Bar Mizwa


In 1939, the boys in the Minster Road hostel were 12 or 13 years old. On their 13th birthday they had their Bar Mizwa (a Hebrew term meaning „son of commandment“), which is an important date in Judaism that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood for boys. For the first time in his life, the young boy will be asked to read the Torah on the Sabbath after his 13th birthday. At home, this would have been a great family event with a ceremonial service in the synagogue, guests and gifts – but now the boys were cared for by strangers. Paul Katz remembers that day with sadness:


gulliemots  The Bar Mizwa was still back in London, at the hostel. And the committee would do everything, would do nothing by halves. It was all arranged. … On the Sabbath I went to synagogue, read my portion, successful, without any mistakes and afterwards there was a reception at one of the homes of a member of the committee, but I remember being feeling rather lost and ignored, and was sorry for myself, thought, ‘my family should have been there.’ I am thinking more of my family than of anything else. And in the afternoon there was a party at the hostel for the Bar Mizwa child and I was supposed with a new suit, and short trousers and long trousers, till the days of short trousers. Dr Seligsohn advised me, that when I was asked for a present I should ask for a watch. I did get the watch, a watch and a suit, and of corse, letters and letters from my parents and brothers and my grandparents.

Shimon Ben-Yehuda (Paul Katz) 1998 *

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* Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Nr. 44598: Interview with Shimon Ben-Yehuda (formerly Paul Katz) 1998 in Sheffield, GB (translation: Cordula Lissner).

Brief von Fritz Penas

Letter from Fritz Penas to his parents.

Paul Katz (right) at 1 Minster Road with his class mates and the hostel parents
Gerda and Rudolf Seligsohn, 1939. Photo credit: Courtesy of family Marchand.