Hedy Fromings - Part 1

Photo: www.geocities.com/ beskydydancers

Hedy Fromings is a retired architect in her late 70s, though she is still very much active as the head of the Beskydy Dancers, a Czech dance and music group in London. When I met her in the British capital a few days ago, Mrs Fromings told me all about her young days as a refugee in the UK during World War II, her family's fortunes, and how she met her English husband.

"I was born in north Bohemia, in Liberec, and came over as a refugee child with my mother, escaping from Nazi Germany when the occupation took place. First from Liberec to Prague in '38, then in '39 out to the UK, with the help of the Quakers.

"My mother and father were very politically engaged anti-Nazis, and therefore my father was taken to a concentration camp, the second day after the march-in on March 17. My mother wasn't quite sure what to do. People told her to try to get out, because she would also be under threat. So we managed to get out with the help of the Quakers.

"My mother and I were then sent to mixed country hostels, one hostel in particular in Broadstairs, which had refugees from several central European countries..."

That's here in the UK you're talking about?

"That's right. We were then evacuated...when things got really bad in 1941, when the Blitz started, to the north of England, to Edmond Castle. And that's when I as a child of 13 or 14 came across folk dancing for the first time, within the hostel.

"There were again quite a number of nationalities, there were some Czechs, there were Austrians - there were even the original Germans that had fled in 1934 to Czechoslovakia.

The Nazi Occupation of Czechoslovakia,  photo: Wikimedia Commons / PD
"After the Heydrich assassination in Czechoslovakia a terrible...pogrom you might say on the whole Czech nation started. Therefore the government in exile under President Benes made an appeal for all those children who had at one time been in Czechoslovakia who were around Britain - would they please send these children to a boarding school which was established to teach Czech and all subjects in Czech?

"We did want to go back one day when this war was finished, so I decided to move to the Czech school. I met with lots of similar youngsters in the same boat as me, not remembering much Czech by that time..."

And tell me what happened after 1945, when the war ended?

"As the war ended we were repatriated in an old Lancaster bomber. My mother was by that time the main catering buyer for the British Czechoslovak Friendship Club, which was established in London for members of the Czechoslovak army, air force, and any other Czechs that were around, for their entertainment - or for food mainly, it was a restaurant plus social centre.

The End of World War II
"My mother was the chief buyer, which was...no mean feat in the days of rationing. They turned out, together with a couple of Czech cooks, a lot of fantastic Czech dishes during that period. She stayed on till November, when she was repatriated.

"We first went to Prague and I made contact with my brother, who had fled to Yugoslavia, and had been fighting with Tito's partisans. By that time we had heard that my father was alive, he had been in a concentration camp in Flosenburg and was also coming home, although he stayed behind as a witness for some of the prosecution of the SS.

"So we all came together, the three of us, my mother, and went to our home in Liberec, which had been taken over by the Hitler Youth as a sort of training centre. It was a hard time...reconditioning it, but certainly mentally, emotionally it was not a hard time - it was absolutely fantastic that we four came together again as a family.

"I then applied for...by that time we had done a crash course to do our matriculation...I wanted to do architecture and I was accepted, but not until the autumn. So in the time before I started term I worked for the British Council.

"I started architecture in '46 and also because of my English became an interpreter for the students' union and was involved in a youth festival in 1947. There was a small group of architecture students from England, from London. I met my future husband there, we hit it off and got engaged.

"Then in 1948 it looked very dodgy for me to follow him, unless we were married. So we married in '48, he came out to Liberec and we had a big family wedding. Then I followed him a year later and carried on - actually changed over you might say - to architecture, which was quite difficult at the time."

Tomorrow in the second part of this interview with Hedy Fromings, she talks about her involvement with the Beskydy Dancers.