As I’ve been researching this blog and finding out about the story of my mother Ruth and her family, everyday objects I’ve always been aware of have suddenly taken on a new meaning.
When we cleared my family house where I grew up, we threw out some of the ancient kitchen equipment. Some of it I now realise dates from prewar years – including a cake icer with a muslin sack for containing the icing. My grandmother Vera referred to when writing to my mother on 15 May 1939 – one of a number of letters we have that were sent after the family was irreversibly split up. This letter was sent four days after Ruth and her brother Raymund (then spelled Raimund) had arrived in England on a Kindertransport: I have found Ruthi’s cake icing syringe and the belt of her striped summer dress and send it to you. There was a box of slightly rusty metal shapes for cutting Christmas biscuits too – very probably a remnant of the family’s life in 1920s/1930s Dachau.
Among the toys that came from the family home in Dachau were wooden houses, two dolls, Ruth’s teddy bear and a set of school desks. And these Kasperl-Figuren – Punch and Judy puppets. Vera mentions them in a letter sent from Munich to her children England in 1939, referring to a theatre that they were making for the puppets: “The puppet theatre will be a lot of work, but it will certainly be nice too. Have the Kasperl figures ever performed before?” So evidently the puppets had been sent to them shortly after arrival in Weybridge.
In a postcard sent to my parents just after their marriage in 1951, news came that the Neumeyers’ books had arrived in England and were with the Eckhards, the couple who took in Ruth and Raymond when they arrived in May 1939. We don’t know who sent the books over, or how they’d been kept together during the war. Perhaps before the family was thrown out of their Dachau house in November 1938, the parents had seen the warning signs and left some items with friends for safe keeping.
There were German books all over our house in Sydenham, particularly in a bookcase in the hall: there were German classics such as the works of Goethe, as well as children’s books, poetry and novels. We disposed of most of them when clearing the house in 2013, but kept some of the more special items.
Two sinister books
We had a few ornamental items from the Neumeyers scattered around the house in Sydenham, just a hint of what was in the Dachau home up to 1938.
This millefiori paperweight always occupied the window sill in our sitting room in Sydenham, and my mother never explained to me where it came from. A quick Google of ‘antique German paperweights’ comes up with many in very similar styles, including a number originating from Silesia, where Vera’s family, the Ephraims, came from. A recent discovery of a letter sheds new light. Dora wrote to Raymond on 6 December 1945: “Dela Blakmar was great friends with your Mutti and loved her very much . she was also good to me. Would you like to know about her in Copenhagen? She probably went there in April 1943. I’m making for you a list of things I got from Vera [my grandmother; Hans’ wife]. We have here a blanket and two coats still as new, which Irmi sometimes wears… Also from I have a memento from your father – I think it’s a paperweight. I’ve looked after it carefully.”
Lying unnoticed in a drawer for over 40 years, these crayons have suddenly revealed their provenance. In summer 2021 we stayed at the family cottage in the Welsh borders: when my parents bought it in 1974 they filled it with various bits of spare furniture, kitchen equipment and the like from our Sydenham house. The crayons were presumably brought then, but I don’t think anyone used them.
They are all marked “Goldfaber” and have gold-striped barrels. The high-quality Goldfaber brand was extant between 1935 and 1942 (though relaunched in 2017). When the company Johann Faber was fully taken over by A.W. Faber Stein in 1942, the brand name Goldfaber changed to A.W. Faber-Castell.
Which means the crayons must have been brought over to England in 1939. They are small enough to have been packed into the children’s luggage when they travelled from Munich on a Kindertransport in May that year.
Very possibly these are what Ruth used when colouring her school books:
As the Nazis intensified activity against Jews, life for my mother’s family in Dachau got harder by the month. Her parents Hans and Vera Neumeyer were denied from having permanent jobs, and the little they earned from teaching here and there hardly made ends meet. But there were Aryan friends in Dachau who looked after them. I have written already about the kindness of the Steurers, who ran a grocery shop in the town and whose daughters were childhood friends of my mother Ruth and uncle Raimund, and whose poignant postwar letters reveal the plight of ordinary people like them living in Germany under the Third Reich.
Another close bond was between the Neumeyers and the Wirschings. Anselm Wirsching, a childhood friend of Ruth and Raimund, was a vet and son of artists – Otto and Aranka Wirsching. Otto died long before, in 1919 and Aranka vastly outlived him, dying as late as 1965. They lived in the Pollnhof, one of the oldest houses in Dachau, and itself a frequent subject of the numerous Dachau-based artists.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Wirschings had helped look after the impoverished Neumeyers. Meanwhile Anselm qualified as a vet, and was called into the military service in that role.
But then the tables turned. Anselm was captured by the Allies. He was incarcerated in Prisoner of War camp 305 in Egypt and held there until 1947, and wrote numerous letters to Ruth from there in 1946 and 1947. He particularly needed Ruth to help get his life sorted out in time for his return to Dachau.
He was made to attend a Denazification process at Wilton Park in England and his mother wrote to Ruth pleading for her to write to authorities explaining that he was not a Nazi.
Anselm’s letters from POW camp 380, Middle East, Egypt
Anselm qualified as a vet in 1941, practised in Russia, Crimea, Greece and Crete. He served in the German army and was captured by the Allies in Crete and taken as a Prisoner of War. We have 25 letters to Ruth from his time during 1946-47 at a POW camp in Egypt, giving an idea of what was on his mind during those long days in the desert.
14 July 1946 The earliest letter we have from him. “There’s not much to do and can’t practise [as a vet] behind barbed wire. There is no immediate prospect of release and letters are the only source of interest.” He enquires whether a German veterinary qualification is valid in the UK.
22 September1946 “I have been transferred to a better camp [POW camp 305], 30km from Suez. I’m about to ask you some favours, including for a friend who has a medium-sized factory in the US zone of Germany, making portfolios, handbags etc of genuine or imitation leather – is there any outlet for these in Britain? Please send 20 airmail envelopes and 40 or 50 airmail papers.”
17 & 26 November 1946 Anselm requests Ruth send him some reading matter, especially textbooks if it’s not too much trouble, and wonders if the German Society in Cambridge University could help. He gets a weekly pocket money of five shillings. “Routine here is dull. I wish I had been sent to England. We’re allowed out one day a week to wander over the sand dunes. Otherwise the main activities are learning English, sleeping, eating and waiting for mail. Sometimes there’s a good film. Everybody is thinking about when and how they can get released. The Austrians seem likely to be repatriated first.”
13 February 1947 Anselm is really grateful for Ruth’s help, and thanks too for the efforts in getting the textbooks. “There are lots of opportunities to dwell about the past here. We’ve all change physically, but I haven’t lost my sense of humour.As a Category C prisoner I’m having to wait a long time for my release. Another desert summer beckons!”
In October 1946, the Allied Control Council announced five categories of Nazis. Each of these had separate treatment:
Major offenders (to be sentenced to life imprisonment/death)
Activists, militarists and profiteers (up to ten years imprisonment)
Lesser offenders (probation for up to three years)
Nazi followers and supporters (surveillance and fine)
Exonerated individuals (no punishment)
There are around 250,000 German prisoners in this country, and no one can say when they are likely to see their homes again.
For nearly two years the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office have been working hard to “re-educate” these men. They are tying to ensure that when they do return to Germany it will not be as unrepentant Nazis, but as men able to become useful citizens of a new Germany’.
Evening Standard, 18 March 1946
Pleas for help from Aranka
My mother never confided in me about the help that she gave Anselm, but clearly she was instrumental in getting him back to civilian life after the war ended.
Raymond was in those postwar years working for the British army in Germany as an interpreter in the military police. During his leave he managed to take a trip to Dachau and to visit Aranka.
Among Aranka’s letters are these comments:
30 March 1946 to Raymond Anselm’s mother Aranka has heard about his upcoming visit to Dachau in summer. “Anselm is in Egypt as a prisoner of war. I hope that God has spared your mother Vera and that she is still alive. Can Ruth send a packet of tea? You know that Vera and I were great tea-drinkers.”
12 December 1946, to Raymond She has sent a letter to Ruth to provide a written statement that Anselm was not a Nazi. “I’m sending you some carved wooden Christmas decorations similar to the ones Vera loved. It was wonderful to see you after so many years and so much suffering.”
23 January 1947 to Ruth “Please could you confirm that I was a good friend of your mother and that I helped her a lot during the years of persecution. None of us ever sympathised with the Nazis. Your confirmation needs to be strong enough to persuade and be credible. Send your letter to Egypt by air mail. I hope the woodcuts arrived.”
18 February 1947 to Raymond “You are a hero driving a car with missing parts – I would be very scared; you have inherited your mother’s good spirit. Thank you for what you did for Anselm: he is now free and allowed to practise as a vet, although he has not yet returned home. He wouldn’t have deserved further incarceration because he was neither a warmonger nor a Nazi. Can you get any news of when he’ll come back?
Was Hilde Steurer with you. I am amazed how this Bavarian girl travelled and wonder how she got on in northern Germany. is there any news of your cousin Valerio in Germany?
I’m sending a package of 3 metres of material to Ruth.”
10 August 1947 to Ruth “Repatriation prospects for Anselm are still so bleak that I must make a last bid for your help through this letter. I was advised that the best way to get Anselm released is to deliver in person a request for a release to the War Office in London. Please do this for your childhood friend. Ilse Mayer from New York now has American citizenship – she was also a witness to what happened, and I’m seeking her help too. Anselm is not to know about any of these efforts, in case they raise false hopes.”
26 August 1947 to Ruth “Please let me know how you get on at the War Office and keep in touch with Ilse Mayer in New York. People are gradually being released from captivity now – this is a source of joy.”
10 January 1948 to Ruth “I heard you spent your holidays in an old windmill [this was at Ringstead in Norfolk]; your mother would have loved it too, with its wide views and inner warmth. Pleasures like this are impossible in present-day Germany.
I’m a person who likes helping others, but everything’s such a mess that anything I could do would be a drop in the ocean.
What did you make from the three meters of material I sent? Do you hear from your relatives? Didn’t your mother have a brother in America? Is he still there?
Many people are now resettling in Palestine, a country said to have a great future. Please send the enclosed letter on to Ilse Mayer in New York – I can’t afford airmail from here.”
Reunion and gratitude
My mother and my father Ronald Locke paid their first postwar visit to Germany in 1953, taking a train from London and travelling via Trier and Rothenburg to Dachau. There they had emotional reunions with several Dachau friends, including the Steurers, Ruth’s former nanny Anna Kürzinger and Aranka and Anselm Wirsching.
We had one painting in our house by Aranka Wirsching, of these tulips. My hunch is that it was given by her to Ruth in thanks for Anselm’s return to civilian life.
I’ve had many comments from readers of this blog, which has now extended to nearly 100,000 words. What next?
Several have asked me if I plan to make a book out of what I’ve uncovered of my family story. I’ve hesitated to give an answer. I’ve found the blog is such a user-friendly way of accumulating ideas and recording them. Unlike a book, it doesn’t matter where in the story you start, and you can go back and rewrite bits, or merge articles, or delete them altogether. Several thousand books on the Holocaust are published every year; can yet another one have a different slant on what has already been said elsewhere?
I started this blog in May 2014 as a way of making sense of all the inherited objects I had gathered from my mother’s house in Sydenham, and trying to piece the story together with the bits I knew already. Then I worked out where the gaps in my knowledge were, and tried to fill them in. If only I’d asked people more questions while they were still alive… but thank goodness for the internet, which just keeps giving…
I’ve just completed a six-week online writing course with author and journalist Nick Barlay, in a Zoom class of six others. The subject was how to write a memoir of your own family story. Each participant had family connections to the Holocaust, and each very different stories and approaches to writing.
I don’t know what direction it might take from here. Book, semi-fictionalised account, graphic novel, radio programme, TV documentary, children’s book… Comments and suggestions welcome…
Here’s what I came up with for our weekly assignments:
1. Writing an opening
Always one of the hardest things – knowing where to start. So I thought of beginning with my childhood, not really understanding what was going on around me:
Winter 2013, a few months after my mother’s death. I’m in her rambling old house in Sydenham, clearing up a lifetime of accumulated belongings. In her bedroom, I’m sawing up the bedframe of her bed in preparation for its ignominious end in a plastic sack next to the wheely bin. It has dawned on me as I start this operation that this was the very bed I was born in, 54 years earlier, in that very room.
Everywhere I look in the house are silent witnesses to my mother’s past life, hints of what had happened to her and her family in Germany. As I grew up there the story had gradually taken shape, but only gradually, and even now there were huge gaps in the narrative. Now I’m thinking about those early years.
In childhood no one ever sat me down and explained it all.
Why had she come from Germany? And why did I have only one set of grandparents?
In 1963, at the age of five, I’m photographed in the back garden with my two brothers and my mother’s aunt, Tante Janni. She’s from Berlin: gentle, beaming, charismatic, warm. I’m there in the middle of the picture wearing Lederhosen, inherited from my brothers and probably secondhand before they had them. Not many other children wear Lederhosen in southeast London. I’m rather proud of them.
Back then, Tante Janni visits every summer from Berlin and talks to me in English but sometimes when my mother and uncle – Ruth and Raymond – are together gathered round the table in the breakfast room and break into German, which I don’t understand. Their tones are serious and semi-whispered. I’m not intended to be included, so I crawl under the table and exit.
Outside the breakfast room in a dark corner of the storeroom are leather suitcases with battered luggage labels, some written in German. My mother doesn’t like suitcases, or more precisely she doesn’t like packing to go away. It reminds her of something. It’s on her list of disapproved things, which include large crowds, lofts, aeroplanes, very short haircuts, toy guns and the entire month of November.
All over the house there are books, many dating from the early 1900s or before. Hardback volumes of piano music and songs by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann, some with the name ‘Vera Neumeyer’ pencilled on the opening page. In the hall, a mahogany bookcase contains four shelves of German books whose order no one ever seems to disturb. In the kitchen, a recipe book in German given as a Christmas present to Vera in 1935, its yellowing pages densely printed in Gothic type. In my father’s study is a novel with a swastika on its spine. He has tactfully placed a sticker over the offending symbol.
By my mother’s bed are three pictures within a glass frame of her birthplace in Germany. A house of rustic gables and overhanging eaves. Her mother Vera, looking sideways in a dreamy, detached way. And a sepia postcard of her family’s town, its hilltop Schloss and onion-domed church. In the upstairs loo, a folksy decorative tile bears an 18th-century scene of the same town, and is inscribed in fancy lettering with its name: DACHAU.
On the landing, is a large, brown leather trunk. Not so much a trunk as the trunk. Throughout my childhood I wanted to explore its contents, but sense it’s out of bounds. I occasionally sneak a look to find it stuffed with parcels of letters, all tied up tightly with string.
In the sewing room, a sketch of a benign-looking man in dark glasses. He’s blind and I’ve never met him. He’s my mother’s father, Hans.
What happened to your parents, I ask my mother. ‘They died in the war’ she answers. For the first nine years of my life I don’t know how they died, and dare not ask.
2. Writing about a person
I chose Tante Janni (Marianne Bisi), my mother’s aunt (sister of Vera Neumeyer), already mentioned above.
My only encounters with my mother’s aunt, whom everyone knew as Tante Janni, were on her annual June visit in the 1960s from her native Berlin to our house in Sydenham. I would have loved to have known her for longer. My only memories are childhood fragments – she snoozing on a garden lounger by the rose-enveloped pergola, or with my mother in earnest conversation in German with about something I was clearly excluded from. Despite her advanced age she pulsated with health and vitality, taking afternoon walks around the southeast London streets beaming at total strangers while charming them into conversation.
Other children asked me when Tante Janni was coming to stay so they could pop in for a visit. The Betterwear man made sure his door-to-door sales rota coincided with her presence: more than once I found the two of them sitting in chairs in our front porch, chatting for half the afternoon. That most unpushy of salesmen, sad-faced, very ancient and clad in a long coat and hat even on those warm summer days, never came into the house, and I don’t think any Betterwear products were ever purchased either. What did they talk about for all those hours? He had an undetectable, unfamiliar accent. I wonder now if he had come to England as a refugee.
I watched her in fascination as she consumed meals with daintiness. She crooked her little finger while drinking tea, something I tried to imitate when she wasn’t looking. She was the first vegetarian I’d ever encountered – forgoing meat on principle as she asserted that vegetarianism would solve the world’s hunger problems – and relished the memorably dull-looking dishes of baked marrow that my mother prepared for her.
