Oral History Project

In 2015 the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee (OJHC) launched The Oral History Project, an exciting initiative to record the life stories of members of the Oxford Jewish Community (OJC), particularly its more senior members.  

By enabling people to tell their stories in their own words, oral history interviews have an unparalleled ability to convey the personality and experiences of each individual interviewee.  The Oral History Project is thus an invaluable way of preserving the unique heritage of the Oxford congregation, whilst also enriching the understanding of younger members of the OJC and the wider community about recent Jewish history in England and Oxford.  In this way, the Project both builds on and expands the existing history of the OJC provided in the many wonderful recollections compiled by Freda Silver Jackson in her book, Then and Now (published in 1992).  

Since its launch, the Oral History Project has interviewed fifteen members of the community, some who have more to share have been interviewed more than once.  The Project is led by a member of the OJHC (MEW) with formal training in oral history interviewing techniques from the British Library and The Oral History Society.  We are always looking for new volunteer interviewers, and thanks to funding from the Henry Posner Fund, we are able to provide volunteers with both recording equipment and training in the necessary interviewing and digital editing skills.

The interviews themselves are guided, but at the same time interviewees are given ample leeway to relate the experiences that matter to them, so that a broader picture of the diversity of people’s lives can emerge, including where early members of the OJC originally came from and how they found themselves in Oxford.  Once completed, the recordings are made available to the public in part or whole, according to the wishes of each interviewee. 

Where permission has been granted, extracts from the interviews are available on this website and can be listened to by clicking on the play buttons below.   The complete recordings (between 35 and 90 minutes long) can also be downloaded via the on-screen link. The entire digital collection is stored at the OJC and in the County Archive of the Oxfordshire History Centre.  The Jewish Museum in London has also agreed to hold the collection. 

With the generous cooperation of both OJC members and non-members, the Oral History Project  is already greatly enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the fascinating and varied individuals who make up our community here in Oxford.     The project plans to continue to add interviews and expand its collection to include all who have a story to tell, and ultimately that includes everyone.  

Text updated Nov 2016



Interviews by Michael Ward unless otherwise stated


Barbara Lewis

Recorded by Nick Kochan March 2017

Barbara and David Lewis were stalwarts of the Oxford Jewish Community. David, a distinguished classicist at Christ Church, died in 1994, but Barbara stayed in Oxford for a number of years, before moving to Leeds to be closer to her daughter Helen (one of four).   Barbara, who remains in well despite advancing years.   Barbara tells of her father, Professor Samson Wright, a highly distinguished physiologist, who worked his way from East End penury to international distinction.   Barbara moved to Oxford when her husband David moved there to take up a college position.  David became highly active in many OJC synagogue activities while Barbara was involved in organisations like WIZO and Bnai Brith.   Barbara talks about David's role in the team that organised the planning, fund-raising and then building of today's shul in the early seventies. David was Secretary and President of the  synagogue for many years.   David's quiet and measured style contrasts with Barbara's active and expressive outlook on life, well demonstrated in this interview.   Here we learn about many of the wonderful characters of Community over more than 60 years.  

The interview has been subjected to some minor editorial editing.

To hear the entire recording lasting 40 mins click here


Dr Juli Markus Beattie OBE  

Recorded January 2017

BeattieBorn Budapest, Hungary 1947.  Parents married on the day the Germans invaded Hungary, 1944, and they went into hiding, survived the War though many in family were lost.   Hungary during the Russian invasion in 1956, and were deported away from Budapest to countryside to live as peasants with parents and sister.  Returned to the capital following intervention from influential friends.  Grandfather managed Grand Hotel Royal, Budapest.   Describes their lives in 1940s and 50s.   Escaped aged 9 with parents, sister and grandmother at time of Student Rebellion, crossing border at night illegally and their onward journey to London, where they settled in Maida Vale, London.   Juli describes her education and life as a young refugee, but after primary and secondary education started Teacher training, and  working in play therapy in Great Ormand Street Hospital.   Met husband, and after marriage lived on small holding leading the “Good Life” for three years.  Has three children.  Came to Oxford in 1990s and started charity "Art Room" for disadvantaged children with great success.  Received OBE 2016 for Art Room work

To hear the entire recording lasting 83 mins click here


Penny Faust

Recorded January 2017

Born Cheltenham, 1946 of parents born in UK as was father’s father, other grandparents Polish.     Father ran business in Cheltenham, where Penny was brought up as part of Cheltenham’s small Jewish community, and had a  Jewish family life.  Psychology graduate from London University, and began PhD, but did not complete.   During undergraduate course met Wilfred Faust, who was working in Oxford, at Schull dance in Cheltenham, and became engaged after only few weeks and married a year later, 1966.  Moved to Oxford and joined OJCongregation.   Four children.  In 1978 was invited to join Radio Oxford Religious Affairs Team making features.   After a few years asked to make some programmes for Radio 4 and World Service, as a freelance broadcaster.   Regular appearances on “Thought for the Day”.    Describes her career.   Both she and Wilf were President of OJC, and speaks of their involvement with the OJC Council and Management Co.      Became Membership Sec. and was involved in revising membership rules and evolution of Associate membership and talks of the discussions around the unique nature of the OJC.    She speaks of Wilf’s death in 2002.   

