In America you’ve always been taught to dress modestly, but for the first time you could wear makeup and be a bombshell. You could dress up, too. It was a time when you could be anything and not have to fear you would be judged. In the 1920s, it was considered good manners to wear skirts. And that was the time when you dressed like a woman.
How were you born?
That is the big question of this interview. My mother was born in the UK. She was born in a hospital and we decided to come here. She was 18, and I was 17. I was raised in a house with my sister.
So how did you get to know you parents?
My parents had a long, complicated relationship with religion. When my father died I came back to my mother’s country. They were together all my life.
We had an Irish passport. We were both born there and were called “Ireland”, because we both had British nationality. We had an Irish passport too. That gave my parents some protection from the government when the first bombs hit Dublin in 1916. In order to stay in Britain, they had to give you up the nationality you had when you were born here. They did this and I was forced to go back home.
Do you still have that passport?
I have the British passport, and that is more than enough. I don’t think they would have let me go back if I had given them the Irish passport, which they refused to give my sister. So that was my home.
We had English passports and our British citizenship was enough for me to go back home. But I knew that my father died in the bombing.
Your father, a surgeon by profession, had a reputation for being an abusive husband and a difficult man. Did you see signs of that?
He was very much a gentleman and he loved being a man, but people say that he was not a very nice person. He would beat me and he would tell me in front of people that I was “a filthy Jew”. So he was a very, very strong man. My mother, the woman he had a relationship with, never had any problems with religion.
You grew up as a child of war. I’m thinking about the great battles and a lot of death. When you’re on the front line, the life you live is very different to what you might be living back in Britain.
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