A Lutheran confirmation in Dachau, 1938

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

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

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

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

The story of the church

Björn kindly sent some notes from an unpublished manuscript* by Dirk Rumberg, from which some of the information below is taken.

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth confirmation

Ruth at her confirmation around Easter 1938

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

The confirmation cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raimund was confirmed in Weybridge in 1941.

Raimund confirmation 1941

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

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

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Dachau: 80 years on from Kristallnacht

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

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

Tim and Stephen outside Dachau town hall

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

Kristallnacht came a day early in Dachau

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

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

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

The Neumeyer house revisited

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

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

Stolpersteine outside Neumeyerhaus after cleaning ceremony

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

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

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

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

Ruth by Dachau house 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dachau town hall commemoration 2018

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

 

Hans Holzhaider

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

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

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

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

Stolpersteine cleaning outside Neumeyerhaus

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

Three night-time postludes

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

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

Neumeyer Weg SAJ version

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

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

Newspaper reports

The ceremony and talk

Online report Münchner Merkur

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Looting of the Jewish families’ houses by Nazis in Dachau

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Stolpersteine polishing ceremony

Online report: Süddeutsche Zeitung

pdf version: Süddeutsche Zeitung

The film of the event

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

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

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

Flashback to 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth in Cambridge_Refugee Society in Carmen at 55 Hills Rd

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

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

Lore Erica and Ruth 1946_20171220_0001

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

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

 

Ruth in Cambridge_with Denys and Leon Long

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

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

Britten Christmas Cantata sung by Ruth at Cambridge

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

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

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

Ruth in Cambridge_POWs with German Society 1947 Cambridge Evening News photo

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

 

Ruth in Cambridge_university German Soc outing to The Orchard Granchester 1948

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

Nursery training and a letter from America

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

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

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

Rosie letter to Ruth March 20 1943

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

Ruth diary entry 1 March 1943 end of Wellgarth training

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

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

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

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And finally: an extraordinary image

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

Children in Uniform 1949 cover_20171104_0001

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

The Jewish family businesses

Money wasn’t a commodity we had a lot of when I was growing up, and my mother in particular found ostentation and money somewhat distasteful. She tended to  distance herself from the  fact that in the early 1900s our German ancestors were considerably wealthy. But her attitude was that the money had gone. That’s it. It was only money, anyway.

Nathan Neumeyer (1843-1923)

nathan-neumeyer

Nathan in old age, early 20th century

Hans Neumeyer’s father – my great-grandfather – was a bit of a mystery man. He died the same year my mother was born, so she told me very little about him. The only tangible evidence of his existence as I grew up was the silver napkin  ring that was always part of our family table settings. It is inscribed NN 1872-1897 – marking Nathan’s silver wedding date – he’d married Frieda Gutmann from Wassertrüdingen in Bavaria in 1872. It’s now in the Imperial War Museum archives:

Nathan Neumeyer napkin ring

Nathan Neumeyer’s napkin ring, dated 1872-1897, marking his silver wedding with Frieda.

Then a few weeks ago I came across this trading stamp on the internet, and bought it off a dealer in Germany. It depicts the business owned by my great-grandfather Nathan Neumeyer.Nathan Neumeyer advertising stamp_20180313_0001

All I knew about  him was that he ran this clothing and tailoring business in the middle of Munich, and was Jewish.

We have one photo of his shop, clearly identifiable in the stamp above. He and Frieda had four children: Hans, Irma, Betty and Eugen (the latter died in childhood). We don’t have any other record of his life other than that, but we know Hans and his sisters Betty and Irma did not follow into their father’s business. Nathan appears in the photo below, along with his clothing store in, with (according to my mother, Ruth) his family members standing by the upper floor windows.

The building no longer stands; it was at the corner of Sendlingserstrasse and Hackenstrasse in the city centre – still the prime shopping area.