Her June visits invariably brought a certain exotic glamour. She arrived by plane – no one else we knew then would have travelled that way – as her son Valerio worked in the airline business. She brought with her the little goodies of airline travel, none of which we’d seen before – sachets of perfumed towelettes and eye covers. Once she arrived and said Charlie Chaplin was on the same flight, as if this was the most ordinary thing in the world.
What I knew of her past seemed almost preposterous. She’d been a champion croquet player in her youth. She recounted to me a fabulously expensive wedding to an Italian count at the turn of the century: the wedding guests took trips in hot-air balloons, and startled a peasant by greeting him from high above.
From a shoebox of old photos my mother had kept was a tatty sepia image of the house in Görlitz where Tante Janni had been brought up with her three siblings – Dora, Herbert and my grandmother Vera. It seemed palatially huge – a riotously eccentric Art Nouveau villa with balconies and an octagonal tower soaring like a space rocket from the top. Money had evidently been in the family, and it had all gone. The siblings’ father Martin, a rich Jewish philanthropist, had sold that house at the height of the early 1920s hyperinflation and, in Tante Janni’s words, the money they’d received from the sale was ‘just enough to buy a basket of cherries’. That picture of a notional basket of cherries and a lost past has stayed with me ever since.
Her cheerfulness came to an abrupt end during June thunderstorms. She simply hated them. She’d plug her ears with cotton wool, go up to her room, draw the curtains and lie down, pretending it wasn’t happening. Maybe she shared the same hatred of explosions that my grandmother had.
Her other phobia was trains and railway stations, which she simply refused to go in or even near. They clearly stood for something sinister, and out of my juvenile comprehension.
As a former Montessori nursery teacher she would have had a strong sense of what children needed to know and what they didn’t. She brimmed with positivity and charisma, and her June visits lit up all our childhoods with her sense of fun, but never mentioned the war to us. She was the only link with my mother’s parent’s generation but I last saw her I was twelve and never had an adult conversation with her. She was too considerate to burden children with her dark past: staying in Germany during the war, but as I have since learned unable to save my grandmother from deportation and only escaping a similar fate by a miracle; and in Berlin as the war ended her daughter Serena being raped by Russian soldiers.
Perhaps she had always had that smiling nature, or was it to some extent a survival technique for whatever she’d had to endure during the dark times?
3. Writing about a place
Memories of my first visit to Görlitz, which I mentioned briefly in the piece about Tante Janni above. There’s lots more to say about this fascinating town of course, but I’ve stuck mainly to the Villa Ephraim.
“We passed through Görlitz, and there I saw our house”
Those are words my grandmother Vera Neumeyer wrote on 13 July 1942, as she travelled in a third-class compartment in a train from Munich to Nazi-occupied Poland. She’s packed her thermos and other items and is sitting next to nice Frau Porsche, the widow of an artist. None of them know where this train will take them: archives now identify it as one of two places – Auschwitz or the Warsaw ghetto. None of the passengers survive.
The house she saw was built by her father, Martin Ephraim, in 1905: one of the first of the town’s many art nouveau structures.
Martin was rolling in money from the family’s railway components and iron business, but put it to all sorts of philanthropic uses, as well as making things extremely comfortable for the family. The Villa Ephraim, as it is still called, belonged to her happy, stable upbringing. She’d lived there from birth in 1893 until her marriage 27 years later.
And in 2001, 59 years after Vera’s last journey, I take a train trip two hours east from Dresden for my first ever visit to Görlitz. History has made this town into a very strange mishmash of splendour, decayed grandeur, baroque harmony and semi-dereliction. Since 1945 the German-Polish border has split Görlitz into two, its eastern half now called Zgorzelec and inhabited by people from Lviv in Poland’s far east. During its days behind the Iron Curtain its architectural legacy was barely touched. Today its western, German quarter shows clear signs of depopulation.
Martin Ephraim sold up during the German hyperinflation, and accordingly lost virtually all the money from the sale, and left town in 1922 for his country house in the Silesian mountains, but his influence here remains tangible. I walk into Görlitz’s airy, mosaic-floored, barrel-ceilinged railway entrance hall – its rebuilding during the First World War funded by Martin. He poured money into the arts and applied arts, running a music festival, endowing a museum and financing the building of the synagogue. A fifteen-minute walk through ample, almost deserted streets lined by grandiose six-storey buildings that belong to a 19th-century heyday immediately illustrates why filmmakers flock to this town – its piquantly crumbling atmosphere has been used to evoke fin-de-siècle Paris and its medieval and baroque core, happily being restored as one of Germany’s most intact historic city centres, has lent itself to many other settings. It’s not called Görliwood for nothing.
My image of it is of the sepia photograph from the shoebox at home: the deep-set balconies, the rustic-looking mock timbering and the almost ludicrously oversized tower. And rounding the corner of Goethestrasse, there suddenly it is, Villa Ephraim, now a youth hostel. I climb up the mossy stone steps from the garden gate to the door. Martin’s initials ME are engraved into the glass. Inside, seemingly nothing has changed since the Ephraims’ time: a huge panelled hall lit by stained glass representing the three graces– perhaps a reference to the three Ephraim daughters – while a fresco on the side of the sweeping staircase depicts a parade of cavorting cherubs. Two other windows commemorate other local Ephraim landmarks, both buildings still extant: their previous house marked by opulent golden gates in Jakobstrasse, where Martin’s father Lesser Ephraim first founded the family business; and the Ruhmeshalle, a mini V&A on the grassy banks of the River Neisse on the Polish side, its empty classical interior now seeking a new purpose. Beyond the villa’s entrance hall in the salon, above the jazzy black and gold zigzag columns is a copy of the portrait of Martin that he donated to the town hall. Ironically it seems the house’s subsequent use by Nazi and then Russian officers has actually preserved it.
I book in for the night, as the only guest, but the warden, Herr Usemann, won’t take any money from me as Martin’s great-grandson and shows me the scrapbook about the Ephraims that he has assembled to teach visiting school parties about ‘the house of a Holocaust victim’. Times have changed: during the DDR era the hostel was known as ‘the house of a capitalist’.
‘Would you like to see your great-grandfather’s factory?’ I’m flabbergasted. That factory still exists? Well, a fragment of it, anyway, just ten minutes away, down a cobbled lane which Martin must have walked along daily – the very Jewish name Ephraim miraculously still emblazoned though much faded across the span of the huge industrial shed, which along with the nearby manager’s house represent the sole survivors of the once mighty Ephraim empire.
Martin’s generosity was perhaps the key to his undoing. He was a patriotic German, a cultured and principled man from an influential Jewish family. ‘I shall live and die in Germany’ he said to his son Herbert who tried to persuade him to come with him to settle in America. He simply refused to believe the worst once the Nazis took power ‘Germans would never do a thing like that’.
On 10 January 1944 he was deported to Theresienstadt at the age of 83, where he survived less than three months.
4. Dialogue exercise
I don’t really have any dialogue I can use, but there are hundreds of letters. I sifted through some of them and picked out a common theme about the stoical defence mechanism of my mother Ruth and grandmother Vera.
To her many friends, my mother Ruth kept an admirable outward appearance of cheerfulness and resilience, and everyone liked her for that. It wasn’t really allowed to be pessimistic about things, or to feel ill. If the weather forecast was bad, she simply ignored it. When in old age she was diagnosed with cancer she barely mentioned it except to describe it as ‘this stupid cancer’.
So what had she actually been through in those dark years? She told me the facts of her family’s appalling Holocaust story, but never confided in the emotions. I have no doubt that it was her survival technique. Just concentrate on the positive things and the bad things will go away.
Before her family was thrown out of their house in Dachau on Kristallnacht, Ruth was terrified any time there was a knock on the door. But she didn’t tell me this; I only discovered it when reading what a schoolfriend wrote about her in an autobiographical novel about growing up in Dachau:
She tells of the fear with which her family lives, of wincing at every knock and ringing. The hostess whispers that she prefers to hide in the closet and pull the door shut from the inside. “In my dream, I often pack myself in a box and this again in a larger box and so on – I carefully tie each box together,” she continues.
It doesn’t read like fiction to me. She’s closing herself off from the nightmare and hiding away in a box.
For her first 12 years grew up in Nazi Germany in the 1930s without really understanding the danger, and even then didn’t realise her Jewishness. She told me in her usual calm, accentless voice “My parents told us there wasn’t anything to worry about. We weren’t rich. We weren’t important.” And in an interview with the Imperial War Museum archivist confided “We didn’t actually know we had a Jewish background. We suddenly realised we were different when I was about twelve… It was the sort of time parents really kept children innocent and didn’t share their burden. We were three-quarters Jewish.”
Only when I research the Nuremberg Laws do I realise that by virtue of having three Jewish grandparents she was totally Jewish by Nazi law. Not three-quarters, which would have placed her in less danger. So were her parents shielding her from the truth or had her own memory blocked out this crucial detail?
Then I read through letters from her mother Vera, written from Munich at absolutely desperate times in 1939, when my mother and uncle Raimund have got to England on a Kindertransport but the chances of their parents joining were rapidly receding, and there’s a strangely familiar echo the same upbeat tone – focusing on news of their friends and relatives, the music they heard in church, what they were eating for supper, and so on – and all the time hiding the awful reality: protect the children from what happened, they really shouldn’t know.
But to others outside the family the harsher elements emerge as the protective blanket is removed. My grandmother confides with my mother’s guarantors in England that there are difficulties in her marriage, and that this is holding up their possible escape to England. And to her friend Anna in Germany she spills out ‘Although I deeply feel the separation from the children I am glad that they do not have to experience what is happening here.’ She’s wearing that yellow star, and has spent the last four months on forced labour in a market garden.
Poor Vera: managing long-distance parenting until the very end. Hours before arriving at the concentration camp where her murder would have followed immediately after, she writes to the family downplaying of the awfulness of her situation ‘At Dresden we had to change trains, which was a nuisance as we had just made ourselves comfortable…Farewell, I am in good spirits and well prepared for whatever follows.’
Ruth always spoke positively about her years in Cambridge during the war, surrounded by other refugees from the Third Reich, but they must have been fraught with worry, with no news after summer 1942 about her family she’d left behind in Germany.
On her 22nd birthday in September 1945 she finds out what has happened to her mother. ‘She was deported to a part of Poland in 1942 from which there is little news. I think I shall stop now before I drop my pen’, she writes in her diary in her spiky Germanic handwriting, even there not daring to spell out the words to herself that she now knows that Vera is almost certainly dead.
Of our family, four were deported by the Nazis to their deaths: Vera Neumeyer and Hans Neumeyer (my grandparents), Irma Kuhn (my great aunt; Hans’s sister) and Martin Ephraim (my great-grandfather and Vera”s father). Three departed from Munich and one from Berlin – all in third-class train carriages rather than cattle trucks.
Here is what I have been able to piece together about those last days. I have mentioned other people on the transports with the hope that descendants of those victims might find this post through internet searches – to date, I’ve had some remarkable messages from those who have found this blog while googling the names of others.
My grandparents and their children (my mother and uncle) had been thrown out of their house in Dachau on 8 November 1938 the night before Kristallnacht. They moved into shared accommodation in Munich. Six months later, the children left to England on a Kindertransport, never to see their parents again.
My great-grandfather Martin was a patriotic German Jew and a rich philanthropist, whose late wife was a Protestant. For many years after the Nazis came to power he was in denial: ‘Germans could never do a thing like that…’. had left his comfortable country house in Silesia and decided it would be safer in Berlin.
I’ve plotted the main places in Munich mentioned here on the map:
Hans Neumeyer: my grandfather – 4 June 1942 to Theresienstadt, transport II/02
As I have recorded previously on this blog we know quite a lot through fellow prisoners Walter Hirschberg and Tommy Mandl, about Hans’s time in Theresienstadt – including his teaching of music to young students and the day of his death.
The Stadtarchiv München (Munich City Archive) website has a list of deportations with biographies of each passenger. The train was numbered II/02 (the Roman numerals II denoting Munich as the departure point), leaving on 4 June 1942 – this was a day before his sister Irma’s deportation and just two days after the very first transportation of German Jews (from Berlin) to Theresienstadt, and carried 50 mostly elderly or sick Jews – all of them perished in the Holocaust. Between then and liberation on 15 April 1945 the SS and police authorities deported around 58,000 Jews there from Germany.
Hans’s address on the deportation list is given as Thorwaldsenstrasse 5, where he and Vera moved in on 22 December 1938 along with their children. He and Vera had separated in 1941, though on amicable terms. Vera is also shown as living from this address, but I have discovered that this is incorrect. It is possible that Hans was moved to another location – perhaps the Jewish hospital where his sister Irma had been placed.
Deported: Emma Abstein, Franziska Arndt*, Philipp Batscha*, Mina Bergmann*, Marie Bernheim*, Franziska Brückner*, Regina Renate Brückner*, Siegfried (Itzig) Cohn*, Dr Julius Fackenheim, Helene Feibusch*, Klara Fischer*, Jacob Franc, Babette Grünfeld*, Hilda Gundelfinger, Samuel Gundelfinger*, Benjamin Hammelbacher, Minna Hirschberg, Emanuel Kocherthaler (he was blind, like Hans), Rosa Kocherthaler, Gerson Landmann, Sofie Landmann, Erna Marx, Friedrich Siegmund*, Salomon Leonhard Mohr*, Vally Philippine Neubauer*, Hans Neumeyer, Paula Neuwirth, Rosa Rebekka Neuwirth, Berta Offenstadt, Julius Joel Offenstadt*, Berta Okuniewski*, Maria Oppenheimer*, Johanna Pollak, Rosalie Karolina Preuss*, Eugen Josef Reis*, Samuel Abraham Sandbank*, Sara Sandbank, Selma Susi Schlorch*, Lina Schloss*, Alice Henriette Schmidt (noted as having to pay a ‘voluntary’ contribution of 10,000 Reichsmarks on 28 January 1942 to finance the Milbertshofen concentration camp near Munich), Artur Schoenberg, Evelyne Schoenberg*, Isabella Swed, Klara Stein, Marja Wadler*, Enslein Weikersheimer*, Louise Weil*, Sophie Weil*, Jeanette Weiss (* denotes address as 5 or 7 Hermann-Schmid Strasse, the Jewish hospital where Irma, Hans’s sister, was residing; see below).
Hans died on 18 May 1944 – this was strangely timely, as it may have saved him from the ordeal of Auschwitz. The Nazis had been preparing Theresienstadt for a visit by the Red Cross on 23 June, and in preparation for this event between 15 and 18 May deported 7,503 prisoners to Auschwitz to lessen overcrowding. The Red Cross visit was a propaganda coup for the Nazis, which completely took in the Red Cross: weak prisoners were screened from view, a football match with cheering crowds was put on for the benefit of the visitors; children were fed up and told to look happy; prisoners beautified the camp with gardens and rehearsed the opera Brundibár, composed by the prisoner Hans Krása (who was quite possibly one of Hans’s musical acquaintances); housing was painted up and presented as a ‘model village’. The Red Cross departed with the illusion that Theresienstadt was a safe, benevolent haven. Most of those Jews forced to stage this sham presentation of ‘normal life’ were taken to Auschwitz immediately afterwards and murdered there.
Irma Kuhn: my great-aunt – 5 June 1942 to Theresienstadt, transport II/03
Irma is the mystery character of the four family members to have been deported. Born on 13 August 1874 she was one of two sisters of my grandfather Hans Neumeyer – nearly 13 years his elder. My mother hardly spoke about her although my uncle Raymond can remember her reading them bedtime stories, and she did make visits to the Neumeyers in Dachau. In 1899 she married Heinrich Kuhn, and they first lived in Grünstadt, Pfalz before moving to Munich; he died in 1924 when she was 50. She subsequently moved to the Alpine resort of Garmisch, where her sister Betty Braun lived but in 1935 moved back to Munich. Betty herself was forced to leave home.
Writing to her children – my mother and uncle – in November 1939, my grandmother Vera records visiting Irma and reading the children’s letters to her.
Her deportation on transport II/03 took place just a day after her brother Hans had been taken to the same place. The Stadtarchiv München provides a transport list of her deportation: most deportees have a photograph, but there is none for Irma. She is described as 90% blind – so in Theresienstadt she may well have been put among the other blind people, including Hans. It seems likely that she tried to meet up with him if they were not put in the same place – but Theresienstadt was a huge ghetto, and finding someone in the chaos might have been extremely difficult. She lived there for eleven months, dying on 14 May 1943. None of the other 50 deportees survived.
