The Nathans: fellow Kindertransport passengers

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Only recently while looking through my mother’s archive I came across a batch of letters from Paisley, Renfrewshire, dated between 1939 and 1943 addressed variously to Ruth and Raimund.

They were written by two twins, Walter and Clarisse Nathan, living with the Bovey family at 26 Thornly Park, Paisley – not far from Glasgow. They were not names that meant anything to me.

One of the Bovey children was called Mary, who died in 2015 at the age of 94. I found her funeral address in a newsletter of St Cuthbert’s Church, Colinton (on the edge of Edinburgh), and contacted the editor who kindly sent me more information, including some autobiographical details written by Clarisse Nathan (Clarisse Delafield).

The Nathans and the Neumeyers

The parallels with my mother and uncle’s story are remarkable: the Nathans and Neumeyers were close family friends, and the Neumeyers may have lived with them for a period in Munich during 1938–39, although I have no details (Clarisse remembers the Nathan address as Ainmiller Strasse 19). And a detail of Clarisse’s description contains the revelation that the children of both families made the journey to England together.

Their story hints at much of what the Neumeyers would have gone through at the same time, in particular is the process of finding someone in Britain to take in the children, and the journey on the Kindertransport and the children’s life with their new adopted family.

The Boveys’ strong Christian principles are echoed in the letters between the Nathan and Neumeyer children.

Clarisse Nathan_20181011_0001

Clarisse Nathan, while working as a nurse.

Life in Munich under the Nazis

Before the Nazis’ rise to power, the Nathan parents were well off and lived in Munich where the father had his own art gallery, the Ludwigs-Galerie. Walter and Clarisse were born there in 1925; their father died during their childhood.

On 6 November 1938 the children were barred from entering the school after the law for elimination of Jewish children from German state schools was passed on the previous day. The family then realised they would have to emigrate so that the children could continue their education.

Clarisse wrote of the atmosphere in Munich prior to their departure in 1939:

 

“What was so frightening was the hysterical atmosphere of patriotism and the feeling of limitless success and glory just round the corner. Boys and girls had to belong to the Hitler Youth Movement, a well organised group indoctrinated with the Third Reich idealism. Church affiliation was not encouraged.

On 5 November 1938, the law for the elimination of Jewish children from German State Schools was passed. On that day we were sitting in our classroom but the following day we were not allowed to enter the school. Mother was extremely angry especially when she had to sign a false declaration that it was her wish that our education be terminated. If she had refused to sign this false document she would have been arrested. Mother was utterly convinced now that the only sensible action to take was to emigrate so that we could continue our education.

My brother and I never felt very Jewish, as we had associated with Aryan children at school and church, and yet we were now such outcasts. We were very fearful of visits by the SS. Certain shops allowed Jews restricted entry only to their premises or none at all. However there were brave people around who did not want to bar their Jewish customers and made secret arrangements with Mother.

As I cast my mind back to the New Year of 1939, our house in Munich was in a state of upheaval and the future uncertain as we sought to make arrangements to emigrate.We were among thousands of children in this predicament and were most thankful that Great Britain, as well as the USA, had opened its doors to receive Jewish children. The Inter-Church Committee came into being and compiled lists of willing host families and investigated their suitability to be foster parents.”

How Lily Nathan got her children out of Germany

Lily made huge efforts to find a home for her children, Clarisse and Walter. She gave a temporary home to a Mrs Abney, was also Jewish and living in Munich but on the verge of escaping to her husband in Glasgow. In gratitude Mrs Abney put her in touch with a Quaker woman,  Mrs Richardson who knew of the Boveys’ wish to take in a Jewish refugee after an earlier attempt to do so had failed.

Clarisse described the moment when good news came at last:

 

“Not many more weeks elapsed during this waiting period, before a beautiful handwritten letter from Mr Philip Bovey dropped through our letter box! He wrote with great care to explain the family situation and their willingness to take both Walter and myself into their family.

Of course a lot of formalities had to be sorted out before our emigration could be finalised. Every letter with a Scottish post-mark brought much excitement into our lives and on one occasion a family photo was included with the letter.

We studied the atlas, looked up Glasgow and Paisley and tried hard to learn some more English. These letters had to be written in a ‘low key’, due to the Nazis censoring some of the letters. Daddy Bovey was emphatic about his Christian involvement within their local church and community and was pleased to know of our own Lutheran background. We were Jewish by descent but were being instructed in the Christian faith both at school and at Sunday school. Many formalities and obstacles had to be faced up to by our very brave mother.

Eventually all the official papers were duly completed and at last our names came up to be included in the next “Children’s Transport”, which was due to leave about the middle of May. We were told that there would only be four children leaving from Munich on that unforgettable date, 9 May 1939 at the unearthly hour of midnight.

I have a faint recollection of the actual departure and waving to mother, Alex and some friends. It was an emotional moment intermingled with adventure and a feeling of being very grown up. We were joined by more refugee children as the train travelled north.”

The Kindertransport journey

It was 9 May 1939. That date was the very date Ruth and Raimund Neumeyer, my mother and uncle, left. They were the only Kindertransportees on that train and made the whole journey together.

Clarisse describes that one-way trip to England:

 

“It was a very long journey. By the time we reached the ferry at the Hook of Holland there were about a hundred of us children, all with name tags around our necks. Daddy Bovey’s mother and his brother, Uncle Arthur, lived in London and were glad to be able to meet us. We were going to spend our first night in Mrs Bovey’s home in Chelsea. Uncle Arthur made a special detour pointing out to us some of the famous places in the capital.

Despite our weariness and minimal English we felt a sense of honour and excitement to be shown some of the famous London sights. The next day, Friday 12 May, we were taken by Uncle Arthur to Euston Railway Station where we boarded the train to Scotland.We were still wearing name tags, the guard on the train was instructed to keep an eye on us but we were quite proud to be travelling on our own.

Our arrival at the Central Station in Glasgow and our first meeting with Mr Bovey and his eldest daughter Mary is a moment that Walter and I will always treasure. It was evening now and we were taken in the Boveys’ car to our new home in Paisley.”

Into the arms of the Boveys

Philip and Phyllis Bovey lived in a semi-detached house in Paisley and had four children – Mary, Anthea, Keith and Denis – and were committed Christians. 

In autumn 1938, Mary had learnt from a newspaper report about the persecution of the Jews in Germany and the need of homes for the children of Jewish parents.  She pleaded with her parents to adopt a refugee. Philip reminisced in 1977 after being put in touch with Lily Nathan in Munich about taking in the twins:

 

“I got into correspondence with her. I went to see John Clarke, the Rector of the school, and he was most sympathetic.  He was sure he could get the Education Committee to admit the children to school. Soon the reply came: not only did they agree that the children should have places in the school, but that they would be free places.  That taught me something I had not realised before: that a Committee could have a heart!

Then we set to to get school clothing made for them, knitwear mostly.  I think it was Mother Nathan’s suggestion because I had sent her samples of school colours.  Boys’ socks and other garments were knitted to Paisley Grammar School colours in faraway Munich.  I always remember this fact with considerable enjoyment, to think that this was going on under the noses of the Nazi authorities.”

Finally the many formalities were completed, including the deposit of a £50 bond for each of the children, which was a lot of money in those days, and Walter and Clarisse could leave for Scotland and their life with the Boveys.

Mary Bovey wrote of the acts of kindness they received from the people in Paisley.

“The doctor and dentist made not charge for visits and the cobbler mended their shoes for free. Later they learned that the dentist’s sister, an English teacher at Paisley Grammar, had paid their pocket money for years.”

Walter said the house was very noisy, with eight people there, but that their beloved adopted parents were very special to them: “Mr Bovey is a very rare person, and much more noble than we deserve”.

Their mother Lily and older brother Helmut came separately to Scotland. Walter wrote in November 1939 that Lily was living only five miles away but because of their status as ‘Enemy Aliens’ he could only visit her with special permission.

Lily, Clarisse, Walter and Alec naturalised as British citizens in 1947 and changed they name from Nathan to Norton.