Irma is presumably one of the little faces in this photo but unfortunately we don’t have any other photographic record of her. She was born 13 August 1874 and lived at 9 Franz Josef Strasse in Munich; her husband Heinrich Kuhn from Grinstadt died in 1924. Known as ‘Tante Irma’ she visited Hans’ family in Dachau for Christmas during the 1920s. During the war she was living in an old people’s home at Hermann-Schmidt  Strasse in Munich. A day after her younger brother was deported, she was taken to Theresienstadt on 6 June 1942 (Transport II/3, no. 114) and died there the following year on 14 May.

nathan-neumeyer-store-in-munich-c1910-with-children

Nathan Neumeyer’s clothing store in Munich, with his family members standing by the upper floor windows

 

The Ephraims’ manufacturing empire in Görlitz

 

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Previously I’ve written on this blog about my great-grandfather, Martin Ephraim, and his manufacturing empire in Görlitz, and the sorry tale of losing almost all the money from their mansion sale at the time of the hyperinflation in Germany.

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Lesser Ephraim

Lesser Ephraim born 1820 Posen Poznan died 1900 Jakobstrasse 5

Lesser Ephraim at an earlier stage in life

But the story begins with his father, Lesser Ephraim, born in Poznan in 1820, moved to Görlitz in 1852. There he founded Ephraim Eisenhandelsgesellschaft, a trading business in  assorted ironmongery. Business was brisk and he was soon supplying agricultural and commercial businesses. He broadened further into constructing railway tracks for the line to Berlin, and business spread far and wide. The original premises in Neissstrasse were outgrown, and he acquired a larger property at Jakobstrasse 5, in the centre of the city. The building is commemorated in stained glass in the villa that his son built . Both the villa and the Jakobstrasse house still stand – the villa as a youth hostel and the Jakobstrasse property, still with its golden gate monogrammed EG (Ephraim, Görlitz) now run as holiday apartments.

He was elevated to the rank of Kommerzienrat, though a document signed by Kaiser Wilhelm. We have loaned this artefact to the Kaisertrutz museum in Görlitz, as described in a previous post.

While visiting Görlitz in 2014 for the ceremony of laying a Stolperstein outside the Ephraim’s factory manager’s house, we were presented with a facsimile of a commemorative booklet about the Ephraim business. The photos  inside  give an outstanding impression  of the factory (which still stands – now a recycling centre, although the Ephraim name has recently been removed) in its heyday:

 

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His son Martin, born in 1860, was apprenticed to the business after leaving school ,and worked for several years in Belgium and England to hone his skills, during which time he became interested in arts and crafts. He became a partner in the family enterprise in 1883 and took over on Lesser’s death in 1900.

Martin oversaw huge expansion of the firm, which acquired land around the railway, and included a railway siding. Iron constructions made by the Ephraim company were used in the town hall, brewery, barracks, hospital, city theatre and numerous other industrial and residential buildings. He put money into rebuilding the railway station as an impressive Jugendstil structure, and was a public benefactor, donating art collections to the museum, founding the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) and Synagogue. Martin Ephraim was given the title of Kommerzienrat in 1903. He resigned from the business in 1911, and Max Lustig took over.

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Ephraim factory in 1936-37 directory

So these were prosperous times for the Ephraims. They were very well known and highly respected in town, and lived very comfortably. Martin wrote out this family tree, going back to the 17th century, which gives us dates and names but nothing more: Friedle Moses (possibly lived in Wieleń/Filehne in Poland), Chaym Moses (1680-1732), Chaym Asch (1716-44), Joseph Wilhelm Ephraim (presumably the son of Chaymy Asch but we don’t know why the name Ephraim was apparently adopted; his long-lived wife Jitte(?) Wolf died in 1848 a day before her 105th birthday), Josef Ephraim (1761-1827), Mendel Josef Ephraim (1791 or 1785-1848), married to Hanna –  they had three children – Edward, Emanuel (1833-1905) and Lesser (1820-1900).

