A Day on Board a Luxury Cruise Ship, 1937  

Part 1

A London family’s summer vacation to the Northern Capitals, Hamburg and Nazi Germany

Told by Nigel Bobroff

This story begins in August 1937 when my great-grandparents Leopold and Lily Hirshfield of London took a cruise to northern European cities with two of their children, Desmond and Joan on board the luxury cruise ship, the TSS Arandora Star. The ship left England on 14th August 1937, returning on 3rd September. The cruise included stops at Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Zoppot, Danzig, Bornholm, Travemunde, Lubeck and finally Hamburg before returning to Southampton.

Introduction page from album compiled by Desmond Hirshfield, September 1937

Sixty five years later, on a summer afternoon in 2002, I would discover hidden in the back of a cupboard, a photographic diary of the trip compiled by Desmond. From within its pages, a fascinating and tragic story captured on that summer holiday would emerge.

My great grandfather Leopold, was born in Birmingham, England in 1889 and died in London in 1966, his wife, Lily was born in London in 1889 and died in London in 1978, I remember Lily only vaguely as I was twelve when she died and sadly I never knew Leopold who died in the year I was born. Leopold was the son of Tobias Hirschfield, a Polish immigrant who came to England circa 1870, before marrying Rosa Cohen from Leeds, England in 1876. Lily was born and raised in London, the daughter of an affluent tailor.

At the time of the cruise, Leopold was an active local councillor in Hendon, a suburb of London. The family were affluent but not wealthy and lived in Golders Green, a leafy suburb of north London in the 1930’s. Leopold and Lily had three children, Desmond, born 1913, died 1993, later to become The Lord Hirshfield, Norman, born 1915, died 2000 (my grandfather), later to become Mayor of Barnet (in London) 1975-1976, during which time Barnet would become twined with Ramat Gan in Israel and Joan, born 1920, died 1993. Both the sons were well educated having attended the City of London School during the 1920’s.

From left: Leopold, Joan, Lily, Desmond

The entire journey was meticulously photographed and recorded with a detailed commentary of events by Desmond. A beautiful leather bound album commemorating the trip was produced by him and upon his death was among some possessions inherited by his brother Norman. A year or so after Norman’s death, whilst looking through some of his papers, together with my sister Lara, I stumbled upon the album in the back of a cupboard. It was to reveal the remarkable story of their summer which had lain dormant for some 65 years.

For so many of the people and places featured within the album, tragedy and heartbreak on an unimaginable scale would occur within just a few years.