 

“Mary certainly had some knowledge of German and Daddy Bovey had also been learning it. Walter and I struggled with our few English words. I have vivid memories of that first evening. We had never heard ‘broken’ German or anyone else from a foreign country trying to speak our native tongue and so found this very peculiar and difficult to understand. Daddy Bovey was certainly taken aback when Walter pronounced quietly in broken English, that it would be better for Daddy to speak English, as we could not understand his broken German. Thankfully no offence was taken and the Boveys chuckled over Walter’s pronouncement.

On the same evening Walter attended a United Nations meeting for young people, called the Nansen Pioneers, at Dr and Mrs Richardsons’ house. They were all keen to meet the newly arrived refugee, and Walter in return was pleased to meet the young Scottish people. He was also eager to meet Mrs Richardson, who was so instrumental in finding our new home in Paisley. I was far too weary to venture out and was excused!

In the next few months we struggled with our new language, asking everyone to speak very slowly.

The exceptional patience of the Bovey family, friends, school teachers and especially of Mr Clarke, the Headmaster of Paisley Grammar School, was instrumental in helping us to learn English and its correct pronunciation. We certainly benefited from this early training and, with the constant corrections of our mistakes, were soon able to converse a little and slowly began to master our new language. Mummy Bovey never tired in her efforts to help us speak correctly. She was very firm with all her children and some words were not allowed within earshot; she did not allow the words ‘kids’ or ‘thanks’, it had to be ‘children’ and always ‘thank you’.”

Breakfast every day began with Philip Bovey leading family prayers, at which all were expected to attend. He would be the first to leave the breakfast table for work as an accountant at the Fairfield shipbuilding yard in Govan. The Nathan children settled into life very well, and were relieved when the plans for removal of all refugee children to North America were abandoned in 1940. The reason for this was ironically tragic: the children’s transport ship, City of Benares, was torpedoed in September of that year.

Walter expressed amazement at Raimund’s descriptions in winter 1941 of air raids in Birmingham as there wasn’t much sign of any war raging in Scotland “Raimund’s dark humour gives a hint of how scary war can be.” Indeed according to Walter their duties in ‘fire watching’ from the church tower were renamed ‘fire sleeping’ as there simply no fires to watch. But Clarisse recalled later “we were all stunned in Paisley when a bomb directly hit a first aid post killing the doctors and nursing staff in attendance.”

Later developments

After the twins reached Paisley, their mother and older brother Helmut (who renamed himself Alec later) joined them. But other relatives were trapped in Germany and died in Theresienstadt, suffering the same fate as Hans Neumeyer, his sister Irma and Vera’s father Martin, who also perished there.

Letter from Christian Council for Refugees re Nathans

A reply from the Christian Council for Refugees from Germany and Central Europe to a letter Ruth wrote from Cambridge in October 1941 asking for help locating Helmut (Alex), who they could not trace. Happily he turned up not long after: the first letter we have from him to Ruth is from an address in Glasgow on 28 January 1942.

Walter wrote in December 1941:

“Since ever we came here we have been glad to learn from our guardians in many ways. But why we are so happy and all feel as if we were part of this family is because our parents fear and love God. This holds us all together.”

In  December 1939 Walter wrote that his and Clarisse’s love for Ruth and Raimund stemmed from the support the Nathan children had from Vera Neumeyer in Munich.

And on 10 October 1942, he continues in a similar vein in broken English:

“May we keep together in this unity of spirit which was and is, I feel, and perceive as yet more clearly, the real bond between us that being rescued from Germany (that which probably would have proved fatal to us).”

Paisley Grammar School as it was when the Nathans attended it.

My thanks to Clarisse and her husband Howard and their extended family for allowing me to reproduce these extracts from Clarisse’s account of her story.

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Dela Blakmar’s world of music

Dela in the 1930s

My grandfather Hans Neumeyer often visited his sister Betty in the mountain resort of Garmisch, and in 1936 renewed acquaintance with a woman called Dela Blakmar, a violinist and violist whom he had fleetingly met some years before – his prodigious musical knowledge and ability clearly made an impression on her. She became his secretary – as he was blind, she wrote down his music for him as he composed. She was also a family friend. Was she the reason why Hans didn’t leave Germany earlier, while he still had the chance?

Dela was Swedish, but was previously called Dela Mankiewitz. Her sister Hedwig Paula Mankiewitz was the second wife of Raoul Hausmann, who had previously married Elfriede Schaeffer (Elfriede Hausmann), a violinist. Dela and Elfriede played chamber music together.

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) was a leading figure in the Berlin Dadaist school and a close friend of Kurt Schwitters, so it is no coincidence that Expressionist painter Conrad Felixmuller painted a portrait of Elfriede. Hitler deemed such art ‘degenerate’.

Hans, meanwhile, spent his time between Munich, Dachau and Berlin. He was in Berlin learning how to make flutes when the Nazis entered the family house in Dachau during a children’s play around 1937. He stayed in Munich while working there, but after losing his job he did not return there until his family were forced out of Dachau in 1938.

He maintained contact with Dela, who worked with him on music projects, until his deportation to Theresienstadt in 1942. She never saw him again after that.

Portrait of Elfriede Hausmann by the German expressionist Conrad Felixmuller (1897-1977)

“It’s very hard for me to get over Hans’s departure.”

I’ve recently found letters from Dela to Elfriede in an archive in Sweden. In one written on 6 April 1946 she expresses her low spirits having found out that Hans (Neumeyer) is no longer alive ‘I am very sad about it. I want to play quartets with you again – it’s not quite the same playing with my pupils.’ A few weeks later, on 26 May, she mentions the loss of Hans with much regret – since the reports of his death in Theresienstadt came through after the war ended ‘I have lost my technique and drive to play music. Now we’re practising Mozart’s clarinet quintet, which is all very nice but it’s not as good as things were. It’s really hard for me to get over Hans’ departure.’

In 1947, Dela wrote to my mother Ruth explaining about the disappearance of nearly all of Hans’ music. It is particularly tantalising to read of the ‘great work’ that she and Hans had collaborated on. I think the sonata for viola may be the duo for violin and viola, and the trio is certainly the string trio: these are the two chamber works that she later sent to us.

Von den Arbeiten Deines Vaters habe ich nur ganz wenig bei mir – ich konnte ja damals bei meiner sehr spannenden Reise aus Deutschland kaum etwas mitnehmen, und was wir dort bei Freunden zurückliessen, ist zum allgergrössten Teil verbrannt*. Ich habe hier eine schöne Sonate für Bratsche und eine Streichttrio studie, ausser dem den Anfang zu einer grossen musitheortischen Arbeit, an der wir in der letzten Münchener Jahren gearbeitet hatten. Ja, ich würde dir gern viel erzähalen, Ruthi, auch von Deiner Mutter, mit der ich in den letzten Wochen sehr viel und sehr nah zusammenwar, noch von ihrer Reise schrieb sie mir einen sehr lieben Brief, den ich aber ihrem Vater Schickte. Auch ihn, Deinen Grossvater, traf ich noch einige Male in Berlin vor meiner Abreise – ach all das kommt einem völlig spukhaft unwirklich vor. Dass all das doch wahr ist, wird man wohl nie ganz begreifen können.

Of the work of your father I have only very little with me – I could hardly take anything with me during my very exciting journey from Germany, and what we leave there with friends is burned* to the largest extent. I have here a beautiful sonata for viola, and a string trio study, besides the beginning of a great musical work, on which we had worked in the last Munich years. Yes, I would like to tell you much, Ruthi, also from your mother, with whom I have been very close and very close during the last few weeks, she wrote me a very dear letter from her journey, which I sent to her father. I met him, your grandfather, a few times in Berlin before my departure – all this seems to be totally unreal.

*The German ‘verbrannt’ means ‘burnt’ but we do not know if this means it was deliberately burnt (perhaps by the Nazis) or destroyed in bombing.

A postcard to Hedwig Hausmann from Dela
The opening movement of Hans Neumeyer’s string trio in A minor, composed in 1940 and handwritten by Dela

Vera’s deportation

In July 1942, Dela was the last person we know of to have seen my grandmother, Vera Neumeyer, before Vera’s deportation to a Nazi concentration camp in Poland (she seems to have died either in the Piaski ghetto, in the nearby Madjdanek camp or in Auschwitz).

There was clearly a close friendship between the two women, although Dela had a very strong bond with Hans too.