Martin's notes on Ephraim family tree1

Martin's notes on Ephraim family tree2Remarkably, Görlitz still has a Jewish cemetery, and what is even more striking is that on my visit I found it had survived apparently intact. And there it was: the grave of Lesser Ephraim and his  wife Henrietta (née Philippson), neat and respectable, seemingly oblivious to the catastrophic fate of so many Jews many years after his quiet death in 1900:

Jewish cemetery Goerlitz

Lesser Ephraim’s grave in the Jewish cemetery in Görlitz

 

 

 

Janni explains the long silence

I’m still unearthing bits of the archive I hadn’t noticed before. A letter from 1947 written by my great-aunt, Marianne Bisi, turns out to be the first correspondence with my mother Ruth after the war had ended.

janni-and-vera

Janni and Vera. Janni was the elder of the two sisters and I remember her very well from my childhood. She died in 1972.

Marianne – or Janni as everyone knew her – was an adored, charismatic figure during my childhood when she made annual summer visits to us in south London in the 1960s and early 1970s, but I wonder if there was a certain frostiness in relations in 1947.

She had been married to an Italian count but was divorced from him and later lived with and looked after a spinally-injured friend and his daughter in Bad Berka, near Weimar, which ended up in the Russian Zone after the war.

Certainly, this missive has an air of defensiveness about it: she explains why she wasn’t able to go to her sister Vera (Ruth’s mother) when Vera was faced with deportation. We don’t know why this is the first letter between them, as Ruth had been in contact with other family members in Germany since the war ended – perhaps Ruth felt awkward about renewing contact.

My brother Stephen remembers a strange aspect of Janni. She hated train travel. Every part of it: departing for the train, arriving at the station, the train arriving at the platform, getting on the train and the journey itself. We don’t know why she had this fear, but it seems likely that it was the idea of trains being things that took people away to unknown and threatening destinations.

Click here to see the original letter in German.

Here is the letter in an English translation, passage by passage:

Marianne Bisi 9. April 1947

Am Adelsberg, Bad Berka , near Weimar, Thüringen

Russian Zone, Germany

My dear Ruthi!

I have long awaited  a letter for you, but none has come, so I am writing to you first. Maybe you don’t have my address? Vaio , who has finally landed happily in Rome and has returned to his old position, wrote to me that you often wrote to him in Palestine; Rena, too, has had news from you. Dodo [was in touch with Raimund, and recently your friend Güldenstein from Switzerland wrote to me too. So I constantly got news about you, but now I hope I can have direct contact with you and Raimund.

The family had a habit of using nicknames:

  • Vaio was Janni’s son Valerio. He was in the Italian army and captured, then held as a Prisoner of War in Egypt. As a civilian he worked with Italian Airlines.
  • Rena was Serena, Janni’s daughter, who lived in Berlin. She was raped by Russian soldiers in 1945.
  • Siggy was Sigrid, daughter of the man whom Janni lived with in Bad Berka, near Weimar.
  • Dodo was Dora, Janni and Vera’s sister, who spent the war and subsequent years in Dresden. Her story is here.
Valerio letter_20180208_0001

Valerio Bisi

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Letter from Janni’s son Valerio to Ruth in 1946, written in Haifa. In it he chronicles his military service years as a wireless operator in north Africa, then working on transports in Turin before returning to Africa in 1940 and getting captured in Egypt.

Serena, Janni (Marianne) and Sigrid in Berlin

Serena, Janni and Sigrid in Berlin after the war.

Janni’s letter continues:

I have lived here since  autumn 1938  in the “green heart of Germany”, in rich forests and hills, lovely Thuringia with very dear, faithful spirited friends. When I was still in Schreiberhau I met an accomplished flower artist, whose brother had lost his wife two years earlier and lived in Bad Berka with a little daughter in quite an extreme distress and helplessness (he was severely injured in a work accident). Since Nonno wanted to go to Berlin and Rena was already there, and Dora’s house had to be sold, I quickly decided to go to Thuringia and act as substitute mother to the child.

