A WARM and comfortable family home in a quiet, leafy Doncaster street with walls adorned with family photographs and mementoes of a star-studded life in showbiz.
The friendly smile and gentle, well-spoken manner of Larry Mandon would suggest his life is little different from thousands of others quietly winding their way through retirement.
But Larry’s past holds horrors we can’t even begin to imagine. His formative years were torn apart, wrecked by evil and fear, murder and persecution, bewilderment and shattered dreams.
For Larry is a survivor of the Holocaust. But to suggest Larry was one of the lucky ones is wildy inaccurate. He may have escaped deportation and certain death in the gas chambers, but he still suffered the pain and persecution of Adolf Hitler’s twisted ‘Final Solution.’
He said: “I represent the dreams of six million people. Six million people had hopes and dreams and plans for their lives. Each and every one of them like me. Those hopes and dreams were extinguished.”
Born in Hamburg as Hans-Eugen Gassmann, the youngster and his siblings enjoyed a middle-class life. Father Paul was the owner of a chain of sports shops, a leading Freemason and a prominent socialist. When Hitler seized power in 1933, Jew Paul Gassmann had all the qualities despised by the Nazi party to make him an instant target. He was arrested, disappeared and was finally murdered by “persons unknown” on Larry’s sixth birthday.
“Those were terrible, unimaginable times,” said Larry. “We lived in constant fear. My family and I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. We were banned from parks, cinemas, restaurants, shops, simply for being Jewish. From the age of six I lived in fear of my life. The Hitler Youth were marching up and down our street singing songs with lyrics such as ‘when Jewish blood drips off our daggers, times will be twice as good.’ Can you imagine what that does to a young boy?”
Larry was among those bundled onto a train, among hundreds of Jewish children from across Europe smuggled out of Germany under the Kindertransport, waving goodbye to his old life and preparing to start a new one as a ship sailed under cover of darkness from the Hook of Holland.
Seasick, separated from his mother and his brother and sister and with little more to his name than the clothes he was standing up in, Larry stepped onto the quay at Harwich a frightened little boy.
He said: “I wished I was dead. But I gradually realised that Great Britain was the only country in the world that had heard the cries of these children. I was now basically an orphan having to start my life again.”
He was sent to a titled family in the Kent countryside, but here too the youngster felt isolated - unable to speak English, blend in and feeling more than a little afraid.
“I cannot fault the family who took me in,” he added. “They were wonderful. But they didn’t know what to do with me. We couldn’t communicate with each other. No one loved me or hugged me.”
After boarding school, Larry, always a keen singer, was drawn to the world of theatre and musicals, his bass baritone voice earning him a place at the Royal Opera House in London. At the age of 21, Hans-Eugen Gassmann was consigned to history and Larry Mandon was born. He became one of the most popular stars of the West End in the 1950s and early 60s, meeting his wife of nearly sixty years, Sally, on the London stage and the couple forming a musical partnership which saw them rub shoulders with the likes of Ivor Novello, Noel Coward and Elizabeth Taylor and living a jet-set lifestyle as they toured the globe to perform.
After their son Paul was born in 1964, Larry, now 83, began a successful career in psychology that also gave him the courage to revisit his past.
“I felt very aggrieved by Hamburg and its citizens,” he said. “I was invited to address the senate there and I called my speech ‘The Child Outside The Gates.’ I asked them if I was still outside and whether I would be allowed back in. Our neighbours had betrayed us, everyone betrayed us. People pretended they didn’t know what was going on but they knew.”
As Larry tackled his past, writing a book about his experiences and speaking to Doncaster schoolchildren about his experiences, there was one wound that was never able to heal however.
“The relationship with my mother was never the same again. I first met her seven years after we had been separated, but by then the umbilical cord had been cut. She was very bitter,” he said.
Larry, of Heatherbank Road, Cantley, still has a message - the spirit which the Nazis tried to crush within him lives on, the flame of desire burning just as bright as ever.
“People say we shouldn’t talk about the past, we should forget. But people need to know that these terrible things happened and why they happened. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I just represent six million people and six million crushed dreams. Each and everyone of them a person, just like me. That is why we must never, ever forget.”