The opening of the letter from Dela to Dora announcing that Vera had been deported

The letter, written on 13 July 1942 and now in the archive of the Imperial War Museum in London, describes what happened:

Montag 13. 7. 1942

Liebe Frau Dora –

nun ist also doch alles vergeblich gewesen, heute früh war die Abreise.

Ich habe heute zwei Menschen gesprochen, die auch viel mit ihr zusammen gewesen sind –  sie ist wie immer tapfer und gefasst gewesen.

Aber schwer, sehr schwer ist es ihr, schwerer als damals!

aber sagen Sie das nicht Ihrem Vater.

Sie hat mir noch zwei Briefe gesandt – ich werde Ihnen einen Durchschlag  beilegen und   auch Ihrem Vater und Ihrer Schwester Durchschläge senden.

Ihr Kommen nach München, wenn es auch erfolglos gewesen ist,  war aber nicht umsonst.


So everything has been in vain, this morning was the date of departure. I spoke today to two people who have also been with her a lot – she has always been brave and collected. But it’s hard, very difficult, harder than it was then! but do not say that to your father. She has sent me two more letters – I will enclose a copy with you and also send copies to your father and sister.

Her coming to Munich, though unsuccessful, was not in vain.

Vera weiss,  dass Sie alles versucht haben und das bedeutet sicherlich viel für sie. Vorläufig weiss man noch nicht, wohin  die Reise geht, aber das werde  ich ja  als bald ( = alsbald) erfahren haben und gebe Ihnen natürlich sofort Nachricht.

Und es sind sehr liebe Menschen hier, die sie (= Vera) nicht vergessen werden.

Sobald man  die Adresse weiss, werden wir alle ihr (= Vera) Pakete schicken und wenn ich nicht mehr hier sein sollte, so ist  dafür gesorgt, dass Freunde es in die Hand nehmen werden.


Vera knows you’ve tried everything and that certainly means a lot to her. For the time being, we do not yet know where she is going, but I’ll have that as soon as possible and will of course let you know straight away. And there are very nice people here who will not forget her. As soon as you know the address, we will send her packages and if I am not here anymore, I’ll make sure that friends will do this on my behalf.

Das ist für  ist für sie  sicherlich  noch ein Schmerz gewesen, so ganz allein gehen zu müssen.

Aber man sagte mir, dass einige  sehr  ausgezeichnete Menschen dabei  seien – sie werden sich finden.

Außerdem sagte mir der Herr, der sie noch zur Bahn begleitet hat, dass er dafür gesorgt hat,  dass sie mit netten Menschen zusammen im Abtheil (= Abteil) fährt. 

Liebe Frau Dora, jetzt können wir nichts mehr tun  – im Augenblick wenigstens – warten und hoffen, dass der liebe Gott sie und uns alle nicht vergessen und verlassen wird.

Ich grüsse Sie ( =Dora) herzlich

Ihre D(ela)

It was certainly been painful for her to go all by herself.

But I was told that some very good people were there too – they will find each other.

In addition, the gentleman who accompanied her to the train said to me that he made sure that she shared a compartment with some nice people.

My dear Dora, we can’t do anything else – for the moment at least – wait and hope that God will not forget and leave them and all of us.

Cordial greetings,

Yours, Dela

For the letter Vera wrote from the train en route to her unknown destination, click here.

From Dela: a violin, and gold the Nazis never got hold of

I met Dela once, about 1970, when she visited my mother in Sydenham and gave me her spare violin. It was a large three-quarter sized German instrument made by Michael Dötsch in Berlin in 1919, and had a very beautiful back. I now regret selling it to a London dealer in 1983 – though it was a bit small for me, and had a crack on its face which a couple of repairs failed to remedy. But I still have this piece of cloth the violin was wrapped in, within its case – it bears the initials DM – for Dela Mankiewitz.

While clearing our family house after Ruth’s death in 2012, we found at the back of her wardrobe some jewellery that was quite unfamiliar – including two rings and these pendants and bracelet. In a letter written soon after the war Dela refers to the ‘Schmuck’ (jewellery) and asks if Ruth has received it – so we are fairly sure this is where it came from.

The beautiful gold locket bears a photograph of Martin Ephraim’s wife Hildegard (who died in 1932) on the back.

Items of jewellery the Nazis never got hold of – presumably kept safe within the family, and sent on by Dela to Ruth. The gold locket,seen here at the top, has on its back a photo of Martin Ephraim’s wife, Hildegard.

How Dela met the Neumeyers

In a letter from Dela to Ruth in 1960, Dela mentions that she met Hans and Vera through a dancer called Erna Bial. I had never heard of her until reading this letter a few weeks ago. Googling that name, I found Erna was a dancer who had been reviewed in 1921 by a Jewish newspaper in Breslau, Poland:

From a concert advertisement flyer for a performance on 29 March 1921

The young Breslau native gave a modern dance recital, notably to Scriabin’s Prelude where she perfectly combined music and movement to give expression to the subtle nuances of interior emotion. Even more impressive were three dances performed without music which revealed her keen creativity.

Then I remembered I had an old edition of Scriabin’s 24 Preludes for piano, inherited from the Neumeyers. That name ‘Bial’ rang a bell: I found the music in the attic, and there it was – someone had written her name on the cover:

The pencil annotations beneath the music of Scriabin’s first prelude: are these connected with Erna Bial’s dance performance in 1921? Perhaps they’re a list of the order in which certain preludes are to be played.

Tributes to Hans Neumeyer

Hans Neumeyer Garmisch 1930s
Hans near his sister’s house at Garmisch, in the German Alps

The life and fate of my grandfather Hans Neumeyer has been described elsewhere on this blog, including his work as a composer and his deportation to Theresienstadt.

As a blind musician he employed a secretary, Dela Blakmar, to work with him. Dela was a close friend of the family and kept in touch with my mother for some forty years after the war. She wrote to my mother, Ruth, after the war with the news that virtually all of his compositions had been burnt in the war. Only a trio, a duo, two recorder duets and a Christmas song survived.

In one of her letters she copied out notes from two men who knew Hans.

Dr Elias Manuelidis was a Yale Professor of Neurology at Yale. He died in 1992 aged 74. He wrote to Dela:

Munich 17 July 1947

Kurz nach dem Einmarsch der Amerikaner suchte ich Dr Spanier auf und von diesem erfuhr ich als erster das tragische Schicksal, das unsern lieben Hans getroffen hat. Die Nachtricht war für mich ganz besonders schmerzlich, weil ich in den letzten Kriegsmonaten mich ganz besonders auf ein baldiges Wiedersehen mit ihm freute.

Ich brauche Ihnen, liebe Dela, nicht zu betonen, dass Hans in meiner seelischen Entwicklung in meiner Studentenzeit die grösste Rolle gespiet hat. Das “Nicht Hassen” habe ich ihm zu verdanken. Ich erinnere mich oft an seine Worte, dass der Hass etwas Negatives kommnung und zu einer Produtivität im geistigen Gebiet Führe kann. Ich habe sehr viels miterlebt, jedoch an seine Worte muss ich immer denken.
“Shortly after the American invasion I visited Dr Spanier and from this I was the first to experience the tragic fate that has befallen our dear Hans. The nightmare was especially painful for me because in the last months of the war I was especially looking forward to seeing him again soon. I need hardly tell you, dear Dela, the major role Hans played in my development in my student days. I owe to him the principle “not to hate”. I often think of his words that hatred can lead to negativity and to productivity in the spiritual realm. I’ve been through a lot, and what he said is always dear to my heart .”

Alois Weiner, his friend, was with him in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Another letter from Alois has already been recorded in this blog.

