There was some excitement in the class of seven-year-olds. We were to welcome two new members in our class. I didn’t think more about it until I passed two strangely-dressed women at the school gates; their hems too long and their faces deeply lined, they looked much older than the mothers I knew. Almost granny’s age. Their daughters were quietly slipped into our class.
Miss Green, (I couldn’t resist putting her into 1955 The Summer When…) probably hoped the other parents wouldn’t notice. But I overheard conversations when hiding with my sister in the tree house our father had rigged up in the old pear tree. Nearby on the lawn he had just mowed, my mother invited her friends to tea.
‘I don’t know who pays for these children,’ someone said. My mother looked worried – she tried to avoid any upsetting discussion. Ours was a private school for young girls. She murmured something about their being persecuted – a new, strange word – and perhaps this was the way we could help.
The school bus stopped on the far side of the playing fields in summer. We walked across the mown grass wet with dew and crawling with worms, looking for adventure. It came with the two new faces in the classroom that morning. I noticed Adela first. She had lots of curls which I admired, slightly envious. Regina had a rounder face and straight brown hair. Both were silent and seemed wrapped up tightly inside themselves. Some of us went to say ‘hello’ but they just shook their heads and looked straight at us, almost through us. The classes started as usual and two in the class were given charge of the newcomers. When Miss Green took us for the class on religion – it was a Church of England school – she explained that Adela and Regina would join us for lessons on the Old Testament but would stay in the school library for the New Testament.
On sports day that year Adela and I won the three-legged race. We became good friends after that, before the inevitable parting when we left for different secondary schools and our families moved. I never saw her father. Her mother never invited me to visit their home. Decades later, in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I realised I had never forgotten their names, perhaps anglicised to Adela Krapps and Regina Stone. I remember them and the time we spent together in a Surrey school every time I contribute to an appeal to help refugees.