Interviewed on 15th May 2015 by E Sheffield

Robert Norton, known as ‘Bob’, was born in 1932 in Teplitz Schönau, Czechoslovakia. The family lived there during Bob’s early childhood. They kept the main Jewish holidays, but were not especially religious. Bob’s father was from Budapest, Hungary and retained his Hungarian citizenship. Bob’s mother was from Czechoslovakia. Having first fled to Prague, the family fled again in 1939 to England with the original intention to move on to America.

Bob also discusses what life was like before the Holocaust, how religious he was growing up, and how religion helps him in his day to day life.

Q. How religious did you feel growing up?

A. ‘Very little’.

Q. Was religion generally widely practiced where you lived?

A. ‘Among Jews, I would think that seventy-five, eighty percent were like us. They practiced Judaism for three, four times a year, went to the odd service for some reason or another. But they were not strict Jews in that sense. All I can tell you is I remember very well going to the main, I’ll say Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and these sort of services with my father and grandfather and uncle, holding their hands, they dressed in their best clothes, so they often wore top-hats some of the men, they thought it was you know, the occasion. That’s the sort of thing I can remember. And the choir, which was actually beautiful. They employed not only a rabbi but also an assistant rabbi, which in Hebrew is called a Chazan. Chazan is the man who does all the singing, the beautiful music and so on. So, they employed one of those so they were quite well to do as a community. There must have been twenty percent who didn’t keep anything. Nominally they were Jews but that’s it, full stop’.

Q. Which other religions were practiced, can you remember, in the area?

A. ‘Oh, strong Catholicism. My parents never ever spoke about Protestant. It was all Catholics, it was a very strong Catholic society’.

Q. Which faith would you say you felt most?

A. ‘It’s a difficult question because I belong to the Jewish community here because I feel that I belong to the community. I would not ever change my religion. I’m not terribly religious because I wasn’t brought up that way partly, and partly because I’ve moved on, I think, but I’m extremely proud of belonging to this group, if you like’.

Q. Does religion help you in your day to day life?

A. ‘I think the basic laws of religion do. I mean, I try, and I’ve tried and it sounds very sort of uppity but I’ve tried all my life to live by the Ten Commandments, because I think irrespective of them being the things that the Jews promulgated they’re common sense rules. You don’t steal because if you do, somebody else will nick something from you. You don’t murder because somebody else will come and murder some of your people. It’s just common sense rules. So, I’ve tried to live by them. Like most human beings, I fall down occasionally. But that that’s as far as it’s gone. I can’t believe that I would be a better human being if I didn’t eat pork or if I didn’t go to the synagogue every Saturday as regular as clockwork, I don’t believe I would be a better human being. So, religion plays a part but not a huge-- formal religion does not play a huge part in my life. No’.

Q. Did you marry into the faith?

A. ‘Yes, and that’s something I swore as a late teenager that I would never marry out, but only because I think psychologically, with the experiences I had, I was afraid of the people outside’.

Q. Do you think you will have a religious funeral?

A. ‘I hope so, yeah. It’s part of my tradition it’s the one thing that binds me that, I think every human being needs to belong to something, whether it belong to a church or a synagogue or some other organisation or something that binds him and makes him-- because we’re tribal, human beings; we’re tribal. The customs of my tribe I want to keep, and they’re important to me so yes, I will definitely have a religious funeral. I hope’.