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Izaak Rubinsztein's Story

Jean Rubinstein

Izaak Rubinsztein's Story is a continuation of Jean Rubinstein's 'My East End Story' and traces her husband's experiences of the ghettoes and concentration camps, before he was liberated and came to England and met and married Jean and established him-self in the clothing business.

This is an inspiring and romantic story of a man of courage and dignity

Izaak Rubinsztein's Story

I write about my marriage to an ex-holocaust survivor. It is an everlasting dream.

My husband, Izaak Aaron Rubinsztein, passed away 15 years ago. Not one moment has passed that he is remembered with the deepest love and respect from family and friends. This is a continuation from my previous book, 'My East End Story'. Continuing from before, Mummy had a restaurant in New Road opposite the London Hospital East 1. The restaurant enjoyed a clientele of people who came from various countries. Mother tried recipes of soups, meats and fish, each one more tempting than the others. We always had full tables of people enjoying their meals.

I was seventeen and a half when the first of the Polish young men came in for lunch. They seemed to enjoy their meal and thereafter became regular customers. Their conversations were always about their humiliations and brutal and physical treatments they endured in the concentration camps. One day after lunch, Samuel Rubinsztein, who became my Brother-in Law, asked me if I would like to meet his brother, implying that he liked a girl with a fuller figure. Being noble, as all were welcome for lunch, I said why not?
Next day for lunch, Sam arrived with his brother. Sam came in first as Izaak was still on crutches from an operation on his leg. We met by the door of the restaurant and I fell in love immediately. This was the person I was waiting for. This was the man I wanted to marry and be with. It might have been a difficult situation as Izaak did not speak or understand English, but I spoke Yiddish and I believe that this brought us together. When we did speak to each other, it was as if we had never been apart. At this time Izaak was working in a small ladies clothing factory in Valance Road, East 1, to achieve a status that he wanted. At the end of this working period in this place, he was able to purchase three machines and start on his own. At this time, he lived in rented flat by Victoria Park and asked permission from the owners to make one of the rooms into a working room to accommodate the machines. Permission granted and his life began. Working all hours out, the place was small for all the work he was able to produce. His brother Sam was living in Bruce Grove, Tottenham N15. The lady of the house said Izaak could move in with Sam and continue with his work in a large empty room. Issy, as I now called him, was quite quick to now take up this offer, as he wished to make Sam a true partner to himself.

A few months later, he was sorry he had put himself in this situation. It was nearly four months of me going back and forth to Tottenham from the East End, just to watch Issy working. We decided to become engaged. My father, Usher, loved Issy. My Mother was less enthusiastic, because he was Polish and she was Russian. Issy knew how she felt but respected her views. We married on the twenty-eighth of March when I was eighteen years old. Issy was twenty-four and we moved into a flat and shop in the Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham N15, where Issy's business thrived. He took on Sam and Sam's soon to be father-in-law, as partners. Issy worked eighteen hours a day, the others worked by the clock.
The flat itself had no bathroom and an outside toilet. To live there was uncomfortable and difficult. Issy's work had to take priority.

One day, Issy turned to me, after our daughter Rozina was born, and promised that when she was a year old, we would move into a house - a house that I could build a home in for our new family. A house without mice. A year later we did move into that house in Riverside Road N15. The garden backed onto the River Lea. It was three years old and beautiful to us. Four years later the apple of our eye was born, our son Lawrence.

When we first married, I believed that he worked hard to forget the concentration camps, so when he did go to bed he would sleep quickly. But that did not happen. Finally when he fell asleep he would sob and cry with such sadness, pain and sorrow and twist and turn as if in agony. I learned to make a warm cup of tea ready every night to wake him up peacefully and ease him back into sleep. This went on for some time. I was eighteen years old and didn't know what to do first. All I knew was that I loved him, wanted him to be at peace and couldn't bear to see him suffer.

Issy was born in Poland in an industrial town called Radom. A child of a second marriage with a younger brother called Sam and four half-brothers and one half-sister from his father's first marriage, of which he was unfortunately a widow.

