes, and my sister and I during the five years in Bukhara, walked barefoot. There was no schooling for the immigrant children, so my parents tried to do what they could with our education.

Eventually in 1945 the war ended and we enquired from the authorities about any surviving relatives. All we had was a telegram, in English, which we could not understand at that time, that everyone was dead. It was another year, in 1946, that we were allowed to leave Russia, back to Poland, although not to our home town, but to a town called Wroclaw from where German families were escaping into east Germany away from the Russian and Polish armies.

In our home town of Nowy Sącz, there was nothing left for us. Our beautiful apartment, which was taken over by the Germans during the war, as the Gestapo headquarters was now being used as the local police station. My father’s business premises had been taken over by some local people. The Jewish population which, before the war, was about forty to fifty percent of the total of thirty thousand people, were all wiped out apart from the people like ourselves who escaped eastwards. We were taken by the Russians as prisoners, but this saved our lives.

brought to England on the Kindertransport by Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld

My sister and I were brought to England on the Kindertransport by Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, in November 1946. My parents could not get a permit to enter England until 1948, when we all reunited to start a new life.. Unfortunately my parents, Ozjasz and Regina Anisfeld died in 1959 and 1961 respectively aged fifty six and fifty one.

Dad had an extremely tough start in life and it taught him so many things. The meaning of hard work. He never stopped from four o’clock every morning. He was the best negotiator in the world, always getting a superb deal whether buying wild salmon in Billingsgate Market, or simply haggling his way round pretty much every purchase, even those which most people thought were non-negotiable. He was quite secretive in business, never wanting our delivery vans to be liveried in case competitors could see who our customers were; and he hated waste, so he would instruct our drivers to head to the back door of supermarkets every night to collect used cardboard boxes from fruit and so on to deliver his fish rather than have our own printed packaging, making him way ahead of his time on recycling and sustainability. He loved food and was greatly respected amongst the top chefs in London and around the world. He was an associate founder of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

When I was at University, Mum and Dad came up for my first appearance at the Cambridge Union. It was a funny debate. I opened my speech in the lively debating chamber saying, “I know my parents are looking down on me today with great pride.” The room turned from lively to sombre, at which point I explained that they were both completely fine, merely sitting upstairs in the gallery, looking down. Today Dad makes his way up to the heavenly gallery where I know he will be looking down on us with immense pride at the legacy he has built from his extraordinarily challenging start to life, with four children, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Every morning when I wake up, I know I am supposed to say Modeh Ani to thank God for another day, but if I am being honest, I do not. The first thing I do, is actually the daily Wordle. I am a creature of habit and so each day I use the same first word. Every single morning as I key in  “Adieu” I will be thinking of you Dad. You were the embodiment of Quality & Service. Adieu.

02
Words by
Candice Dwek Daughter

Lulei Nishmat Avi Moshe ben Yehoshua Halevi.

Rabbonim, family and friends.

Tov shem mishemen tov – A good name is better than the best oil (Proverbs)

Daddy, our devoted, selfless, generous, charming, thoughtful, respectful, doting, sensitive, dependable, trusting, honourable, gregarious and kind-hearted father, only knew how to give. He gave of himself throughout his life. He was born to be a giver, never wanting to be a receiver.

selflessness and benevolence

From the tender age of nine, he learnt how to be a carer, when life dealt him and his family one of many cruel blows during World War II, and he was the one supporting his younger sister, Jackie, and parents through the typhus epidemic, as you have just heard. With very limited resources and experience, he nursed them back to health. The entrepreneurial as well as fighting spirit gleaned through his early childhood experiences served him well throughout his life.

Thrust into yet more change in his life, when he and Auntie Jackie were brought over to England without their parents as so-called “orphans”, his close sibling bond formed early in their childhood, and only grew over the years. They were utterly devoted to each other, right up to Daddy’s last day in hospital. How ironic that his sister, with whom he had had regular contact each day of his life, was admitted two weeks ago to the same hospital, but only at the point at which he was too weak to communicate by FaceTime. It was bashert that they were under the same roof and could feel each other’s presence at a time when that tie of sibling love and support was needed more than ever.