12 September 1946

Der gute Hans ist tot. Zwei jahre lang war er eigentlich glücklicher als viel von uns, weil er einige Schüler hatte, hauptsäntlich junge Lehrer aus der Tchechoslovakei. Diese Schüler haben ihn verehrt und, was dort am wichtigsten war, haben ihn zusätzlich reichlich mit Lebensmittel versorgt, den sie bekamen im Gegensatz zu uns mehr und grössere Pakete. Dass er mit dem was er bekam nicht geizte, kann niemand besser bestätigen als ich und mir machte es wiederum Freude, wenn mir ein Päckchen zuflog, mit ihm zu teilen…. Kurz vor seinem Tod kam Ihr letztes Päckchen. Ich erinnere mich noch, dass es Oelsardinen waren und dass er mir eine davon unbedingt aufdrängte…

Aber eines Tage kam seine Krankheit zum Ausbruch und das Schlimme war, dass er in ein Krankenhaus eingeliefert wurde, aus dem er nie an die frische Luft herauskam, sondern immer in einem Zimmer mit etwa acht andern Leuten lag. Bedenkt man seine Blindheit ohnehin und dieses körperliche Leiden dazu, so hat er alles mit grösster Geduld getragen
“The good Hans is dead. For two years he was actually happier than many of us, because he had some students, mainly young teachers from Czechoslovakia. These disciples venerated him and, most importantly, provided him with plenty of food, which they got, unlike us, more and larger packages. No one could confirm better than I can how generous he was with  his share,, and I would chuck him a packet to share …. Shortly before his death came his last package. I still remember that they were sardines in oil and that he urged me on one of them … But one day there was an outbreak of illness and he was taken to a hospital from which he never came out into the fresh air; his fate was to spend all the time lying  in a room with about eight other people. Considering his blindness and suffering, he bore everything with great patience.”

Hans lost his job after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and money was a constant problem thereafter for the Neumeyer family.

Here’s Hans’ CV, typed out in English when presumably he was seeking a way of gaining employment in the UK:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 10.05.59

Hans Neumeyer’s music gets more performances

There have been several recent performances of Hans Neumeyer’s trio and duo in various places, including at a music festival in Murcia, Spain, and in Lewes and a Violins of Hope concert (using instruments that belonged to Holocaust victims, including some actually played by concentration camp bands) in Dachau. There’s a complete recording on youtube of the Duo, recorded at a summer festival at the Waldheim Palace, performed by Oleg Fedchuk  (violin) and  Iakov Zats (viola).

Trio in Murcia playing Neumeyer trio 30 Jan 2015
A performance of Hans Neumeyer’s trio, January 2015 in Murcia

Escaped to Shanghai: and who was Leo Weil?

In our family archive are four pieces of correspondence, three postmarked from Shanghai, and the other from Brindisi, from where he departed for China. They are all from one Leo Weil. From other family correspondence, it’s clear that he was a close family friend and lived in Munich up to summer 1939 – but we don’t know how he knew the Neumeyers.

He refers in one letter to the Christian refugee community in Shanghai, so we know he was, like the Neumeyers, Jewish according to Nazi law but followed Christianity.

Shanghai had been held by the Japanese since 1937 and 20,000 Jews found refuge here during the Third Reich when the Jewish ghetto Shanghai became the only place outside the Dominican Republic where Jews could come without a visa – in what was officially known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees. 

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 this fragile point of refuge came to an end.

Leo Weil letter from Shanghai_envelope showing surname and address
The back of this envelope is the only evidence we have of Leo’s surname – ‘Weil’ is just legible. The rest of the address, partly torn off, is ‘Jewish Committee, PO Box 1131, Shanghai, China’. The letter has a Hong Kong postmark.

The letters

For the original letters in German click here.

Four letters from Shanghai survive. The longest is from 28 August, followed by a short note the following day. Then nothing until a one-page letter 13 November, and a similarly brief letter on 17 November.

On 28 August 1939, six days before Britain declared war on Germany, Leo Weil wrote to my grandmother, Vera Neumeyer, who was then living in Munich, some months after her children Ruth and Raimund had left for England. The letter went via London and was returned to Shanghai but somehow got to Vera.

Leo Weil letter from Shanghai_20171205_0003
Postmarked on the day of the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany, and ironically on Vera’s birthday. This letter had a long journey, returned from London to Shanghai and somehow delivered eventually to Munich.

Life is manageable in Shanghai but clearly there’s a lot of concern about the broader picture and whether he’ll see Vera again. But was Leo hoping Vera would join him in Brindisi so they could go to China together, without Hans? If so, it poses some questions about the state of marriage between Vera and Hans, who divorced two years later, either to save Vera from her legal status being married to a Jew, or for personal reasons:

I hope you got my airmail letter. I want now to explain why I didn’t write for such a long time after my arrival. On the ship I waited in vain for a sign of life from you, as you promised on the last evening when we were together. I thought that you didn’t want to hear any more from me.After we arrived I was constantly going to and fro the bank to see if any post had arrived. But there was no news. I was distraught and even incapable of writing.

A namesake called Weil received my entire forwarded mail from the bank, and instead of giving this back to the bank, he took it to the Postroom Committee, where I had never assumed there might be any mail for me. After several weeks, a certain Ludwig Weil, whom I’d got to know, told me that there was mail for me. I was deeply thankful to get my mail as a result of this chance event, as the Committee doesn’t reforward mail.

In my last letter I should indeed have explained everything to you, but everything weighed so heavily upon me that I could only write after I’d got all my mail. As ever, my thoughts have been preoccupied with you day and night; there is so much from the past going through my head that I cannot be more at peace with myself after you had written to me so tenderly. There is so much haunting me, and I have a crazy idée fixe in my head, because from the very beginning I didn’t genuinely live with you. But now I am here in Asia it’s no point grieving over what is missing. That way lies madness. You have a good heart, and I am sure you would be willing to help me to overcome this awful time. From my letters you will be able to work out very clearly how things stand with me. Don’t have any doubt that the time will soon pass and that we will be back together again. I hope you reply to my last letter.

My dear Veralein, I know very well how dreadful everything is, and I pray to God that your heavy burdens will be lifted. I know you are a practical person and can cope well with adversity – I have learned a lot from you…

How are the dear children [Ruth and Raimund]? I am sure they are in your heart. It is difficult to live so very far apart.

He continues in an upbeat vein. But it must have been quite a shock to get off the ship at Shanghai after a long journey from Brindisi to find a very different world. Refugees got some help from fellow Jews: the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was the main source of help – financing makeshift shelters, hospital beds and soup kitchens.

Life here isn’t too bad. The climate is mild. In any event, people say that it is easy to enjoy everything Shanghai has to offer. It is also easy to live independently here. Meanwhile I hope it will be possible to join my brother in Australia, when the war eventually comes to an end. I am fine in terms of physical health; we live in the Chinese quarter. Shanghai is now closed off to Chinese, so the people here live very frugally and waste nothing,

While I am here please keep in contact.

Leo

There are mentions of Leo in letters in 1939 from Vera and Hans in Munich to her children in England, Ruth and Raimund. In a letter written on 11 May 1939, two days after the children departed from Munich on the Kindertransport, the parents report that Leo came to have lunch with them (“Rührei und Salat” – scrambled eggs and salad). And later there are several mentions asking  if they’ve heard from Leo – so he was obviously a good friend to the family. He was evidently very fond of Vera.

The ghetto in Shanghai

1.6.39 from Vera:

Der Leo hat einen Brief an Euch, den er falsch adressiert hatte, zurückbekommen. Er fährt  nun also wirklich nach Schanghai.

Leo has had a letter returned that he sent to you but had misaddressed. So he’s really going to Shanghai.

14.6.39 from Vera:

Dem Leo könnt Ihr  hierher leider nicht mehr schreiben, da er heute nach Sch(anghai) abreist; er wird Euch sicher von unterwegs schreiben.

Unfortunately, you can not write to Leo here because he is leaving for Shanghai today; he will certainly write to you on the way.

16.8.39 from Vera:

Heute bekam ich einen Brief von Leo aus Sh(anghai). Er hat sich so mit Eurem Briefel gefreut. Zu gefallen scheint es ihm nicht besonders, hoffentlich kann er von dort bald woanders hin.  

