By Andrew Rawnsley
Madeleine Albright has both made and lived a lot of history. When she talks about a resurgence of fascism, she says it as someone who was born into the age of dictators. She was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis consumed the country in 1939. After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain and found refuge in Notting Hill Gate, “before it was fancy”, in an apartment which backed on to Portobello Road. Her first memories of life in London are of disorientation. “I didn’t have a clue. My parents were very continental European and I didn’t have siblings early on. I felt isolated.” As Hitler unleashed the blitz, “every night we went down to the cellar where everybody was sleeping.”
She has since been back to the redbrick block in Notting Hill. “I rang the doorbell of the person who lived in the apartment – it was a lot smaller than I remember it. I asked a stupid question: whether the cellar still existed. They said: ‘Of course the cellar exists.’ So they took me down and I had this moment – the green paint was exactly the same. I remember the green paint.”
It was decades later that she discovered that, though she was raised a Catholic, her parentage was Jewish and many of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust, including three grandparents.
From Notting Hill, the family moved out of central London to Walton-on-Thames, where they shared a house “with some other Czechs”. The bombs fell there too, but she enjoyed “every minute” of this part of her childhood. “I went to school and we spent a lot of time in air raid shelters singing A Hundred Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall.” It was less terrifying than it might have been because “my parents had a capacity of making the abnormal seem normal”.
She became “a movie star”. The Red Cross wanted to do a film about a refugee child. “So I was the refugee child, and they gave me a pink rabbit as my pay.”
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Source: The Guardian