Issy's parents were not happy together and his father Joseph, a frugal man, was quite a few years older than his Mother Rachel. Rachel decided not to rely on her husband financially for the upkeep of her family. She took to standing in markets selling wares to earn money so as not to have to beg her husband for anything. Nor did her husband care that the children needed food. While this trauma continued Nadia, Issy's half sister, saw that the apartment was clean and some sort of food provided.

I was told that Joseph had a fiery temper and not at all easy to talk to. He bought for himself and ate alone in the kitchen. Joseph had a brother with a family who owned furniture stores and a large factory that manufactured the furniture. Joseph was offered work in the factory but declined. He himself was able to make and design furniture and kitchen furniture. He had a large yard which he stocked with the wood that he worked on. This yard was his pride and joy.

The world was in a nervous state. The man Hitler was already making a name for himself. Ranting and raging with his brown shirts against the Jews. Joseph's sister, who live in Chicago, America made a special journey to Radom to beg her brother to come to America, offering a very large home and a well paid job to accommodate the large family. His reply was no and that is why the Rubinsztein family perished at that dreadful time.
At that the time, the head of the family had to sign special papers for anyone wanting to take the opportunity to leave Poland. The Polish insisted on it. One man who escaped was Issy's Uncle. His name was Rene Scrota. He made his way to France. The police were after him as he was engaged in Communistic activities.

When my husband arrived home from business, had something to eat, we always discussed what happened in the years gone by. Memories were either very sad, that brought tears to our eyes and a pounding heart, or the bright side that was our family. He never forced his memories on the family about his time in the camps and the atrocities that were inflicted upon him. Issy was sixteen years old when the German army walked into Poland. Immediately the Jewish peoples were surrounded and put into ghettos. If they didn't move quick enough they were rifle-butted, shot and ridiculed. Issy made sure that his brother Sam was always with him by his side. During the long months in the ghetto the frail, the children, succumbed to starvation and beatings. Issy and Sam's family perished. Mother, Father, sister and brothers with their wives and children, ended their live in the gas chambers. There was starvation, filth, no water to drink, none of course to wash with; even if they had any such strength to do so. Occasionally, if they were strong enough to walk or crawl, they were allowed into the fields to pick up potatoes and corn on the cobs which they had to eat raw with the mud still attached. As time went on, that privilege too was taken away.

When I begin to write a paragraph or think about writing a certain subject, so many things that have been told to me come to mind.
Issy's Father was frugal until the war started. He then decided to give his wife the sacks of money that he had saved to buy food, which was now non-existent.

I have yet to write about Issy's life in the concentration camps: Bergen Belson, Buchenwald and Birkenau.

When Issy and Sam were taken from the ghetto to the camp, Issy made sure Sam was like his shadow, knowing he was now the only relative he would ever have. All prisoners were lined up for inspection to see how capable of work they were for the Germans. If they were not chosen they were sent to their death. Issy at sixteen was a qualified tailor, designer and cutter. The Germans needed that type of person as their uniforms did not fit correctly and their wives and girlfriends needed alterations to their existing clothes. The German women had a great choice from all the clothes, shoes and bags confiscated from the Jewish women they imprisoned and killed.

Issy and Sam were taken to an ammunition factory. All the people working in this factory were Jewish prisoners from the camps, forced to create and build the guns, bullets and bombs that would inevitable kill their own. It was decided by the people working there that they would sabotage as many things as possible. It took two weeks for the guards to become aware of what was happening. They were furious. The prisoners were not allowed any food or water until everything they had to do was rectified. Not having food and water coupled with the heat in the factory was overwhelming. The weak died and the others never recovered their strength.

Issy and Sam were taken to Bergin Belsen. Their first concentration camp and stood in line to be selected for work. Sam was small and Issy was quite a size for his sixteen years. Both were soon carted into trucks with pick-axes and shovels. The guards made no attempts to tell them what to do. When Issy asked they used their bayonets on his legs, made large holes in his thighs, left him bleeding and pointed at him to carry on working. Sam was watching from the side of a wall, saw what happened and ran towards Issy crying. He was turned away by a guard.

The sleeping accommodation of the bunks in the barracks was so close together, as almost to be touching within a hands span. Disease was prevalent. Typhoid was rampant. Many young women were pregnant, never seeing their husbands who worked in different parts of the camp, or who were thrown in the gas chambers. Hunger was great. The sobbing, crying out loud and the praying to G-d to ask Why? Why? Why? He did not listen. He gave up on his children.