Today I got a letter from Leo from Sh(anghai). He was so happy with your letter. He does not particularly like it, and hopefully he will be able to go somewhere else soon

Neumeyer family holidays 1938_20170421_0005 (1)
Vera Neumeyer

The trail goes cold

We don’t know what happened to Leo thereafter, or if he made it to Australia. Certainly Shanghai would have been a relief after the horrors of Nazi Germany – things were relatively safe in the the district of Hongkew – the International Settlement under the eyes of the Japanese – compared to Nazi Germany. There was on the one hand grinding poverty, overcrowding and disease, with open sewers, high unemployment, near starvation and appalling housing conditions. But at the same time there was a thriving cultural life, with schools, newspapers, German and Yiddish theatres, sports teams and restaurants with cabarets. At that time the Japanese, who had occupied Shanghai since the Battle of Shanghai in 1937, were wary of upsetting the European Jews as they were seen as extremely powerful. But when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese in December 1941, all changed in the ghetto, as the Jews became prisoners of war.

The climate wasn’t that easy to live with: although Leo mentions it was mild when he wrote the letter in late August it could be punishingly hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter – let’s hope he managed to get out before the winter chill set in.

In summer 1939, Vera Neumeyer, meanwhile, would certainly have still intended to escape to England to be reunited with her children, rather than join Leo and sail to Shanghai. But for her any form of escape was never to happen.

To get an idea of life in the Shanghai Ghetto during the early war years, see the 90-minute documentary Shanghai Ghetto (youtube).

postcard from Brindisi from Leo Weil 1
postcard from Brindisi from Leo Weil 2

The last correspondence Leo Weil wrote to the Neumeyers from Europe: from Brindisi, awaiting his voyage to Shanghai in June 1939.

Special thanks to my brother Stephen for deciphering and translating Leo’s letters.

A Lutheran confirmation in Dachau, 1938

During our visit to Dachau in November 2018 as part of the 80th anniversary commemoration of Kristallnacht, we met Björn Mensing, the Lutheran pastor (Kirchenrat or Pfarrer) at the KZ Protestant Chapel of Reconciliation (Evangelische Versöhnungskirche) in the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial. He had met my mother, Ruth, within days of his installation in the post, back in 2005 and she’d made a profound impression on him.

Björn drove us back to our lodgings late at night and showed us the church where Ruth was confirmed. It had served at that time as the makeshift Protestant church, at Frühlingstrasse 8 near the centre of  Dachau – but looks nothing like one. Nowadays it’s occupied by a nail parlour and a picture-framing business.

This invitation to see where Ruth was confirmed was not immediately as significant as it turned out. Seeing the physicality of the streets where the family had walked had a great impact. It dawned on us in the still of the night that we were standing at the spot perhaps to the hour, eighty years on, where Vera, Ruth and Raimund had called at the building after being told by the Nazi official to leave their house before dawn or else go to prison. There they asked their pastor if he could help them – but he was very embarrassed, said he couldn’t and they had better just pack their bags and go.

Which they did, at 6am the next morning. They took a train to Munich station, where an SA officer threw them out of a restaurant they wanted to have breakfast in. Then Vera called on a student friend who allowed them to hide in their attic. Kristallnacht happened in Dachau a day earlier than elsewhere in Germany, so that first night away from home would have been when Kristallnacht happened in Munich. Ruth never said anything about that, so we can assume they just laid low and saw nothing.

The story of the church

Björn kindly sent some notes from an unpublished manuscript* by Dirk Rumberg, from which some of the information below is taken.

Before the war this building served as a church for the 800 Lutherans of Dachau.

The  church was constructed by a Protestant factory owner, Matthias Rollbühler, during 1896–97 and had a prayer hall on the ground floor. After his death in 1899 the community bought the building from his widow. Christian Lechner became the vicar on 1 April 1 1933 and the street was renamed Adolf-Hitler-Strasse.

In October 1936 Hermann Endres took over as vicar – he belonged to the Bekennenden Kirche – rather than the Nazi-aligned Deutschen Christen (‘German Christians’). His wife Elisabeth smuggled food from early 1945 into Dachau concentration camp, particularly for the Protestant pastors who were imprisoned there. On 3 April 1945 one of the pastors released from the camp went to the parsonage to thank Elisabeth for what she had done.

In an interview in 1983 Endres told author Dirk Rumberg that in 1938 the father of a boy who wished to be confirmed would not allow his son to take confirmation class along with a Jewish child. Endres said this occurred after the Kristallnacht but this cannot be so; we assume his memory was at fault in this respect. The only Jewish-Protestants in Dachau then were the Neumeyers, and as Raimund was not confirmed until he arrived in England, then we know this must have been Ruth.

Bavaria was, and still is, an overwhelmingly Catholic region, with Protestants very much in the minority. Ruth did confess to me that she somewhat envied the Catholics as their church interiors were so much more embellished and more exciting her as a child. She said she felt doubly an outsider, first as a Lutheran child in Catholic Bavaria, then as a someone classified as Jewish who knew very little about that religion and culture.

Ruth confirmation

Ruth at her confirmation around Easter 1938

Remarkably an inmate from the concentration camp was also married in the prayer hall: on 11 September 1943, Pastor Horst Thurmann was married there in the presence of a camp official and an SS officer to his wife Magdalene by the representative clergyman Hermann Stengel. Magdalene, who was not a prisoner, had persuaded the Nazi authorities this exemption because before the arrest of her fiancé the wedding had been arranged (a civil ceremony had taken place earlier, on 10 March 1943).

The confirmation cards

Ruth kept a batch of neatly written confirmation cards, all dated to around April 1938. They are a good record of close friends and relatives, although we don’t know who all of them are:

  • Erika Müller (Ruth and Raimund’s cousin – daughter of great-aunt Dora, who was Vera’s sister), writing from Dresden  on 1 April 1938. She was ordered to be deported to Theresienstadt in 1945 but before she could go, the city was carpet bombed and the deportation never took place.
  • Dora (Vera’s sister), writing from Dresden on 1 April 1938.
  • Martha and Günther from Haus Lindenfels, the  Ephraims’ house in  the mountain resort of Schreiberhau (now Szklarska Poręba, in Poland). The Ephraims were the parents of Vera, but these people must have been friends, lodgers or people working in the house.
  • Regina Vogel, 5 April 1938. Address illegible. We don’t know how she knew Ruth.
  • Joint card from Tante Edith and cousin Ursel (see below), Schreiberhau, 2 April 1938.

Ursel

Ursula (‘Ursel’), a daughter of Dora and cousin of Ruth and Raimund. She was killed in a motor accident in 1939.

  • Gertrud Rauthe (pictured below), the aunt of Vera and great-aunt of Ruth, from Görlitz. This is the only item we have from Gertrud and we know nothing else about her apart from the photo below. Her sister Hildegarde Rauthe, a Lutheran, married Martin Ephraim and brought up their daughters in the Protestant faith.

Schreiberhau grandmother and great aunt Gertrud plus Raimund

Happier days in the late 1920s on the balcony at Haus Lindenfels, the Ephraim house in Schreiberhau which the Neumeyers often visited. Gertrud Rauthe is far right, with her sister Hildegard (Martin Ephraim’s wife, who died in 1932 and was one of the first German women to attend university) and her grandson Raimund.

  • From Martin Ephraim, Ruth’s grandfather. He writes of a gift of a serviette ring that has long been in the family and was to be inscribed with Ruth’s name. We have never seen that serviette ring although we do have one bearing Vera’s name and another with the initials of Nathan Neumeyer (Hans’ father) on it.
  • Easter 1938 from family Baumgartner.
  • 31 March 1938 from Tante Johanna, writing from Hirschberg (now Jelenia Góra, in Poland). Not actually an aunt, but evidently a family friend.
  • Tante Rosie – who says enigmatically she’s ‘unfortunately named Frau Müller’. Again, she is ‘aunt’ (Tante) only as a nickname, and is not a relative. We don’t know who she was, but we have three letters from her posted from New York during the war, mentioned in an earlier post.

Confirmation cards to Ruth April 1938

Cards sent to Ruth around the beginning of April 1938 celebrating her confirmation in the Lutheran church in Dachau.

In later life, Ruth was not a churchgoer, but her letters during and after the war show faith was a great part of her life and that of many of her friends. When she married, she asked specially for Pastor Franz Hildebrandt, a Lutheran pastor of Jewish background, whom she knew during the war in Cambridge, to conduct the ceremony. He was among the Lutheran priests expelled from the German church in Berlin for his Jewish ancestry, and the youngest of the group including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pastor Martin Niemöller. He left Germany for a few months but returned to help Niemöller build up an organisation called the Pfarrennotbund, which had been established to assist pastors affected by the anti Jewish laws (the so-called Aryan Paragraph). He was arrested, then released, and came to Cambridge in exile, where Ruth made contact with him. Hildebrandt made a great impression on her during the 1940s.

