Dachau in 1933: what was it like for the Neumeyers?

The Neumeyer family photo album is full of happy pictures of a seemingly idyllic life, a childhood to cherish: walks in the mountains, playing in the garden, dressing up for home-made theatricals. Strange as it may now seem, Dachau was a good place to grow up before the impending catastrophe of the Third Reich. The town’s name was not yet tainted: it was primarily known as an artists’ colony.

There’s tantalisingly little in the extensive family archive about the early years of darkness, in particular when Hitler came to power ninety years ago, in 1933. My mother Ruth said to me that her parents told her and Raimund (then aged nine and eight respectively) Don’t worry, nothing will happen to us. We’re not rich, or important, or Jewish”.

They wouldn’t have been the only ones who thought things would soon blow over but who later suffered terrible fates under the Nazis.

Ruth and Raimund at this early age probably thought themselves safe at the time – brought up as Lutheran by their Lutheran mother Vera, whose father was Jewish but whose mother was of non-Jewish descent (and also Lutheran). But their father Hans was fully Jewish, and things took a turn for the worse almost immediately.

The Neumeyers walking in the Alps in the early 1930s, probably near Garmisch: left to right – Hans (my grandfather), Ruth (my mother), Vera (my grandmother) and Raimund (my uncle; he anglicised his name to Raymond Newland when he joined the British army in 1943)

Dachau in early 1933 would have been a peaceful, rather sleepy town. It wasn’t at all pro-Nazi: socialists and communists were much more in evidence.

When the Nazis attempted to hold a meeting in the Hörhammerbräu inn, Rudolf Hess was prevented from making a speech as the socialists and communists took over, barring anyone else entering and booing Hess off stage.

The town’s Jewish population was tiny – fewer than 20 – and there doesn’t seem to have been any bad feeling towards them from others. The Neumeyers had many local friends, and just up the road their Jewish near-neighbours the Wallachs owned a flourishing textile factory that produced hugely popular folksy items sold in the Wallachs’ Munich store.

A prewar postcard view of Dachau, showing the old town clustered beneath the onion dome of the Jacobskirche (St James’ Church)

The elections and the Nazi takeover

The political landscape was changing rapidly. On 30 January, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, heading a coalition government, two days before the Reichstag (the German parliament) was suspended. During February, decrees imposed restrictions on freedoms of assembly and of the press, as well as allowing the arrest of political prisoners without charge. The newspaper Der Stürmer promoted hatred of the Jews and became the official news outlet of the Nazis on 4 February, proclaiming as its motto “The Jews are our misfortune”.

The Nazis became the largest party after the elections on 5 March, although they came fourth in Dachau, behind the Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD), and that with an extremely high turnout of 89.6%. Election day itself was quiet, interrupted only by the occasional plane flying over town and daubed with swastikas and Nazi flags. The town was in general reluctant to put its faith in Hitler and try anything new. There were no Nazi celebrations that night: the SA stormtroopers aborted their planned visit to Dachau when they learned that the SPD, KPD and trade unionists had gathered at the local trade union building to defend themselves.

The election results in Dachau (left), won by the Bavarian People’s Party with 1410 votes (only eight fewer than in the 1932 election), followed by the Social Democratic Party with 1207, and the Communists with 894. The Nazis came fourth, with 542 votes. However the headline in the local paper, the Dachauer Zeitung, proclaimed that the Nazi politician Ritter von Epp “übernimmt die Macht in Bayern” (takes power in Bavaria).

The Nazis took over the police headquarters in Munich and Dachau on the night of 9 March. Hans-Günther Richardi in his history of Dachau observes that few households had radios, and the news did not travel quickly. Armed with carbines, clubs and pistols, the Dachau SS and SA marched into the town square and raised the Nazi flag, sang the national anthem then celebrated at a local pub by jeering at and assaulting a Jewish cattle dealer.

Dachau SS Sturmführer Karl Dobler – who in November 1938 ordered the Neumeyers and other Dachau families to leave town by dawn the next day or else go to prison – became the Deputy for the Reich Commissioner for Bavaria. The Dachauer Zeitung announced on 10 March:

  1. Police authority in Dachau has been transferred to the SA and SS as of 8pm, 9 March 1933.
  2. The people of Dachau are asked to remain calm as events unfold over the next few days.
  3. Let this be a warning to the Marxist enemy. Any countermoves or provocation will be put down by force of arms without hesitation.

A railway worker protested at the takeover and set fire to a Nazi flag that was flying over station. He was arrested and forced to make amends by accompanying a torchlight procession to the station and raised a new flag; he remained in prison after that for a further couple of weeks before his release.

Dachau’s concentration camp opens

There were local rumours of Communist terrorist plots, and this gave a pretext for seeking out and arresting political opponents. On 22 March the Nazis opened one of their first concentration camps, on the edge of town (Oranienburg, in Prussia, opened a day earlier). It was converted from a derelict munitions factory, on the far side of Dachau from where the Neumeyers lived. The camp was initially a place of imprisonment for political prisoners and trade unionists as well as anyone considered an enemy of the Nazi regime, but later Jews and others were taken there. Its first commandant was Theodor Eicke, who had been released from a psychiatric hospital for that specific purpose.

Round-ups of Communists and socialists must have been noticeable in town, and the atmosphere would have become increasingly tense. I suspect the Neumeyer parents shielded their children from their fears and from what was going on in town.

My mother told me that no one would dare to look at the gates of the camp, should they happen to walk past it. In her interview recorded by the Imperial War Museum she recalled:

When you went for walks and got anywhere near this camp, no one said anything – they said it was a powder factory and some people get sent there – no one spoke about it but you knew there was something sinister behind those walls
The original entrance to Dachau concentration camp. In 1936 this was replaced by a larger gatehouse, constructed by prisoners.

Hardship and persecution

The noose gradually tightened across Germany during that year: in Cologne Jews were banned from using sports facilities and playgrounds. Jews in the legal profession faced severe restrictions as to their practice. A national boycott of Jewish businesses and shops took place on 1 April, and six days later a law was imposed barring Jews and Communists from holding jobs as civil servant, lawyers, doctors and university professors. This was presumably the date – 7 April – that Hans Neumeyer was barred from taking up a teaching post at the Academy of Music in Munich: the first real hammer-blow for the family. From then on he resorted to teaching private pupils – with some success, as far as I can gather. Vera was also teaching – eurythmics as well as Italian and English.

Hans was still well connected and highly regarded in musical circles. In 1939 he sent seven testimonials to England dated between 1934 and 1938 and typed out in English – evidence that he was certainly still in touch with other musicians and teachers. The testimonials are from Jacques Dalcroze (the pioneer of eurythmics – the music and movement discipline that Vera taught and Hans played music for); Gustav Güldenstein (his close friend in Switzerland, who during the war was the family’s intermediary for sending post between Germany and England); Dr Ernst Mohr, Walter Muller and Dr R Edlinger (Academy of Music and Conservatoire, Basel); Aug. Schimid-Lindner and H W von Waltershausen (professors at the Royal Academy of Music); Anna Hirzel-Langenhat (Castle of Berg); and Prof Dr F Klose and Prof Theodor Kilian (Public Academy of Music in Munich and teacher of violin).