To hear the entire recording lasting 67 mins click here


Andrew Silver          

Recorded December 2016


    as1Born Oxford, 1950.  Silver’s London-born father, George, was born in a pub his father being in the licensed trade, was one of the founding members of the Army Catering Corps, achieving high rank.  After demob George went into the restaurant business and after moving to Oxford helped with the fundraising and building of the new synagogue in 1974.   Andrew’s mother, Frieda was born in llanelli of parents from Riga and had three sisters.  Silver’s parents met at a wedding in London after the war, and later moved to Oxford to run a restaurant, Long Johns, which was popular with students;   Silver’s father later ran the first Wimpy restaurant in the United Kingdom, which became the base of the Oxford Jewish Youth club.    Andrew talks about his younger brother, Jonathan and sister, Caroline.   Silver had intended to be a lawyer, but instead entered the family business, which he states was the best thing to have happened to him.  At a cousin’s wedding, he met his future wife, Judy, whose family was also involved in the restaurant business. He and Judy went on to have three children.   He served as President of the Schul, as did his father and mother before him, and he masterminded the rebuilding programme of early 2000s.


To hear the entire recording lasting 58 mins click here

Joy Watson

Recorded August 2016

jw1a   Born London, 1934. Her mother's family emigrated to the United Kingdom in the 18th Century and her father was the youngest of seven siblings; both her parent’s families came from the Russian Empire.    Joy was evacuated to Oxford during the Second World War and lived on farm near Wheatley; she was decidedly unhappy.   Her father was dispatched to Oxford for war work, thus he moved the entire family to Oxford.  They remained in Oxford post-war.  Watson met her husband-to-be, Frank, at the Oxford Jewish Congregation’s youth clubs as a young teenager; they married in 1954 and had two sons. The Watsons ran three successful retail clothing shops in Oxford.


To hear the entire recording lasting 54 mins click here


Anna Rosenberg

Interview by Danni Czaczkes, recorded July 2016

ar1a   Born in London. Father and mother hailed from respective Polish and Latvian-Estonian families. Raised irreligiously. Met her husband-to-be, Harry, in London, who later joined the Royal Air Force. Subsequently married him and worked as a teacher. Came to Oxford in 1952. Joined the OJC, but she and her husband only attended on special occasions. Participated more in Judaism via her children's Jewish educations whilst Harry helped with the maintenance of the shul.  Received strong support from the OJC after Harry died suddenly whilst on holiday in South America.   Continues to participate in the Jewish community to a greater degree since Harry’s passing.


To hear the entire recording lasting 23 mins click here

Mrs Margot L    

(Surname concealed at the request of the interviewee) Recorded June 2016

Born in Munich, Germany, 1927. Her parents hailed from Krakow in Poland. Her father was a practicing Jew, albeit her mother, who worked for the Red Cross, was less enthusiastic. She recalls the rise of Nazism in Germany and wearing the yellow star. In the face of rising anti-Semitic persecution, she went with her mother under a gentile persona  to live with close family friends.   Escaped with mother to Switzerland in 1943 to avoid being detained; they were promptly placed in an internment camp alongside Italian migrants.  She emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1946 and married in 1946.  She lived in Ealing, London and opened a delicatessen shop. She came to Oxford in 2000.

To hear the entire recording lasting 30 mins click here


Helen May

Interview by Danni Czaczkes   Recorded June 2016

Born in London, 1930. May’s London-born parents married in 1928 and she was raised as the middle child of three. Her family moved to Birmingham in 1940 due to her father’s new job at a munitions factory; she was nicknamed ‘Cockney’ by her peers. Helen went on to have a career as a primary school teacher after training at Roehampton. May met her husband-to-be, Ron, through her work and they married in 1952. Due to Ron’s new Oxford University Press post, they moved to Oxford in 1954, where their two children were eventually born. After teaching at a Catholic school for years, she retired from teaching in 1990. Though Helen was in the “middle” of the religious spectrum, Ron was very active in the Jewish community; he passed away in 1998. She is a grandmother of five.                         