Raimund was confirmed in Weybridge in 1941.

Raimund confirmation 1941

Raimund’s confirmation certificate, at Weybridge on 27 April 1941.

* Evangelische Kirche in Dachau. Alltag zwischen Begeisterung, Enttäuschung, Anpassung, Widerstand und Verfolgung. Beitrag zum Schülerwettbewerb Deutsche Geschichte um den Preis des Bundespräsidenten. Haimhausen 1983.

Dachau: 80 years on from Kristallnacht

In November 2018 my brother Stephen and I (Tim) were kindly invited by Tobias Schneider, head of the Dachau department of culture, heritage and tourism (Kulturamt) on behalf of the town of Dachau. The purpose was to take part in the 80th anniversary of the date when the Nazis threw out twelve Dachau families from their houses in the cause of emptying the town of its Jewish population, including our mother’s family – Hans, Vera, Ruth and Raimund Neumeyer – who were Lutherans but deemed Jewish by Nazi law because of their parentage. 

It was an extraordinary event. The first time we had been able to publicly state in Dachau the effects on our family of the Nazis’ actions.

Tim and Stephen outside Dachau town hall

Tim and Stephen Locke standing by the plaque commemorating the Jewish families ordered out of the town of Dachau on the night of 8-9 November 1938, the night before the nationwide Reichspogromnacht (Kristallnacht) in which Jewish people and their properties were widely attacked by Nazis and their followers.

Kristallnacht came a day early in Dachau

November 8 1938: a date notorious in the town of Dachau. This was a day before the pogroms across Germany in which Jews were widely attacked, beaten up and had their homes and possessions destroyed in the so-called Kristallnacht (‘night of broken glass’, also known as Reichspogromnacht). Dachau didn’t have a pogrom as such but on November 8 the Nazi authorities there ordered the twelve Dachau households deemed to be Jewish to leave their houses by sunrise or else go to prison. The next day it was announced that ‘Dachau is somit judenfrei’ – ‘Dachau is hereby free of Jews’.

My mother’s family, the Neumeyers, left their beautiful house at Hindenburg Strasse 10 (now renamed Hermann Stockmann Strasse), never to stay there again. They packed up suitcases and left everything else in the house, then walked to their vicar’s residence. He told them he couldn’t do anything for them so they walked on to the station and went to Munich, where they managed to stay in a loft of an acquaintance.

Their lodger, a Jewish accountant called Julius Kohn, was less fortunate. He had nowhere to go, so in what must have been freezing conditions he went to the police and asked for somewhere to stay. They took him to Dachau’s concentration camp, where he stayed for some time before being released. He later moved to Munich, where the Jews were kept under surveillance, with many rounded up for deportation in 1942. He perished in Auschwitz.

The Neumeyer house revisited

To mark the eightieth anniversary of this dark hour in Dachau’s history, the town of Dachau invited my brother Stephen and me to speak at the town hall and at a school.

Where we stayed could have hardly been more appropriate: we arrived at night time, and had a wonderful welcome from Jürgen and Ingeborg Müller-Hohagen who put us up in their house in Dachau. It is actually next door to the old Neumeyer house – both originated as houses forming part of an artists’ colony at the turn of the 20th century. Outside the Neumeyer house there was candle wax on the Stolpersteine (the brass plaques commemorating the deaths of the Neumeyers and Julius Kohn): the remnants of a moment’s commemoration by an unknown passer-by.

Stolpersteine outside Neumeyerhaus after cleaning ceremony

The three Stolpersteine outside the Neumeyers’ house, just after cleaning ceremony had removed the corrosion of many years as well as the melted wax from a candle placed there a few days before.

Houses built for the artists’ colony in Dachau in Hermann Stockmann Strasse – in the main image is Ingeborg and Jürgen’s black and white house adjacent to the Neumeyer house.

Jürgen and Ingeborg had met my mother Ruth and my brother Nic at a ceremony in 2005 to install these Stolpersteine and spent an evening together – a time all of them talked about for long afterwards. By a remarkable coincidence Jürgen’s work as a psychoanalyst includes a specialism on the effect of the Holocaust on families, including second generation members.

On waking in Dachau each morning, I looked out over the Neumeyer house from the room I shared with Anne. Stephen and Andrew were in the other room. It was the first time any family member had slept in that street – Hermann Stockmannstrasse – since Kristallnacht.

Ruth by Dachau house 2005

Ruth Locke (Ruth Neumeyer) outside the family house, Hermann Stockmannstrasse 10, Dachau, in 2005 during the installation of commemorative Stolpersteine.

Neumeyer house with S&TNeumeyerhaus Frau Schwarz presenting the cloth throw

(top) Tim and Stephen outside the Neumeyer house; (below) inside the hall, with owner Frau Theda Schwarz presenting us with a throw woven with an image of the house.

On our guided walkabout with Claudia Buchfelder into the old town, it struck us, superficially at least, how little the old town had changed physically: the Schloss and its garden with its view of the Alps that must have held a special place in Ruth’s affections, the twisting, cobbled streets, the onion-domed Jakobskirche, the Klosterschule Ruth had attended, the old inns. A look into the Dachau art gallery, rather tucked away above a savings bank, revealed a wealth of paintings from the celebrated artists’ colony – mostly impressionistic landscapes of enough quality here surely for a touring international exhibition. During the 1960s to 1980s the town authorities made a point of collecting such art and saw it as a way of distancing the town from the notorious concentration camp. But nowadays things have turned round; they have a very open-minded SPD mayor, Florian Hartmann (the youngest mayor ever elected in Germany). During the last three decades, the town of Dachau has increasingly acknowledged this most uncomfortable episode of its history.

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Inside the Gemäldegalerie Dachau (Dachau Picture Gallery): the marshlands below Dachau had special light qualities that attracted numerous artists to paint there during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

And very strangely it transpires that Hermann Stockmann, after whom the Neumeyer’s street was renamed from Hindenburg Strasse, assisted (or was made to assist) the Nazi authorities in assessing the artworks from confiscated Jewish homes. He died in 1939.

It was effectively a revisit: our mother had come for the first such commemoration in 1988, when she insisted on a memorial plaque to the displaced families being erected in the town hall, as well as the chance for her to speak at a local school.

Two talks: at the Rathaus (town hall) and the Ignaz-Taschner-Gymnasium

For Stephen and me, it was our very first chance to give such a public memorial to our maternal grandparents in the very town where they had lived and where they were thrown out.

The town hall was packed to standing with well over a hundred people (the press estimated 250, but we couldn’t see all the audience from where we were speaking). Some had travelled from Munich and beyond. There was Andreas Holz, who had met my parents at the 1988 commemoration and stayed in touch; and Stefan Kellner – a second cousin, whom I had last seen when we were both teenagers – remarkably Stefan works in the field of historical research into the owners of books looted by Nazis, and we are very keen to meet him again – his mother, Karin, is my mother’s cousin and the niece of Hans Neumeyer. Klaus Schulz, the deacon at the KZ memorial  KZ Protestant Chapel of Reconciliation (in the former concentration camp in Dachau) told us that in 2005 it had been him together with Andreas Neukamm from the Catholic Dachauer Forum to initiate the installation of the Stolpersteine. We also chatted to Bruno Schachtner, who had designed the publication printed for the 1988 Kristallnacht commemoration, and has been involved in similar projects, including the Förderverein für die Int. Jugendbegegnungstätte Dachau (Association for International Youth Exchange and Memorial Work in Dachau): he was born in Dachau in 1941 and had trained as a designer abroad. On returning he was devastated to learn that his father had been an SS officer. In a letter to us after our visit he mentioned the pain he felt about what had happened to our family.