The Chasidic Jewish men with their beards and curly side locks were the first to be exterminated with their precious young sons.

One of the most sensitive stories that were told to me by Issy was that when they were packed into a compartment of a train that was heading for Buchenwald, Mothers with babies, children and very elderly people were bereft of dignity. Hundreds of miles had to be endured with no sanitation. There was nothing else to do but to relieve themselves where they stood. There were no windows to open, no cracks in the carriages to rid the air of the foul smells of sickness and toilet remains of the people that were destined for hell. When the train stopped, they found that half of the weak and feeble had died. The Jewish prisoners of that camp were made to stand ready with wheel-barrows to collect the dead from the trains as they arrived and take the bodies away.
Issy succumbed to the Typhoid fever in the camp. A German officer helped to look after him and made him a bed under a large table in his office and fed him with drinks and food until his fever left him. He was ill for two months. When he went back to the barracks, weak and unsure on his feet, he was given back his work of chopping stones that had to be put into trucks that went round and around the camp.

The softer side of this story is when Issy was a young boy. His great passion was to go to his Grandfather's small farm and stroke the horses and feed the animals. His wish was to stay there. Another of Issy's memories was when he had to go to Cheder (Hebrew lessons) before going to ordinary school classes. The Polish children would throw stones at the Jewish children and he was told not to retaliate. Issy's family's flat was next to a synagogue which appreciated visits from very well known Cantors. The windows were thrown open wide to listen to their magic of their voices.

When one lives with a person for forty-five years, you learn to feel what they feel and to know their inner soul, or when it is safe to speak and ask questions of what happened in the past to try and ease the pressure of their minds. No words can dismiss or soften their anguish. It will always be written in their heart.

Issy loved his sister and Mother very much. He was always saying to me that had his Mother survived, she would have lived with us.

After some time working with Sam and Sam's Father-in-law, in the shop underneath our flat in the Seven Sisters Road, Issy wanted to expand his business. Sam and his Father-in-law disagreed. Issy asked me to look through the local newspapers to find a small factory that he could rent, which of course I did. I found a factory to let in north Tottenham, which could hold no more than around twenty people. Issy fitted it out with the necessary machines for his tailoring and filled it with employees that had followed him from the shop in Tottenham. The quality of Issy's workmanship was exquisite. Soon this little factory was no longer sufficient for the space and the many employees that were now needed

Issy found a factory in Ponders End, Enfield, which had to be completely gutted and fitted with machinery, offices and a canteen that could feed the one hundred and twenty-five people he had now employed. When Issy was chairman of the business, he still worked on the factory floor with his fellow employees. They loved and respected him very much. So did every manager of the then Lloyds banks. They telephoned him and offered to take him out for lunch every day. I presume he could have asked for anything from these people, but Issy was a cautious man and a very honest one. I have a promotional video recording of his last outstanding firm which I treasure.
Izaac Rubinsztein was a legend in his own life. His firm supplied Take Six, Lord John, Baron John, Harry Fenton, Jeff Banks, Reiss and River Island. Designers from the King's Road would come to Issy for his samples for their own shops and then claim to have designed them themselves. Issy knew this; he never minded.

Lawrence grew up following his father into the business. John Lewis bought into Lawrence's own brand, Enzo Ferruci. He had assumed his father's principles for quality and extremely high standards in all that he created.
Issy exported his menswear to Jaguar which was dotted around New York. Every shipment that was sent to America was hailed as brilliant - the fittings superb. Jaguar's owner came here to visit Issy and to congratulate his firm.
After our children were born, Issy wanted to become a British citizen. An officer from Scotland Yard visited us in our Riverside road to interview Issy. He stayed for hours, enthralled with all he heard and offered to help, support and sign anything necessary to ensure Issy would receive his citizenship.

Going back to Poland, Radom. Issy and his brothers spoke about the coming crisis with the German army walking into Poland. Issy asked his brother Benjamin if he would try to walk to Russia with him to see if that could get into safer territory. They decided to go and walked from Poland to Russia and were refused entry, so had to walk back again. Another heart ache was when the German foot guards walked in to Radom and ransacked every home. Issy's sister Nadia had her trousseau broken to pieces. Her Father had made it along with all other furniture and kitchen furniture especially for her future married home. They threw everything out of the window.