Nonno was Martin Ephraim, the father of Janni and Vera. I don’t know what motivated him to go to Berlin (he may have felt safer there), but I have found at the Wiener Library in London several postcards written by him from various Berlin addresses, including the extraordinary Jewish Hospital (which still exists) where some Jews managed to survive right up to liberation in 1945.

Haus Lindenfels Schreiberhau 1964_20171211_0001

Haus Lindenfels, the Ephraims’ home in Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poreba), in the mountains near Poland’s border with the Czech Republic. The house still exists and is now a guesthouse.

There follows the staggering revelation that Janni was due to be deported in 1944. This is the first time I have heard this news. As  women with a Jewish father but non-Jewish mother she and her sister Dora were not first in line for deportation (and Vera would have been in the same position had she not married a Jew) but clearly something was amiss. How she escaped her fate is a mystery:

I was infinitely grateful and joyfully received by dear people and, have here – despite the emergency and danger, in which I languished constantly as a half-Jewish woman – had protection from close friends. Nonno and your dear mother were here for a visit; time and again our friends, despite persecution by the Gestapo, house searches, etc., bravely proved their undying and loyal decency.

Because I was in the house, my foster-daughter Sigrid-Maria, who is now 20 years old, was barred by the Nazis from becoming a teacher. My passport, my only official ID, was taken away, so when we got your mother’s urgent telephone call from Munich to urging us to come to her aid, we were not for one moment allowed to make that trip, because without ID you could not even get from here to Weimar past the permanent checks.

It would also have been too late, because Dodo, who had travelled to my place [in Berlin], already arrived too late … It was made impossible for us to undertake any relief action. I counted as a Jewess under Italian law and was treated accordingly. In the autumn of 44 I was to be taken away by the Gestapo to a labour camp, never to be seen again; only through a miracle was I spared this fate! But I have been forbidden to practise any profession, and I have agonised greatly over Rena, who for the whole period was in terrible air raids and fighting in Berlin, over Vaio, from whom there was often no news from one year to the next, and above all over our beloved Nonno and my beloved little Vera. Oh, I hope even now that she will come back; I certainly believe that she is still alive! May God help to make this the reality!

Vera’s death, probably at Majdanek concentration camp, was never recorded by the Nazi authorities, but as early as 1945 Ruth wrote in her diary that “99% of hope is dead” on the basis of Red Cross information. It is striking that Janni believed Vera could still be alive in 1947.

I don’t know what documents and letters Janni is referring to in the next part of the letter, but it may include the Red Cross messages that were sent by Ruth and Raymond to their parents; these messages are now in the Imperial War Museum.

There is still the expectation that Ruth and Raymond will want to reclaim the family home in Dachau. That never happened, although the German government did eventually give some compensation for the losses incurred in the war:

Ruthi, I still have the last documents and letters here, all that she has kept for you in pictures and writings of the past. I am guarding everything carefully, and if you want, as soon as possible, I will send the items to you. Should I go to Rome, they will remain available to you here in a designated suitcase with your address. My landlady is Mrs. Gertrud Küchler, the address you see above.

Dora wrote to me saying that Raimund was in Dachau and you will probably get the house again. Quite right! I give you here the address of a couple living in Dachau, friends of our friend Elli Kindermann, The gentleman is working in a radio factory and would certainly be happy to take care of your interests, and also if you want he could live in the house and manage it for you, so long as eg Dodo cannot: Harald and Else Küffner, Dachau Obb., Bruker Str. 2. They should be very nice, completely reliable and decent people. If you need them and want to get in contact with them, you can always do so by citing Miss Kindermann and me.