Money must have been a constant and increasing concern for the Neumeyers, although Vera’s recently widowed father Martin Ephraim probably helped them with what remained of the family’s dwindling fortune. Friends helped them out – the Steurers owned a grocery store in Dachau and gave them food, and Ruth said the Wirschings, the artists who lived in the oldest house in town, were also generous:

We had some very loyal friends there in Dachau, actually. There was an artist woman who was a great friend of my mother, very supportive. We had very simple people, lots of peasant people who came and helped and occasionally we went to their house and they gave us a wonderful meal or they gave us some extra fruit – that sort of thing.

How the rest of 1933 panned out for the Neumeyers I can only speculate. Ruth and Raimund continued to attend school in Dachau – they learnt little but were not initially, as far as I am aware, treated that differently at the outset.

But the Nuremberg Laws enacted in September 1935 labelled them as fully Jewish because they had three Jewish grandparents, and that surely made them realise the looming danger.

Then the taunts of ‘Saujude’ (‘Jewish pig’) and stone-throwing ensued, and things got a lot worse.

Related stories in this blog

The Steurers: “anyone might end up in a concentration camp” – postwar letters from the Dachau family

The Wirschings: how the tables were turned after the war when Ruth was asked to give a testimonial to the British authorities that her childhood friend from Dachau Anselm Wirsching was not a Nazi

The Wallach family: the other Kindertransportee from Dachau, and the Jewish family that lost their business empire


For a detailed account of the town and concentration camp, see Hans-Günther Richardi’s book Dachau – A Guide to its Contemporary History (Wallstein Verlag, 2014)


Dela’s eye-witness account of life under the Third Reich

This post concerns a remarkable 8,000-word, 11-page typed report made by Dela Blakmar, my grandfather Hans’ secretary (and, it now appears, lover). I am publishing it a few days before Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), 27 January 2023 for a very specific reason, that the national theme for HMD this year is Ordinary People. People who were victims as well as perpetrators, and people who stood by as well as those who helped those in danger. I’ve only just discovered and translated the report and it illuminates ordinary lives – of Dela, as a Jew in Munich and Berlin, and what she saw around her during the first ten years of the Third Reich.

I have just pulled out a few extracts for this post, observations that particularly struck me. Dela describes all sorts of aspects: the anti-Jewish laws, the rise of anti-Semitism, the reaction and aftermath of the pogroms of November 1938, deportation (including, seemingly, that of my grandmother Vera), the expropriation of Jewish property, the effect of the persecutions on ordinary German citizens, the ordinary people who helped Jews and those who stood by, the desolation of ordinary lives in war-torn Berlin… and so on.

What this document was meant for is not clear, but it would have been written in Sweden during the last years of the war or soon after. Dela would have been writing from Sweden, where she escaped to from Denmark at the end of 1943, and which became her permanent home. It is striking that Dela does not give any names and makes locations unspecific, as if such information is sensitive, which makes me think she may be writing before the war had ended.

The report was among the papers relating to my family found in the basement of a house in Sweden a year ago. A pdf of the original report in German can be downloaded here.

What makes this report particularly interesting is that Dela was Jewish but had a privileged position in Germany of having the protection of Danish nationality, following her marriage of convenience in summer 1933 to Helge Blakmar, a Danish resistance leader who was Aryan by Nazi law. They divorced in 1939.

Dela was born on 3 May 1897 in Berlin to fully Jewish parents, and studied music. She was employed as a violin teacher at the adult education centre in Hamburg. Additionally she gave private lessons, and concerts together with the harpsichordist Ilse Thate. In 1931 she founded a viola quartet, and around that time broadcast on radio. She left Germany in 1933 to marry Helge Blakmar, but returned to Germany in early 1938 to be with her mother, whose life was nearing its end.

She was not allowed to practise her profession in Munich, and when the war broke out she was not allowed to leave Munich. However she did eventually get permission to leave for Berlin and then to Denmark in March 1943, and “was allowed to take DM200 as a special privilege”. Later that year she escaped on a boat to Sweden, settling in the town of Norberg.

In 1959 she filed a claim for compensation for the suffering she had incurred under the Nazis.

Arrival in Germany, 1938

Dela had left Germany for Denmark a few years earlier, but returned to Berlin. She was obviously aware of the anti-Semitic sentiment that the Nazis promoted, but she needed to be with her mother, whose life was drawing to a close.

Being married to a Dane meant she wasn’t subject to the full thrust of the anti-Jewish laws and she clearly wanted to be with Hans. They were together in Berlin and even planned to emigrate to New York that summer. They wouldn’t however have guessed how bad things were to become later on.

In the spring of 1938 I came to Berlin. At many cafés and restaurants you saw signs saying “Jews not wanted”. In some cases, the owners of these restaurants had been threatened that their licence would be withdrawn if they persisted in putting up such posters. Suddenly, yellow benches with the inscription “only for Jews” appeared in squares and green areas, and signs at the same time drew attention to the fact that Jews were forbidden to use other benches under penalty of punishment. People accepted that, looked away in embarrassment use of certain benches was forbidden and subject to a penalty.

On April 27, 1938, a decree was issued that all Jews should immediately list their names, cash assets, bank papers, valuables (works of art, real carpets, jewellery, silverware, etc.) and submit them, stating the value of each item. The purpose for which this was to be served was not initially disclosed.

In the next few weeks, all objects made of precious metals and jewellery specified on the lists submitted had to be handed in – a receipt was issued for each delivery in accordance with the number of pieces. Over the next two years, Jews who had delivered such loads received a request from the official authority to collect the money for the delivered goods, whereby the value was of course ridiculously low, 3 pfennigs per large silver regardless. whether it was a matter of simple everyday objects or for antique works of art

In the summer of 1938, house searches began in Jewish households, which led to secret abuse by the officials. Works of art, carpets, furniture that someone might want to have were simply taken away. Suddenly overnight one saw the names in big white letters on the shop windows of all the shops that were assumed to be in Jewish.

Dela, in the 1930s

Observations on anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism had been brewing in Germany for many years – it wasn’t a Nazi invention by any means, but Dela remarked that it had been confined to the official circles of the upper bourgeoisie, the arts and science, not the German working class. But with the arrival of Hitler a blood-tainting element came into being, prompted by accounts of the German “noble breed”.