Going back to the camps, the prisoners were always beaten brutally and as time went by the scraps of food became non-existent. The women guards with their dogs were more vicious than the men. The Polish capos were put on duty to see that the dead were carted away and buried by their own people, who were hardly able to walk themselves. One part of the camp was taken over by alleged doctors, who took delight in separating mothers from their babies. The babies were put in a special room and watched closely to see how long they would survive without care, no warmth, no covers and no food, with no protection from their mothers, who were too weak physically and mentally to protest. If they did, they were beaten.

One young pregnant woman was kept surrounded in secrecy by the other inmates in the barracks. When it was time for the birth, they made a makeshift place in one of the warehouses which contained the clothes and shoes of the prisoners. The mother kept vigil and fed the baby when possible. Issy could not remember what happened further, but I remember he told me that quite a few people gathered by the wired double fence and threw bread and other food wrapped in newspaper over. The prisoners near the fence were the fortunate ones. The mother of the baby knew that what she was doing, trying to feed and keep the baby safe, could not go on. She took the child and threw it over the fence. Someone caught the baby and walked and walked away. The mother looked on.

The boys were now very weak with no food, sips of water. They could hardly stand. Crawling was the only thing they achieved to get around. They stood watching the trucks go round on the rails. Issy crawled towards them and threw himself on those rails to wait for the trucks to come back around and wait for death. Sam screamed. He was small but able to drag Issy off the rails. He did not want to lose his brother. He cried so much and Issy rallied.

It was coming towards the end of the war. The commandants stopped the beatings. They began leaving the camps, small groups at a time, to get away from the oncoming British, American and Russian liberators. Issy said that as the German guards were trying to make their way out, the prisoners gathered all the strength they could and killed some of the guards. They stamped on them.

When the soldiers of liberation came in, so did lorries of food. The prisoners gorged the food to which they were not accustomed to and were violently ill. Issy and Sam made up their minds to leave the camp, not walking but crawling through a nearby forest. They stopped at a small house in the forest and begged for food and water which they were given, and the lady of the house told them that they could stay for a night. Issy saw that the lady had a sewing machine. He sat down and asked her whether she had any materials that he could use to make clothes for her children. She replied 'Yes'. He looked at her children, cut the cloth to fit them and created wonderful tailor made trousers, skirts and shirts for them. In later years it was Sam who recalled this story; Issy would never have mentioned it.
In the morning the brothers continued on their way through the forest. They were picked up by the French army who were making their way back to France. Issy and Sam were taken to the hospital for wounded soldiers and put under strict observation. They were kept there for many months. They could remember being de-loused, shaved of all hair in case of vermin. When they were well enough to be released, fitted with clothes and a place to stay in Paris, they began looking for their Uncle Scrota. They could not locate him, so they decided to join a youth party of other ex-Holocaust survivors, who were coming to London to then go on to Palestine. They were not allowed to go, as the quota was already full. Issy decided it was best for Sam and himself to join General Anders Polish Army and were quickly dispatched to Italy. Issy learnt to speak Italian very well and saw more of Italy than the Italians themselves. Sam and Issy were there for two years and then returned to London. That is where this story began.

We lived in Riverside Road; Tottenham N15 for fifteen years, when Issy decided it was time to move. At that time Southgate, North London N14, was the place to move to. Endless driving around his car led him to a house in Bourne Hill. Its gardens backed onto Bourne Hill park. It was detached and needed a great deal of work. When he took me to the house, I could see nothing but a house that was deeply neglected. But to Issy, this was going to be our palace - and it was. We found first-class decorators who worked on the house for nearly a year, to Issy's designs and with a two hundred foot garden that was designed with a scalloped lawn. After living there for a little while, we had a fantastic bar room built, which meant we now had three large reception rooms built with love. Our home was priceless.

Issy always brought home any extra work that hadn't been completed in the factory. I always finished any stitching, felling, sleeves and anything else necessary in every home we lived, at times sitting up until five o'clock in the morning, with a cigarette hanging from my lips, just to ensure that deadlines were always met.