And some general chitchat about Ruth’s work as a nursery teacher (one of the few professions available for her as an alien during the war). There’s also mention of a Christian contact of Janni, who was a vegetarian and pacifist:

I was very interested to hear about your work as a municipal kindergarten teacher in Cambridge. Do you remember that during 1928-32 there was in Dresden a “progressive private kindergarten” set up, built on completely new, original principles? The children had individual and collective gymnastics and learned English and French through play, were also trained manually in all kinds of handicrafts, and above all, had their more creative spirit  stimulated by inventing toys of their own imagination! I had 20 children to take care of, together with the ingenious artist and professional educator Herbert Küas. Have you been able to use Vera’s rhythmic song games in your kindergarten? “Now we shake out the bedding” .. “Rain, rain, little droplets” .. and so on? I have often used the lovely exercise games in my gymnastics lessons. Vera always wanted to translate them into English and have them printed in England. Could not you take that in hand now? Then I’ll send you what songs are here etc. It would be good to find a publisher and an illustrator who can add some pretty drawings.

As a little girl you also had a lovely talent for drawing. Did you develop that further? I would love to hear about what you are particularly interested in. And Raimund? He always wanted to be a film director, but had such a great gift for acting.

Do you have English nationality now and do you want to stay there? For now, it is certainly a good idea, until everything has become clearer and better sorted out, that you stay where you are. A very dear old man, priest of the New Catholic Church, who used to live in Edinburgh for a long time and has now lived in Cambridge for 14 years, recently wrote to me about a sought after book “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,” which I wanted to translate. I replied to him and told you about you; it is now very likely that he will invite you to visit him. He seems to be a very cultured, kind person, probably a vegetarian and animal rights activist like me. Do give him my best wishes when you see him.

She enquires of Hans’ sister Betty and her son GustlBetty escaped from Germany in 1941 and spent the war years in Colombia with Gustl, who ran a bus company there; she returned to Germany after the war.

The list of clothing requests that follows paints a familiar picture. Ruth sent parcels to Janni and Dora in those postwar years, when life in the Russian Zone of a destroyed Germany must have been a barrel-scraping experience for many. In reciprocation, I remember on our first family holiday in Germany in 1966, Janni sent us a huge food parcel (below) – clearly those days of austerity had not been totally forgotten:

1967 berghausle (13)

If you have a picture of you and Raimund, please send it to me. You will also get some photos of us as soon as I know that this letter has reached you safely. And, dear child, please write often: I will be so glad if I can at least to a slight extent replace your beloved mother. She and your equally dear father. Do Aunt Betty and Gustel sometimes write? What is their address?

Ruthi, could you possible send me a parcel? We are  in dire need here, as you know … And as soon as possible, I’ll reimburse you. I need Stockings size 10, but not too thin, and also a pair of solid sports boots size 40/41 or loafers – at least used ones – if possible with leather soles and heels, also 1 pair of warm knickers, and for father Lüderitz, who is very weak (spine three times broken) 1 pair of warm trousers, about Nonnos size – medium. We don’t mind which colour. Also he really needs some strong shoes. He needs things so much … everything is needed, of course, if you could get it through friends.

We are all so woefully destitute and can buy nothing. Rena also wrote that she needed something to wear, but “only good quality, please, Mutti”. Shoes too, no. 41. I do not want to place heavy burdens on you. You can see if you can somehow find something for us poor persecutees of fascism. We would also be grateful for thin elastic, and size 2B stocking suspenders. I do not dare to ask you for extra food, because you also have a lack of it and you can only send it from your own food card.

All the best for now, my Ruthi, and write soon. Warmest greetings for you and Raimund and let’s hope soon for a happy reunion!

Always your faithful aunt Marianne

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Raymond and Marianne (known by everyone as Tante Janni) in 1963, outside the south London house where I was born, in Charlecote Grove, Sydenham.

 

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Janni with me (Tim, in Lederhosen), and my brothers Nic and Stephen, in 1964, at our house in Sydenham, south London.