Deported: Elisabeth Bach*, David Anton Beck*, Johanna Beck*, Henriette Blum, Pauline Brader, Flora Fromm*, Klara Gärtner*, Ludwig Gerngross, Mathilde Gruber*, Flora Grünsfelder, Dr Josef Gunzenhäuser, Henriette Gutmann*, Ida Hellmann*, Ludwig Herz*, Johanna (Jeanette) Hiller*, Rosa Hiller*, Alfred Hönigsberger*, Berta Jordan*, Moritz Kugler*, Rosa Kugler*, Mathilde Kirschbaum*, Emil Eliahu Kuhn, Irma Kuhn*, Wilhelm Lewes*, Hermann Liebmann*, Irma Bernhardine Löwenstein*, Sophie Löwenstein*, Pauline Machol*, Melanie (Malwine) Marx*, Eduard Neuhöfer*, Hugo Oestreicher*, Amalie Oettinger*, Dr Leopold Pappenheimer, Anna Charlotte (Lotte) Parisian*, Charlotte Perutz, Berta Reizenstein*, Anna Loba Ripstein (also Rybsztein)*, Gittel (Gisela) Rosenfeld*, Berta (Belka) Schnapp, Heinrich Schnapp*, Martin Schwarz*, Ludwig Sinn*, Karolina Sommer*, Selma Sonder*, Abraham Thau*, Elise Emma Wahle*, Julie Katharina Weiss*, Joseph Werner*, Regina Wolpe* (* denotes address as 5 or 7 Hermann-Schmid Strasse, the Jewish hospital where Irma was residing).
The Jewish hospital and nursing home: Hermann-Schmid Strasse 5&7, Munich
We have three addresses for Irma in 1935-36: she moved from Garmish to Römerstrasse 1 on 18 March 1935; then to Reichenbachstrasse 27 on 1 June 1936; then an old people’s home – IKG Altenheim – at Klenzestrasse 4 where she was from 31 July 1936. From 13 June 1941 she was living in the Israelitisches Kranken- und Nuristerheim (Jewish hospital and nursing home) , a hospital for elderly Jews at 7 Hermann-Schmid Strasse, Munich, and it was from there at the age of 77 that she was deported with the other residents to Theresienstadt on 6 June 1942. This hospital was founded in 1910 on the adjacent site, 5 Hermann-Schmid Strasse, and was later enlarged. Until 1933 all denominations were allowed in; after that time Jews were not allowed in state-run hospitals, and after the Kristallnacht of 1938 the Gestapo made sure that only Jews would use the building. Its closure in June 1942 saw all the patients, as well as the doctors and nurses, taken to Munich’s Südbahnof for deportation. The buildings were destroyed by allied bombing in 1944.
Vera Charlotte Neumeyer: my grandmother – 13 July 1942, to Auschwitz or Warsaw
My family’s information received in 1945 and assumed correct until two years ago was that Vera was deported to Piaski, from where she was probably taken to the nearest death camp, Majdanek. But recent evidence has turned that upside down.
According to the Stadtarchiv München, of the 35 transports from Munich during the war, 30 were to Theresienstadt, two to Auschwitz, one to Piaski, one to Kaunas and one to ‘East (Auschwitz)’. The last-mentioned is an unknown quantity, and is the train Vera travelled on. Immediately after the war it was announced she went to Piaski – but that was the train in April 1942 she was originally intended for. Following an appeal, her departure date was postponed until 13 July 1942, and there were no trains to Piaski from Munich then. I’ve been looking for years for the answer, and I think this is the closest we can get. For more on this see my previous post which includes her letter written on the train. In her letter she describes being taken in a truck to the freight station. The Stadtarchiv München explains that apart from the very first two deportations, all the trains left either from the main railway station or from Laim freight station – that tells us she left from Laim (marked on the map, above).
So what we now know is that she definitely didn’t go to Piaski or Theresienstadt, despite what some other official archives say. There was a veil of secrecy around Auschwitz, and it is very possible that for that purpose the authorities did not want the destination known.
As with many other transports, the number was exactly 50. The Stadtarchiv München gives the addresses of all of them. I have grouped them into where they were deported from.
Four people are shown with other addresses, but like Vera the record may be incomplete and they may have spent their final days in either the Sisters of Mercy monastery or Milbertshofen:
Franz Brach (Wagnerstrasse 3 – IKG apprentice home / overnight accommodation); Walter Faust; Fritz Kupfer (interned in Dachau concentration camp August 1936 to March 1937 in 1940 he did forced labour with the paving master Alfred Mayer; his parents were deported to Theresienstadt six days after Hans Neumeyer, where the father only survived a few weeks; his mother was murdered in Treblinka); Malwine Emilie Katharina Porsche.
Deportees from the Sisters of Mercy monastery, Clemens Auguststrasse 9
According to the Munich archive, 30 were taken from Clemens Auguststrasse, Berg am Lein, the monastery of the Sisters of Mercy, used as a prison and evacuated by the Geheime Staatspolizei München that day. Vera is not listed among them; instead her address is given as Thorwaldsenstrasse 5, where she had been living since 22 December 1938 with the Köbner family. This was the address from which she and Hans wrote to their children in England, and was the official address for all correspondence, apparently right up to 1942.
However, in her letter sent three days before deportation she writes ‘Onki is here’, referring to the family’s good friend and former lodger Julius Kohn. The Munich archive gives his final address from 29 March 1942 as here – Clemens Auguststrasse 9. So that tells us that Vera was here too:
10 July 1942
I am very well. It has proved very advantageous that I know so many people here. They are just wonderful. I experience over and over again the good that this community brings – giving us a strength that is so rare in these times.
Yesterday I handed the copy of my application to a higher ranking Gestapo official. I wonder whether Dora’s visit was successful. [This probably means Vera’s sister was trying to help lodge an appeal on Vera’s behalf].
Don’t worry if you can’t do anything to help – I believe that I won’t be miserable. I’m learning Polish from the girls and we are very well looked after. I’m also getting some provisions for the trip, and am eating up all the sausages, butter and eggs we have in the meantime. I’ve also got sugar cubes and soap powder.
We’re leaving on Monday morning. Onki is here, but put on reserve. Now follows some names of friends who will be deported next week. [Unfortunately the list of names is missing.]
Julius Kohn was deported eight months later, on 13 March 1943, in a cattle truck to Auschwitz. The Sinti and Roma gypsies from Munich were also deported on that train.
On the eve of departure Vera writes (to Dela, Hans’s secretary):
Darling, thank you for all your efforts. I know you have tried everything and failed, and suffered in trying to achieve it. Thanks to Dora [Vera’s sister] too. I cannot and do not wish to write to anybody any more.
Surely there will also on this transport be a number of people to whom I can give support. The thought of this gives me strength, but requires me to be self-composed.
Please let everyone know. Things are so difficult for you now. I am with you, with a thousand good wishes and love that will last forever. And we shall see each other again.
Dela responds on the day of deportation that she has spoken to a couple of the people she was with, indicating that it was possible for Dela to visit Vera there:
So everything has been in vain, this morning was the 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 for you and also send copies to your father and sister.
Your visit to Munich, though unsuccessful, was not in vain.Vera knows you’ve tried everything and that certainly means a lot to her. For the time being, we do not yet know where the journey is going, but I’ll have that as soon as possible and will of course give you an instant message. And there are very nice people here who will not forget her. As soon as you know the address, we will send all her parcels and if I am not here anymore, it will be made sure that friends will take it in their hands.
Mr W will leave on Thursday, and I will not be able to see him any more, nor will my friend, who has become dear to our hearts. [See note below.]
She and Vera, these were the two people here who were close to me. Herr W. and my friend will probably come home – as well as Rebekkus [an unknown person, who is mentioned elsewhere and was also in danger], whose departure has been postponed and who didn’t go with Vera.
To read the original letters in German, click here.
Identifying Herr W
Just as I was finalising this blog post, I looked in the Stadtarchiv München for departures on the following Thursday – 17 July 1942 – to see who Vera was referring to in the letter above as Herr W. I found the answer instantly: Alois Weiner, born in Labetin, Bohemia, 6 December 1892 – interestingly the only person on that train who does not have a link to a detailed record. This may be because he was a rare survivor of Theresienstadt. According to an article in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, he was made to work at Lohhof flax factory before deportation – but the article gives the deportation date as November 1942, which is clearly incorrect.
After the war, he returned to life in Moosburg (the only Jew to return to the Freising district, northeast of Munich, after liberation), where he had run a large store selling textiles until moving to Munich in 1937. He resumed work at the textile store and used his savings to support an orphanage, two houses for the poor, an old people’s home and a welfare office and died in 1953. An obituary stated ‘he acted honestly and fought for humanity and human dignity’.
Alois wrote to a mutual family friend Gustav Güldenstein in July 1946 with the news that Hans Neumeyer had taught Czech music students in Theresienstadt and died there.
In the letters my uncle Raymond wrote to my mother about Alois, it seems that Alois was a stranger to them (he wrote in 1946 that Alois Weiner ‘seemed very nice and I too feel that he might become as good friend of ours as he has been of our parents’. I think what happened was that Vera met Alois in the Sisters of Mercy Chapel, saw him as a trusted person, and asked him to look out for Hans in Theresienstadt. This he did, and Hans told him to make contact, if he survived, with Gustav Güldenstein – who had been the whole family’s contact point in Switzerland during 1939-40.
Alois had served in the First World War, and was a member of the SPD as well as a local councillor – so as a Jew and a socialist he would have been in great trouble in the Third Reich. After his marriage broke up he narrowly avoided the charge of racial disgrace of having an affair with his Aryan accountant. In May 1942 he converted to Catholicism: he may well have been one of the substantial Christian community in Theresienstadt headed by such figures as Walter Hirschberg, who was friends with my great-grandfather Martin Ephraim (also in Theresienstadt – see below).
When working in Germany as an interpreter for the Military Police in 1945-46, Raymond (Hans and Vera’s son; my uncle) was in touch by letter with Alois after the war and indicated in one letter to my mother that he was intending to visit him.
I have made an 11-minute presentation on YouTube about how I found out about the link to Alois Weiner: click here to view.
The other 30 deportees were: Alwine Altmann; Hedwig Bloch; Gretchen Dillenius; Luise Jeanette Einstein; Metha Filip; Paula Flank; Martha Bravmann; Samuel Bravmann; Siegbert Bravmann; Therese Gutmann (father was a privy councillor, and brother the composer Pal Ben-Haim, 1897-1984, worked with the conductor Bruno Walter and lived in Israel); David Herz (tried in vain to emigrate to USA, but his son Herbert managed to do so in 1940, via Panama, and thence to New York – died in 1999); Klara Herz (wife of David Herz); Hanna Holzer (forced in December 1938 to leave Freising, where Stolpersteine were laid for Hanna and her family); Ilse Holzer (daughter of Hanna Holzer; music teacher); Ernestine Löwenherz (husband was murdered at Buchenwald); Alma Rothmann; Esther Lea Sondhelm (mother and husband deported to Piaski and murdered); Jakob Paul Sondhelm (owned Jakob Paul Sondhelm metal company and fought in First World War); Dr Joseph Waldner (studied at the Academy of Music 1912-1921; pianist and expert on opera, particularly Wagner; after 1934 he was the musical director of the puppet stage in the Jüdischer Kulturbund in Munich); Max Weikersheimer; Selma Weikersheimer; Isabella Weil; Julius Weil; Eugenie Weinschenk; Edgar Weiss; Elise Wolf; Ernst Wollner.
The Sisters of Mercy Monastery, Clemens Auguststrasse 9
The monastery at this address, where Vera, Alois and Julius were imprisoned was called Barmherzigen Schwestern, or Sisters of Mercy. The city’s second largest camp for Jews awaiting deportation, it comprised two floors of a building belonging to the monastery. Many of those placed there had to do forced labour, and living conditions were extremely cramped and basic – sisters from the monastery did their best to alleviate the general stress. Deportations took place regularly, as did suicides. Else Behrend-Rosenfeld (1891-1970), a former SPD member and a Jew, acted as a social worker for Munich’s Jews from 1938 to 1942, and was involved with this ‘camp’; she recorded in her diary on July 26, 1942: ‘My life has become hell; I just drag myself through the days with difficulty.’ She hid for two years in Germany before escaping to Switzerland in 1944.
Deportees from the Flachröste Lohhof
Seven people were Poles taken from the Flachsröste Lohhof, a flax-processing factory 30km north of Munich in Unterschleissheim – where they had been undertaking forced labour. In the letter she wrote on the train, Vera mentions taking Polish lessons from some of the Poles in preparation for what she thought would be a new life in a work camp in Poland. The seven Poles were: Syma Bainberg; Chana Blumenfeld; Zelda Bonkowska; Proja Buchhalter; Fajgla Choina; Jenta Fuks; Surah Orenstein.
The flax-processing factory opened in 1935 and operated until 1945. At first prisoners of war worked there; from 1941 the workforce comprised mostly Jewish women from Munich, in addition to about 68 women from the Lodz ghetto in Poland; by the end of March 1942 all the Jewish women had either been deported or removed elsewhere, and replaced by older mixed-marriage Jews.
Jewish civilians and prisoners of war were forced to work there. They had to pluck the flax, soak it in cold water to soften it up, loosen the fibres from the woody core and chop them up for processing into yarn which was used for a variety of purposes – including tents and ropes for the Wehrmacht and from it oil was extracted for use in the German navy.
They were given a very meagre pay or else nothing in return for the rough existence that constituted ‘board and lodging’, and regularly beaten by the foremen and by the German women who worked there. The manager would select older forced labourers for deportation. By autumn 1942 the Jewish forced labour was disbanded and replaced by workers from elsewhere.
Conditions for those forced to work here were harsh in the extreme. Some 90 workers were housed in a barracks on site but others had to travel in – they were not allowed to ride the tram, so had to undertake a long walk: some Jewish forced labourers travelled from Milbertshofen. One survivor reminisced that she had to walk five to six hours in addition to the long working day. ‘In the evening I just fall into bed, I’m so tired. Hopefully it won’t take too long, because I can’t go on for much longer.’
Deportees from Milbertshofen
The barrack camp known as Judensiedlung Milbertshofen at Knorrstrasse 148 was erected by Jewish forced labourers in March 1941, using city funds for the construction costs, but the Jewish Cultural Community had to pay for each inmate, and those interred were required to make a ‘voluntary donation’. The camp was designed as a ghetto to take Jews who had been thrown out of their homes to free up accommodation for party members and other ‘deserving cases’. Its 18 wooden barracks were intended for 1,100 prisoners but was often overcrowded, with 1,376 crammed in at its peak. On arriving, Jews were searched and relieved of their valuables. Later in 1941 deportations to Auschwitz, Theresienstadt and Riga began from the camp, which closed in August 1942, after which it was used by BMW to accommodate forced Italian labourers.
Eight were taken for this deportation from Milbertshofen: Dr Julius Hechinger (lawyer, apparently emigrated to South Africa in December 1935 but returned; his son emigrated to USA in 1941 but died February 1944 in US army in Italy; formerly at the Jewish hospital, Hermann-Schmid strasse 7); Isabella Bertha Hummel; Sara Gitla Prajs (one of the 68 Polish Jewish women from the Lodz ghetto who had to do forced labour in the Flachsröste before being transferred to Milbertshofen – she was severely ill-treated there by the SA men from the Aryanization office: her hair was shaved, she was hosed down with cold water and forced to sleep in the camp’s own death chamber); Erna Ester Rubin (her husband was probably interned for a period in Dachau; he also perished in the Holocaust); Else Samson; Wilhelm Samson; Malchen Schülein; Markel Slonimszky; Therese Sternglanz.
The deportees were taken in a truck to a goods rail station in Munich. The transport was designated as a ‘penal transport’. It is not at all clear why Vera should have been assigned to it – perhaps it was just to make up the numbers to a round 50 passengers, as was the total for many transports. Of those 50, 16 were annotated with ‘St’, denoting an enemy of the state.
Vera also mentions in that letter three of the passengers in her compartment:
I occupied a corner place next to the dear Frau Professor Porsche, the widow of a well-known painter, a cultivated and very nice Austrian who attached herself to me on the first day.… Opposite me sit the Samsons.
Frau Porsche (mistyped as Prosche in the version we have) was Malwine Emilie Katharina Porsche: the ‘St’ for ‘enemy of the state’ has been written next to her name on the deportation list. Born in Hungary in 1878, she was the widow of the (Aryan) artist Otto Maria Porsche (1858-1931). Less than three weeks after the Nazis were elected the largest party in March 1933, the Porsches moved from Lotzbeckstrasse 4 to Akademiestrasse 19.