When the “Nuremberg laws” were issued on September 15, 1935, anti-Semitic actions were expressly considered undesirable or to a certain extent safe, albeit the restrictions were felt bitterly. However, there was no reason to fear that the situation would worsen, and for a long time no threatening action was taken by the authorities. Jews were given their own Jewish cultural association, which had its sections in all larger cities. There was a Jewish publishing house, theatre and concert performances with Jewish literature and Jewish music. Jews were still allowed to practise their professions as long as they could take place within the defined framework of Jewishness.

Jews were now expelled from public life in Germany, they lived in invisible ghettos, the walls of which, however, had not yet completely sealed them off from the German environment.

The November pogrom (“Kristallnacht”): referring to the Neumeyers?

It is very likely Dela was still with Hans when the mass attacks against Jews and their properties occurred throughout Germany around 9 November 1938 in what the Nazis euphemistically termed “Kristallnacht”. My mother Ruth and uncle Raymond Neumeyer and their mother Vera were in Dachau the night before, when they were ordered by town officials to leave town by dawn or else go to prison. Ruth described the incident in an interview recorded by the Imperial War Museum, adding “my father was away in Berlin learning how to make flutes”, but without mentioning that he had been with Dela in summer in Berlin, and presumably was still with her.

Fortuitously, when Ruth, Raymond and Vera arrived at Munich station on the morning of 9 November, they seem to have avoided the worst of it.

Then came November 9, 1938, when synagogues throughout the Reich were set on fire and all Jewish shops were systematically demolished. I was staying with Jewish friends at the time. On the morning of November 10, two ladies who were friends of mine were able to ask me, both “pure Aryan” folk comrades, whether their landlords wanted to entrust them with important papers or valuables for safekeeping, which no longer were secure in Jewish households. So these two women went from one Jewish family to another to offer their help; they were not the only ones. Suddenly all classes of people wanted to help, in contrast to the officially attested spontaneity of the uprising against the Jews, throughout the Reich at exactly the same time of night.

I am virtually certain that the passage below refers to my mother’s family – the Neumeyers – and that the location is Dachau, as it was indeed there that all non-Aryan residents were told to leave the house and district by 6 o’clock the next morning, although this was actually on 8 November rather than the following day, arriving at Munich railway station on the morning of 9 November. Assuming it is the Neumeyers, it mentions the requirement for them to pay for repairs to their house, and that any money received was paid into a blocked account – both of which did indeed happen.

Jews had to be removed from rural communities and suburbs. For example, on 9 November at 10 o’clock in the evening, all non-Aryan residents of a residential suburb were informed that they had to leave the house, the town and district by 6 o’clock in the morning. The men were immediately transferred to the concentration camp, women and children were allowed to take as many handpicks as they could carry themselves. On 10 November many camped in Munich Central Station with nowhere to go.

Before leaving their house, the owners were forced to hand over their entire possessions to a law firm with a Power of Attorney to entrust their entire property to a law firm “in trust”. Thousands of such powers of attorney were issued these days, but cancelled again a few weeks later by the government because they were trying to enrich Jewish property. Gradually one piece of land was sold after the other, mostly for only a fraction of the actual value. The purchase price had to be paid immediately in cash into a blocked account with the foreign exchange office, from which the Jewish account holder was allowed to withdraw a small monthly amount to cover his living expenses upon request.

A villa owner I know received, 6 months after the sale of his house, a claim for a larger fine for repair costs, which a new tenant of the former house had justified as necessary. The claim was issued by the local burgomaster; in the event of refusal to pay, there would be an immediate transfer to the concentration camp. 

Meanwhile a new office had been set up in Munich, the Treuhänder des Gauleiters, Stelle für Arisierung (“Trustee des Gauleiters, Office for Aryanisation”). The name explains only partially the function of this office, whose directors, including a former carousel employee from the funfair, who had the power to decide about expropriation, evictions, forced labour – i.e. about the life and death of several thousand once respected German citizens. Two years after the sale of the same house, that official demanded several percent of sales price at the time, on the basis that the sum was needed to cover the fee and administrative costs of the law firm, to which that general power of attorney was compulsorily transferred two years before.

Reaction to the Pogroms

The run on foreign consulates was desperate – who had relatives abroad who wanted and were able to guarantee that they would rescue completely destitute and almost unknown relatives? And did people in other countries know that this was literally about saving the lives of these hundreds of thousands? When, filled with this horror, I travelled to Paris at the end of 1938, I found no one there who had the slightest interest in the fate of German Jews, whether the French or German migrants. I met many people of different nationalities there — no one asked me what was actually happening with the persecution of the Jews in Germany; the only exception was an Indian! Also in Switzerland, in Denmark, during 1938-39 where I tried something for German-Danish friends, I found for the same indifference everywhere.

From the beginning of 1939 I had been able to experience living in Munich, the “capital of the movement”, and so I was able to witness the development of the “solution to the Jewish question” from there. This problem was dealt with differently in every city from that time onwards and above all from the outbreak of war until 1942. On 9 November Jews in a well-known Upper Bavarian health resort were forced to buy tickets to foreign countries, although they knew that border tickets to places abroad had to be purchased and that crossing the border without a valid passport was impossible – and Jews did not get a passport.

In Berlin, the chief of the police, von Helldorf, said that all emigrating Jews had to make an extra payment in addition to the statutory Reich flight tax, the so-called Helldorf donation, which – as previously stated – was to go to the “Reich Association of Jews in Germany” to finance the emigration of destitute Jews.

A member of the Reichsvereinigung told me that this money was actually deposited into an account in the name of the Reichsvereinigung, over which the Reichsvereinigung had no right of disposal.

Expropriation of Jewish property

From now on, the systematic expropriation of all Jewish property began, primarily property and all Jewish businesses. Personal wishes of more prominent party members played a role in carrying out this “Aryanisation”. On November 9, 1938, at around 11:00 a.m., a troop of uniformed Nazis appeared at the country estate of Herr von X, a member of a respected Catholic family of Jewish descent, and ordered all guests and domestic staff present to leave the house immediately. As a result, some of the access doors were locked from the outside and torches were thrown into the house. The villagers, who, woken up by the noise, came to help to put out the fire, were prevented at gun point and Herr von X was transferred to the concentration camp the next day, where he was held for several months.

Barely a week passed without new summonses, demands, restraints, insults. The Jewish food supply (special ration cards marked with J, on which the allocation was limited to textile goods, meat, eggs, milk, tobacco cards; other allotments were greatly reduced), the ban on entering other specially designated food shops and outside of prescribed times, a ban on entering certain streets and facilities, a ban on leaving home after 8pm, a ban on using public transport, a ban on leaving one’s place of residence, a ban on teaching Jewish children, registration of all Jews in evangelical work and finally the yellow Jewish star, without which no Jew was allowed to show himself on the street, and which had to be attached to the outside of every apartment inhabited by Jews.