 

Holocaust Memorial Day thoughts

As we approach 27 January 2018, Holocaust Memorial Day, some thoughts and updates on the Ephraim-Neumeyer story.

Hans Neumeyer commemorations

A couple of events in Germany are featuring Hans Neumeyer’s life. On 25 January in Munich, Die Zukunft der Erinnerung is a project run by BLLV (www.bllv.de) for Bavarian schools commemorating Bavarian Jewish teachers that were victims of the Holocaust. Hans is one of the teachers who will be highlighted in a talk given by a student, and his music will be played at the ceremony. Violinen der Hoffnung (Violins of Hope) is a concert of music at Dachau’s Schloss (17 February) played on violins from the Weinstein family collection: these were entrusted to the Weinsteins by musicians deported to concentration camps – some instruments were even used in the camps themselves – including in Dachau. The violins have been restored by the Weinsteins and two movements from Hans Neumeyer’s trio will be played in a programme featuring Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bloch, Zipper, Suppé, Dvorak and Schumann.  Below is my note about Hans in the programme.

Tim Locke's programme note from Violins of Hope  concert in Dachau February 2018Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.34.55

The Power of Words

Each year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has a different theme. This year it’s The Power of Words. I’ve put together a little exhibition at Lewes Library (on until 9 February), highlighting words and phrases that tell the family story.

 

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The themes highlighted are:

If I knew the world would end tomorrow I would still plant my apple tree today.

This quote from Martin Luther was written on a scrap of paper by my great grandfather Martin. While incarcerated at Theresienstadt concentration camp, he gave it to his friend Walter, who survived; Martin did not. Walter was a lawyer and after liberation became a public prosecutor of Nazis. He visited Auschwitz in this role and wrote on the same scrap of paper ‘This helped at Auschwitz’.

apple tree quote by M Ephraim to W Hirschberg_20171211_0001I was born here. I will die here too.

Martin was a steadfast German. Very patriotic but also very stubborn. His son tried to persuade him to emigrate to America in the early Hitler years (around 1934) but Martin refused: “I was born here”. Even as things closed in around him he couldn’t believe it: ‘Germans would never do a thing like that!’ he exclaimed.

The seasons will come again and we shall forever be part of the seasons, but here in Theresienstadt this isn’t happening.

Hans Neumeyer’s words shortly before his death in Theresienstadt concentration camp. He was a blind composer and music teacher but survived two years in the camp, giving music lessons in exchange for food.

Going on journey

“Going on journey, but cheerful and happy, healthy. Father same. Keep happy! Mother”: the last Red Cross message from my grandmother Vera to her family. She was bound for a concentration camp (probably Majdanek) in Poland. Messages like this were censored and what you could say was highly restricted: “Going on journey” was a recognised way of saying “Deportation”.

red-cross_veras-last-message-09-07-1942.jpgFarewell, I am in good spirits and well prepared for whatever happens

The last line of a letter Vera wrote while on the train bound for the concentration camp in Poland. We never heard from her again. We don’t know how this letter got delivered.

How dare you enter the house of a Jew?

In 1937 my mother, uncle and other children from Dachau were performing a play in their house, with friends and neighbours watching. Suddenly there was a hammering at the door: “How dare you enter the house of a Jew?”. SS men trooped in and shouted these words at everyone. The lodger was arrested and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp for a short spell (he never spoke about it when he returned). My mother said ‘That was the end of our plays’. And it was the end of her childhood.

plays in photo album6+ 2 Kinder

On the list of Jewish families living in Dachau were typed the names of my grandfather and grandmother, Hans and Vera Neumeyer. Some official had scribbled in the margin: + 2 Kinder (‘and two children’) – thus making sure that my mother Ruth and uncle Raimund would not escape the Nazis’ attentions.