         Highlights will appear here in due course

To hear the entire recording lasting 42 mins click here


Saul Itzhaki

Recorded April 2016

si1   Born in Iraq, 1921. Itzhaki grew up in a large Baghdadi Jewish community and in a large family, where he was one of eight children. His father worked as a primary and  SI2secondary educator. Itzhaki received a 1st in chemistry at Baghdad and then pursued PhD studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1945; his studies were interrupted by Israeli military service. Itzhaki enrolled at Cambridge in 1955 for further studies and obtained his second PhD in 1960. He met his wife-to-be in Cambridge in 1958; they have two children. Itzhaki emigrated to Manchester in 1966 as a Biochemistry lecturer. He and his wife retired to Oxford in 2013 to be closer to their daughter.





To hear the entire recording lasting 62 mins click here


Simone Plaut née Posner 

Recorded April 2016

Born in Oxford, 1958. Posner was raised in north Oxford alongside twin sibling by her parents, Henry and Zena Posner, both London-born Jews who married in 1951. Posner speaks at length about her parents and family life in Oxford, including their heavy involvement in the Oxford Jewish Congregation, growing up in Oxford during the 1960’s and 70’s, and living in London with husband; now divorced.

To hear the entire recording lasting 75 mins click here

Ian and Beryl Grant

Interview by Nick Kochan

Ian and Beryl raised in “traditional” Jewish households. Ian posted to the “army element” as a civilian scientist in mathematical sciences in 1954. Beryl obtained law degree from the London School of Commerce. Married in 1958 and moved to Reading, where their children were eventually born. Ian became research fellow at Pembroke College, University of Oxford in 1964. Both became involved in the OJC and in the development of a new Oxford Synagogue building where all sectors of the Jewish Congregation  would be represented.

To hear the entire recording lasting 71 mins click here


José Patterson

Rercorded March - April 2016

jp1a     Part I, 1929-1949: Born in Blackpool, 1929. Grandparents hailed from Poland (then territory of the Russian Empire) and Hungary. Her grandfather fought in the First World War and wore a kilt, as befitting a member of a Scottish regiment. Her maternal grandparents and family ran a kosher hotel and fairground in Blackpool.   Patterson’s upbringing was one of regular Jewish observance. She was evacuated with older sister to a gentile foster home in Sussex in 1939. She married David and raised four children in Oxford, where she witnessed the gradual growth and development of Oxford Jewish Congregation. She is a trained teacher, specifically a specialist teacher to the traveller community.

To hear the entire recording lasting 75 mins click here

Part II, 1949-1964: Left school early, promptly regretted it, and thus attended secretarial school. Joined Habonim in the mid-1940’s and trained there as a leader.  She met her husband-to-be, David, who was a senior member in Habonim. They married and started their life together in 1950. They emigrated to Israel 1951, first working in a Kibbutz, then to Haifa, and Jerusalem until returning to Britain in 1954. Became pregnant in Manchester as David was appointed to lectureship at Oxford in 1957.

To hear the entire recording lasting 62 mins click here

Part 3 1964 - Present

To hear the entire recording lasting 56 mins click here


Norman Solomon

Interviews by C Levicki   Recorded Dec 2015

ns1    Part I: Born in Cardiff, 1933. Solomon was raised by “conventionally Jewish” parents, religiously influenced and edified by German Orthodox refugees, and learnt Hebrew grammar from rabbi Weisenberg. Attended Gateshead Yeshiva in 1953 before his third year at the University of Cambridge, where he read Moral Sciences and Music for Tripos Part I and Part II respectively. After Cambridge, he took teacher training at the University of Bristol (a red brick university), became engaged, and opted to be a rabbi instead

To hear the entire recording lasting 70 mins click here

Part II: Attended the first Anglican-Jewish Consultation at Andover in 1980. Joined Selly Oaks Colleges as the director of the Religious History of Birmingham Centre. Later helped to establish the Centre of the Study of Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations in 1983.  Published Judaism and World Religion in 1991.  Helped develop environmental papers at Prince Philip’s behest as a part of an interfaith organisation.  Appointed Lecturer in Theology at the University of Oxford in 1995.  Norman's wife passed away in 1998.  He remarried in 2000. Solomon currently runs his own website.

To hear the entire recording lasting 55 mins click here

Jeremy Montagu

Recorded October 2015

Born in London, 1927. His father, Ewen Montagu, was judge,  writer, naval intelligence officer, and, for many years, President of the United Synagogue, albeit he had a preference for private prayer. His great-grandfather, Samuel Montagu, was a banker, Member of Parliament, and created 1st Baron Swaythling. His mother, Iris, was daughter of Solomon J. Solomon, an eminent painter. Jeremy was evacuated to the United States during the Second World War. Montagu had a Reform-style bar mitzvah in Brookline, a Boston suburb. He returned to Britain in 1943 and subsequently attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland.   Jeremy entered the British Armed Forces as a gunner and was dispatched to Egypt in 1946, where he remained for two years. After studying horn and conducting at Guildhall School of Music, Jeremy became a professional percussionist and conductor. He married Gwen in 1955. From 1981 to 1995, he was curator of the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments at Oxford University. He has a special interest in medieval music and the history of instruments and seven published works. Gwen died in 2003. He is the father of three, grandfather of ten, great-grandfather of three “and a bit”, and currently enjoys a home musical collection of 2,500-3,000 instruments.

