Joe talks about his feelings about identity – Jewish, Polish and Scottish. He discusses family and, finally, his enthusiasm for the Citroen 2CV.
INT: Of course. I wondered…you were obviously separated from the Jewish world very early on.
INT: Did you ever come back towards it?
J.C: Yes I did when my father died. Yeah… But I did it for my mother I think. I just accepted it and did it but it faded.
INT: So you didn’t get involved with any of the various other refugees that came out?
J.C: No, no.
INT: I suppose your history was very different from everybody else’s really.
J.C: Well I don’t know, because I didn’t know. I certainly do remember when I was a boy, my parents, who had lots of friends who had horrendous wartime experiences, and we would visit them, either socially or at some festival or something, maybe Pesach or something, but not especially. My parents had not been religious and they didn’t have a Jewish wedding; it was a civil wedding in Paris and there wasn’t…I didn’t receive a Jewish education.
INT: And they really weren’t part of that core group.
J.C: No, no.
INT: That had come over together and so on.
INT: If you look back now on your time here in Scotland what would you say were the highest points in those years?
J.C: I suppose getting married and having two sons must be a big thing, especially when I realise how fortunate I’ve been. I mean we lost absolutely everything. There was nothing left you know. My parents had a home and a business - my mother had a business- and we lost everything. But we were alive. And I think the fact that I’m comfortably off here and I’ve had a, I’ve had a good life. It was hard at the beginning for my mother and myself; it was very hard because I didn’t go out a lot. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any teens; I didn’t go out.
My father had got a house from the company. The company bought three big houses in the West End, which they divided up, and they rented out to senior employees and then laterally sold them off and my father bought a flat. But because he was in poor health from the military, from the army, he got some kidney disease in the army and was very unhealthy; he couldn’t get the insurance that went with a mortgage, which meant that, when he died, we had to find money to pay the mortgage. My mother had her widow’s pension and she had work from making lampshades and I was earning. I started off (I can find a payslip or something) at £2.35 pence or something… £2, three and sixpence it was, my first week’s pay for forty-four hours, you know.
I wasn’t contributing a huge amount; we had no money! And my clothes came from parcels from America. My mother had some cousin or somebody in America that sent them and she would get the clothes altered. And when you went - if you went out at night, whether you’re going with boys from Springburn or whether you’re going with boys from Garnethill Shul, I didn’t have a suit. I didn’t go. I just didn’t go places. So it was hard. Anyway it’s all turned now and went pretty good now.
INT: And how long did your mother live until?
J.C: I think it was but I’d have to look it up, I’d need to look it up. My father died in ‘53 aged fifty-five…‘84, she died aged eighty-five.
INT: And did she really remain isolated from other Polish people here in Glasgow?
J.C: No she went to the Polish club.
J.C: The Sikorski. But she wasn’t accepted as a Polish person because she was Jewish.
J.C: She had a very good friend, and my mother was like a Polish patriot, if you like, and brought me up like that, and yet her good friend, her really good friend, told her one day, ‘But you’re not Polish, you’re Jewish’.
Now, I mean you can trace our families back to the 1700s. I’ve managed to trace them back to then. And they were all in publishing, medicine; they were all educated. But not Polish…
INT: That’s interesting. But yet she still continued going to the Polish club?
J.C: Yes she did. Well she was good and jolly and she had a lot of friends there. And I’ll tell you an interesting thing that happened to me.
I went to a funeral of a friend of mine, a Polish girl who got me involved in the Scottish Union of Students and the British Council and travelling on student exchanges. And she was a real live wire. Gromek, Eva Gromek her name was. Anyway Eva wasn’t a well person and she died quite young and I went to her funeral, oh a decade ago it must have been, and there was a wee reception afterwards, a wee sort of wake in the Polish club, in the Sikorski, and there were people there and I was chatting to people I didn’t know, women, and I was speaking Polish of course; everybody was speaking Polish. And they were saying, ‘Why don’t you join the club?’ and I was saying ‘Ach, I don’t fancy it’.
I mean when my mother was a member I did go and I remember doing a slide show presentation of travels in Poland, you know, the Communist times. These Poles never went there and I had been in Communist times and I showed them things. I don’t know whether they believed what they saw, but there you are.
And you know ‘You should join’ and I said ‘Ach I know. But I used to come here when my mum was a member.’
‘Was your mother a member?’
‘Yes my mother was a member’
‘What was her name?’ and I said Cent…
Where is she buried?’
I said ‘Out at Glenduffhill’. But there is a Catholic cemetery there as well.
I said, ‘Oh she’s out there.’
‘Oh I’ve never seen that name on a stone?’
I said, ‘Oh, she’s in the Jewish cemetery.’
That was it. No more, ‘You should come and join the club’. The conversation finished. That’s here in Glasgow.
INT: That’s here in Glasgow. And do you think of yourself still as Jewish as you ever were?
J.C: You must be. There’s no doubt about that and it’s got nothing to do with religion. Ethnic, call it what you will, there’s names for it. I’ll wear a kilt but I’m not Scots, I know. When I work in Scotland, I wear a kilt as a tour manager. You know…Why not?
J.C: I mean most of the Scots who wear a kilt aren’t, shouldn’t be wearing it anyway either.
INT: So do your sons, do they still live in Glasgow?
J.C: No, one does and one lives in Dubai and both have ‘married out’.
But they never had Jewish company here. There’s no Jews here. Anyway one has married a Catholic girl and they’ve got three children, the second one just started school today.
INT: Oh lovely.
J.C: So we see them regularly. And the other one is in Dubai and he’s married a Filipino, beautiful girl, who was working for him and now he’s working for her. And they’ve got a little girl. So they both have their own internet businesses and both doing OK.
INT: So do you, have you been to Dubai then?
INT: Very good.
J.C: He says ‘Where do you want to go?’
INT: That’s very nice.
J.C: It’s lovely.
INT: So is there any country you haven’t been to then?
J.C: Well there’s a few yes. We’ve been to a lot of places and quite often it’s because of a person. Like, we’ve been to Korea and we went to Vietnam. And then Zara wanted to go to India and Nepal so we went trekking in Nepal. We just… wherever. So our son does the long haul and we do all the internal.
INT: Excellent. That’s how it should be.
J.C: It’s pretty good. He’s good to us.
INT: I’m sure you were very good to him as he grew up as well.
J.C: A good boy.
INT: And the final question, I wanted to ask is you have an amazing collection of the CVs…
J.C: Well the (Citroen) 2CV.
INT: You got an award for it as well.
J.C: Well I’ve got a few things. I’ve got two 2CVs. I can take them apart right down to the chassis and rebuild, which I have done.
I’ve done it for other people and I’ve done it for myself. I don’t do it now. I’ve had 2CVs since 1970. I’ve travelled all over Europe with 2CVs, and the boys learned to drive in a 2CV and their first cars were 2CVs.
INT: Do you think that’s your French background coming out?
J.C: I don’t know. It’s just it’s an interesting car and it’s easy to work on. So 2CV is a feature in our family.
INT: Well I can say that we’ve both thoroughly enjoyed speaking to you.