Dachau cutting 4

 

We accept the noble-hearted offer of you brother and your sister-in-law with joyful relief. The contents of your last letter came to us as a light sent by God through the hopeless dark of the night around us.

The words Vera Neumeyer wrote when the Paish family in England agreed to take in my mother and uncle who travelled there on the Kindertransport programme.

neumeyer-letter-to-paishes_20161020_0003.jpgCornflakes

The first word of Ruth’s diary entry on arriving in England, 12 May 1939, recording her breakfast with her newly adopted English family in Weybridge. And the first word of English in the diary. No great thoughts about this tumultuous happening. Just ‘cornflakes’. And a new life begins.

Diary entries May 1939

The 1939 diary in which Ruth records her journey dates to England. Can anyone decipher the writing?

How often we talked about you and how you are, and if we’d ever see each other again. We spent so many wonderful hours together at your house. To think that your lovely parents were killed by those beastly SS men! 

Please don’t blame all the Germans! We couldn’t do anything – we took no part in what happened. There are still lots of good people. Please write soon!

Frau Steurer, a family friend of the Neumeyers, writing from Dachau to Ruth and Raymond in 1946. She and her daughters are overjoyed to find the Neumeyer children are safe in England and urge them to come back to Dachau.

steurer-letters

Exempt from Registration

The entry in red ink here at the bottom of the page in Raymond’s registration document states ‘Exempt from Registration’, marking the date he joined the British army. This was the first time he felt accepted by his adopted country. Previously he had to register with police each time he changed address, even if only temporarily; the book is crammed full of police stamps.

registration card p14-15

Footnote: the Bear departs

And an update on the Imperial War Museum: last week Jess, Lucy and James from the museum came to look at the archive, which will be taken in its entirety into the museum.  They’ve measured up specific items for display in the remodelled World War II and Holocaust galleries (opening 2020) and taken them to the museum. Here’s the farewell pic of Ruth’s teddy, brought over on the Kindertransport on 10 May 1939. In the conservation department he’ll be freeze dried, to get rid of any resident bugs, but after this initial humiliation will have a privileged retirement that will probably outlive all of us.

 

Words and photos ©Tim Locke

After the Kindertransport: the view from Munich, May–June 1939

I have in front of me a substantial pile of letters – some dated, others not – from Vera and Hans Neumeyer to their children (from my grandparents to my mother and uncle), the latter newly arrived via Kindertransport and starting new lives in England. Most are written in Vera’s neat handwriting. A handful are typed by the blind Hans. His typewriter ribbon is getting fainter with each successive letter. On one letter there’s hardly a character legible.

Though the letters are 78 years old, they’re red-hot news. I’ve never till this week got round to reading them: it’s a slow process, but I’m starting on the translation, hugely  helped by Jürgen from Gross-Gerau (the father of my cousin’s cousin) who’s transcribing them one by one, and giving lots of useful advice. There are over fifty in total, and so far he has done the first eight that are dated.

I’ve had a look ahead to July and learn that Vera is planning an escape to England by car with the Ephraims: more on that in a future post.

envelope from Vera 5 June 1939Suddenly Vera and Hans have a voice: there’s a new dimension to the story and they’ve come to life. We get the picture of everyday life at the Neumeyers, and even hints of Ruth and Raymond’s lives in England – as so much of the content of the children’s letters is referred to.

Read the letters in the original German

A pdf of the originals of this batch of letters can be viewed here: Vera’s letters dated 01

Hans wrote far less often: all his letters can be viewed here: Hans Neumeyer letters to children 1939

So here are the letters and postcards from May and June, partly edited (there are other undated letters which I’ve yet to translate; some of these may well fit in 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:

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.

Wednesday did not go until 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 disappearance – 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.

Yours,

Vati

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Hans, completely blind, typed all his letters and managed a squiggly signature.

From Vera; we do not know the identities of the friends referred to:

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 [presumably one of the Kindertransport administrators] 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.