By a remarkable coincidence, a day after I discovered Malwine’s entry and photograph in the Stadtarchiv München, I was contacted by Ronald Kammer, Malwine’s great-nephew, writing from Pennsylvania. He was thrilled to make the connection: he had never seen a photo of Malwine as an adult and had been led to believe by information at the US Holocaust Museum that she perished at Theresienstadt – ‘it brought tears to my eyes’. All he had were family photos from his grandmother’s album – his middle name, Melvin, is a tribute to Malwine, Ronald’s father’s favourite aunt.
(And in another wonderful coincidence, Ronald read the entry in my blog about the Neumeyer’s friends and neighbours, the Wallach family, and told me his mother was great friends with the daughter of Julius Wallach. His family – the Boths, as well as the Wallachs and the Neumeyers all in the early 20th century owned large stores in Munich, so they may have all known each other as prominent figures in Munich’s commerce in decades past.)
Vera and Malwine seemed to have formed a bond. One speculates if they kept together to the very end. If the train went to Auschwitz, they would have suffered the same fate as other Jews who had started to be brought there in huge numbers – taken to the gas chambers, told to undress and leave their possessions outside so they could collect them later, then locked inside for a terrible final few minutes.
The likely alternative was the huge ghetto in Warsaw – the largest of all the Nazi’s ghettos. Just over a week later, trains began to take Jews in cattle trucks in to the newly finished concentration camp of Treblinka. The gas chambers struggled to cope with the vast numbers who were arriving daily, and many Jews were shot on arrival.
Ronald sent me copies of the other pictures below:
Martin Ephraim: my great-grandfather – 10-11 January 1944, to Theresienstadt, transport I/105
The cultured, patriotic Martin was a great benefactor, who retired from the extremely prosperous family iron business in Görlitz back in 1911 and eleven years later moved to Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poreba, now in Poland). For years he did not believe that Germany could possibly descend to the depths he did, despite his Jewish status. Eventually, though, he decided it would be safer to move to Berlin as he was too conspicuous in Schreiberhau.
Postcards written to a friend, Felix Hepner, in Vevey, Switzerland, show his Berlin addresses included at Heilbronner Strasse 28 during 1941, with someone called Friedman at Mosel Strasse 10 in 1942, and with Dr Ziegelroth in Prinz Handjery Strasse 76 in 1943. Outside the last of these addresses is now a memorial Stolperstein to one Klara Blumenfeld (née Nussbaum, born 1856), who was deported to Theresienstadt on 28 May 1943 and perished that year on 2 August.
In 1943 he was moved into room 261 of the Jewish Hospital, in Iranischer Strasse – not for medical reasons but because it was used as a holding place.
Here Martin spent his last days before being deported. His daughter (and my great aunt) Marianne (‘Tante Janni’) wrote a note about this period. (Click here for the original text in German; note this is from a photocopy and one or two words off the right margin are not visible – I do not possess the original document.) What we get is an impression of someone loyally German and stubbornly unable to believe what was happening in the outside world:
“In his little bedroom in the Jewish hospital, Iranischer Str 2, with the window barred with wood with almost no view after the constant air-raids, in the far north [of Germany], during the coldest winter in 34 years, he was an example of courage and calm. “I can console others on the way and so will have something to do”, he said, as an admiring nurse wrote to me afterwards.”
‘He never wanted to leave his beloved homeland, despite multiple invitations from his son Herbert in America. “I was born here, and I will die here too!” was his constant refrain. And also in his pride he did not want to be dependent on anyone. Meanwhile he did not even receive his small pension from the ironworks any more.’
‘When someone hinted at the atrocities of the Nazis, he always answered ‘That is surely exaggerated. A GERMAN WOULD NEVER DO THAT!’.’
‘In his child-like innocence, he saw only the good in others; his trusting nature could not even imagine the possibility of such crimes on the part of German people!’
‘All his care and love was for us, his children and grandchildren. Many people came to him full of sadness, to ask for his advice and help, and poured their hearts out to him! He helped them all patiently, with words and deeds. What he promised, he did, reliably and punctually. He kept things in scrupulous order, so that everything was always immediately dealt with.’
Remarkably, the Jewish hospital in Berlin survived the war and still stands, complete with inscription “Krankenaus der Judischen Gemeinde,” (Hospital of the Jewish Community). On Kristallnacht there seems to have been a deliberate policy not to damage the building. In May 2014 I went to the address and imagined him peering out of a window into the street outside.
Martin’s wife Hildegard died in 1932, a year before Hitler’s rise to power. What a tragedy that Martin did not end his days that same year instead of having to suffer a ten-year slide into oblivion.
Some Jews survived the entire war in that hospital, but at the age of 83 Martin was deported on 10 January 1944 on transport I/105 – the Roman numeral I denotes Berlin. This was one of the 123 Alterstransporte – deportations of the elderly. On board were 352 or 353 Jews, five of them under 18, and 208 over 60. They included Jews who had married Aryans.
The train travelled through the night, via Dresden and Aussig, arriving on 11 January. In Theresienstadt many of the older people, including Martin, died of disease or starvation in the appalling conditions. Others were taken to death camps such as Auschwitz.
Martin survived less than three months in Theresienstadt. In an earlier post I have featured his weeks in the ghetto, as described by his friend Walter Hirschberg. His date of death is recorded as 6 April 1944.
A complete list of those deported on this transport can be seen here.
“I intensely dislike these November days. They bring back horrible memories of a sinister past.”
My mother Ruth, writing in London to a friend, 8 November 1977
Kristallnacht happened in Dachau on 8 November 1938, a day earlier than many other places elsewhere in Germany. The handful of Jewish households – which included that of my mother’s parents and lodger – were visited by the Nazi officials and told to leave their house by dawn the next day, or else be sent to prison.
So there was no obvious sign of a pogrom in town: no smashed windows of Jewish shops or shavings of Jewish men’s beards – for the reason that Dachau town’s Jewish population was tiny. Ironically it soon became huge as Jews were deported to the concentration camp.
Maybe the reason it happened a day early was so that Nazis could spend the night of 9-10 November in nearby Munich where the anti-Jewish activities on Kristallnacht itself were intense. The party leadership was meeting just at that time in Munich, so it was a moment for Nazis to show their loyalty to Hitler.
My mother Ruth recorded in her interview with the Imperial War Museum that she, her brother Raymond and her mother Vera left on the morning of 9 November and travelled by train to Munich. That night they stayed in an attic belonging to a pupil of Vera’s, somewhere in Munich.
We just come back from a holiday in Italy. My father was in Berlin learning how to make flutes and my mother and the two of us were alone in the house, when about 8 o’clock two people from Dachau town hall including the burgomaster arrived to say we would have to leave the house at sunrise the next morning or else be sent to prison.
My poor mother didn’t know what to do and asked the Protestant vicar and asked him for some help. He said he couldn’t do anything for us should just go so we packed a case and left before sunrise and went to Munich, to the station there.
What my mother didn’t record was that very first night in Munich was the night of the Kristallnacht itself. Presumably they were out of earshot of any disturbances, but it can’t have been the safest place to be.
Large crowds filled the main streets this morning to gaze on the destruction wrought in last night’s riots, the full extent of which was visible only by daylight. Kauffingerstrasse, one of Munich’s main streets, looked as if it had been raided by a bombing lane. A half-dozen of the best shops were converted into wreckage overnight with plate-glass windows splintered on the pavement, shelves torn down and goods lying broken and trampled on the floor.
So far as can be gathered every Jewish-owned shop in town was completely or partly wrecked as well as several “Aryan” businesses, which shared the general fate for having previously belonged to Jews. An orthodox synagogue was set on fire early this morning; the alarm was raised about 8 A.M. but the flames caused much havoc before they could be controlled.
The synagogue was reduced to a shell and the Jewish school adjoining it was also completely burned. It was reported that synagogues in Bemberg, Bayreuth and Treutlingen were also burned.
New York Times Report on Kristallnacht, 10November, 1938
Turning Kristallnacht on its head: commemorations
In the past 32 years that date in November has, curiously, meant something positive to our family. In 1988 my mother and father were invited by the town of Dachau for the 50th anniversary commemoration on November 8. My mother agreed on the condition that firstly a memorial should be placed in Dachau town hall to the Jewish families told to leave town by sunrise back in November 1938, and secondly that she could talk to school students of the same age she was when her family was forced to leave Dachau. After some demurring, Dachau agreed. My uncle Raymond visited a few years later, and two years ago my brother Stephen and I were invited to speak at the town hall and school – an unforgettable visit where we were welcomed with immense warmth by all.
This year, on 8 November, I received an email from Björn Mensing, the pastor of the reconciliation chapel at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. He was letting me know that he was leading a commemoration service in that very afternoon and there would be speeches about four victims of the Holocaust – including my grandparents – and one victim of modern hate crime instigated by a neo-Nazi.
My brother Stephen and I devised a short message for him to read out:
We are so moved that Dachau remembers our grandparents, and we know that our mother Ruth and uncle Raymond would be too. Our family’s experiences 82 years ago now belong to history, but we must never forget what happened to so many people on this sad anniversary.
Wir sind tief ergriffen, daß die Stadt Dachau sich an unsere Großeltern erinnert, und wir sind sicher, daß unsere Mutter Ruth und unser Onkel Raymond derselben Meinung sein würden. Die Erfahrungen unserer Familie vor 82 Jahren gehören jetzt zur Geschichte, aber wir sollen nie vergessen, was an soviele Leute auf diesem traurigen Jahrestag passiert ist.
The service was held at the postwar Catholic parish church of Heilig Kreuz in Dachau-Ost, which stands on what was farmland in 1939. The SS purchased the farm and it was used for forced labour for some 800 prisoners from the concentration camp, who had to toil under appalling conditions. In 1946 its function changed dramatically, as an agricultural training facility for some forty surviving Jews who wished to resettle in Palestine – it was nicknamed “Kibbutz Bialik” after the Jewish poet Chaim Nachman Bialik.
This was an ecumenical service, restricted because of Covid-19 to an hour with a maximum of 50 socially distanced people attending. As well as the Neumeyers, it commemorated Hermann Schild, Slowa Danischewska and Jana Lange. Hermann Schild owned a shoe shop in Cologne and was arrested on Kristallnacht and taken to Dachau; he was later deported to Riga with his wife and daughter – the daughter survived, as did his son who had escaped to Canada but Hermann and his wife were murdered in 1943. Polish-born Slowa Danischewska was deported to the ghetto at Vilna in 1941 and made to do forced labour, and three years later was taken to Stutthof concentration camp – she survived the ordeal and trained at the “Kibbutz Bialik” on the site of this church, and died in Tel Aviv in 2009, aged 91. The fifth person to be commemorated was not actually a victim of Nazi persecution, Jana Lange was walking past the synagogue on a Jewish holiday when she was shot dead by a right-wing extremist in Halle at the age of 40 in 2019.
This is what was said about the Neumeyers at this commemoration:
Wir erinnern an Vera Neumeyer. Sie wird am 3. September 1893 als jüngstes von vier Kindern des wohlhabenden Ehepaars Ephraim in Görlitz geboren. Ihr Vater ist Jude, ihre Mutter kommt aus einer evangelischen Familie und lässt auch die Kinder taufen. Als Jugendliche ist Vera einige Jahre auf einem Internat in England. Später studiert sie in Hellerau bei Dresden an der „Bildungsanstalt für Musik und Rhythmus“. Dort wird Lebensreform und „Eurythmie“ gelehrt, das Gleichgewicht von Körper, Seele und Geist. Vera verliebt sich in den erblindeten jüdischen Musikdozenten und Komponisten Hans Neumeyer. Sie heiraten 1920 in seiner Heimatstadt München und ziehen nach Dachau in die heutige Hermann-Stockmann-Straße. Vera gibt Kindern und Erwachsenen Tanz- und Gymnastikunterricht. 1923 bringt sie ihre Tochter Ruth zur Welt, im Jahr darauf ihren Sohn Raimund. Als Veras Mann ab 1933 als Jude nicht mehr unterrichten darf, hält sie die Familie mit privatem Sprachunterricht über Wasser. Mit ihren Kindern und Freunden studiert sie fantasievolle Stücke ein, bis zwei SS-Männer 1937 eine Aufführung in ihrem Haus brutal abbrechen.
Am Abend des 8. November 1938 gegen 8 Uhr überbringt SS-Hauptsturmführer Carl Dobler, Erster Beigeordneter und damit Vertreter des Dachauer Bürgermeisters, den Befehl, der sich an alle als Juden verfolgte Einwohner richtete: Die Stadt ist vor Sonnenaufgang zu verlassen, sonst droht Haft. Veras Mann ist gerade in Berlin. Sie sucht verzweifelt Hilfe bei ihrem Gemeindeseelsorger Hermann Endres, der die Tochter Ruth vor einem halben Jahr im Betsaal in der Frühlingstraße konfirmiert hat. Der achtundzwanzigjährige Vikar ist sehr verlegen und sagt schließlich, er könne auch nicht helfen und sie sollen besser einfach ihre Koffer packen und gehen. Was Vera am nächsten Morgen gegen 5 Uhr mit den beiden Kindern tut. Sie kommen in München bei Bekannten unter. Es folgen mehrere Quartierwechsel. Vera wird zur Zwangsarbeit verpflichtet. Sie kann Briefkontakt zu ihren im Mai 1939 nach England geschickten Kindern halten. – Vor 15 Jahren kam Ruth aus England nach Dachau zur Verlegung der Stolpersteine für ihre Eltern vor ihrem früheren Haus. – Versuche der Eltern, ebenfalls nach England zu fliehen, scheitern.
Am Morgen des 13. Juli 1942 wird Vera im Alter von 48 Jahren von einem Münchner Güterbahnhof aus in einem 3. Klasse Wagen deportiert. Es gelingt ihr, am zweiten Tag der Zugfahrt einen Brief an ihre Familie auf den Weg zu bringen. Darin schreibt Vera, dass sie nachts in Dresden umsteigen mussten, dass sie vom Zug aus ihr Elternhaus in Görlitz sah und jetzt gerade Liegnitz passiert hat. Durch die solidarische Gemeinschaft unter den „Mitreisenden“ fühle sie sich nicht einsam. Ihr letztes Lebenszeichen endet mit den Worten: „Lebt wohl, ich bin guter Dinge und in jeder Hinsicht gut gerüstet.“ Das Ziel des Transports kennt Vera nicht. Es ist das KZ Auschwitz oder das Warschauer Ghetto. Es lässt sich nicht mehr ermitteln, wo und wann Vera ermordet wurde. Hans Neumeyer kam 1944 im Ghetto Theresienstadt um.
Ich entzünde eine Kerze für Vera Neumeyer, ihre Familie und alle vor 82 Jahren aus Dachau Vertriebenen.
We remember Vera Neumeyer. She was born in Görlitz on September 3, 1893, the youngest of four children of the wealthy Ephraim couple. Her father is Jewish, her mother is from a Protestant family and has her children baptised. As a teenager, Vera went to boarding school in England for a few years. Later she studies in Hellerau near Dresden at the “Educational Institute for Music and Rhythm”. Life reform and “eurythmy” are taught there, the balance of body, soul and spirit. Vera falls in love with the blind Jewish music teacher and composer Hans Neumeyer. They married in his hometown of Munich in 1920 and moved to Dachau on today’s Hermann-Stockmann-Straße. Vera gives dance and gymnastics lessons to children and adults. In 1923 she gave birth to her daughter Ruth and the following year to her son Raimund. When Vera’s husband was no longer allowed to teach as a Jew from 1933, she kept the family afloat with private language lessons. She rehearsed imaginative plays with her children and friends until two SS men brutally break off a performance in their house in 1937.
On the evening of November 8, 1938 at around 8 am, SS-Hauptsturmführer Carl Dobler, First Alderman and thus representative of the Dachau mayor, delivered the order, which was directed at all residents persecuted as Jews: The city must be vacated before sunrise, otherwise imprisonment could be imposed . Vera’s husband is currently in Berlin. She desperately seeks help from her parish minister, Hermann Endres, who confirmed her daughter Ruth six months ago in the prayer room on Frühlingstrasse. The 28-year-old vicar is very embarrassed and finally says he can’t help either and they’d better just pack their bags and go. What Vera does with the two children the next morning at around 5 a.m. You can stay with friends in Munich. Several changes of quarters follow. Vera is obliged to do forced labor. She was able to keep in correspondence with her children, who were sent to England in May 1939. – 15 years ago Ruth came to Dachau from England to lay the stumbling blocks for her parents in front of her previous house. – Attempts by the parents to flee to England also fail.