To hear the entire recording lasting 60 mins click here


Harold Pollins

Interviewed by C Levicki  August 2015

Born in Leytonstone in East London, 1924. Parents emigrated as children from Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire) and grew up in the East End of London; they married there in 1913 and ran a novelty shop. Pollins attended the London School of Economics before being evacuated to Cambridge and joining the British army. Came to Oxford in 1964, where he wrote and published the ‘Economic History of the Jews in England’  in 1982. He has since conducted research into other areas of Anglo-Jewish history, such the experiences of First World War soldiers.

To hear the entire recording lasting 66 mins click here


Bernard Greenberg

Recorded June 2015

Born in Grimsby, 1929. Greenberg’s parents emigrated to the United Kingdom in the early 20th century, having come originally from Poland and Odessa in Ukraine, then territories of the Russian Empire. Greenberg received a traditionally Jewish upbringing in Grimsby as his father worked to supply British sailors with clothing. Entered the British Armed Forces and served in Palestine and Greece. Greenberg and his wife have two children and moved to Oxford to be near their daughter after  his retirement.

To hear the entire recording lasting 60 mins click here

Miriam Kochan

Recorded June 2014

Born in London, 1930. Her father, Martin Büchler, hailed from Vienna, and her paternal grandfather, Adolf, was headhunted to head the Jews College in 1906. Her mother, born in Belarus, died when Miriam was just 15 years old. She studied economics at University College London, with the goal of becoming a journalist.  Kochan married Lionel, a journalist, in 1951. Both lived in Edinburgh for a time, where Lionel worked in a junior academic post. They then lived in Norwich, and then Oxford after Lionel was appointed to a post at Warwick University. Kochan was heavily involved in the OJC by way of the Cheder and the Student Meals Service. Professionally, Kochan was a French translator and proof reader.

To hear the entire recording lasting 90 mins click here


Ruth Bloom

Recorded April 2014
(Recordings not available to download, at the request of the Interviewee)

  Image taken in Prague 1936

rb1         Part I: Born in Berlin, 1915. Her father, a lawyer, served in the Prussian Cavalry at time of birth during the First World War. Mother hailed from Lithuania, then Hanover. Minimal Jewish family life. After parents divorced at age 3, her father remarried; her step mother treated her kindly. Educated in Berlin, Bloom  was sent to Switzerland for a year in 1931 due to "health" reasons. Bloom could not attend university in Nazi Germany due to anti-Semitic state policies. Bloom emigrated to Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1934 at father's behest. Natural mother remarried an Englishman and sent for her to act as an au pair for a friend in Edgware in 1937 for one year. On advise not to return to Prague due to Nazi designs on the city, Bloom gained a new post in United Kingdom; she never saw her father again. All step children emigrated under father's advice also.       

 Part II: Bloom appeared before enemy aliens commission in London as she still carried a German passport, now with Star of David and additional name, Sarah. Bloom met husband-to-be George, a chemistry undergraduate, in Oxford at University Jewish Students meeting; Bloom claims it was love at first sight. Married in 1941 in Oxford; her natural mother attended and arranged for her dress and wedding reception. Bloom remained unaware of her father's death until noting his absence from Jewish Agency's lists of camp survivors

Part III: Worked in post-war Britain as a German and French languages teacher at Stevenage College.   Involved with Association of Jewish Refugees. Moved to Abingdon to live with her natural mother, who had returned from Germany; Bloom's mother visited German to her brother, who had remained hidden throughout the Second  World War acting as a janitor under the protection of a high ranking German officer. Bloom describes her family's experiences during the Second World War, her own life in post-war Britain, and her children's lives in much detail.

Bernard Levy

Recorded July 2013

Born in Hull, 1926. Parents born in United Kingdom of Lithuanian extraction; Jewish upbringing in "Conforming Jewish" household. Father worked in retail clothing. Second World War military service; dispatched to the Western Front and attended the Brussels Synagogue just after liberation where he met Jews who had been in hiding for months. Was in Corps that arrived in Bergen-Belsen shortly after its liberation and stayed to assist doing clerical duties—had never spoken of this experience prior to the Oral History interview.

To hear the entire recording lasting 65 mins click here