Lisbeth’s Apron: Escaping the Nazis
By Josie Roberts, Learning Officer
To accompany the Sukkot:
Seeking Shelter exhibition we have an array of exciting events alongside the
wonderful sukkah installed in our Welcome Gallery. To highlight further some of
the important issues surrounding migration, we are going to shed light on a
number of hidden stories of migration in our permanent collection. We will add
a new sign each week next to an object with a hidden story. To share these
stories even further we wanted to add them to our blog. Keep up with the
stories week by week.
This apron belonged to Lisbeth Sokal. Born in 1919 in Vienna into a
wealthy Jewish family, she went to a Protestant school. She and her parents
went to Synagogue but considered themselves Austrian first and Jewish second. She
didn’t experience anti-semitism until Hitler came into power.
Lisbeth was one of 20,000 women to receive domestic service visas and she
left Austria for Britain in 1938 to work for Mrs Moon. This number is almost
double the number that were saved by the Kindertransport.
After the Evian Conference in July 1938 Britain and many other countries
changed their policies making immigration much more difficult.
Britain established the domestic visa but their policy was that refugees
had to find jobs in Britain before leaving to prove that they wouldn’t be a burden.
If you were able to get a domestic visa, life was very different for many who
were often from the upper-middle classes.
Many found themselves working 15 hour days cooking, cleaning and
scrubbing floors. A testimony from one woman said “After a few weeks I
complained, saying it’s a bit too hard. The lady of the house said, ‘If it’s
too much for you, I’ll send you back to Hitler.’”
From Lisbeth’s testimony it seems like Mrs Moon was kind to her, eventually
helping her reunite with her brother but it seems that it was very rare that
these women were treated well by the families they served. Sadly Lisbeth’s
parents were murdered in the Holocaust.
Lisbeth was saved from the terrible
fate of her parents and found safety in Britain. She later met her husband
David Sokal, another refugee from Austria, when she was working for the Jewish
The Sukkot: Seeking Shelter project was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.