The War Years: Essays and Recollections
Notes on Jewish refugees
This page represents a few articles mapping the social milieu within the Calcutta Jewish community during the war.
During World War II, Calcutta welcomed a large group of Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe and East Asia. In Calcutta many of them found a new life, some of them even married into the community, altering its shape. Another major group which arrived in Calcutta during wartime, were Jewish soldiers of Allied armies stationed there. Refugees were met with tremendous support and hospitality by the Calcutta Jews - see the story. The refugees came not only from Nazi-controlled Europe, but also from East Asian cities of Penang, Singapore, Rangoon. Many of them had to undertake a strenuous trek across Assam and East Bengal. Flower Silliman's account of those days in Calcutta is available here. Rachel, a refugee from Lithuania gives an account of her years in India here. Among other European refugees were: Mr. Friedlander, who represented an American company, Tykef, a dentist from Switzerland, David Makarof, who worked as a Chiradpodist and Vilaynchik from Poland. Karen Walbaum from Austria and her mother from worked as governesses for Elias family. They took care of Michelle Elias and her brother. Her father worked in a factory. After the war, she has kept in touch with the BN Elias family for many years. A significant portion of Jewish refugees came from Rangoon, taken over by the Japanese. Sano Twena composed a note about Rangoon refugees in Calcutta. Reuben Solomon, a jazz musician came to Calcutta from Rangoon during the war years. Liesl Stary, an Austrian refugee, was a concert pianist. She played as part of the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra at the New Empire conducted by the Principal of the Calcutta School of Music. Her brother Tibor Stary played the violin and had a café in Darjeeling called Plivas.
Many Jewish soldiers serving in Allied armies were stationed in Calcutta during World War II. Some of them got married to Jewish girls during their time in the city. Flower Silliman and Nancy Pine compiled a partial list of such marriages.
Other than these articles and the books cited in them, memories of European Refugees in Calcutta may be found in the following books. Elise Braun-Barnett has printed her book Memories of my Friends: Calcutta Jewish Families, Personal Wartime Experiences of one Viennese Jewish Family with the Baghdadi Jewish Families of Calcutta, India, 1938-1947. Bem Le Hunte has written There, Where the Pepper Grows, a novel based on the life of a Polish Jewish Refugee in Calcutta.