A secret decree within the air protection organisation stated that in the event of fire damage from air raids, Jewish houses were not to be protected, it was forbidden to provide help to Jews unless a Jewish house was destroyed by fire. At that time there were still many Jews in other cities who lived in their apartments among the “Aryan people”; there were special Jewish air-raid shelters there, separate from the other air-raid shelters; and the inscriptions Juden verboten (“Jews forbidden”) in shops, guesthouses, in the middle of the stations, public telephones.

Dela’s list of possessions

We know that the Neumeyers had fine furniture and art in their house; it all disappeared, of course, though Dela managed to smuggle out some jewellery, which we still have. Vera’s father, Martin Ephraim, had stupendous wealth at one time, and even though they lost the value of their Görlitz villa in the hyperinflation of the early 1920s their home in Schreiberhau would have been opulently furnished too.

We do, however, have a list of Dela’s possessions – could some of these have belonged to the Neumeyers, and left behind in the apartment Dela lived in after they left?

Also – possibly related to the above list – an application for tax clearance for the purposes of emigration. And the address is Thorwaldstrasse 5, Munich – the apartment belonging to the Köbners, where the Neumeyers lived from 1939 until Hans and Vera were deported in 1942. This is the first evidence I have found that Dela was also living there – whether concurrently with the Neumeyers for a time, or after they had left.

We don’t know the fate of the Köbners. Raymond found their apartment block bombed out when he visited Munich in 1946.

Reactions to the Jews’ plight

Dela illustrates several examples of the reaction of ordinary German citizens to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews. Sympathy towards Jews was by no means was prevalent across Germany, but Berlin was said to have harboured a considerable amount of opposition to the Nazis.

Of the 9 November 1938 “Kristallnacht” pogroms, she remarked:

Truckloads of valuables were thrown out of windows. I didn’t get the impression that many took the opportunity to enrich themselves, with the exception, of course, of those who had staged this spontaneous popular movement. For days people went through rubble and shards – similar to the scene four years later after English bombing raids. One example of many: a few days after 9 November, a chauffeur in impeccably new gear appeared in a large Berlin car park. When asked by his comrades where he got the fine equipment from, he proudly said that on 9 November he had taken it from one of the leading Jewish shops. The reaction from his comrades was not what he had expected, he was beaten up with the clear indication that if he were ever to be seen among them again, he could expect no different treatment.

In the course of the November pogrom, almost without exception, all Jewish men were arrested [this is an overstatement of what happened; according to the US Holocaust Museum, the total number of Jewish men that were placed in concentration camps after the pogrom was 30,000]. The fact that a few managed to escape the concentration camps is thanks to the willingness to help of “Aryan friends” – often among them caretakers and police officers who warned them in good time; but there were also many, including diplomats, artists, pastors, who offered Jews refuge in their homes.

According to Dela, the requirement introduced in 1941 for German Jews to wear yellow stars backfired to a certain extent:

This star did not have the intended effect – because now, for the first time, the astonished comrades of the people who are actually Jews realised that Jews were not the human scum as shown in “Der Stürmer”, but people, Germans, tall or short, beautiful or ugly, blond or dark, with straight or crooked legs, just like themselves.

But the mass of the people knew nothing, or hardly nothing, about who was a Jew. Until the appearance of the yellow Jewish star. Suddenly it became clear and then the open good mood was very noticeable. Friends demonstratively greeted star-bearers, offered seats, although Jews were forbidden to sit in the trams, and protested against the expulsion of Jews from overcrowded trams. Shopkeepers smuggled large parcels of food to Jewish buyers. Often the Jewish guests found the normal meat ration in inns, which Jews were officially allowed to visit, under the mountain of potatoes and cabbage. And often peasant women in the street and in the church (a relatively large number Catholic Jews attended mass with their star) secretly put beer and butter in their pockets.

Those who just stood by

For ten years the German people watched as their Jewish fellow citizens were systematically deprived of their rights, tortured, hounded to death and exterminated. Without defending themselves against it, without intervening, without even protesting, they have accepted this guilt in its entirety. But a large part of the German people is fully aware of this guilt.

Of course, no protest against the persecution of the Jews reached the public – but what does publicity mean in a country like Nazi Germany? In a country in which every single citizen is hardly guarded, spied on, in which no place may be spoken, printed or read that is not acceptable to the official opinion of the state? In which every careless utterance, every deviation from the commanded the heaviest penalties, of which the deprivation of liberty is the lightest?

I was asked by German friends above, why do the Jews all tolerate this, why didn’t they emigrate long ago? One generally believed in Germany that National Socialism no longer wanted the Jews in certain places, but was only willing to let them out of Germany and did not understand that there were still thousands of Jews who did not want to leave Germany. Whatever one’s general opinion was that Jews were rich, broad circles had not known anything about the Jewish proletariat.

And those who helped

I could list hundreds of cases in which German people campaigned for Jews, not only secretly, but also tried everything with the authorities, with the Gauleitung and Gestapo, to rescue Jews.  Generals who tried to free arrested Jews from prison or concentration camps by vouching for their innocence and had very sadly to experience that all the promises the official authorities had made to them remained empty phrases and their protégés were no longer alive. Church authorities, Evangelical and Catholic, who intervened on behalf of Jews of their denomination, artists, scientists, men and women in public life who jeopardised the position and safety of their families in order to help individual Jews. Rarely did they succeed but they it tried again and again.

There were dairymen and butchers, who declared that they would still supply their former Jewish customers, even though they could no longer get ration coupons for their goods. And tobacconists who served their former customers as before, however scarce their supplies were.

I remember the morning after the first severe bombing attack I witnessed when I was standing in front of a heap of rubble and shards, which the day before had been one of the biggest commercial buildings, an old woman walked by and said, shaking her head, “So that’s what they did to the Jews – now it’s your turn!”

And one will not forget her that German girl, member of the “B.d.M.”[Association of German Girls – the equivalent for girls of the Hitler Youth] and who grew up under National Socialism, brought up by Dr Goebbels’ propaganda, who went from one Jewish family to another during the period of deportation When she made a speech, asked if she had nothing better to do than go to these traitors, she declared firmly that she was indeed that she didn’t know of any more important duty at that moment than to help those of their fellow human beings who were in dire need.

Forced labour (Zwangsarbeit)

Vera was forced to work in gardening in Munich, very possibly when she was forced out of the Döblers’ apartment in Thorwaldsenstrasse and made to live in the Sisters of Mercy Monastery, where Dela visited her.

Jews undertaking forced labour in gardening work (photo: Jüdisches Museum, Berlin)

Younger Jewish women up to 45 years old were used for heavy factory work, gardening and farm work, partly for heavy physical work in a flax roast, older women up to 65 years for factory work, men of all ages and occupations for construction work and heavier, often in the fashion industry factory work. Doctors, freer high heads of state, craftsmen, artists, merchants, scientists were assigned to erect a barracks outside the city.

