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‘Blonde looks helped me cheat Nazi killers’ says retired teacher
RETIRED teacher Renata Calverley now lives a quiet life with her husband Bruce in North Oxford.
People are unaware of the traumatic wartime childhood she endured in Poland, when her Jewish family was persecuted by the Germans after they invaded the country in 1939.
After being separated from her mother and grandmother, she survived the Second World War with the help of strangers and – she believes – because of her blonde hair and blue eyes.
Mrs Calverley’s extraordinary story is about to be revealed after publishers Bloomsbury snapped up her memoir Let Me Tell You A Story, which will be published next month.
Mother-of-two and grandmother Mrs Calverley, 75, initially wrote a fictionalised version of her wartime experiences.
But the publishers suggested she should turn it into a true account instead.
“I have always scribbled, and eventually decided to write this book,” said Mrs Calverley, who taught English for 37 years, including 25 years at Aylesbury High School.
Born Renata Falik in Przemysl, in south-east Poland, in 1937, Mrs Calverley said: “My family were Polish Jews, so we were persecuted by the Nazis.
“No one in our family in living memory had blonde hair and blue eyes, and that was a miracle. It was my salvation, because the Nazis thought it was an indication of the Aryan race.”
Her memoir recalls how German soldiers burst into the family’s apartment in June 1942.
Renata, her mother Antonina Glanz and her grandmother were taken to a ghetto, one of a number set up by the Germans in towns and cities across Poland, where Jews were segregated from the rest of the population. Renata and her family were forced to live crammed into one room with several other families.
In 1943, her mother and grandmother did not return from their factory shifts and the five-year-old Renata was left to fend for herself.
Mrs Calverley, who was told at the time that her loved ones had been taken to a labour camp, added: “A woman called Marynia became my nanny and she smuggled me out of the ghetto under her skirt. Later the Gestapo came into a house we were staying in and took my cousin and her mother out and then I heard two loud bangs as they were shot.
“I only survived because I had been hiding under a table.”
Mrs Calverley later discovered a death certificate indicating her mother died at Auschwitz, but she never found out what happened to her grandmother.
She said: “You never get over it. I was lucky that people risked their lives for me.”
A Polish rabbi eventually put Renata on a ship to England in 1946, where she was reunited with her father, Dr Erwin Falik.
She said: “When it arrived in London I remember seeing Tower Bridge lift.
“I was passed from pillar to post throughout the war but survived because of the kindness of others.”
Bloomsbury spokesman Laura Brooke said: “Renata had been speaking about her experiences in schools and old people’s homes and then decided to write her memoir.
“It’s an amazing story of help and survival.”
Mrs Calverley, who has lived in Oxford since 1998, is giving a talk at Waterstone’s bookshop, in Broad Street, on Tuesday, April 23 at 7pm.
Let Me Tell You A Story is published by Bloomsbury on April 11, priced £16.99