I too worked in the factory with the rest of the staff. It was intriguing and interesting. When things were not quite up to standard in the factory, Issy in his quiet manner approached the subject and all was well once again. Issy's clients could reach him by way of computer or by telephoning him. Issy always felt that having a personal rapport with his clients was invaluable to their relationship. He always wanted to either speak to them directly on the telephone or arrange a meeting with them. Because of the service he provided coupled with his working efforts, standard and attitude, his clients held him in their highest esteem.

When our daughter and son needed our help Issy would instantly dissolve their headaches. He made weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, helped buy and decorate their homes and when asked for help, out would come his cheque book. We always took the families on holiday to Spain and Israel. They came first in our lives.
Living with Issy Rubinsztein was living in paradise. His love of life was a special pleasure to watch and a privilege to be part of. He gloried in his children and grand-children. He was always there when they needed him. He gave them confidence just by being in their presence. He epitomized all that life could be and achieve, especially in those last precious days until the cancer finally laid him to rest, in peace.

Appendix -- Izak Rubinstein Obituaries and Notices in the Press.

RUBINSTEIN. Izak. It is with profound and utter sorrow that I mourn the passing of my courageous and beautiful husband "Issy" who was a fine and honourable man to the end. A man blessed with charisma, who used it with dignity. A man loved and respected, not only by his family, but by friends and colleagues alike, for his beliefs. He had that rare quality to make things seem right even when they were at the darkest. His patience and fortitude were immense. In the 45 years of our marriage he never had a bad word for anyone and held no animosity even for the sadists of the concentration camps that murdered his family. His only wish was to push aside the past and get on with the future so that his family and work associates could gain from his talents. My one wish was that he could spend his retirement with me, but this was not to be. He was a man for all times and all seasons. My thanks to all at the Cromwell Hospital and the North London Hospice, for making his last days as comfortable as possible. I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. -- Jean. (Shiva terminated).

RUBINSTEIN. Izak. "My Issy pops daddy". A father supreme, to all who knew him. May his sweet soul now be at rest. Our love always. -- His daughter Rozina and son-in-law Malcolm.

RUBINSTEIN. Dad. A father of true magnitude in every sense. Mere words will never be enough to describe him. The determination to succeed in his early career was matched equally by the love of his family. He taught with sensitivity, his wisdom, honesty, moral standing, self respect and respect for others. He did this by example in his everyday life. To follow his example is an honour and a privilege. His abilities at work were outstanding and never to be equalled. A master of his trade, renowned throughout the country, he would always prefer others to take the credit before himself. During the Second World war, he faced personal destruction in the concentration camps on many occasions. His strength of character and his quick mind enabled him to survive. Throughout his long illness, his concerns were only for his family and friends. He would not indulge in self gratification and never rested on his laurels. The word "progress" was his watchword. Never to look backwards, only forwards to the fruits of life. To those he came into contact with, he touched a certain spark of inspiration and one always felt refreshed and confident afterwards. Always sentimental, he loved to reminisce and his stories were famous for their graphic content so that one could almost feel it were they who had had the experience. We will miss this unique father and friend, for his unbridled love, affection, understanding and humility. May he rest in peace for-ever. -- His loving son Lawrence and daughter-in-law Shelley.

RUBINSTEIN. Izak. We mourn with deep sorrow the passing of this very special person. He endeared himself to us completely, during the short time we knew him and we will always remember him with great respect and affection. He fought his illness with great courage and dignity. May he rest in everlasting peace. Our sincere condolences to Jean, Rozina and Lawrence.
-- Gertie and Kalma Cowan.
RUBINSTEIN. Issy. It is rare to find a man so universally loved and respected by all. To have personally known him, was a privilege and an honour. We will all miss him very much. May he rest in peace. -- Stephen, Jackie and Louise.
RUBINSTEIN. Issy. A true and sincere gentleman, whom we were so fortunate to know. We will remember him always with deep affection. Heart-felt condolences to Jean, Rozina, Lawrence and family. -- Peter and Myrtle Millar and children, Stephen, Gillian and Victoria Jacobs.

RUBINSTEIN. Issy. A very special man, who will be sadly missed, but always remembered. Our condolences to Jean, Rozina and Lawrence. Shalom.
-- Gertie and Solly Vishnick and family

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