Alice was born on 16 February 1919 in east London. Her parents Abraham (b.1875) and Sarah Kissin (b. 1888, nee Rosenbaum) had emigrated from Lithuania and Poland respectively earlier in the century.
At the time she was born the Spanish Flu pandemic was raging. When she died over a century later the Covid 19 pandemic had taken hold world-wide. She did not catch either of these diseases, but her last months were adversely affected by the isolation and restrictions of lockdown.
She was a bright, adventurous and rebellious girl, keen to escape the restrictions of home. As a student at Central Foundation School (CFS) she formed life long friendships with a group of like-minded and politically-active friends including Rene Kaufman and Bertha Sokoloff.
The teenage Alice rebelled against her family’s ways. At home she was supposed to clean the parlour that was stuffed with ornaments and furnishings. She told her friends that she made a point of breaking something each time she had to do the dusting. Bertha Sokoloff enjoyed relating this story many years later, comically torn between admiration for Alice’s boldness and censure of her behaviour!
Alice took part in lots of school activities, reflected in the February 1934 CFS school magazine when she was a member of form VB. Her essay – In a London Fog – is included; she is mentioned as the vice games captain of Orange House and a member of the School second netball team (which competed against local schools). She gets glowing reviews for her perfomance as George in a performance of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, gaining plaudits for a ‘masterly performance’.
Witnessing Cable Street demonstration 1936
As a teenager in 1936 she witnessed the clashes of the Cable Street demonstration. In this recording made at a party soon after her 100th birthday in 2019, she recalls the event.
Link to Bertha Sokoloff obituary 2018
War breaks outSoon after war broke out in 1939, Alice and a recently married friend (a different Bertha) hitchhiked up to Scotland with the intention of finding jobs on a farm. Two days into the trip the plan was scuppered when the friend’s husband rushed up to Scotland to take his bride back to London. The marriage proved to be fairly short lived.