Before Stephen and I began, children played music by Hans Neumeyer – first was an orchestration of his Christmas song written for Raymond in 1939 but never before performed: I found it in the family piano stool when clearing the house after Ruth’s death in 2012. It was ably performed by an orchestra of pupils from the Ignaz-Taschner-Gymnasium led by Jutta Wörther. The mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Florian Hartmann spoke about the Kristallnacht in Dachau and how it affected the Neumeyers. We heard from Ingeborg and Jürgen, who spoke of how they had met Ruth and Nic and read from the letter she had sent afterwards, calling them her ‘neugewonnene Freunde’ and describing the experience of being with them in their house as opening a kind of side door to the past and letting a sunbeam in. The speeches were interspersed with Hans Neumeyer’s little recorder pieces written for Ruth and her friend Jane, and played this time on violins.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 16.18.37Our talk was a mix of languages – Stephen covering some of it in German, myself talking in English, and we’d translated all the Powerpoint slides into German. We talked about growing up in south London, in a house full of German things, but the story of what had happened to our mother only came out gradually – we moved on to the events in Dachau and the Neumeyers dwindling fortunes in the 1930s, the children’s escape by Kindertransport and the deaths of the parents; and the new life that the children had in England, as well as Raymond’s return to Germany with the British army towards the end of the war and after. I added some words of gratitude that Dachau town had remembered our family in many ways, including the Stolpersteine, the memorial outside the town hall – where there was a formal ceremony after the talk – and the naming of streets after Julius Kohn and the Neumeyers.

Dachau town hall commemoration 2018

Ceremony after the talk, with a wreath laid beneath the memorial to the Jewish families expelled from Dachau. It was this memorial that Ruth insisted in 1988 that the town should install – it was a condition of her attending the 50th anniversary of the event. In recent years it has been moved to a prominent position right by the entrance to the Town Hall.

 

Hans Holzhaider

After the talk we met for the very first time Hans Holzhaider – the journalist from the Süddeutsche Zeitung who had written the book Vor Sonnenaufgang about the Jewish families thrown out of Dachau in 1938. He has recently retired after 40 years in journalism, and said to us after our talk that this story was to him the most important one he’d ever written – ‘because it made a difference’.

The following day we gave a similar talk, but with more emphasis on the circumstances surrounding our mother and uncle’s fortunes before and after the Kindertransport, at the Ignaz-Taschner-Gymnasium in Dachau. A classroom packed with about 60 students aged around 15-16 were extremely attentive and interested. They asked a wide range of questions:

  • did Ruth talk to you in German?
  • did she talk about her parents?
  • did they own their house?
  • where did Vera learn her English?
  • what happened to your father?
  • did they have a connection to the Jewish community?

Afterwards we proceeded with most of the students to the Dachauer Forum, a Catholic-run adult education centre which had a programme of researching biographies of mainly camp inmates, but also Hans and Vera. There, Sabine Gerhardus got Stephen and me to sign the interpretative panel about the Neumeyers’ story. The group continued on a walk around town in ceremonies polishing the Stolpersteine outside the Neumeyers’ house and houses of three other families caught up in the Holocaust.

Stolpersteine cleaning outside Neumeyerhaus

Two pupils from the school cleaning the Stolpersteine outside the Neumeyers’ house. The ceremony also visited the houses of the Wallachs and the Jaffes – who were close neighbours. The Wallachs owned an adjacent weaving and fabric printing factory. Their son, Franz, escaped to England on the Kindertransport and changed his name to Frank Wallace – he later be came a professor at the University of Bath.

Three night-time postludes

After the talk, during an official inivitation to a restaurant together with others involved with the ceremony, we met Björn Mensing, the Lutheran pastor (Pfarrer and Kirchenrat) at the KZ Protestant Chapel of Reconciliation (Evangelische Versöhnungskirche) in the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial. Afterwards he showed us the church where Ruth was confirmed. It turned out to be quite an unexpected coda to the evening: more about that in a future post.

The following evening we paid a visit to Neumeyer Weg. It’s an area of public housing, near to Julius Kohn Weg (Julius has a bus stop named after him, too). The history on the street sign is well-meant but incorrect – saying Vera died at Majdanek and Hans at Auschwitz (Vera died either at Majdanek or Auschwitz; Hans died at Theresienstadt):

Neumeyer Weg SAJ version

And finally a concert in commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater (University of Music and Performing Arts) in Munich, with pieces by composers who perished in Theresienstadt (Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Victor Ullmann), a reading by a well-known actor of his memories of the Reichspogromnacht as a child, and a film about music in Theresienstadt with Anne Sofie von Otter and Alice Herz-Sommer among others. Von Otter’s father had been a Swedish diplomat in Berlin during the war – a stranger on a train told him what was going on in the east and he reported it to his superiors, but always felt guilty he had not taken it further.

The university occupies a building constructed by the Nazis and used for functions and meetings; it was here on 30 September 1938, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The concert hall post-dates the Nazi era. It felt fitting to have such an event as a complete negation of what the building had stood for and what the Nazis would have wanted remembered.

Newspaper reports

The ceremony and talk

Online report Münchner Merkur

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Looting of the Jewish families’ houses by Nazis in Dachau

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Stolpersteine polishing ceremony

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

The film of the event

A video of the commemoration at Dachau town hall, where schoolchildren played music by Hans Neumeyer is on youtube.

The whole film runs to 85 minutes, so here are the various sections with timings:

  • Start: orchestrated version of Christmas song by Hans Neumeyer (first performance; this is a piece I found in a piano stool at our family home)
  • 2’26” introduction from, Florian Hartmann, Mayor of Dachau, followed by children playing ‘Kinderlied’, a ‘canon in der Prima’ (originally a recorder duet composed by Hans and sent to Ruth in England for her to play with her friend)
  • 13’01 Jürgen and Ingeborg Müller-Hohagen (with whom we stayed in Dachau; Jürgen is a psychologist specialising in the effects of the Holocaust on subsequent generations), followed by the second ‘Kinderlied’ – a ‘cuckoo duet’.
  • 21’29”, ending at 1’13’50” The presentation by Stephen and Tim Locke, followed by slow movement of Hans Neumeyer’s DBSG duo for violin and viola (1940).
  • 1’17’18” Ceremony with laying of wreath by memorial to Jewish families evicted from Dachau on Kristallnacht
  • 1’20’44” Handshake with Florian Hartmann, and me talking to the journalist Hans Holzhaider – the first time I’d met Hans

Flashback to 2005

And that previous visit of 2005: it was reported in the local press, and summed up by my brother Nic at Ruth’s funeral seven years later:

I was amazed and delighted when Ruth invited me to accompany her to Dachau for the installation of memorial stones (Stolpersteine) in front of the house she had grown up in.

So we went, travelling in the reverse of her journey in 1939: train from London, cross-channel boat, a long train ride to Munich. In the couchette in the middle of the night on the last leg, I also witnessed her travel back to being 15 years old. She snuck chocolate to a child, pooh-poohing the disapproval of its mother, hummed nervously as she stared out at the shadows of the countryside. At one point I looked over at my 82-year-old mother on the opposite bottom bunk doing a headstand, with her feet jammed against the underside of the bed above.

Once there she faced a barrage of TV cameras, journalists, ceremonies, Mayoral lunches and photo ops. Platitudes were dismissed, glad-handing ignored –  all bland and maudlin questions about the past were quietly and firmly deflected by her own fervent hopes for the future.

Ruth had one main aim while she was there, to engage with young minds. She insisted upon going to a high school to talk and listen, and it was there she struck an immediate rapport with three girls the same age as she had been when she had left Dachau and her parents for ever. Thereafter the three girls turned up everywhere we went, entranced and befriended by Ruth.

On the day of our departure the trio escorted us to the station. As I walked behind the girls and Ruth, watching them chatting and smiling, I realised that there was complete parity between the four of them, and that for Ruth, what she had distilled from the trauma of her past was the redemption to be found in new growth and nurture.

article-ruth-and-nic-in-dachau-2005_20181127_0002.jpg

Newspaper article from 2005 about the installation of the Stolpersteine outside the Neumeyer house: Nic Locke (left), the journalist Hans Holzhaider and Ruth Locke

And finally

Our sincere thanks to Jürgen and Ingeborg Müller-Hohagen, Tobias Schneider, Florian Hartmann, Theda Schwarz, Sabine Gerhardus, Hedwig Bäuml, Claudia Buchfelder, Jutta Wörther,Tanja Jörgensen-Leuthner, Björn Mensing, Bruno Schachtner, Brigitte Fiedler and the town of Dachau for hosting us on this memorable visit. We had a supremely warm welcome from everybody. 

