Alan Barker in Toronto, Ontario, February 2011
Photo of Alan Barker taken while in Germany, 1944
Photo of Alan Barker with fellow soldiers taken while in England, 1943
Photo of Alan Barker while in Oxford, England, 1943
Photo of Alan Barker in the uniform he wore while serving as a translator attached to the British Intelligence Corps 1944-1947
"I didn’t mind being in the army, doing my work, then I lost all my family [in the Holocaust]. [...] And when I had a chance, while I was in Germany, there was the city I came from, I didn’t want to have nothing to do with it."
My name is Alan Barker. It used to be Adi Tadelis. While I was in the British services, when the second front started, all the Jewish servicepeople, they changed their names for safety reasons. So my name was Adi Tadelis before. Actually, it was Adolf but this was not a very famous name in those days (laughs). So actually, I was pleased to change this name.
If I may say so, I was a little bit ahead of the Nazis. They even tried quite a few times to get me and I slipped through. Number one, there was Kristallnacht [“The Night of Broken Glass,” a Nazi pogrom on November 9-10, 1938] and I have to give credit to a German. Jewish employers would not employ Jews as it didn’t look good, so I was lucky to work for a German. And the German needed permission to employ Jewish [workers], they had to ask for permit to employ a Jew and they used to write down they can’t get German labour and they have to hire Jewish. And this guy on Kristallnacht, I get ready to go home and I couldn’t get out of the door, I was locked in. And the next day I got out, I knew what was going on, they burned all the synagogues, this was the public, how come the public in whole Europe burned down the synagogues the same time, this must have been the army or the government. And then the second time it happened, I got a letter saying, that gave me German citizenship. When they took the citizenship away from all the Jews, how would they give me German citizenship? So I did not go to pick it up.
Then they called up me up for the Army. There was no Jewish [people] in the German Army, they called me up in the German Army; that’s another thing I didn’t go. And then we got in contact with the Habonim [a Zionist] youth movement, they told me the safest place for you would go in a labour camp. The labour camp at this time, he says, they treat you right, they just make you work.
Every week or every few weeks, it came letters with the permits to go to England. And I was on the committee that decide who goes. And I tell you that is not an easy job, to decide who’s going to be free, then we didn’t know what’s going to happen the next day. They pick people to go, it’s not easy. It doesn’t matter if you like them or you don’t like them, you give somebody a chance to be alive but you never know what’s going to happen to the others. So that was there and then somebody picked me.
I joined the British Army and, at first, I had a unit, they selected me for a general unit, this was nothing. And then they put me in the [Royal Army] Ordnance Corps. They were looking for [German] interpreters so I volunteered and I was accepted as an interpreter. To be actually in the Intelligence Corps, you had to be two generation British. So I was not two generation British, so I was attached to the Intelligence Corps. But attached and be in is only a piece of paper or sign on your uniform. You do the same thing, you’re part of it, only you haven’t got the title Intelligence Corps. You’re only attached to it, but you do the same kind of work.
My work was threefold. Every city had an officer in charge, what they called in German, the commandant. I was his interpreter; to the officer in charge of the city. I was done, there was a military court where they charged soldiers and civilians for doing different things. And I was interpreter in court. And then when they captured the prisoners, I was helping out or I was interpreter for question the prisoners. And I have to tell you, the one I was working with was a very smart cookie. He was very smart, when he used to get information, he want it very simple. All he had was a book, an empty book. And when we captured somebody, he used to look in the book and told the guy, and there was a name, I don’t know the unit now, but one of the worst killer units that was, he says, you belong to this and this unit. And the guy got nervous and shaky, when he already gave away the unit he belonged to, to be not marked as one of the worst. And this way, he used to give the information away; another thing and if he didn’t do too well, he asked me to get him some new pencil, his pencil, he lost the pencil, he got me out of the room. What happened in the room, I just can guess. But I wasn’t; he had no witness. So I had to leave the room and get him something so he was very, very good.
I didn’t mind being in the army, doing my work, then I lost all my family [in the Holocaust]. I didn’t feel good about the Germans. And when I had a chance, while I was in Germany, there was the city I came from, I didn’t want to have nothing to do with it.