You only had to pay a little something for the canteen food itself – this could only be regulated in such a way that those who still had a certain amount of capital in their blocked account voluntarily covered the costs for the many comrades who had meanwhile become completely destitute. When the camp barracks were finished months later, hundreds of Jews were driven out of their cramped dwellings and were allowed to survive in the camp barracks against a rent matched to their blocked account, using Catholic nuns for this purpose, some of whose homes were taken away and Jews quartered there. From these two camps, day in and day out, all men and women up to the age of 65 who could were only half able to work had to walk a distance of one and a half to two hours, in the snow and rain, summer and winter, and starting work in the morning at 7am or 8am. In the evening they went back the same way on foot, then had a lousy dinner, slept in overcrowded dormitories, the couples of course separated, and had to do the usual household chores such as cleaning, mending, washing up, etc.

Such, with small local variations, was the life of all Jews in Germany; the existence of the so-called “privileged” (Jews who had fathered children with Aryan spouses) differed only in that they mostly still lived together with their family members, did not need to wear a Jewish star and also received the normal ration cards but everything else, bans, blocked accounts, forced labour, bullying, denials and insults they shared with their other “racial comrades”.

Deportations and Vera’s final disappearance

Dela reported that she read many letters from the camps de Gurs, the detention camp at the foot of the Pyrenees, where deportations from Baden in Germany were carried out in late 1940, some time before the rest of deportations of Jews began. We don’t know if these were letters from a friend or how she saw them. They described the appalling conditions but also the real sense of community, with people helping each other out – a shared life full of goal setting and bonding. Even when the end came “every death and every suicide triggered not sadness but relief and almost joy”.

Vera was at the Barmherzigen Schwestern (Sisters of Mercy Monastery) before being deported to somewhere in Nazi-occupied Poland. She was originally due to be deported to Piaski in April 1942 but somehow managed to appeal and did not leave.

If the “half-Aryan woman” Dela describes is Vera Neumeyer, then clearly the Nazis took a last-minute decision to allow her to stay behind. Dela visited her there, and on the day Vera finally was deported , 13 July 1942, Dela went to the station to try to stop the deportation – but in vain. The letter to the family that Vera wrote on that train mentions the furniture van that took them to the station, confirming Dela’s description below.

Barmherzigen Schwestern (Sisters of Mercy Monastery), as it was in 1910. Vera spent her last weeks here before deportation in 1942

The transports of deportees to the train station were carried out in closed furniture vans, as passenger transport had become scarcer, and probably had to be saved for more important purposes than transporting Jews.

The first transport took place in Munich in November 1941. At that time it was still handled in such a “humane” way that those affected received a message a few days beforehand that they had to be ready from a certain day onwards, as they were being sent to “resettlement”. At the same time, all belongings had to be listed, such as cash, furniture, clothing, laundry. Hand luggage up to 30 kg was permitted, everything else went to the state. Large passenger transport cars went from house to house; four people came to each home: Gestapo officer, police officer, foreign exchange agent and a Jew as porter. Before leaving the living quarters, the list was handed in and the reverse signed, stating that the undersigned had lost his German citizenship as an enemy of the state. All those in the transport were sent to Jewish camps where the camp was hermetically sealed; the Gestapo and the SS took control of people and luggage.

It took on average three days for a transport to be dispatched. When the number was full, a train of heavily laden people went at night through a line of SS guards with revolvers to a goods station 2 km away, where they were loaded up and left, destination unknown. I learned these details from a half-Aryan woman who was left behind at the last moment. She even got her suitcase back, which had already gone through the SS control.

Watches were of course taken away, knives and forks, razor blades and utensils were forbidden, smoking materials and alcohol – about three days of travel provisions were taken, and only the most common medicines were allowed through.

The admirable bravery and willingness to help of some Jewish helpers made it possible to get some provisions to those who had already been cut off from the outside world, despite strict controls. The Jewish camp administration also did what it could to make these last days easier. Every deportee got a sleeping place, adequate food, no one left the camp at night without first checking in to get a good hot meal. Here too – willingness to help, mutual support, dignity and respect for fellow human beings. The regulation of the transport, selection of deportees, was now determined from Berlin. The Munich authorities, including the Gestapo and Gauleitung, had no influence on this.

With regard to the position of the compilation of this first transport, two aspects seemed to make the selection best: ability to work and the size of the blocked account. No authentic news ever reached home of this transport, which is said to have gone as far as Riga. This is in contrast to later transports that were directed to the Lublin area, from where shocking letters came: “send bread, send clothes, not a single item of the officially deposited luggage has reached us, send shoes and socks individually, not in pairs, otherwise they won’t arrive!” These things as well as cheap jewellery served there as objects of exchange for food. The diet there was a watery soup in the morning and at noon and 25 grams of bread a day. Those who could find farm jobs were a little better off, and could at least get a little more. On a card I read  “morituri te salutant”, then after two or three months nothing else arrived.

Munich was now cleared of Jews fairly quickly, one transport after the other left, to Poland, to Upper Silesia, the sick, the physically handicapped, the elderly over 65 and all those who were somehow “preferential” (e.g. earlier holders of the Iron Cross, first class), as well as the Jewish widows from privileged mixed marriages, who had previously been spared, would go to Theresienstadt.

My grandmother Vera was deported from Liam Goods station in Munich on an ordinary third-class train with compartments, much like this one.

Berlin 1943: a snapshot

Stolperstein to Dela’s cousin, Franz Kaufmann

Dela certainly knew about Jews living “underground” in Berlin: her cousin Franz Kaufmann, was part of the web of residents helping smuggle out Jews to safety, although the Nazis eventually caught up with him and took him to Sachsenhausen, where he was shot.

In the week of the first heavy bombing on Berlin in March 1943, when one walked for days and weeks among rubble and broken glass, when thousands of Berliners had become homeless, thousands between broken walls, in houses without roofs, in rooms without ceilings and walls, living among charred rubble, that week the last few remaining Jews still working and living in Berlin were taken away from their living quarters without prior notice, picked up on the streets, taken from the factories, children without their parents, spouses individually from their places of work.

In that week, the majority of the so-called “privileged” people were suddenly picked up, but not deported, but collected in the houses of the Jewish administration. They never stayed there without their “Aryan” or “semi-Aryan” relatives being able to find out more about their whereabouts. After a few weeks or up to three weeks, they could suddenly be back home again.

SS formations had to be sent from Vienna to carry these actions out since the Berlin SS was so corrupt that it was no longer considered reliable.) The last remnants of those legally living in Berlin! On the other hand, thousands of Jews who had been reported to the police as dead or missing lived in Berlin were now living an “underground” life in broad daylight.

What it means to live in the Germany of 1943, where everyone was registered tenfold, unregistered with the police, without a work or identity card, is hard to imagine. Every bedroom was registered, not to be given a piece of bread or any other food without a permit. Military and civilian Gestapo checks on all railway lines, even in suburban areas – you had to be prepared for them.

You could expect racism in inns and on the streets every day – and yet there were 3,000 Jews living illegally in Berlin at the time.