Before Daddy was reunited with his parents in 1948, he was brought up by his dear Auntie Dora and Uncle Nat, who treated him no differently from their own two younger sons. Being ten years older than their youngest, Daddy’s caring nature extended to looking after the baby of the family, and taking him for walks in the pram.

never known for his time-keeping

One of the earliest life lessons that Daddy taught his four children was the value of spending time with elderly members of our family and family friends, kibud zekaynim. He showed the utmost respect towards his Auntie Dora and Uncle Nat, as well as many others. Even in more recent times, and in frail health, he wanted to visit his special brother-in-law, our Uncle Jack, as he was moved into the Otto Schiff House. His frustration at not being well enough himself to do so, meant that he felt he was in some way letting down Uncle Jack. Such was the devotion, respect, gemilut chasadim, selflessness and benevolence he showed towards others. This quality was exemplified in his behaviour towards our Grandma, that many people genuinely thought that Daddy was her son, rather than son-in-law. Grandma had Parkinson’s from a young age and was shielded from ever knowing that she had this cruel, debilitating disease. Mummy and Daddy did not want her illness to define her, nor did they want her to feel that there was anything she could not do. An example that reflects this best is when Daddy always encouraged her to go away on holiday with him and Mummy, even if it meant travelling halfway across the world to take a cruise, and being precariously lifted by crane in her wheelchair, and left dangling hundreds of feet above sea level, as the gangplank had already been removed, ready for departure! Daddy was never known for his time-keeping, and frequently arrived late for events, flights, theatre trips and restaurant bookings. My Grandma’s dramatic cruise embarkation was a result of just one of these tardy incidences.

only ever two or three weeks away from planning their next travel adventure

I truly believe that the experience of Daddy being uprooted from his home, and constantly being on the move, until his arrival in London at aged twelve, gave him itchy feet and though Daddy knew the meaning of hard work and long hours of hard graft, as shown by the success he built of H. Forman & Son, salmon smokers and curers, he also took the opportunity, when life afforded, to travel with Mummy as much and as often as he could. Despite having holiday homes at various points in their life, in Cannes, Scottsdale and Aventura, he and Mummy never let that prevent them from exploring other parts of the world, too. Growing up, it felt that they were only ever two or three weeks away from planning their next travel adventure. Many of these included Grandma. They had some fabulous trips with their oldest friends too, Ghita and Norman, close cousins, Lisa and the late Beno, amongst others, and their shared passion for gourmet food, art and souvenir collecting and of course, shopping, meant that they enjoyed doing these things together. Always the negotiator, Daddy never accepted the notion of a fixed price, whether in Ventimiglia market or a designer boutique in Cannes. But that did not mean he did not love treating Mummy, or any one of us. Daddy spoiled us all rotten, and would not have it any other way. Mummy never had to ask for anything in life. He gave her the best of everything in spades, and showered her with love. Nothing was ever too much trouble. He would have gone to the ends of the earth for her, and he did, happily. He always wanted to please Mummy. He lived for her and if it meant begrudging himself something, that would not have mattered in the slightest.

always made us feel ten feet tall

Daddy was the most wonderful husband, father, father-in-law, son, son-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, grandpa and “Papa”. He was another father to my Jonathan, and that mutual feeling of love was there for all to see. He doted on all of us in equal measure and was proud of and loved to celebrate our achievements, however small and insignificant to others. He always made us feel ten feet tall. As he was denied a proper education himself, he wanted to ensure that all of his children were given the best education we could possibly have. Throughout their school years, his London and Manchester grandchildren were regularly surprised by visits to their schools, not wanting to miss out on their performances in school concerts, prize givings and speech days. When Daddy decided that the time was right for him to tell the story of his own childhood, he went into two of his grandchildren’s schools and the pride that his young grandsons felt when their Grandpa addressed their class was palpable.

there were some stories we had never heard

Leading on from these experiences, and his support of the Holocaust Educational Trust, he decided to give his testimony several years ago to Natasha Kaplinsky, when she was recording well over one hundred testimonies of Holocaust survivors. This could not have been an easy time for Daddy, as he was revisiting some of the most haunting moments of his life. Mummy and I witnessed the interview and were both so proud of him. We were also staggered that there were some stories we had never heard but which had obviously been with him for over eighty years. The content of his testimony has been used in many educational institutions around the country through the Echo Eternal project. One of these is an inner-city primary school in Birmingham with a ninety nine percent Muslim intake. On his eighty fifth birthday every child in the school collectively contributed their artwork and poetry to form a scrapbook entitled ‘L’dor Vador’, which focused on elements of Daddy’s life as a child in war torn Poland, and in Siberia and Uzbekistan, and their promise to remember and retell his story for ever, from generation to generation. He also received a birthday card from each pupil and teacher from that school as part of his birthday surprise. He was so immensely touched by this and was insistent that we contact the headteacher to invite every child to tea at their flat, a heartfelt and genuine invitation.