On the morning of July 13, 1942, at the age of 48, Vera was deported from a Munich freight yard in a third class carriage. She manages to get a letter to her family on the way on the second day of the train ride. Vera writes in it that they had to change trains in Dresden at night, that she saw her parents’ house in Görlitz from the train and that she has just passed Liegnitz. Because of the solidarity among the “fellow travelers” she does not feel lonely. Her last sign of life ends with the words: “Farewell, I am in good spirits and well equipped in every respect.” Vera does not know the destination of the transport. It’s the Auschwitz concentration camp or the Warsaw Ghetto. It can no longer be determined where and when Vera was murdered. Hans Neumeyer was killed in the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1944.
I light a candle for Vera Neumeyer, her family and all those displaced from Dachau 82 years ago.
Guardians of Dachau KZ Gedenkstätte
During our visit to Dachau to speak at the town hall on 8 November 2018, I met Björn Mensing, the pastor of the reconciliation chapel at Dachau concentration camp. He recalled in his very early days in that job meeting my mother and brother when they came to Dachau for the installation of Stolpersteine outside the Neumeyers’ former house in 2005.
Björn, a historian as well as a pastor, arranges events, exhibitions, tours and commemorations at the camp. He has also written about the Holocaust: his book Pfarrer und Nationalsozialismus (Pastors and National Socialism), was published in 1998, documenting the widespread support of the Protestant clergy for the Nazi regime. His grandfather Konrad Mensing served under the Nazis in Poland in the Nazi-occupied area around Poznan known as Gau “Wartheland”.
Björn took us that very evening in 2018 to look at the outside of the building that served as a Protestant (Lutheran) Church in prewar years, and where my mother was confirmed in Easter 1938 – click here for the story.
Another acquaintance associated with the KZ Gedenkstätte was the late Nikolaus Lehner. My parents had met him in 1988 and urged me to make contact when my wife and I were taking a rail tour around central Europe in 2001. Nikolaus for many years led visits around the camp and gave talks to visiting groups.
He picked us up outside Dachau station in mid afternoon and drove us back to his house, where we met his wife Rosa. Tea and cherry cake were produced. Conversation stuttered and I had the feeling he’d wondered why we’d come. Then we asked about his life story, how he had ended up in Dachau, and he opened up.
He was Jewish, born as Izchak Mendel Herskovits on 30 December, 1923 in Sighet in Transylvania. After Hitler invaded his family was sent to Auschwitz – he somehow hid his Jewish identity and was working when someone from a Hungarian partisan unit spotted him and said ‘I know who you are’ – he was then deported to Dachau, where he changed his name to Nikolaus Lehner to disguise his Jewish identity. and spent many years in Dachau concentration camp until it was liberated in May 1945. Then, quite bizarrely, the camp became a kind of depot and he was employed working there for the Americans – so he stayed on, driving trucks in and out of the camp. He met a woman who’d been liberated from Auschwitz – she was from the same town in Czechoslovakia as he was – and they married. And there they were serving cherry cake to us.
The oddest part of his remarkable story was that both of them stayed on in Dachau, where he’d started a timber business. They had three children, but Rosa had developed some kind of agoraphobia and couldn’t go outside into town – so she was almost imprisoned in her own house, in Dachau.
From 1979 he started talking to school groups as a witness to the atrocities of the Nazi era, and had the idea of establishing an international youth meeting place in Dachau. He was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 1995 and he died in 2005, nearly four years after we had met him.
The day ended on a high note. Nikolaus mentioned he played the violin – I think in the camp itself. I told him I play the piano, so he took us downstairs into his music room and brought out a huge pile of sheet music. We then proceeded to play just about everything, well into the night. It occurred to me that this was the first time anyone in our family had made music in Dachau since 1938.
Google the name Nikolaus Lehner/Dachau and you get a school in Dachau that has been named after him. How appropriate that this man who educated so many about the Holocaust should live on in this way.
Photos below of Dachau concentration camp today, copyright Bill Hunt
I was recently approached by Caroline Slifkin, a Holocaust educator who is undertaking an educational project on Kindertransport, entitled ‘Keepsakes of the Kindertransport’. She asked me to create my own ‘Keepsake’ of my mother’s and uncle’s story.
For followers of this blog, this covers familiar ground, although it distils the story into twelve pages of images and short captions. It is designed to be taken into school classrooms.
Taubenbergerstrasse 1, Dachau, 1938: across the stream beyond the end of my grandparents’ (the Neumeyers’) garden was temporary accommodation for another Jewish family persecuted by the Nazis. They were Max and Melly Wallach, and their son Franz (“Franzl”). Franz was about the same age as my mother and uncle, and it seems likely that as children they were friends as well as near neighbours. He was on one of the last Kindertransports to England, in August 1939. After he arrived in England he changed his name to Frank Wallace.
The Wallachs’ former home had been five minutes’ walk away, in Oskar-von-Miller Strasse. Here they had lived in an apartment above the factory that produced the nationally renowned Wallach cloth, sold from a store founded in 1905 by Moritz and Julius Wallach in Residenzstrasse, Munich. Today a block of flats marks the site of the factory.
Moritz Wallach, Max’s father, was a keen collector of German folk art and when Julius brought home a national costume from the Brixner valley they created a modern version of it – the world’s very first dirndl.
The influence of the Wallachs’ folksy style has spread far and wide, and the Wallach name lasted throughout the Nazi era, when the Wallachs lost their business and the store was ‘aryanised’. With tragic irony its devotees included Hitler, whose Berghof in the Alpine resort of Berchtesgaden sported Wallach curtains
Persecution under the Nazis
The Wallachs were, like the Neumeyers, on that list of Dachau’s Jews that were driven out of their house on Kristallnacht in November 1938 so that the town could soon proclaim ‘Dachau is hereby free of Jews’.
For many years, Franz was unwilling to talk about his experiences. The journalist Hans Holzhaider interviewed him for his book Vor Sonnen Aufgang (‘Leave Before Sunrise’) about the Jewish/non-Aryan people forced out of Dachau by the Nazis in November 1938.
His father Max, born in 1875 and the fourth of ten Wallach children, served as an engineer in the Kaiser’s merchant fleet, and later worked on installing power stations in South America. He returned home and married Melitta (Melly), and joined the family business. His cousin Rolf had worked for the family firm until a row in the boardroom caused him to up and leave for America.
In the Munich Putsch of 1923, Nazis came into the store and took Moritz to a beer hall where he was frisked and detained for several hours. On a subsequent occasion Nazis threw acid over the shop’s windows, and with the advent of the Third Reich, the Wallach commercial empire was doomed. Moritz was forced to sell the business for a paltry amount, all of which went to payment of taxes.
Sanctuary in America
Rolf’s departure turned out to be the salvation for Moritz and his wife Meta: as an American citizen he could sponsor up to ten relatives, so his parents and eight others went –Max and Melly were not among them. It cost money to get out of Germany: Moritz and Meta arrived in New York with just $10 worth of German currency between them. The Wallachs in America and their relatives left in Germany wrote almost daily to each other in the first three years of the war while the USA was neutral and mail could get through.
I am sorry to have caused you these endless troubles and expenses but I’m sure that you understand our desperate situation. If, and we do hope so, Stuttgart is finally satisfied with these new papers and gives us visas, we will still have to face the difficulty of obtaining foreign money for the journey: we cannot count on the Hilfsverein [aid organisation].
Letter from Max Wallach to relatives in America
Max and Melly had fled with their son to relatives in Paderborn, and desperately tried to find a way of escape. Franz escaped at the age of 14 on a Kindertransport to England in 1939 but his parents could not leave for some reason – the result: deportation from Münster to Theresienstadt on 1 August 1942, from where they were taken to Auschwitz on 28 October 1944 in a train carrying 2,035 people, of whom 1,872 were murdered and 163 survived. It is very likely that they were sent to the gas chambers, quite possibly on arrival. They would have been in Theresienstadt at the same time as Hans Neumeyer (arrived 5 June 1942 and died there 18 May 1944), so may have met him there.
In 1949 the American military authorities returned the Dachau factory to the Wallach family, and Max Sedlmeyer became the manager. The store closed in 2004 although the business continues.
The two Kindertransportees, reunited in 2005
Two Stolpersteine (memorial brass plaques) are embedded into the pavement outside the former Wallach factory. At the ceremony of their installation in 2005, Franz (Frank Wallace) was present with his Jewish wife Ruth, along with my mother Ruth and brother Nic, who had come to witness Stolpersteine being installed outside the Neumeyer house on the same day.
It was a poignant reunion for the two survivors – they had maintained correspondence during the war and in old age, and during military service in Germany in the 1940s, Ruth’s brother Raymond also wrote to Franz.
Three members of the family – Paul and Mark Wallace, and Gilbert Short -were invited to Dachau in November 2019 to give a public talk at the town hall about the Wallachs’ story. For a newspaper report on the event, click here.
Wartime letters to Ruth Neumeyer
We have four letters written by Franz (as he signed himself) to my mother Ruth in 1944. There may have been more correspondence, and we do not know if they met before the reunion in 2005. He was also in touch with her brother Raymond at this time and probably later. To see the originals in German, click here.
Franz wrote in March 1944 to say that he was studying engineering in Birmingham. He is in touch with his uncle in America, and responds to a query from Ruth about his aunt and her daughter. The aunt was Betty Rothstein, who died in Theresienstadt, and her daughter Ann, who survived. It seems Ruth’s contact in New York, Professor Rosie Müller (known to Ruth as Auntie Rosie) has been trying to contact them – Rosie’s letters indicate she remembers Franz and is a close friend of Hans and Vera Neumeyer. She is very likely the Rosie Müller recorded as having emigrated from Dachau (Augustenfeldstrasse 2) to New York, sailing on the Hansa and arriving at Ellis Island in 1938 to join her cousin in New York, Mrs Edna Valentine (125 East 62nd Street). Lisel Rothstein, mentioned here, was a cousin who tried in vain to get her mother and stepfather – Hugo and Betty Rothstein – out of Germany.
Thank you for your dear letter, which I was very pleased to receive. As far as my aunt and her daughter are concerned, I believe that I have a good idea what this is about. It’s a cousin of mine who lives outside of New York somewhere in New Jersey. Unfortunately I don’t know your exact address. The only thing I can suggest is that Professor Müller writes to my uncle Moritz Wallach, at 37-67 63rd Street, Long Island, New York. He can give you more information about my cousin, Lisel Rothstein.
I am very pleased that you enjoy life in Cambridge so much. Raymond tells me that it is not at all easy for you, but apparently you have so much stimulation that you are managing really well. He also told me that you paint fabulously; I must say that I admire you very much for that.
I hope Raymond is with you now. He visited us last Sunday and didn’t feel well at night. We tried to convince him to stay here but to no avail. It certainly isn’t very nice in the Army. It is fortunate that for the time being he is at least near Birmingham.
You might think that I really enjoy my studies at the university. I am taking engineering and will take my degree in engineering this December. Overall, the course lasts two years and three months, so of course it cannot be very extensive. The lack of practical work is another considerable shortcoming, but that cannot be avoided during the war. The intellectual level is surprisingly low on the whole; I expected something else for a university. Most students have no interests other than rugger or hockey. It’s probably very different in Oxford and Cambridge. Still, I think Birmingham is at least as good for my subject. Otherwise there is not much to tell. I wanted to see you once. Do you go to London sometimes? If so, we could meet up there.
That’s all for now,
Letter from Franz to Ruth Neumeyer, sent from Birmingham in March 1944
Talking to schoolchildren in Dachau in 2005 he said in response to “Would you like to live here again?” “I don’t think you need much imagination to realise that when one has lost one’s parent during this dreadful Nazi era, in such a gruesome way, then one has very mixed feelings about one’s so-called ‘fatherland’. The answer is of course, no.” Yet he had some happy memories of the Thoma school in Dachau, and on occasions even visited his former schoolmaster.
As Frank Wallace he became Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. He died in 2009 at the age of 84.
Special thanks to Gilbert Short, a Wallach relative, whom it was a pleasure to meet earlier this year. He presented us with a wonderful book about the extended family The Camera of my Family by Catherine Hanf Noren, parts of which I have sourced for this post.
Recap: exactly six years ago, I wrote my first entry in this blog, on the 75th anniversary of the journey in England of my mother, Ruth Neuymeyer, and her brother Raimund on a Kindertransport from Munich, prompted by the discovery of her ferry ticket on the SS Amsterdam, 10 May 1939, a recorded interview with the Imperial War Museum about her experience, and the teddy bear and dressing gown that accompanied her on that trip.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve found out what happened to some of the others who were on that Kindertransport and the route it took.
A few days ago I found out a few more things about her journey, partly thanks to this scrap of paper bearing her handwriting, which has been puzzling me for years.
The cryptic text has at last been deciphered, by a 92-year-old man who can read the old German handwriting.
We know now that was written on the Kindertransport journey. It’s only a fragment, as she is only recording the stage after they have left Germany. We presume that as she left at midnight she would have not begun writing straight away. Maybe when things relaxed after the Dutch border she felt able to start writing her impressions.
In German it seems to read:
…mit der Tram zum anderen Bahnhof. Mit schönen Ledersesseln nach Hook. Auf dem Weg Windmühlen zuleigen. In Hook in den Wartesall. Tee, Brot Nette. Unterhaltung 8.00 Uhr ins Schiff Kabine 304 mit Klarissa, Grete, Gündi. Stuard mit Keks. Lüftung Guoche[?] and der Wand bei Grack u. Ruth. Besuch bei Walter und Raimund eingetusselt am Bett. Abend mit Ruth. 5 3/4 (= 5.45) geweckt an Deck. Schiff besichtigen Einteilung langes Gewarte im Smoking, Hundemarke 46, Untersuchung nochmal gut. Essen Eierbrot zum Apfel wo Klaus…
And in English the nearest we can get is:
…with the tram to another station. In nice leather seats to Hook. On the way there are windmills. In Hook in the waiting room. Tea, bread. Nice conversation/talk. At 8h in cabin 304 of the ship together with Klarissa [Clarisse Nathan], Grete and Gundi. Steward brings cookies. Fresh air through a peephole towards Grack [? possibly Grete] and Ruth. Visit to Walter and Raimund dropping asleep near the bed. Evening with Ruth, wake up at 5.45am on deck. Visit the ship, a long wait in smoking [area?], dog tag 46, medical examination good again. A meal of eggy bread with apple, where Klaus…[text ends]
The dog tag was her identity label, so maybe 46 appeared on it, perhaps along with the four-figure number on the typed list shown further down in this post.
Who travelled with them
And recent online searches have revealed a bit more about who else was on that Kindertransport.
Clarisse and Walter Nathan knew the Neumeyers in Munich, and Ruth kept contact with them for many years after; I spoke to Clarisse and her husband in 2019 when writing a post for this blog about their war years, and their journey on the Kindertransport: click here for the story.
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.
Clarisse Delafield (Clarisse Nathan) describing her journey to England with her brother Walter and with the Neumeyer children, in May 1939.
The departure from Munich was at midnight, and other children were picked up from stations further on the route in the small hours of the morning. This seems to have been a deliberate policy of the Nazis – that the transports left in the middle of the night so that the rest of the population would not have to witness the tearful departures.
One of the other passengers on the train was Edith Rothschild (born 1925) from Frankfurt. In an interview with Lyn Smith of the Imperial War Museum, she recalls leaving Frankfurt with her father Gustav in tears and her mother Martha silent. Like Ruth, Raimund and so many other children, she was told by her parents that they would follow on. Gustav and Martha had tried unsuccessfully to emigrate to America, where they had a cousin. Her sister Trude left on an earlier Kindertransport.
On the train near the Dutch border, Edith recalled, some boys changed into shorts and came round giving everyone money but saying they would take it back later. Then SS officers came on board asking if they had any valuables to declare. As the train entered the Netherlands, everyone cheered and the boys in shorts changed back into their long trousers and took their money back. Edith then realised they were smuggling cameras as well as money, and they got away with it.
Edith herself smuggled her doll into her luggage – not because it was a forbidden item but because her parents thought she was too old for dolls. That object (shown here) is now at the Jewish Museum in London.
She remembers nothing of the rest of the journey until the ferry, when she had a cabin to herself, with two bunks, as the other girl wanted to be with friends; the tightly made bed of sheets and blankets mystified her, as she’d always slept under duvets, and in the morning the steward brought in tea with milk, which she found similarly unfamiliar and poured down the sink.
On boarding the train in Harwich there were men by the railway throwing sweets into the train. Like the Dutch women who brought cocoa and white bread on board earlier in the journey, they were very aware of the regular convoys of child refugees from Nazi Germany.