The Cambridge years: Ruth’s life in the 1940s

After her initial time with the Eckhards in Weybridge, my mother Ruth spent most of the 1940s in Cambridge, where part of her adopted family lived. The sister of Bea Paish (who with Frank Paish agreed with the Neumeyer parents for Ruth and Raimund to come and live with their extended family), Joan Stirland, was married to John Stirland, headmaster of the Leys School. They took a great interest in Ruth, who always knew them as ‘Uncle John’ and ‘Aunt Joan’. While studying at Cambridge University, I visited them on numerous occasions in their house at 8 Fulbrooke Road and Joan described her giving Ruth botany lessons – an interest Ruth retained through the rest of her life. She lived for several years as housekeeper to Professor and Ethel Ginsburg at 19 Adams Road, during which time she developed a warm relationship with her employers and flourished socially in the relative freedom of Cambridge.

She always spoke positively about her years in Cambridge, but they must have been fraught with worry, with no news after 1943 about her family she’d left behind in Germany, and only intermittent Red Cross messages from them in the three years prior to that.

Clockwise from top left: Ruth punting on the Cam; skating with her friend Lorna Wilson on Coe Fen; Adams Road in the snow; with Leon Long just after VE Day; VE Day in Cambridge

Ruth’s circle of friends included numerous other refugees from the Third  Reich, such as Ossy and Trüde, orphaned sisters who had escaped from Nazi oppression in Austria. Gitta Deutsch, and her father Otto, were also among them. They were of Jewish origin and after the Anschluss in 1938 fled their native Austria to settle in Britain. After being interned as aliens in the Isle of Man, they moved to Cambridge. Otto Deutsch was an eminent musicologist, still remembered for his work on creating the thematic catalogue of the works of Franz Schubert –  all of which continue to be known by ‘Deutsch numbers’. Ruth revered Schubert and remembered visiting Otto in his study. Gitta was her own age and was involved in Cambridge in the youth section of the Free Austria Movement, and worked for a period as secretary to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, another Viennese intellectual who fled to Cambridge before the war. Otto, Ossy and Trüde all returned to Austria after the war.

Ruth in Cambridge_Refugee Society in Carmen at 55 Hills Rd

Ruth (seated in the front row, far right) in a Cambridge Refugee Society production of Carmen at 55 Hills Road, Cambridge in 1945. The group also performed Der Freischütz by Weber, which was always one of Ruth’s favourite operas.

Two twins from Baden in Austria, Lore and Erika Weiss, became two of Ruth’s very closest friends and she continued to visit them in their house in Clare Road, Cambridge, until her cancer prevented her from travelling at the very end of her life. The twins lived together and never married; they were very different types but depended on each other despite the occasional sororal bickering. According to Ruth, Erika had a constant stream of male admirers but never managed to make a choice between them; Lore, who became a midwife, was much more down to earth – rather like Ruth in many respects. Their father also came over to England with them as refugees from the Nazis, but their mother and sister never made it over and were killed in the Holocaust.

Lore Erica and Ruth 1946_20171220_0001

Ruth (centre), with her lifelong friends, the Weiss twins, Lore (left) and Erika (right) who had come to England from Austria before the war. Lore and Erika both lived well into their nineties, Lore dying in March 2018.

Two brothers, Denys and Leon Long, both formed attachments to Ruth. Leon had got engaged to a German girl called Maria before the war, and soon after the end of the war, Ruth’s brother Raymond was in Germany working for the British Army. There he sought out Maria and managed to reunite her with Leon, I think rather to Ruth’s chagrin. She later became attached to John Beer for several years, and he wrote her copious letters; after their relationship ended they were still in close contact for many years.

 

Ruth in Cambridge_with Denys and Leon Long

Ruth with her two close friends Leon and Denys Long in 1945

Ruth joined the German Society and the Amateur Dramatic Company (ADC). Her movements as ‘enemy alien’ would have been restricted but she was allowed to go on fire-watching duty from the tower of Great St Mary’s.

Britten Christmas Cantata sung by Ruth at Cambridge

Ruth’s score for Britten’s newly composed Saint Nicolas cantata, which she sang in a performance in Cambridge in 1948 or 1949. Britten himself conducted. Ruth invited him to tea, and he was gracious about it but said unfortunately he couldn’t make it.

She also befriended aliens from Germany, both refugees and prisoners of war:

She never spoke to me about this man, one Manfred Massinger. On the back of the photo is written: Dear Rüthy, You gave me in a time without freedom joy and happiness. May this happiness return to your own heart. All the very best to you, with kindest regards, I want to remain your very sincerely Manfred R Massinger, Frankfürt-am-Main.
Ruth wrote in black ink ‘POW’ at the end of the note, presumably
as a reminder to herself.

Ruth in Cambridge_POWs with German Society 1947 Cambridge Evening News photo

Ruth, far right, with prisoners of war in a meeting of the Cambridge University German Society, Cambridge in 1947

 

Ruth in Cambridge_university German Soc outing to The Orchard Granchester 1948

The Cambridge University German Society’s outing to Granchester Meadow in 1948. Ruth is in the second row, second from the left.

Nursery training and a letter from America

As an Enemy Alien, Ruth was restricted in what job she could do. One of the approved jobs was nursery training, which she carried out during 1942-43 in Wellgarth Nursery Training College, in at Shrivenham, not far from Swindon in Wiltshire.

During that time she received a letter from ‘Aunt Rosie’ in New York. I have yet to identify who she was, as she certainly wasn’t a relative but knew the Neumeyer family very well. It’s a rare mention among all the wartime diaries and letters of Ruth’s of what’s happening about her family. Ruth’s wartime diaries are hard to decipher, but I can’t spot any reference to her parents in them.

The mention of Mrs Hildebrandt refers to the woman married to Pastor Hildebrandt, whom Ruth knew well in Cambridge, and about whom she wrote frequently in her diaries. He was a German-born Lutheran theologian but his mother was Jewish, so he left for England. He returned to Germany for a period at the behest of his friend Martin Niemöller in order to promote the Pfarrernotbund, an organisation of pastors opposing the introduction of the notorious ‘Aryan paragraph’ into church organisations in Germany. Hildebrandt then after being arrested managed to escape to England. Niemöller was deported to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps but survived.

Rosie letter to Ruth March 20 1943

A letter from ‘Aunt Rosie’ to Ruth while undertaking nursery training at Wellgarth. Rosie enclosed three international reply coupons and asks after Raymond. She enquires whether it is possible to contact their mother Vera through the Red Cross. They did not know then that Vera almost certainly perished the previous year after deportation to German-occupied Poland in July 1942.

Ruth diary entry 1 March 1943 end of Wellgarth training

Ruth’s diary for 1943 – at a time of paper shortage, she was reusing a printed diary of 1940. On the right-hand page she records the last day of her training at Wellgarth, on 1 March.

Her reports were all glowing and she seems to have fitted in very well. A testimonial from the college dated 16 February 1943 notes that she is the first foreign student to have been appointed by her fellow students to the post of Senior Student. ‘She has proved herself an intelligent and good student. Miss Neumeyer has gifts which will be most useful to her, she is imaginative and artistic, which combined with her powers for organisation will enable her to do valuable work with children.’

After her training she returned to Cambridge and continued her work with children at the Shirley War Nursery in Green End Road.

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And finally: an extraordinary image

With very good reason, Ruth absolutely detested swastikas. My father had to cover up the spine of a novel that had a swastika on it to avoid offending her. So it’s particularly surprising to come across her design for this programme cover for an all-women play by Christa Winsloe called Children in Uniform. This was produced at Leavesden Green Emergency Teacher Training College, where she and my father met in 1949 prior to her attending art college in Canterbury. She’s in the programme as playing ‘Her Excellency Von Ehrenhardt’. She must have been very uncomfortable about creating this cover: it’s not something she ever showed me.

Children in Uniform 1949 cover_20171104_0001

Words and images copyright Tim Locke. Published 17 September 2018 on what would have been Ruth’s 95th birthday.