I have a cold, otherwise all is fine. Yesterday, Leo came here to eat [more about Leo in the letter of 1 June 1939, when Vera reports that he’s going to Shanghai – so we can guess Leo was Jewish and had to flee]: 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.

A thousand greetings

Mutti

13 May 1939: long-distance parenting

From Vera. The children are about to start school. There’s a reference to Clarisse and Walter, who we can assume were also children who had arrived on the Kindertransport. 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,

Your Mutti

Kindertransport suitcases

These cases travelled on the Kindertransport with Ruth and Raymond. Only recently did I notice remnants of luggage labels including the words ‘Hook [of Holland]’ and ‘Liverpool Street’

From Hans; the postal service between England and Germany was staggeringly fast in 1939 and was 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 of 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 peckers. 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. Finish. I am very happy 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

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 [one of several references to the ‘Doctor’ in these letters; maybe he was living with them?] 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 got off from the ship at 11.00, is not quite that 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 also seems to be pretty cold in England, because Ruthi had to warm her hands while writing.

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.

Vera's signing off letter with a kiss

“Viele Küsse! Mutti” – Vera signs off a letter to the children with “lots of kisses”.

 

Anthony and Raymond 1939

Raymond (on the right) with Anthony Paish children in the garden of the Paish’s house, 86 Kingsley Way, Hampstead Garden Suburb. Anthony remembers Ruth and Raymond just after they arrived, both rather small and in Bavarian dress – Ruth in a Dirndl and Raymond in Lederhosen.

29 May 1939: visits to London, cookery ingredients and Dalcroze lessons

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 – which I’ve yet to look at – intervened:

Dear Ruthi,

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. Otherwise you can make it easy yourself What is called bouillon cube, I do not know exactly. Anyway, Fleisch extract ] is called Extract of meat and Würfel is “Cube” . I will to see if I can send some; but it is easier if you look in Mr. Eckhard’s grocery store [the children were staying with Oscar Eckhard, who ran this shop, and helped him there], if he has none and ask him.

Paishes 1939

Ruth and Josie Eckhard outside Oscar Eckhard’s shop in Weybridge, 1939

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?

Does the girl whose mother knows Miss Hirst, Freeman?

I am very happy to hear about your pocket money.

Thanks for the nice house plan, 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?

For today, darling. A kiss from your Mutti

P.S. Many greetings to the teddies.

How are you getting on with washing and ironing?

1 June 1939: “You are my beloved sparrows who happily trudge around the world and use your little wings”

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?

Ruth and Elizabeth Paish 1939

Elizabeth Paish and Ruth

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.

That’s all for today.

Have a lovely weekend,

Mutti.

14 June 1939: party games, Shanghai and Woking

A postcard from Vera, suggesting party games for children, mentioning the departure of their friend Leo to Shanghai. and requesting photos of the children’s new family in England. She mentions Aranka: this is Aranka Wirsching, who lived at the Pollnhof at Dachau; the Aranka and Otto Wirsching were artist friends of the Neumeyers, and maintained contact after the war – her son Anselm wrote numerous letters to Ruth from a British Prisoner of War camp in Egypt during 1946-47; I have yet to translate them.

Dear children

Your letter arrived earlier, this time it took a bit longer because it had been opened by customs. I’m glad that you have the balance and can bake now. The birthday party should be fun. For games I suggest you play ‘grab the sausage’, climbing blindfolded over bottles, a sack race or a three-legged race (arms crossed), a sliding race or tying pairs of wrists together and getting each pair of children to untie themselves.

Anna is almost always there at noon. Today Aranka visited me. Unfortunately, you can not write to Leo here because he is leaving for Shanghai today; he will certainly write to you on the way. It must be nice in Woking! At noon there were strawberries with milk. There isn’t any cream. I hope we’ll get some pictures from you soon; don’t the Eckhards have any equipment? Your questions will be answered in the next letter.

1000 greetings!

Mutti