Severe penalties threatened every German person who helped a Jew – and yet it happened in a devastating way and to the greatest extent. People from all walks of life took part in this response, and were filled with concern for those “in hiding”. Above all, it was a question of finding accommodation, holding cards, real or forged, foreign papers, real or forged, money (for a long time it had been forbidden for Jews for to sell anything of their possessions, cash was scarce, illegal life was not cheap), work under false names, the possibility of borrowing money, connections in other cities and in the country.

And people helped, people from all walks of life, all previous political leanings, former government clerks who would never have thought of anything illegal, took in strangers, allotment garden owners, bartenders and skippers, nurses and pastors, unemployed old ladies and official of the National Socialist state apparatus, who had to swear by oath that they had no connection with Jews.

Perhaps there was a lot of fatalism in the game – people who spent the nights in the air raid shelter, who didn’t know whether they would still have a roof over their heads the next day, whether they and their families would still be alive at all still lose these people? Was their fate essentially different from the fate of these thousands, who were driven into that homeless anonymity not by bombs but by criminal legislation? During these weeks something arose that no propaganda for a national community could have brought about in ten years—a real solidarity, a bond in the struggle against barbarism, reaching beyond all differences of class and race.

Women in Berlin removing rubble after bombing [US Holocaust Museum]


If I recall my impressions of the behaviour of the German people towards the Jewish question, it is not possible to make a sweeping generalisation. It would be unfair to saddle all Germans with guilt. Especially their experiences in Germany do not give rise to hope. The feeling of solidarity that crystallised more and more strongly between people and their fellow human beings, and the deepening abyss into which National Socialism drove the whole German people, gives me the conviction that people will still find each other again and again in Germany, ready to use their strength to build a new world.

For the story of Vera’s deportation, click here

For the post about the discover of Hans’s letters to Dela click here

From Schreiberhau to Sydenham: how a distant culinary memory turned round family fortunes

It’s exactly ten years to the day when my mother Ruth (nee Neumeyer) died at the age of 89 on 19 November 2012 in London’s King’s College Hospital.

That was after a struggle with cancer, so we were prepared for it. And she met the end during November, the month she liked least. As I’ve explained previously on this blog, it was then that her family, the Neumeyers, were made homeless by the Nazis on 9 November 1938. Town officials visited the Neumeyer house in Dachau the night before ordering them to leave by dawn or else go to prison. “I intensely dislike these November days,” she wrote in a letter to a friend on 8 November 1977, “they bring back memories of a sinister past.”

Rather than dwell on those dark times this post presents a more upbeat angle of a turnaround after arriving penniless with her brother Raymond on a Kindertransport on 11 May 1939. I’m marking the event by telling how her ingenuity resulted in an amazing stroke of luck that had a bizarre throwback to her and Raymond’s own childhoods in the 1920s and 1930s.

The four houses

In a way, it is a tale threading together four houses, all of which still stand today and all of which I’ve visited: in Görlitz, in Schreiberhau, in Dachau and in Sydenham.

  • 2 Charlecote Grove, Sydenham, London

In Görlitz was the sumptuous Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) villa of my then fabulously wealthy great-grandparents Martin and Hildegard Ephraim, and was where my grandmother Vera, her sisters Marianne (“Tante Janni”) and Dora (“Tante Dodo”) and their brother Herbert grew up in the early 1900s. Today it’s known as the Villa Ephraim. For some reason Martin sold it in 1922 during the period of hyperinflation. As Tante Janni would frequently recall later on, by the time the money came through it was just enough to buy a basket of cherries. So that was a lot of money down the drain, and all they could do was to take a deep breath and think of something else.

The Ephraims moved to their villa Haus Lindenfels in the mountain resort of Schreiberhau, now in Poland and usually known by its Polish name of Szklarska Poręba. It was an idyllic place on the edge of the town overlooking the Riesengebirge (Giant Mountains): the Neumeyers visited on several occasions and Ruth and her brother Raymond had vintage childhood memories.

Some time after Hildegarde’s death in 1933 Martin moved back to an apartment in Görlitz, as he felt unsafe in such a rural location – it ultimately didn’t make much difference, as the Nazis caught up with him eventually and he was deported to Theresienstadt in 1944 where he died at the age of 84 – a once patriotic German severely disillusioned.

In 1920 the Neumeyers acquired a large, rambling house in the artists’ quarter of Dachau. My grandparents can’t have earned much money teaching music theory and eurythmics, so I assume Vera’s parents paid for it. “It was a very good childhood”, reminisced Ruth in an interview recorded by the Imperial War Museum. The architecture of the house may well have had something to do with it. In the 1990s she recorded the whole place room by room for the current owner in a detailed letter that I’ve illustrated on this blog.

Then after the catastrophe of November 1938 and all that followed, she finally made her new family home at 2 Charlecote Grove, Sydenham in 1956. I think the security of the Sydenham house was hugely important to her.

After her marriage to Ronald Locke in 1951 they lived in a house in Alleyn Road, Dulwich, sharing with various refugees. It wasn’t ideal for a family set-up and when she spotted the Sydenham house she reported to my father ‘I’ve think I’ve found our home!’ And she once confided in me that, yes, it did have a certain similarity to the Dachau house she’d lost 18 years previously.

It was a unique hotchpotch of a place, two bits of adjacent houses joined together at various periods: six separate roofs and nine different interior levels, a window above a landing that related to an earlier house within the existing structure, a larder and upstairs loo that overlooked the next-door garden, and an unexplained raised step within the second cellar that led seemingly to nowhere. The whole place had undeniable charm and was a wonderful place to grow up in, despite various plumbing eccentricities and freezing winter temperatures that invariably led to spectacular frost flowers on the inside of windows in the colder months.

While clearing the house after Ruth’s death, I realised her bed was the very same one I had been born in, in 1958. I had to dispose of it, so spent half an hour sawing it up before consigning it to the wheelie bin.

In south London: mementoes of a Bavarian childhood

All round the Sydenham house were reminders of Ruth’s childhood days in the Dachau house, symbols of security: the bookshelf in the hall with a large collection of German books rescued from the house in Dachau and sent over after the war; the wooden statue of St Francis; the photos of the grandparents I’d never known; sheet music; and in the upstairs loo a tile depicting a view of old Dachau town and a Dachau artists’ calendar sent over each year by the Dachau Sparkasse (savings bank).