On arrival in London she was met by her grandparents, and she then travelled to Cambridge – where her sister Trude was – and went to live for two years with Professor and Mrs Bennett “near Newnham” – which would have been not far from Ruth in Adams Road; it is very possible their paths crossed. Later they heard of their mother had been deported, and Trude had a breakdown, while Edith tried to shut it all out of her mind.
Edith’s mother died at the hands of the Nazis but her father survived a concentration camp and he and Edith were reunited after the war.
A happier story surrounds the fates of the Katzenstein family from Bielefeld. Their daughters Marianne Adelheid (married name Marianne Bern) and Eva Susanne (married name Eve Roberts had two British-born cousins living in Portsmouth who had managed to find a family willing to give a home to Marianne but not to Eva – which meant their parents Willi and Selma would be unable to come too. Willi Katzenstein was a leading liberal Jewish lawyer.
But one day, their luck turned. The cousins were sitting in a café with a friend, telling her about the desperate situation at having nobody willing to take Eva. A woman magistrate and a governor of a Girls’ Grammar School in Portsmouth who was also the widow of a lawyer happened to be sitting at the next table and overheard this conversation. She came over to tell them that she might be able to help; a sealing factor was that Willi Katzenstein was a lawyer too. She said the Grammar School would give Eva a place, and she would finance her keep. Travel arrangements were made: the girls came on the Kindertransport on 10 May 1939 while their parents travelled separately. And so the whole family was saved.
When we were leaving the Dutch border, we jumped in relief and shouted: “we are out!”
Eva Katzenstein (Eve Roberts)
Marianne married in 1952. She worked at Cornell College and at the World Jewish Congress in London and Geneva, Switzerland. She later moved to Mount Vernon, Iowa.
The first page of the list, and what it tells us about the others
Recently, this remarkable document turned up after an internet search. It is a list of the children on the same Kindertransport as Ruth and Raimund, and is headed lle Kindertransport van Duitschland naar England via Emmerich wo 10 Mai 1939 (“2nd Kindertransport from Germany to England via Emmerich Wednesday 10 May” – implying there was a first transport on this day):
The list is just the first page, but the names, addresses and birthdates are useful in googling a few details, although some what is typed is not clear.
So using these numbers as reference points, here’s what emerges:
1 Fritz Krebs, from Gaukönigshofen, born 18 February 1923. The US Holocaust Museum lists him as having emigrated to London on 9 June 1939, rather than 9/10 May. The discrepancy with dates indicates either the record is wrong, or he didn’t actually take this transport but travelled the following month. Three people from a Krebs family in Gaukönigshofen – Sigmund, his wife Sara and their infant child Seigbert – are recorded as being deported and murdered in 1942 – so far I haven’t been able to find out if they were related.
2&5 Walter and Clarisse Nathan (friends of Raimund and Ruth Neumeyer – see above).
3&6 Raimund and Ruth Neumeyer (my uncle and mother).
4 Günter Sturm, from 18 Bahnhofstrasse, Augsburg, born 13 March 1930. His family ran the major cloth store, Wimpfheimer & Cie, in southern Germany. It is reported that while his sister and brother went to England Günter went with his parents to New Jersey, and given that there is a line struck through his registration number on this list, it seems likely that he did not actual travel on this Kindertransport. The grandparents, feeling they were too old to attempt to escape from Germany, committed suicide. A commemorative event for the family was held in Augsburg in 2010; a report on his visit to his home town is here. Günter later changed his name to George Sturm. Photo: Jewish Museum, Augsburg.
7 Ruth Koschland (mistyped here as Kochland), of Karolinenstrasse 6, Fürth, born 19 November 1923. The travel companion of Eva Mosbacher (see below) and quite possibly the “Ruth” mentioned on the scrap of paper that I describe at the beginning of this blog post.
8 Suse Marx came from Schweinfurt. A German newspaper, the Main Post, reported 78 years after her coming to England that her niece Andra Marx and her husband Mark Madonna paid a visit to the sites of where Suse and her father Helmut lived, in Rückertstrasse. Helmut managed to leave Schweinfurt just in time, in 1941, and emigrate to America, while Suse stayed in London until the end of the war. In 2014 Andra inherited from her father a mass of papers and photos relating to the family’s history.
9&10 Adolf and Herbert Birnbaum, Dennerstrasse 2, Nuremberg; Adolf born 6 May 1922, Herbert born 17 October 1926. Adolf’s number in the final column has been struck out: he had just reached his 17th birthday, so would not have been allowed to travel. No further details known.
11 Hans Heilbronner, Guntherstrasse 44, Nuremberg; born 6 January 1929. Three months after his brother Fritz (born in 1924) had left on a Kindertransport, Hans – son of Luise and Josef Heilbronner, joined this transport for England. The brothers’ school life became impossible in 1937 when gangs of Hitler Youth gathered at the school gates and beat up Jewish children, and on Kristallnacht in November 1938 while Hans lay ill with diptheria the house was vandalised by Brownshirt Nazis, who smashed and cut everything up, even the contents of cupboards and wardrobes. He spent a year in Kent before travelling to America in 1940; he changed his name to John, while Fritz became Fred. The family managed to regroup in New York, and ran a leather business. The full story with these photographs is on Jewishgen.org.
12 Inge Mohr of Virchowstrasse 9, Nuremberg; born 17 December 1928. The number in the final column is struck out, suggesting she did not travel. That I confirmed by looking on the website dokin.nl, which has details about child refugees from the Third Reich who came to the Netherlands after Kristallnacht. The date of birth and German address are the same on the Dokin record, which shows she had already left to England, on 9 January 1939. Her parents were Richard Mohr (born July 1897) and Maria Marzberg (born in Ramberg, June 1903). Her last known address was recorded for 13 December 1938, in the Netherlands: Rivierenhuis de Steeg, Hoofdstraat 10, Rheden. This was a former hotel and bathhouse, used for four months as a Koloniehuis – a sort of children’s home, run by kindly German-speaking nuns – for Jewish children; it could house 80 children but was not meant for orthodox Jews as the food was not kosher. Inge was one of the first group of 45 children to arrive here. The last children left on 19 April 1939.
13 Eva Mosbacher of Emlienstrasse 4, Nuremberg, born 22 October 1926. Thanks to an excellent online article (from which the picture here is taken), there is plenty known about the story of Eva and her family. In April 1939 the Nuremberg Jewish Congregation informed Dr Lindgren and Mrs Lavén in Cambridge, England who were to receive her that she should be ready to leave in early May. She was issued a passport on 29 April, and the date of her departure was set on 6 May: the train would leave from Nuremberg at 2.50am on 10 May.
Her parents informed the foster mother in Cambridge that “Eva is of course exceedingly happy, that she will soon be with you. The knowledge that she will receive a good warm-hearted reception relieves us at the time of our parting.” That night, the Mosbachers took their daughter to the station, not knowing if they would see her again; two boys and one other girl boarded with them.
Once on the train, their passports and identity cards were taken. Eva wrote of the chaperons “The girls are really very nice, and of course very determined and energetic.”
Eva began writing to her parents when the train was “between Dettelbach and Würzburg” that there was a baby on board, and that the average age of the convoy of over 40 children was about 13. The oldest were 17, and there was an equal number of boys and girls. One of her travelling companions was Ruth Koschland (number 7 on this list).
In Frankfurt they were joined by more children. “We saw a few goodbyes, which were awful.”
And Eva met Ruth, Raimund, and their friends Clarisse and Walter. “Some of them were siblings, like the 13-year-old twins Clarisse and Walter Nathan from Munich.” She remarked (about them) “There were “children from Munich, who spoke with quaint Munich accents”.
Eva wrote at length to her parents, to the bemusement of the others who wrote mostly just postcards. She gave her letter to the conductress in Emmerich, the last stop before the Dutch border. Out of the window she saw ‘alternately cows and windmills. Everything is absolutely marvellous.”
Eva went to Cambridge and became a nurse. Tragically depression overwhelmed her and she took her own life in a London hotel near Victoria station in 1963.
14 Luise Verhaus, of Zeltnerstrasse 30, Nuremberg; born 26 May 1923. No further information found.
15 Herbert Jauss of Pforzheim, born 3 October 1921. All I can find out about him is that he changed his name to Herbert Parker.
16 Gerhard Kuppenheim of Wilferdinger Strasse 20, Pforzheim, born November 1922, was from a family of noted silversmiths, which went into liquidation in 1939. The factory was founded by Louis Kuppenheim in 1857; after his death in 1889, the business passed to his three sons, Albert, Hugo (who has the same address as Gerhard, but Gerhard is not listed among his children; Hugo committed suicide in August 1938) and Moritz. The factory went into liquidation in 1939.
17 Inge Rosenberger, of Tullastrasse 10, Mannheim; born 21 November 1923. Travelled with her sister, Ruth (see below). No further details known.
18 Lore Baer, of R Wagnerstrasse 53, Mannheim; born 16 October 1928 to Hellmuth and Hedwig Baer. Hellmuth worked in a bank, while she attended a Jewish school in Mannheim; her brother Max was in Italy studying to be a chef. The family’s apartment was smashed up by SS officers on Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938, and Hellmuth was arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp; Hedwig paid frequent visits to the police station enquiring after him and eventually managed to obtain his release; she then worked on getting the whole family out of Germany. Lore recalled ‘I never knew how she managed to get his release. He came home and was a totally destroyed man. He looked just terrible and his head was shaved.’ Hedwig looked for somewhere he could go and soon managed to get him to the Japanese sector in Shanghai, where visas were not required; meanwhile she arranged Lore’s Kindertransport. “My mother told me it was only going to be for a little while” said Lore.
Lore was taken in by a family in London’s east end; the only language they shared were some words of Yiddish. In 1940, Max was able to get to England and visited Lore, before being arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Australia. Two years later, Hedwig was deported to Drancy transit camp and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 2 September. Less than two months later, on 29 October 1942 Max was on board the unescorted passenger ship MV Abosso, sailing from Cape Town to Liverpool when a U-boat torpedo struck: he was among the 44 internees who perished in the attack. Hellmuth survived the war, but only just, dying of pleurisy in 1946.
Happily Lore had distant relatives, the Kirchheimers (from whom she took her new name), in the USA and through them obtained a visa. She sailed to New York, and to a new life, in 1946. She married another refugee, Harry Weiniger in 1949 and they had three children, settling near Chicago. She died in 2019.
19 Ruth Liebermensch, of Kirchenstrasse 4, Mannheim; born 6 February 1922. She and her sister Hanna both came to Britain before continuing to New York in May 1940. Outside their Mannheim home, a brass Stolperstein commemorates their father Samuel, who was deported to Gurs concentration camp in France and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in September 1942. In 1944 Ruth married Richard Pfifferling, a Jewish refugee from Dresden, whose parents were unable to escape from Germany.
20 Ruth Rosenberger, of Tullastrasse 10, Mannheim; born 14 June 1925 or 1926. No further details known.
21 Alice Rosa Siesel, of Mittelstrasse 10, Mannheim; born in Bad Honnef, 10 June 1925. Her parents Walter Samuel and Ida ran a laundry room across the street from their home, from 1934 until 1938 when the Nazis forced them to sell the business to an Aryan owner. Walter found some work with a construction company and when war broke out he helped establish a home for elderly Jews.
He, Ida and their other daughter Charlotte were taken by the Gestapo to Mannheim station and deported to Gurs internment camp on 22 October 1940, and stayed there until 1941. Eventually the three were moved to Rivesaltes camp, where they were ordered on to cattle trucks that were bound for Auschwitz. Only at the last moment people dressed Red Cross workers – who were actually Jewish French resistance men – tried to remove all the children from the train. Ida tried to resist and hold on to Charlotte so that she would be transported with them, but Walter wrested her out of her mother’s arms. Charlotte was separated from her parents – her father’s act saved her life; both he and Ida perished in Auschwitz. Charlotte was helped by a Jewish aid organisation to cross into Switzerland, from where she went on to Israel and changed her name to Amira Gezow.
After arriving in England, Alice lived in London. She married and became Alice Alexander.
Where the journey went
During the night we must have slept a little bit and we were woken up once by some SS officials wanted to look at our papers and we thought probably something awful thing was going to happen but nothing happened luckily. In in the morning we arrived in Holland and were greeted with cocoa and white bread which was most unusual. I can’t remember the ship at all, but we must have got on a boat to Harwich and arrived in the afternoon. Then we went down by train to Liverpool Street and waited in the hall there to be collected.
Ruth’s recollections of the journey
From the list above we know a bit more about the journey, which took them from Munich to Pforzheim and Mannheim, and later travelled via Emmerich before crossing the border into the Netherlands. At Rotterdam they got off the train and took a tram to across the city to another railway station, before carrying on another train to the Hook of Holland. The ferry arrived at Harwich early in the morning.
Plotting these places on a map, it seems likely that the train from Munich went via Pforzheim and Mannheim to Frankfurt. Those coming from Nuremberg, including Eva, would have joined the train there, as she mentions having to change at Frankfurt. Then it continued via Bonn and Koblenz to Köln, through Essen and crossing the Dutch border after Emmerich, then on through Arnhem and Utrecht. Somewhere they took a tram to Rotterdam rail station and took another train to the Hook, where the ship SS Amsterdam left for Harwich.
From Harwich, some of the children – those who had not been placed with families – may have gone to Dovercourt, a holiday camp used to house many Kinder refugees. Ruth and the rest carried on to London. There in the station, children’s names were called out and there were people to meet them. In Edith Rothschild’s case, her grandparents were there, and she carried on by train to join her sisters in Cambridge.
Eva Mosbacher’s account mentions other places the train went through: Dettelbach, Würzburg, Frankfurt am Main (where they changed trains), Köln and Rotterdam (with a tram ride across the city for the final leg by rail to Hook of Holland).
As regards the Katzenstein sisters, I have not found a reference to the other children on their transport. Bielefeld is some way north of the main route shown on the map below, so they would have done at least part of the journey separately. Given that there may have been two transports on that date, if they were on the other one then the two would have joined presumably at Hook of Holland for the ferry crossing.
For Ruth and Raimund, Frank and Beatrice Paish met them and drove them through central London and on to the family home in Weybridge, where they stayed for some weeks with Oscar and Doris Eckhard. Frank and Beatrice’s son Anthony told me recently that he could remember the children’s arrival in London – they were both in Bavarian clothes, Ruth in a dirndl and Raimund in lederhosen.
The people who took care of us were wonderful. I remember going in a taxi from Liverpool Street to I think it must have been Waterloo, because we went to Weybridge after that – and on the way we were shown the Bank of England and St Paul’s on the way, and Trafalgar Square.
They were very, very nice and when we arrived there was an enormous round table with all the family – two girls and all the parents, and masses of food – we’d never seen so much food: there were scones, and cake and jellies and salad and sausages. We had forgotten that in England when you are asked if you want any more you say ‘no thank you’ – we kept on saying ‘thank you’ and they gave us more and more! But we soon learned.
Ruth speaking about her arrival with her brother Raimund at the home of her new English family.
In times of uncertainty leading up to the war and during it, letters were an essential communication for so many – and often the only way of telling that one’s family was still alive. My mother Ruth was a great correspondent throughout her life, and apparently kept everything she received from everyone she corresponded with, from the date of arriving in England with her brother Raymond on a Kindertransport 11 May 1939 up to the end of her life.
As soon as and Raymond arrived in England, they began a steady stream of correspondence with their parents Vera and Hans in Munich, writing twice a week. We have some fifty letters, all written in German, sent by Vera Neumeyer to her children and a few from Hans.
After war broke out between Germany and the United Kingdom on 3 September, it was no longer possible to send letters directly between the two countries. So instead the family posted mail to a contact, Gustav Güldenstern, in Switzerland. He was a fellow academic with Hans Neumeyer as well as a good family friend, and maintained close contact with Ruth and Raymond after the war.
The letters say little of the traumas that the parents and children were living through. Censorship prevented them divulging too much, anyway, and the parents clearly wanted to keep everyone in as good spirits as possible. But they paint something of a picture of life in Munich for the Neumeyer parents – and Vera constantly refers to items in her children’s letters, so we get an idea of hint of the scene in England.
The letters may not have divulged much but they were much more than the stuttering arrival of Red Cross messages that followed – these messages took weeks or months to arrive and there was little to be gleaned from the 25-word maximum. To see the full Red Cross message correspondence, click here.
11 May 1939 – after the Kindertransport train rolled away
This is the date Ruth and Raymond arrived in England. We learn that after saying goodbye to the children at Munich’s railway station, Hans and Vera realised they had forgot to give them some bread rolls they had brought for their journey. Then they walked back home and had tea.
