'Britain gave me a home': 100-year-old Cilly who arrived as a refugee
- Credit: Haar family
A retired nurse has celebrated her 100th birthday, having discovered the cosmopolitan joys of Hampstead after fleeing Nazi Germany.
Born on December 29, 1921, Cilly Haar now lives in Swiss Cottage and told the Ham&High about the life she made in north London since arriving in the country as a Jewish refugee.
Among Cilly’s fondest memories is the Cosmo Café, which was, in its heyday, a legendary Finchley Road institution and a favourite haunt of Sigmund Freud.
It was “where all the intellectuals and the very educated German refugees gathered”, she said.
“You could go and have a German baguette and salad and all the continental dishes."
She also has vivid memories of the Louis Patisserie, “where you could get the most wonderful cheesecake and eclairs… everything was continental”. The Hungarian bakery, in Heath Street, is still open today.
Cilly witnessed historic national events from her north London neighbourhood. She remembers catching a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II as she “came down Belsize Park in a carriage to greet all her subjects” on the day of her coronation.
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Arriving in the UK in August 1939, Cilly joined a community in Gloucester.
For 18 months she trained there as a nurse and she said many of the friends she met there “collected and amalgamated in Hampstead” – and she soon joined them.
Her first job was at New End Hospital, “a small catchment hospital that did everything from accidents to overdoses to geriatrics to gynaecology”. It closed in 1986 and later she worked as a senior night sister at Manor House Hospital opposite Golders Hill Park.
Cilly first returned to Germany in 1976. Her husband, Alf, offered to go with her, but she refused: “I needed to do this by myself."
At her childhood apartment block in East Berlin, she unexpectedly ran into an old friend.
“She remembered me," said Cilly. "She was the girl who used to live on the floor above me and she had married the son of the people who lived next door… It was a very emotional meeting, none of us could speak."
Cilly has made many return visits to Germany and in 1996 was invited to Berlin by the German senate. She said she was “wined and dined” and “put up in the best hotels” as a way of addressing the "terrible" legacy of the Holocaust.
“I’m not bitter, but I would never have gone back to live there again," she said.
"It wasn’t my home anymore. Britain gave me a home, gave me a profession and I look at Britain as my home. I had no desire whatsoever to go back.”
This year in Camden, Cilly's house was caught in July's flooding. The ground floor was damaged and emergency services had to bail water out from the hallway into the front garden.
“It was a nightmare” she said, “for four months I waited for carpets to be replaced. I’m still waiting for my curtains”.
Living through coronavirus has also been tough, but she said: “I count my blessings that I was spared.”
She said her granddaughter in Forest Hill is “extremely supportive” and that a volunteer from the Jewish association would visit during lockdown.
She was further supported by an Italian student who was living with her. When she retired from nursing, Cilly began taking in foreign students learning English as a second language.
"It was a wonderful 22 years," she said. "I learnt a lot about different nations: Spanish, Italian, German."
Alf died in 1989 but the couple had three children (Louis, David and Ronnie) and Cilly has five grandchildren (Fiona, Simon, Michael, Sam and Sarah-Emmanuelle) and four great-grandchildren (Samantha, Josh, Tobias and Emma).