…I like to talk to school children about my life. I hope that my experiences will help them to understand the importance of being tolerant of other people and their differences.

-Bob Norton 

Robert Norton was born in 1932 in a small town called Teplitz Schonau in Czechoslovakia, around 30 miles from the German border. He was the only child in a Jewish family, although they were not particularly religious. They observed the main Jewish holidays, and Bob remembers being in awe of the spectacle in the synagogue during the celebrations of Yom Kippur.

Bob’s family lived comfortably.  His father owned a knitwear company, and his mother was the child of a doctor. They used to visit Bob’s grandmother in Budapest once a year, and Bob remembers going to the zoo there, and enjoying various other activities with his family.

Bob started school at age 5, and can remember being given a cornet of sweets, as was customary, to ‘sweeten’ their first day of school. However, he was not able to attend school for long, as in 1938 the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia was ceded to Germany as part of the appeasement of Hitler. Anti-Jewish laws were quickly imposed on Bob’s town, and he had to leave school. His non-Jewish friends also stopped speaking to him, crossing the street to avoid him if they saw him. This upset Bob greatly.

Jewish bank accounts and properties were seized, and many people tried to flee into central Czechoslovakia, however a heavy ‘Jew Tax’ was levied on those attempting this. Luckily for Bob and his family, an oversight in 1918 when Bob’s father moved to Czechoslovakia meant that Bob’s family were still Hungarian citizens. Whilst Hungary was friendly with Germany, they still protected their citizens, including Jews, which meant that Bob’s father still retained his money and did not have to pay the ‘Jew Tax’.

Bob’s family fled to Prague and rented a small flat there. However, they were not safe for long. In 1939 Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Bob remembers seeing the Nazi soldier parading past his flat. Immediately the Gestapo started making arrests, including Bob’s father’s business partner. During this period life was very hard for Jews living under Nazi rule and some people took their own life.

Bob’s family were lucky as they had an elderly American relative who vouched for them, and they were able to obtain a visa to go to America. Due to their Hungarian citizenship, they were able to obtain a Nazi exit visa, providing they left via Hungary. Most Jewish families were not so lucky, as obtaining visas to leave was extremely difficult.

Bob and his family boarded a train bound for the Netherlands, which passed through Germany. Bob remembers a man who boarded the train in Dusseldorf, and sat in their carriage. He began peeling an apple with a knife near the Dutch border, however he was arrested by the Gestapo before they could cross into the Netherlands. His fate was almost certain death. Bob kept the knife that this stranger left for several years after the war.

Bob and his family made it to the Netherlands, where they stayed with a family friend for a week, before heading to England. They lived in the Germany Jewish colony in London for a while, trying to secure passage to the USA. This became impossible after the war broke out in Britain, and Bob and his family eventually moved to Leicester. Although people were initially suspicious that they were German spies, due to German being their first language, they soon settled in there. After the war, they found out that their family and friends that stayed in Czechoslovakia were unfortunately taken to camps and killed. For this reason, Bob and his family stayed in England.

Bob has been a friend of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum where he has been speaking for many years. His testimony provides a crucial role in Holocaust education.

The Collection

The museum houses documents, objects, and photographs donated by Bob Norton. It is our privilege to care for these artefacts and ensure they are available for future generations. The museum's collection provides vital, tangible, evidence of the Holocaust. We are committed to ensuring we have everything we need to continue to tell our speaker's stories into the future. Please find a selection of objects below from the Bob Norton Collection, you can also search our collections for further objects and information.