From Hans [translated]:
My dear children! So here is the first greeting to my long-travelled ones. So this is what happened! After your train rolled away, we rolled away too. We went home on foot. Then we drank a little tea – ‘of course’, Mani [Raymond] will say.
Then on Wednesday Leo appeared at half past ten in the morning. In the afternoon, In the evening I spoke to Dela [Dela Blakmar, Hans’ secretary] in Lucerne on the phone. She was very happy about your departures – yes, we’ve let you go! We are glad that you are fine so far and are looking forward to your further reports. All the best, my dear little ones and keep happy.
From Vera [translated]:
My beloved sparrows!
Now you have happily completed the great journey and are in the big country, where everything is new to you. Our thoughts are always with you. Today, your card came with the first post from Frankfurt and the second post brought your card from Cologne, as well as a letter from Käte Holler, in which she says how she was happy with you and how happy you are. She also sent enclosed greetings from Grossvati [Grandfather – Martin Ephraim], which he had sent to her to hand it to you; but that letter only arrived when she returned from the train, and so she sent it to me.
Mrs Nathan [the mother of two twins, Walter and Clarisse, who travelled on the same transport as Ruth and Raymond to England on 9 May 1939; she and the older son, Helmuth, arrived separately later] phoned me to let me know that today you will have lunch at Harwich and arrive in London in the afternoon. I’m really looking forward to your reports. But first you have to sleep well!
This afternoon I will call you, then I go to the “Heidelinden”, to Mrs. Bergmann and to Helmuth [Helmuth Nathan].
I have a cold, otherwise all is fine. Yesterday, Leo [Leo, a friend who left for the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai and probably died there four years later] came here to eat: we had scrambled eggs and salad, in the evening I ate the rest of the noodle soup, today we’re having rice with chives and in the evening whipped cream.
Yesterday I picked up my winter coat from the tailor who had done a good job on it.
When the train left I remembered I’d forgotten the rolls. I immediately thought that you would have got some fresh ones in Frankfurt.
For the story of Leo Weil and his escape to Shanghai, click here.
May 1939: long-distance parenting
13 May 1939, from Vera. The children are about to start school. There’s a reference to Clarisse and Walter Nathan (see above). Lots of advice and long-distance parenting in evidence here:
My dear, good children!
I have received many messages from you; two arrived yesterday evening, and took less than 24 hours to get here; we’ve had one from Mrs Paish, who is very enthusiastic about you. You may already have news from Marie Oppenheim and Grete Marx; they would have liked to come to meet your train [the arrival of the Kindertransport at Liverpool Street], but it was only possible to get access with a special ID card, which is for guarantors only. Mrs Paish was told that that she should be at the train at 2.30: you had to wait quite a long time in the hall and hopefully did not get too hungry.
Good to hear that the luggage has come with you; so you have everything with you now. The strip on the big suitcase should soon be repositioned; it does not seem to last long.
Do not be shy and be prepared to talk! In 4 weeks you will be able to communicate well; but only if you really talk a lot and are not afraid of making mistakes.
Mrs Paish writes that the car unfortunately only drove through back streets of London; I am glad that you have already seen some of the famous buildings; surely you will soon see more of the city. I’ve also read the cards that Clarisse and Walter wrote home. The telegram that announced your happy arrival just arrived at when we were having our semolina soup on Thursday evening.
Too bad that I cannot get you any camera film. Can you get some there? How are you getting on sleeping in English beds? What is the food like?
Thank you very much for writing so nicely. You do not need to write until Wednesday, then Mani can tell us about school and Ruthi about the lessons, etc. Do you get marks? In any case, I enclose a reply slip.
Always put your clothes and clothes neatly on the chair when you get undressed! If you do not need the new woollen blankets, please hand them over to Mrs Eckhard for protection against moths.
A big kiss from me,
From Hans; the postal service between England and Germany is staggeringly fast in 1939 and is a source of wonderment:
We have been able to follow your journey very well. Your card, which arrived punctually, formed a lifeline that made us very happy. On Thursday evening, about half past nine we got the telegram from Mrs Paish which brought great reassurance. We have now received a very loving and detailed letter from Mrs. P. and can now imagine a little how things are with you.
Your letter, which you sent to us on Thursday was a particularly nice surprise, because it came here so quickly – as if it had known that it was so eagerly awaited; it arrived on Friday evening. Quite how that happened, I don’t understand.
So for now the sounds of English speech will be wafting across your ears. Well, that will change soon enough. By the way, I can understand it very well, it would be no different for me either. I hope Raymond isn’t bursting because he wants to speak and nothing comes out. Dreadful, that sort of thing, isn’t it?
It was nice of your luggage to follow in your footsteps. For that reason, you must handle your things well and be friendly with them.
Here at home there is still nothing new, as the task of fishing out another part of my tooth is really nothing new at all – it belongs to the order of the day. But now it’s just once, and that’s it. Period. I am very glad that I am not a shark, as I would be forced to tread all too often that lovely path to the “yanking animal” [i.e. the dentist].
Dela has been back since yesterday afternoon and will prove it to you with a couple of handwritten lines. Goodbye my good people. Please greet your dear protectors and greetings to you.
From your Vati
27 May 1939: Raymond is about to attend the Hall School in Weybridge:
I will think of you very much when you have your first day at an English school. I think it will be very difficult, eg. you’ll have to get used to English and sport as well as the many new boys. But you’ll get through it over time. I would like to tell you even if the form of worship is different there, it is the same dear God to whom people serve.
I am so happy that you are so well and have a rich life filled with nice people, and there is no greater joy for me than to know that and to hear from your letters… I thank God that you are well accommodated, busy and happy.
15 May 1939: we can accompany you in spirit on your journey
From Vera (more marvelling at the speed of the post service; we learn that she is also sending over items such as an cake-icing syringe):
My beloved children! To think that your letter arrived on Sunday morning and was stamped in N. only on Saturday 4 clock in the afternoon)! This is faster than the post here goes from the suburbs to the city. The Doctor [Dr Köbner, with whom they were now staying; see below] thinks that all English mail is carried by plane (across the Channel), and otherwise this speed would be inexplicable. Anyway, I’m terribly happy that mail is arriving so quickly and I hope that this airmail letter will not be too long on the way.
Your reports are quite famous and have made us very happy. They have been read out at least four times, one has been forwarded by Grandfather to Tante Dodo and Tante Janni, one to Tante Betty, and Anna E. also read it at noon today. You write in such detail and so vividly that we can accompany you in spirit on your whole journey.
We see that everything went well on the way and that you had no opportunity to starve. The cabins must have been really nice, I can well imagine them according to your description and Ruth’s drawing. Why you’ve had to get up so early, when you got off from the ship at 11.00, is quite strange to me. But the main thing is that you’re well rested and ready to face all the new, beautiful, if difficult, things with fresh energy. I know all these language difficulties from my own experience, but it will not be very long before it will be easier.
Am longing to know about the Eckhards and the beginning of the school!
Please tell me if you are given stamps.
I want you to keep in touch with the Lesers [the family the Neumeyers lived with for a time in Munich; Ursula Leser was Ruth’s age and she, her sister Annemie and her mother all came to England – Ursula and Ruth remained close friends throughout their lives] and Nathan. Just as I was with Helmuth today, the first letter from Walter and Clarisse came from P.
Incidentally, I address my letters alternately to each of you; of course, they are always meant for both of you.
It really surprised me that you and all luggage fitted into a car. Have you taken any pictures yet? Yesterday I thought about you all the time, how you went to an English church for the first time. You need to get a hymn book. If you want anything or need anything translated, write to me.
I have found Ruthi’s cake icing syringe and the belt of her striped summer dress and send it to you. How many bars of chocolate have you eaten? And how are you getting on with English food?
Many thousands of greetings and kisses from Mutti.
Visits to London, cookery ingredients and Dalcroze lessons
Vera asks about one Gerhard Fritzler, whose maternal grandfather Leo was a cousin of Ruth and Raymond’s grandfather Martin Ephraim. Gerhard came over to England on a Kindertransport in December 1938 and changed his name to Gerald. His parents Walter and Agnes survived the war in Germany on false papers. He’s mentioned in letters Raymond wrote to Ruth at the end of the war, but I can find no trace of him thereafter.
Ruth, we learn from the comments in Vera’s letters, is practising the piano and rehearsing the role of Malcolm in Macbeth at school. The children are helping Oscar Eckhard (the brother of Beatrice Paish and Joan Stirland), with whom they are living, in his shop. Ruth has drawn a plan of the house for Vera and has made an acquaintance with cricket.
In June the children have evidently gone to London and travelled on the underground, on “the ghost train with self-opening doors”.
29 May 1939, from Vera. There was an agreement between the parents and children to write twice a week, so that they could be reassured that all was well, but it was evidently extremely worrying if post didn’t turn up. This letter was written 12 days since the previous one, so I assume that some of the undated letters intervened:
It was high time that your letter arrived. I almost sent a telegram, because I was very worried that you hadn’t written and I was thinking about what could have possibly happened. So, in the future, you’ll keep what we’ve agreed and divide the long letter on either Saturdays or Sundays, the shorter one (which may even be just a note) on Wednesday.
I was very glad to hear about your trip to London and that you have now experienced this interesting city. How are Paishes and their children? Mrs Eckhard has written me a nice little letter that everyone likes you very much and you are fine. She asks me to tell you that you would like to turn to her in confidence if you or Mani need something for example, if you are clogged up (“constipated’ in English). [there follows a list of ailments, translated into English]
Very surprised to hear that it’s so hot in England and the sun shines until 9. Not the case here: it’s pouring and cold.
You should know that an English ounce = 28 grams. Now you can convert recipes.
There are certainly noodles over there, maybe they are called vermicelli. Good to hear that the school is so nice. Everything you tell me is good news to me; also your lovely excursion with the churches and the windmill you drew.
Write what you do in your Dalcroze lessons! Of course I think it’s a good idea to change the black dress to a Dalcroze dress. [Ruth was learning Dalcroze eurythmics at the school; since Vera taught the Dalcroze method, she must have been very pleased about that.] When is your performance? Do you understand A Midsummer Night’s Dream in English? How is cricket played? I do not know it. We played lacrosse with hard rubber balls caught in nets attached to bars. Is Mani playing tennis?
I am very glad to hear about your pocket money.
Thanks for the nice plan of the house, I can now imagine everything well. Take care of the gas stove.
Where are Mani’s clothes and things kept? Do you have room for everything?
That’s all for today, darling. A kiss from your Mutti
P.S. Many greetings to the teddies.
How are you getting on with washing and ironing?
“My beloved sparrows who happily trudge around the world”
1 June 1939, from Vera:
My beloved children! Yesterday came your letter from London, which was opened this time by customs. It’s nice that you have spent those days in London. Your description of the house is so good that we can picture it perfectly. You are my beloved sparrows, and I am so glad when you so happily trudge around in the world and use your little wings. You are very independent and you are way ahead of others; you have learned that by traveling much earlier. It’s nice for Mutti as she can see the world completely fresh through your eyes.
So the underground or tube was so ghost-like! Yes, that must be strange when the stairs come rolling up with all those people reading their newspapers!
The Paishes’ garden must be beautiful, and the high rhododendrons in the new garden must be gorgeous.What do those very, very funny monkey-puzzle trees look like, Mani? And Ruthi, don’t keep saying “unfortunately”. Did you get the noodles I sent?
I’m sitting in the sunshine with Frau Spielmann on her balcony on the 3rd floor. It’s lovely up here, you can see the hawthorn, the golden rain and the towers of the Paulskirche. It reminds me how beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral in London is – you have to see it. By the way, if you haven’t written to Rosie, please do so now; she wrote me a very nice letter and asks for your address, so she can visit you when she comes to England soon. Address: 150 Claremont Ave [this is in Manhattan, New York; they knew her as Tante Rosie but she seems to have been a family friend; we have four letters from 1941-43 from her, including two asking for news of Hans and Vera after their disappearance] .
Mrs Paish sent a card with her house on it and wrote that she would like to send photos soon. Ruth’s questionnaire idea is excellent and we’ll do that soon. So you two frogs have green school uniforms! I am so happy that you both are at school. Am terribly curious for more news about it. At Mani’s school, things will probably be very difficult at first, because I think English boys’ schools are very demanding. Don’t lose heart! You will get to like it over time. On Wednesday I went with Onki [Julius Kohn, the Neumeyer’s lodger and friend; he died in Auschwitz] to the cathedral for the last devotion of May, which was very nice.
Leo has had a letter returned that he sent to you but had misaddressed. So he’s really going to Shanghai.
Have a lovely weekend, Mutti.
Summer 1939: a failed plan to escape to England
Clearly Vera and Hans are trying to get to England, and Ruth and Raymond are expecting them. In addition to the usual queries and observations about the children’s home and school life in England, Vera outlines some family plans for escaping by car from Germany to England. It sounds like the permissions were sorted and a lot of form-filling was done. But they never came. Within six weeks, the war broke out between Germany and the UK.
In June Vera is organising what to bring: “Think about what gifts may be considered for Eckhards and their children, including the Maws and Paishes”; on 20 July: “Thank you very much for thinking about furniture storage. I think that will do all this and will at least on the furniture list, which I will have to fill in and submit until next week, perform everything that I need for 1-2 rooms over there later. Of course the wardrobe would be full and hopefully can stand in Ruthi’s room if it doesn’t work out with the Maws.”
26 July 1939: Vera writes to Ruth and Raymond (spelt Raimund until he anglicised his name in 1943, and nicknamed “Mani”). At that time the children had started the school holidays and were about to go with their new English family to St David’s in Pembrokeshire.
My beloved children! I can imagine how you look forward to the upcoming journey! So Ruthi’s holidays have already started today; Mani’s only in 1 week. Will you be picked up by the Paishes or will you meet them in London? Have a good think about what you may still need and what else I could bring; because I won’t be able to get anything later. I have almost finished packing the big box and am starting making lists.
It doesn’t matter if you sometimes only write cards; I understand very well that one does not always have desire and time to write letters and the main thing is that I know that you are happy and healthy. You are, aren’t you? If anything is wrong, always tell your Mutti.
I am so pleased Ruthi has written her card in such good English. We have also performed Robin Hood in our pension, with music [presumably Ruth and Raymond had put on home theatricals of the same piece]. Are you painted as red Indian?
Ruthi, do you think that Mrs Eckhard would like my sewing box (not the old, but the one with the pretty raffia pattern)? It is a bit too small for me and I could give it to her. Or do you think that she absolutely only likes one like yours? And should the clock for Anne be such a simple little bedside clock without an alarm clock? And what about Josie? Do you think Mrs Paish would enjoy some pretty cake plates? I have so many of them. And Mr Eckhard? He must be nice, always playing with you! Mrs Bayles wrote that she did not hear from you anymore; please write her a nice card during the holidays ; did you thank her for the sweets that she sent you some time ago? And please contact Grete Marx.
Both Mrs. N. and Helmuth [these are the Nathans from Munich] got their permit a few days ago, they are now waiting for the packing permit [this is the permit to pack furniture and household items for transit, which was made very expensive after assessment of the financial value by the tax authorities].
How far are we? Waiting for foreign currency and will soon have the lists prepared for submission. Whether we’ll get a lift depends on the Scheiberhauer [the Ephraims, who lived in the mountain resort of Schreiberhau, now usually known by its Polish name Szklarska Poręba].
It’s going to cost a lot of money. Otherwise you would just have to send a lot of cargo boxes and suitcases and no larger pieces of furniture.
Do not forget to pack Ruthi’s nightgown again! Would Mani like a rain cape for school, with or without a hood? Does he carry his books in a nice folder? In general, you have never written to me what kind of textbooks, exercise books, etc. you have in your schools. I’m interested in everything. Does Ruthi also need a folder?
Now I have to go to sleep. I give you many kisses!
The cost of the trip would have been high because of the Dego levy, a tax that was payable at the time of National Socialism in Germany on emigration to the Deutsche Golddiskontbank. This levy was first made on credits, which were booked because of the exchange control on blocked accounts. From mid-1938, the removal of goods to be moved abroad was restricted and in some cases subject to a high levy. Together with the Reichsfluchtsteuer, the Dego levy deprived the Jewish citizens forced to emigrate of large parts of their wealth. After the November pogroms of 1938, the Jewish capital tax was also charged. Some of the emigrants forced to leave could barely take more than four percent of their assets.
