"I always said I never wanted to be 100, it's too much, one gets weaker as one gets older."

So says Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg, the first ever female vice-chairman of mental health unit the Tavistock Clinic, who came to England in the 1930s as a child refugee.

Now living in Golders Green with a live-in carer, Isca celebrated her 100th birthday on March 4, which was marked with "hundreds of flowers" and a film of her life by The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR).

She said: "People make so much of being 100, it's amazing, it's been an incredible experience.

"I didn't expect anything but the amount of flowers, it was like having a flower garden here and the amount of cards was incredible, even one from the King."

Ham & High: Isca Salzberger-WittenbergIsca Salzberger-Wittenberg (Image: AJR)

Born in Frankfurt in 1923, "ten years before Hitler came to power", Isca was the youngest of three sisters.

She attended a Jewish Primary School where an English teacher had been brought in. "What foresight!" she says, as she was able to help her mother get papers for the family to flee to UK without being caught by Gestapo officers.

Well before the war, Hitler was gaining power and Isca said she would be spat at as she walked to and from school. 

Until 1939, her father Rabbi Georg Salzberger was the rabbi of Frankfurt's Westend-Synagogue, which was destroyed on Kristallnacht when Nazi officers in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses.

When her father was incarcerated in Dacchau concentration camp, Isca's mother contacted his friends abroad, who were able to get him a job in Los Angeles, which in turn enabled Isca's mother to go to the Gestapo and ask for his release.

"He had been beaten and all sorts of things had happened to him," said Isca. "When he came home he had double pneumonia. Had he stayed a day or two longer he would have been finished."

The family fled to the UK at Easter in 1939 courtesy of the British consulate in Frankfurt, when Isca was 16. She had just a suitcase and was permitted to take her cello. 

A refugee charity, later to become the AJR, visited the family and asked Isca what she could do. "I said I'd take any job but I loved babies and children."

She was sent to Yorkshire to train as an infant nurse where "the worst thing was we were not allowed to pick up the babies".

After a month her mother had written to her saying she could return home if she was unhappy, but she "fell in love with a three-and-a-half year old boy who had a problem with his heart" and stayed on another year.

From there she asked to go to university to become a social worker. With help from a refugee charity she was awarded a scholarship to study in Birmingham and lived in a Quaker college.

She said: "The atmosphere was wonderful, each person was accepted, whatever the nationality. I felt for the first time being in England I could be myself. I flourished."

Once graduated she started work at the Tavistock Clinic in Belsize Park, where she was one of the first people to undertake the child psychotherapy training after the Second World War.

She was to remain there for 25 years as a child and adolescent psychotherapist, before becoming a consultant until she was forced to retire at 65.

Ham & High: Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg, centre, with her parents and sistersIsca Salzberger-Wittenberg, centre, with her parents and sisters (Image: AJR)

Tragedy befell her family when her older sister Lore died from cancer, aged 44, leaving two sons, Raphael, then eight, and Jonathan, five.

"She asked me to look after her children, so I looked after her delightful children," she said. 

Following her sister's wishes, she married her brother-in-law, something she says is "not unusual in Jewish culture" and who was "a very gentle person".

Balancing her job with children she would have dark dreams not uncommon to many other working mothers.

"A surgeon was opening me up and saw so many bad things inside me.
There was nothing they could do for me except sew me up again. There was something about me that didn't believe I was good enough to look after my sister's children," she said.

The author of three books, in September the second edition of her latest, Experiencing Endings and Beginnings From Birth to Old Age, was published with a new chapter of what it's like to be in your 90s.

At 97, missing her beloved cello which she could no longer play, she took up the piano, "which I always thought inferior to the cello", and started taking lessons.

"What you lose you mustn't rest on that, you don't stay talking and thinking about that, you must think about what you can do," she said.

"If I go to the piano and practice I forget everything else, I'm only concentrating on the music." 

She is fiercely proud of her two sons, her five grandchildren and four great grandchildren, of which the youngest is two years old and "absolutely delightful".

She had multiple birthday parties, the first on March 3 with her neighbours and many more afterwards.

She added: "I have been very lucky, very lucky. There's something about my personality that likes the positive approach to everything. Despite what I might say, I've always had a cheerful nature."

The AJR is holding an International Holocaust Testimony Forum on April 19 & 20 at Lancaster House – focussing on collecting, preserving and disseminating Holocaust testimonies. 

Dr Bea Lewkowicz, director of the AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive, said: "It promises to be a fascinating event focusing on innovative ways for future generations to hear and engage with the stories of the survivors and refugees, such as Isca, who came to the UK to build new lives and communities and who had a profound impact on British society and culture.”