Daddy loved music, was a soloist in his shul choir and was also part of a singing group in his single days. Nothing gave him more pleasure than being surrounded by his grandchildren making music together. He always loved joining in with songs, he was always slightly ahead of the lyrics, and then, as his memory failed him, completed the songs with his memorable “ladadadadahs”!

his love of parties

Coupled with his passion for music and food, was his love of parties. Some of our fondest family memories are of the parties we had in Totteridge. We were so lucky to have parents who encouraged the four of us to have parties and always helped us find an excuse to celebrate. We had late night swimming parties, discos in the damp playroom, sponsored overnight events, taking over large parts of the house, and in Hampstead, New Year’s Eve parties where we could give our housekeeper the menu and she would cater for as many friends as we wanted. We were never brought up with lots of rules. In contrast to many of our friends, we were encouraged to go out, enjoy life, work hard and play hard.

Daddy had such a zest for life. His motto was to celebrate at every given moment. Definitely a glass half full man. In more recent times, in order to bring happiness to Mummy at every possible opportunity, he would email his four children and instruct us to organise a party for her. Poor health was absolutely not an excuse that he was willing to accept for denying her that pleasure.

Mummy and Daddy celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with the great Michael Feinstein, being their entertainer of choice. They formed a very close friendship with him, and one of the highlights of their post-Covid time at home, was a visit by him, where he sang to them in their living room, and played their requests on the piano. When Daddy reached a low-point mentally and physically in hospital a couple of weeks ago, Michael reached out and sent him a recorded message, and sang him Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay”. This meant so much to him and gave him a much needed boost, even if temporarily.

his love for Israel

Generous in more ways than one could imagine, he also had his pet charities, and his love for Israel, as well as his love of life and helping others meant that he and Mummy were delighted to donate two ambulances to Magen David Adom. Of course it always meant so much to them knowing that their generosity was responsible for the safe delivery of babies, bringing life into this world, as well as saving lives. Had he been aware of the current situation in Israel he would have been beyond distraught. We are only thankful that as a Holocaust survivor, he was oblivious to the horrors of 7 October and the turmoil that has followed, as he was admitted to hospital four days earlier, and we shielded it from him. He and Mummy were instrumental in the setting up of Chai Cancer Care thirty three years ago, and also helped to establish the Gilda Regina Café, named in honour of both of their mothers, at the Jewish Care Home in Friern Barnet.

Daddy loved Yiddishkeit, was very traditional in his outlook and was a proud Jew. On their trips abroad, they always sought out places of Jewish interest, and even visited the remote area of Kaifeng in China on their world trip a few years ago now. Much to Mummy’s irritation, Daddy loved using Yiddish and threw it liberally into conversations, especially when he thought someone he was meeting for the first time was Jewish. It was his “Ashley Blaker” test, with which he used to gauge their reaction. Mummy had a list of Yiddish words which, for some reason, she wanted banned from his vocabulary, but ‘lobos’, ‘shlep’ and ‘shluff’ were simply non-negotiable for him. And talking of shluffing, Daddy could sleep anywhere. Though his early starts of 4am at the salmon factory was what he was accustomed to, nevertheless, he could fall asleep at the drop of a hat at home, on holiday, even nodding off at the wheel, so long as he had somewhere to sit.

The legacy that you leave, Daddy, is one of which we know you are truly proud. You and Mummy are responsible for three further generations, and your four gorgeous great-grandchildren, will, please G-d, have so many of the Anisfeld traits instilled in them through you, via their parents and grandparents, so that all your wonderful qualities of chesed, generosity, kindness and respect will live on in them.

doting, adoring husband

My lasting memory will be of the enduring love you had for your darling Irene, our mother. You were inseparable, always did everything together, and only ever lived to be by her side, as her doting, adoring husband. In her latter years, Mummy has struggled with mobility and her own health issues but Daddy would not leave her for one moment, even if it meant denying himself the pleasure of going outside for some fresh air, watching the television in another room or having even a snack, while he was waiting for her to be ready for the day ahead. Such was the devotion and care he showed towards her that he felt entirely responsible for her welfare, and the most painful thing for him was to be separated from her for the five weeks he was in hospital. The only relief he got there was from seeing her on FaceTime, even if she was, at times, unable to fully reciprocate or communicate with him.

Everyone in his ward knew about his darling Irene, as he was proud to declare his love for her, in the strongest voice he possessed, taking every ounce of energy he could muster up. While in hospital, his devoted carers, Jean and Del, were there to hold his hand, help sustain him physically and mentally, and throughout their time at Heath Park Gardens, have been an enormous support to both Mummy and Daddy. We are so grateful for all their dedication, love and care which has often gone way beyond the call of duty, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts for everything they have done to care for our parents with dignity and kindheartedness.

the light in all of your family’s lives

We know how much Daddy will be missed by our Mummy, and we pray that Hashem will protect her from the challenges that losing the love of her life presents. We will all miss you too Daddy, far more than words can ever express. You were the light in all of your family’s lives, and though you have now left us, your enduring indelible legacy will be the sign that your honourable name lives on in all of us….forever.

May your dear soul rest in peace.