On 30 July things must have been getting desperate. Vera is trying to calm the situation: “The date of travel really cannot be fixed on, so please don’t worry about it and enjoy your holidays. You know, your Mutti is trying everything, but you have to be patient.”
Helmut Nathan, the brother of the children who travelled to England on the Kindertransport with Ruth and Raymond more than two months earlier, is due to leave with his mother soon after 30 July; happily they do in fact make it, which must have made the failure of the Neumeyer parents to get out in time all the more tantalising for Ruth and Raymond.
Then there’s a bit more dwindling hope on 12 August: “Be calm and happy: we just have to be patient now, because there’s nothing you can do about it.” In the next letter four days later Vera’s discussing sandals to send to Ruth and wants to know what colour/fabric of a Tyrolean jacket Oscar Eckhard would like as a present.
The final peacetime letter on 1 September mentions a slowing down of the postal service: the last letter took four days to arrive. “From now on write only postcards and if there is no communication from us write to Dr med M[eier] in Basel. Hans’s dental treatment went well.” We don’t know who the Basel contact is, but it is likely to be one of the parents’ music or eurythmics colleagues.
War breaks out two days later, 3 September, on Vera’s 46th birthday.
“Personal difficulties” between Vera and Hans
Ruth says in her interview with the Imperial War Museum that “there was tension between her parents”. We don’t know for sure what it was, but we wonder if one or both of them were having affairs with other people. On 24 June Vera wrote to Beatrice Paish, who with her husband Frank arranged for the children to come to England. It all starts off in a positive mood, but there’s that hint of marital trouble:
I cannot tell you how glad I was to get the photos. I think they are very nice, and our children seem to have made friends with each other. I can imagine Elizabeth, Anthony and dear little Christopher quite well now and I find that Ruth and Raimund, too, look very well and happy. They have written long letters about the lovely time you gave them, and how they liked your family and our home, and the beautiful parks of London. They also enjoyed the cinema immensely. I hope Raimund will have written to you by now about his school. He likes it very much and seems to have settled down very well. Both he and Ruth are feeling happy in England where everybody is so kind to them, and I cannot but thank you again and again for helping them to have that friendly home and that good education. And I feel happy that you like them, too – this is a comfort to me and I do want this comfort.
You see, I have been living and working for them all these years, and they are my dearest little friends and I miss them greatly. But please do not tell them that, as I do not want to afflict them with matters that cannot be altered for the moment.
It is hard that we cannot yet say when we shall be able to leave. The children will have told you about the difficulties of selling our house, but there are some other, personal difficulties concerning my husband, which the children do not know, and which I am going to tell you some day. I am longing to come soon.
Then she’s fast-forwarding into arrival in England and planning all sorts of domestic details that seem tragically wide of the mark:
You once wrote to me what you think about the possibilities of our future life in your country. You said that you hope my work will allow me, after a certain time, to take a small flat and have the children with me. This is what I hope, too. Now, if this idea shall be realised some day, I shall want some of our furniture. I could take two empty rooms in some country place (surely that would be much cheaper than in a town) and put the furniture there. It is important to know what about the rent for these rooms will make, and if the money I earn in a household post (which I surely shall have to take up during the first time) will be sufficient to pay this rent. I suppose you know that it is not possible for us to have furniture sent on after our departure, but that we must take it with us when we go, or decide ourselves to leave it behind. In the latter case I would sell the whole before leaving, but that would mean to give up the idea of ever furnishing up our own rooms in the future, as certainly I shall not be able to earn as much as to enable me to buy another furniture. That is why I must decide these things before leaving, and I shall be thankful for your advice in this difficult matter.
We shall surely take the linen, plates, books and music with us, packed in cases, and must find some place where we can store them during the first time.
All these are great difficulties, and I am sorry to trouble you with them, but I do not see any other way to solve these problems.
Life goes on: a pastiche of normality
War has broken out but Vera is trying to reassure her children and keep things under control. They have a dog, Mucki, although the cat ran away. She’s visited the zoo and gone out for walks in the forest. She attends services at the Benno Kirche, near the apartment they’re staying in with the Köbners – whom she finds rather strange and hard to get on with. In November she visits Hans’s older sister Irma Kuhn at an old people’s home in Munich and reads the children’s letters to her. Irma is deported to Theresienstadt on 5 June 1942 and dies there on 15 May 1943.
Meanwhile Vera continues her role as mother, telling her children to practise the piano, to do eurythmics, to continue to improve their English and for Raymond to go to confirmation classes. They should write once a week and keep a diary. “Please be careful when cycling; and I do not want you to paddle on the Thames alone, only accompanied by adults who can understand it properly and get you out when you fall into the water, because the Thames is quite deep.”
In November Vera reports “Grandfather has sent me the game of Monopoly – it is exciting and difficult. I recently heard a wonderful Mozart Mass. Afterwards I fed a beautiful squirrel in the park.” Meanwhile Ruth has been knitting a jumper and they are now going to make a theatre for the Kasperl puppets that were sent from Munich. Vera encourages Raymond’s piano playing: “I quite understand why you like Bach; are you playing the short preludes?”
At Christmas, the children make a crib and write a Christmas play, with clouds as scenery. Raymond went carol singing.
Christmas 1939. Hans sends Raymond a Christmas song he has composed for him. The Neumeyers stayed with Vera’s father Martin, presumably in Berlin, and her sisters Marianne (“Tante Janni”) and Dora (“Tante Dodo”) were with them, and they visit other relatives, including Janni’s daughter Serena and Martin’s sister Tante Ida.
The best gift that we and this year can give to Christ is knowing that we are healthy and thinking of each other, and that we let the love we have for each other radiate to the people around us as a beautiful warm light. I’m going to be with Grossvati, first with Tante Janni, then with him, Tante Dodo is coming too. Your letters will also be read by everyone, everyone is looking forward to it. It does not matter if the presents don’t play such a big role this time around, and besides, we had such overabundance of it last Christmas that we’ve been able to stock up a bit.
Vera’s presents are a thermos (that may well have been the one she took with her when she was deported in July 1942), stockings, honey, books, soap, stationery, Eau de Cologne and liqueur.
She stays on after Christmas as Tante Ida is ill; Ida dies on 4 January, aged 84, fortunately spared whatever fate the Nazis otherwise had in mind for her. Tante Dodo and Tante Janni attend the funeral.
Later that month Vera is in Bad Kreuzberg and spends time with Hans’ sister Betty, who has been forced out of her house in Garmisch and works looking after twelve old ladies. “She is on the go all day, only after dinner and in the evening can we sit quietly together, talk to each other (of course I have your letters to read to her) and play patience.”
On March 23 1940 Martin turns 80: Vera reminds Ruth and Raymond to send him a birthday letter. She is planning to be with him: “I will stay with Aunt Edith, who now lives in the same city. Now I’m working hard to earn the money for the trip, because it’s pretty expensive.”
The final letters trickle through around Easter 1940. Vera writes “How nice that Ta [her nickname for Ruth] was able to buy the beautiful recorder and so diligently practise with her little girlfriend; under the blossoming almond tree must be much nicer than in the damp cellar.” This confirms that the recorder duets Hans wrote for them were composed after this date, as the pen drawing on the cover of the music depicts Ruth and her friend Jane playing the recorders in a hammock strung up between trees.
Thereafter, nothing but monthly Red Cross messages are allowed, maximum 25 words. Indeed, in a Red Cross message later that year, Ruth says she has received the “flute” music.
We don’t know if the Neumeyers spent Christmas 1940 together, with or without Martin, Dora and Janni. Certainly in 1941 Vera and Hans were divorced, although we don’t know whether this was in an attempt to save Vera or because their marriage was in trouble. By July 1942 both Vera and Hans had been deported to Nazi camps, and no more was heard from them.
I am so happy that you are so well and have a rich life filled with nice people, and there is no greater joy for me than to know that and to hear from your letters…. I thank God that you are well accommodated, busy and happy.
It was – and still is – a quirky gingerbread house that rather suited the bohemian lifestyles of its former residents, the Neumeyers. Here under its spreading roofs my mother’s family lived from 1920 to 1938, when the Nazi authorities evicted them on Kristallnacht. The house’s original owner was one of Dachau’s notable artistic community: Max von Seydewitz built it in 1898, with timber-clad upper storeys and a Moorish, three-arched window. A calvary bas relief adorned one of the outside walls. Von Seydewitz had a separate studio in the garden, which then ran down to the stream.
The garden has now been partly built over, and the ornamental bargeboards and some other external features have disappeared but the house, divided into apartments, is still instantly recognisable and is now a listed building.
Half a century on: room by room
My mother Ruth retained a sharp recall of the interior, and thanks to a letter she wrote in 1989 to its owner – Niels-Rüdiger Schwarz (whose wife still owns the block) describing in detail each room.
From her description, I learn that her mother had a darkroom and developed photographs there. This explains why even in the dark, deprived days of the Third Reich the Neumeyers were still able to record things on camera. (It also explains why Ruth knew how to set up a dark room in our childhood home in Sydenham.)
We get a vivid impression of the interior. And Ruth has even supplied floor plans.
We start on the ground floor (basement). Opposite the garden gate, stone stairs led to the basement entrance. The coal cellar was on the right and the larder on the left. Straight ahead was the door to the kitchen – very old-fashioned and dark, mainly because the window was overshadowed by the balcony above. The fittings were really primitive. A coal-fired stove of uncertain age, a high-set dishwashing sink fed by cold water, a giant table in the window, kitchen cupboard, a side table and a two-burner gas cooker. Tiled floor and a serving window to the Bauernzimmer (“peasant room”).
My plan is only very approximate. The Bauernzimmer was at the back of the house, with windows to the garden and the side of the house. Next to the door was a large dark yellow tiled stove with a bench round it. It was a pretty, light room.
The scullery was at the end of the short corridor, with a coal stove for laundry. Major washes were done once a month. Later on the scullery was hardly used.
The main entrance, as now, was on the garden side, up steps. First one reached a vestibule with a place to put coats and umbrellas, with the doorway to the entrance hall. On the left, a door led to a dark corridor, from which you accessed on the left a baking room with a giant wood-fired stove, and straight ahead there was the tenants’ (Baumgartmers’) kitchen. The Baumgartners had three rooms, the living room next to the kitchen, and diagonally opposite was the bedroom.
At this point on the first floor landing there were about five further steps that led to the top storey. This consisted only of the washroom with the linen cupboard, and my mother’s Mädchenzimmer (girl’s room), with a little balcony on the street side of the house. You could get to this room from two sides. It was a very pretty room, with white furniture, light blue decorations and a thick red carpet.
The interesting thing about the washroom was that after you had gone up some steps to reach there were steps down out of the far side. These steps were very dark but they led to a secret “tea salon”. To the right of the steps was another store cupboard, quite gloomy with suitcases, baskets and theatre costumes. A tiny window to the tea salon was covered with a small picture, except at Christmas. Only then was the picture taken away, and the space was filled with a fairytale Christmas crib.
In the hallway stood a beautiful old peasant cupboard, greeny blue with sheep scenes. Opposite the stairs a door lead to the large studio with a grand piano and a balcony on the street side the house. In this room a lot of family life took place. My mother’s music and dance classes also took place there, as well as the all-year theatre performances to which about 40 spectators were invited.
The children’s room was in front of you as seen from the hallway entrance, next to the studio, reached through a doorway from there, or through a door from the hallway. From the studio there was access to a darkroom, under the sloping roof of the balcony below, in which my mother developed her photos herself. Then came the garden bedroom from which there was a door, leading out to the verandah.
The stairs led to the upper floor, with a crown glass window on the right-hand side. Three quarters of the way up came a small room, the Rollzimmer, which had a large laundry roller and a bed.
On the left there was a door to a two-part store room (with lots of spiders) and a tiny window.
The tea room was painted gentian blue, and was heated by a low yellow tiled stove. Along the sloping wall there was a cupboard.
The peasant room had shutters by its windows looking to the garden. At the back of the house, over the main entrance the wall under the verandah window has been altered. If you have seen the picture in the catalogue you’ll already have established this yourself. In addition, these windows seem once to have consisted of three bays, even though one of these only opened to the little lavatory window. On the gables there have also been changes, with the removal of various wooden decorations. The whole of the right side of the house looks really stark and somewhat gloomy – the results of the disappeared half-timbering.
Some of the contents described
Raymond recalled certain details when dealing with the postwar compensation claim. He is responding to his aunt’s detailed letter to the lawyer in which she describes what was in each room. We don’t have that letter unfortunately, but we can guess there would have been paintings and items from Vera’s wealthy parents. Ironically the person after whom their street has been renamed as Hermann Stockmann Strasse was responsible for helping Nazis select which paintings were valuable enough to be worth removing from Jewish people’s properties.
One of the two grand pianos stood and in our last apartment in Munich (Thorwaldsenstrasse 5). The fate of these two instruments is not known to us.
The living room furniture was according to our best recollection made of lemonwood or inlaid with lemonwood. A significant proportion of the furniture was most probably bought new by my parents in the 1920s and 1930s, but there was also a large number of antique items – notably the showcase, the sideboard, the writing table, and various chests and cupboards.
The Mädchenzimmer owed its name not to the fact of being inhabited by our maid but to the fact that our mother had owned some of the furniture when she was younger, and brought it with her when she got married. Bedroom furniture included a small table and a writing desk; these items were in the Biedermeier style, though I can’t say whether they were genuine or copies.
We had two French mantel clocks in the Louis XV style and at least one stone sculpture about 25cm high that stood on a base in the studio room. My mother had a liking for polished glass – in the sideboard were a large number of conical wine and liqueur glasses, as well as carafes etc. Blown and coloured glass in the Venetian style was also plentiful – I particularly remember coloured vases and a magnificent blue sugar bowl.
Both parents originated from decidedly wealthy backgrounds and brought a lot with them when they got married; and later acquired more things when the households of their grandparents were liquidated. On top of this comes the artistic disposition, particularly my mother had virtually nothing without aesthetic value.
Some items from the house inventory were left in the final apartment in Munich (Thorwaldsenstrasse 5), from where my parents were deported in 1942. The rest was, to the best of our knowledge, placed with various acquaintances, but once war broke out it was impossible for our parents to let us know where everything was. In the years after the war, 1946-52, we retrieved a small number of items of clothing, books and music scores at the homes of those acquaintances whose addresses we had.
Books and music
The books and other items that Raymond mentioned our family retrieving after the war stayed in my mother’s house until her death in 2012. Among them several dozen music scores, several of which my brother Stephen and I used when learning the piano.
Hans Neumeyer’s music compositions were not among them – apart from a single page Christmas song he’d evidently written for Raymond in December 1939. But there were several music manuscript books used by Vera and filled with notes and music used for her eurythmic studies.
The printed scores give some idea of the scope of the music the Neumeyers had in their lives. There were two large tomes of German folk songs, but most of it was classical repertoire: Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg and so on. They were used by Vera, although she didn’t write any notes or fingering in any of them. Hans, a very competent blind pianist, learnt all the music he played by ear – presumably by Vera or his secretary Dela playing to him.
Some scores Vera used for eurythmics – there’s mention of Gluck’s opera Orfeo e Eurydice being used at Hellerau, the institution near Dresden where Vera and Hans met in the 1910s while studying eurythmics and the Dalcroze method.
Here are a few examples, many of which have Vera’s name on them, and some have a rubberstamp from the music book dealer in Görlitz from where they were bought:
The Neumeyers lost their home on Kristallnacht, 9 November 1938 when they were ordered to leave their house before sunrise or else be sent to prison.
Thereafter they moved to Munich, living in attics at first, then eventually with the Köbner family in Thorwaldsenstrasse.
Virtually all their possessions were presumably stolen by the Nazis apart from the few items that were stored with friends for safe keeping – and only some of those things ever came back to the family. My mother told me they had been particularly fond of a magnificent model train carriage with opening doors and seats – larger than a conventional toy but too small for a child to get inside; she had no idea where it came from. I have wondered if it was an exhibition piece made by the Ephraim railway works in Görlitz – the industrial empire her grandfather had owned.
Tenants moved into the house, and the Neumeyers were forced to pay for extensive repairs. There was then a compulsory sale (“Steuereinheitswert”), where the price was well below the market rate. Much of the proceeds were used to pay off the mortgage the Neumeyers had been obliged to take out because of their state of poverty caused by the race laws. Hans was allowed to withdraw small sums from the blocked account (“Sperrkonto”).
A few weeks before Christmas 1938, Ruth accompanied Hans back for one final visit to the sealed-off house to settle his tax affairs. More on that story here.
There are few clear images of the interior of the house. However the slide show below gives some impressions of how some of it looked inside and out.