The upstairs landing doubled as a stage in my childhood and without my understanding it my mother was recreating her own childhood in Dachau when her mother organised plays to be enacted in front of neighbours and friends in the Neumeyer house. In Sydenham the custom was revived. I remember being dressed as a toadstool in our domestically staged Hansel and Gretel. A couple of years ago I found among the family archive my grandmother’s staging notes for the very same fairy tale, performed in the Dachau house in the 1920s or 1930s:

Those plays were such a feature of Ruth’s and Raymond’s childhood in Dachau – up to the traumatic event in 1938 when Gestapo officials broke up the performance and shouted to everyone ‘aren’t you ashamed to be in the house of a Jew?’ – and the following November the Nazis ordered them to leave town by dawn or else go to prison. At her first Christmas in England in 1939 she organised the children of the extended host family (the Paishes, Eckhards and Stirlands) to write and produce a play. A few years later in Cambridge she took part in a performance of Carmen at the Refugee Club in Hills Road. She always said her ideal job would be to paint stage scenery.

Above: Vera Neumeyer’s staging notes for Hansel and Gretel, a play performed by Ruth, Raymond and other children in the Neumeyer house. Years later, in Sydenham, we performed the same play in our own house under Ruth’s supervision. Hansel and Gretel meant a lot to Ruth – the opera by Humperdinck was her favourite. The tale of two children cast out of their house and escaping death at the hands of the evil witch, then to be rescued by their parents, has uncanny parallels to Ruth and Raymond’s own childhood: cast out of their house in Dachau, facing persecution and escaping to England. But the wait their for their parents to come to England turned out to be fruitless.

A helping hand from the Cheese Bureau

That we came to live in the Sydenham house was through a happy slice of luck that brings the story full circle.

My parents and brothers were living in cramped conditions in a multi-occupied house in Alleyn Road, Dulwich. A back-to-back Victorian house shared with various people, including wartime refugees like Ruth. It wasn’t at all ideal for bringing up a family. They had little money and it was a struggle to make ends meet. Being able to afford to move seemed a distant dream.

One day in 1955 my father noticed that a marketing organisation called the Cheese Bureau were holding a recipe competition. All that was required was an original recipe using cheese, and the prizes were remarkably generous: four classes, with a top prize of £200 and a second prize of £50. The major snag was that the closing date was the next day. So without actually trying it out for real, Ruth dictated an improvised recipe involving pancakes, spinach and grated cheese, done in layers, while my father typed it out before hurrying off to post it. They called it ‘cheese in clover’.

And yes, they won £200 (the equivalent of just over £3100 in today’s money) for twenty minutes’ work creating a recipe they hadn’t even tried out. Ruth was interviewed on Radio Luxembourg by the producer of “Cheese Club”, presumably a programme entirely devoted to the foodstuff. It’s surprising to us there was so much investment needed to promote eating cheese in what must have been a hungry society just coming out of wartime rationing. There were 16,000 recipes submitted, so how the winners were selected is a mystery: one of the £50 prizewinners simply involved cream crackers with blackcurrant jam and grated cheese, so maybe the standard of culinary innovation wasn’t that high.

That money was enough for a deposit on a house, which is how they managed to buy 2 Charlecote Grove in 1956, for £2,750 – with a fixed term 3% mortgage from the London Borough of Lewisham, finally paid off in 1981.

My parents gave half of the £200 to my father’s brother Peter and his wife Janet so that they too could buy somewhere to live.

And that money may well have given my parents the option of having a third child – myself – as they now had a four-bedroom house instead of a cramped house share in a couple of bedrooms.

Full circle: back to Schreiberhau

I have one memory of my mother making that cheese, pancakes and spinach recipe, and it was pretty good. I never saw that combination of ingredients on offer until a visit to Schreiberhau in 2014 where we were tracking down the Haus Lindenfels.

Stopping for a drink at a café that day, I noticed on the menu something I’d never seen on a menu before. Pancakes with spinach and cheese. Obviously a local dish, served in the very town Ruth and Raymond used to visit their grandparents; or something their mother had remembered from her own childhood in Silesia and recreated in Dachau. And fortuitously it had somehow imprinted itself on my mother’s memory?

Here’s that very menu, with the charmed offering depicted second from the left, second row from the bottom:

I’d like to think it wasn’t a direct bit of plagiarism on her part, merely a subconscious memory of something enjoyed many years before. In an exquisite turn of fortune, the cheese gods, or Schreiberhau, or the spirit of the Ephraims had somehow set things right. After losing the Görlitz house in the hyperinflation, the Haus Lindenfels in Schreiberhau and the Dachau house to the Nazis, and having been made to pay punitive taxes under the Nazi regime that drained the Neumeyer family of all its resources, it was cheese that finally came to the rescue.

Text and images copyright Tim Locke 2022

At long last: a Kindertransport memorial for Harwich

On 1 September 2022 my brother Stephen and I were among several hundred people on the quayside at Harwich to witness the unveiling of Safe Haven, a memorial to the Kindertransport, at a highly moving ceremony with speeches and the Tendring brass band providing the soundtrack.

There were some thirty surviving Kinder (people who came as children on the Kindertransport) present, including a married couple now well into their nineties, and the veteran politician and peer Alf Dubs.

Our mother Ruth and uncle Raymond were among the 9,300 children who escaped almost certain death in Nazi-controlled Europe.

There’s a much-admired Kindertransport memorial at Liverpool Street station in London, where many Kinder arrived in 1938-39, and at the Hook of Holland, where many of them sailed from continental Europe. So the obvious gap in this sculptural trail was Harwich, where most of those children first set foot on British soil. Many spent their first few weeks in unheated holiday chalets at nearby Dovercourt.

The speeches underlined the efforts of ordinary people, helping bring children over to Britain: ‘small acts of kindness that cost so little and meant so much’. Appropriately the backdrop to proceedings was LV18 a historic light vessel; the mayor Ivan Henderson opened by saying that Harwich’s lighthouses acted as beacons of freedom for so many people.

Lord Pickles made the very pertinent points that it was the efforts of volunteers such as Nicholas Winton and the Quakers rather than the British government who were instrumental in getting the Kinder into this country. And that parents of Kinder were excluded. As with my mother and uncle, many children assumed their parents would follow on but very few did. While 9,300 children got out, many more did not.

Four months before Ruth and Raymond’s departure, my grandmother Vera Neumeyer wrote to Beatrice Paish in England, whose family were paying for Ruth and Raymond to travel to live with them, saying ‘I could not bear letting them go away knowing that I should never be able to follow them.’ But Vera never did follow them: she and her husband Hans were unable to leave Nazi Germany.

The sculpture: Safe Haven

Ian Wolter’s sculpture Safe Haven works brilliantly well: it’s simply comprises five children walking off the gangplank of the ship that brought them to safety here. Wolter explained he used real child models, rather than historic photos. One was his daughter Esther; the others were Ben and Marcel ‘who never stood still’ and Daria and Libby. Each has a different attitude: at the fore, a girl looking purposefully ahead, one foot on land; the others are variously inquisitive and anxious, and the child at the back is looking nervously behind at where he’s come from.

We disembarked at Harwich and were taken out into some fields. The sun was shining, the air clean, the grass greener that any I had ever seen, and if ever freedom was a tangible thing, it was so that morning in Harwich.

