Survivor story: Dani Jeffrey

'I wondered what terrible things Jews must have done'

January 27, 2011
Dani Jeffrey: “I have not been as good a mother as I should because I was never happy”

Dani Jeffrey: “I have not been as good a mother as I should because I was never happy”

Dani Jeffrey's memories of her parents have almost faded. She was five when her mother took her from their home in Paris in 1942 to live in a French farming village with strangers.

"I don't think I would remember my mother at all if it wasn't for the photos I have of her. But I remember my mother leaving me in the country with someone I didn't know. I was too small to even question why I was there. My mother paid them and used to visit once a week, which was very dangerous. Suddenly the visits stopped. When the money stopped, they started treating me very badly.

"I was very conscious that all the children at my school had parents and that I was different. I was a stranger. I had black hair, dark eyes and looked very semitic. I was bullied, insulted. I spent years wondering what terrible things Jewish people must have done for us to be hunted."

It was just a few years ago at Yad Vashem that the 74-year-old learned the number of the convoy that took her mother to Auschwitz in October 1942. "She must have died on the first day. I have no idea what happened to my father. He turned up after the war in 1946. It had been assumed he was dead. He was too ill to care for me and he decided to leave me with close friends of theirs in France. I was only 11.

"During the war when I was alone, I had visions of my father standing by the mantelpiece in the living room, leaning on his arm. I saw him as being very tall. When he came back after the war, very ill and very damaged, he was actually very small.

"I didn't recognise him at all. I kept saying: 'That's not my father.'

"It was a horrible, horrible experience. Of course, you feel guilty afterwards but at the time I couldn't understand."

She excelled at school in Paris, later coming to the UK to work as a nanny and an actress. When she married, she moved to Trinidad and had a son and a daughter. She moved back to London 10 years ago and lives in Selig Court, part of the Jewish Care campus in Golders Green.

More than understanding her story, Ms Jeffrey wants people to know the damage the Holocaust caused to so many millions, even those who did not endure the horror of the camps. "I have never been able to be happy. My marriage broke down. I have not been as good a mother as I should have been to my children because I was never happy. I think it's important for people to realise that if you are separated from your family, if you lose that sense of identity, it's very harmful."

Last updated: 11:10am, January 27 2011