John Rayner, (now Rabbi Rayner), who arrived in Harwich on a Kindertransport in 1939. Part of this quotation is inscribed on one of the figures of the Safe Haven memorial.

Click here to see a short video I took of the moment Safe Haven was unveiled by Dame Stephanie Shirley. She came to England on a Kindertransport at the age of five, a refugee without her parents, went on to found a hugely successful all-woman software company, and now devotes herself to philanthropy. With her is Mike Levy, Chair of the Harwich Kindertransport Memorial and Learning Trust.

Final thoughts

The SS Amsterdam, on which Ruth and Raymond Neumeyer sailed on 10-11 May 1939. The train is at Harwich’s station, close to the quay.

I’m so pleased to have had a couple of extended Zoom chats with Mike Levy, and the opportunity to donate to this hugely impressive achievement instigated by the Harwich Kindertransport Memorial Trust.

My mother and uncle, then aged 15 and 14, arrived in Harwich on 11 May 1939 and never saw their parents again. Thanks to the kindness of the family who adopted them in England they made new lives and settled in this country. It all began at Harwich (or very close to it – the ship actually arrived at Parkeston Quay).

And here we were on 1 September 2022, 83 years and 113 days later, on a poignantly glorious late summer’s day in this beautiful little coastal town, revisiting a key scene of that remarkable rescue operation.

For further information: kindertransport-memorial.org. There are also reports in the Guardian and BBC website, while the ITV website includes a video as well as a written report. See also my earlier post on this blog about the actual journey Ruth and Raymond took on 9-11 May 1939 and what happened to some of the other children on the same Kindertransport.

Artist Ian Wolter with a model of the memorial

Irma’s final word from Theresienstadt

Tatty scraps of paper bearing something written in German long ago, in pencil or crayon, with abundant crossings-out… I had filed these away not realising their importance. I’d taken them to be the fruits of someone’s Sunday afternoon copying out a very long poem.

Then last year I gave them a second glance. There was unmistakably a Star of David drawn on one page. Then – how could have I missed it? – the inscription ‘Irma Kuhn B09’.

Irma Kuhn was the elder sister of my grandfather Hans Neumeyer. The mystery figure – my mother and uncle didn’t tell me anything about her. All I knew was that she used to visit the family from time to time and she eventually went blind and at the age of 68 was deported from a Jewish nursing home in Munich (Hermann-Schmid Strasse 5) in 1942 to Theresienstadt. She perished there the following year.

‘B09’ presumably refers to the hut or building Irma was living in while in Theresienstadt.

I sent a copy of the poem – or poems as there now seemed to be two of them – to historian Lauren Liederman, who is of American nationality but lives in Görlitz with her husband and two young children and is dedicated to preserving the Jewish history of Görlitz (where my grandmother Vera and great aunts lived with their parents, the Ephraims, up to 1922). Lauren passed it onto someone who could decipher the handwriting, and then set about translating it.

And then a very excited message from her: “OMG Tim! Irma’s poem! Had me crying!”

Then we realised it was an artefact from Theresienstadt: the poem was written by Irma, and at the end dedicates it to Hans, her brother. Both were blind, so Irma dictated it to someone called Rina.

Erstmals nach persönlichem Diktat

Zu Papier gebracht im Ghetto Theresienstadt unweit Prag

Nach zehnmonatiger Gefangenschaft von deiner Schwester


(Von der Rimis)

Written for the first time according to personal dictation. Put on paper in the Theresienstadt Ghetto not far from Prague, after ten months of imprisonment, by your sister

Written out by Rina (of the Rimis)

Then the question arose how the poem survived. I got the answer in June, when among the papers and letters received from the extraordinary stash found in the Hellman’s basement in Sweden (see previous post) was a letter from Alois Weiner, who had befriended Hans’ during their incarceration in Theresienstadt. Alois survived the Holocaust and wrote to Dela Blakmar, my grandfather’s secretary and lover, after the war. I had previously only seen Dela’s typed out copy of the letter, which omitted the opening paragraph that said the only things that survived of Hans’ from Theresienstadt were photos of this children (my mother and uncle) and two poems. Alois kept those items and passed them on to Dela. So that is how the poems got to us.

The poem

Actually it’s one poem but written out twice – the first time with lots of corrections and amendments, and the second time as a fair copy. It is titled Stern unter Sternen (“Star among Stars”).

Hans Neumeyer, around 1937

What surprised me was its heartfelt Jewish sentiment. I didn’t realise Irma and Hans were such close adherents to the religion, nor that Irma was apparently a woman of great intellect. And clearly they found each other in Theresienstadt. Hans married my grandmother Vera in 1920 – she was the daughter of a Lutheran Christian-Jewish couple, and was herself a devout Lutheran. Hans and Vera brought up their children Ruth (my mother) and Raymond as Lutherans. Hans didn’t attend a synagogue – as a blind man it would have been very difficult travelling to Munich for the purpose (there was no synagogue where they lived, in the town of Dachau). But he still regarded himself as a Jew: ‘As I am a Hebrew, the political situation in Germany has made impossible any activity as a music teacher as well as a composer ‘.

Did Irma perhaps write the poem intending Hans to set music to it? He was surrounded by a coterie of music students (see an earlier post on this blog), who took lessons from him and called him ‘the professor’ – they would have been willing to help.

I present it here in its original German, so you can get an idea of its scansion and rhyme, and then with an annotated literal translation by Lauren. Huge thanks to her for helping identify this artefact.

The photos are all ones I took on a visit to Theresienstadt in 2001, when we lit candles in memory of our family members in the crematorium.

Note: the first version below is the German version. If you have your browser preferences set to translate to English automatically then it may appear in auto-translated English, so I advise you turn that option off on your preferences while reading this.

Stern unter Sternen

Besiegelt ist das Schicksal
Befehl vom hohen Rat
daß nit gerett’ soll werden
Der ganze Judenstaat.
Schon graut’s in grauen Mauern
schon grinst Gevatter Tod.
Vernichtung ist die Losung
Vernichtung das Gebot
Die Sense umgeschultert
So naht der Sensenmann
Er kürt sich seine Opfer
Und legt die Sichel an

Wir zahlen die Tribute
Zoll der Vasallenzeit
Wir zahl’n mit Herzensblute
das Blut zum Himmel schreit.
Sah’ Ritter, Tod und Teufel
die Ausgeburt der Höll,
Vermisch’ den Sensensingsang
Mit deinem Hohngegröhl
Geklirre und Geklapper
Welch Dissonanzenklang
Geklirre und Geklapper
zum letzten Abgesang.
Dann meist’re deine Arbeit
Mal’ deine Stigmen hin
Und drück die Totenmale
auf jede bleiche Stirn.
Wir stehen still und weinen
die Tränen löschen aus

Wir stehen still und beten
Verklärung wird daraus.

Getragen sind die Särge
zu eb’ner Erd’ geschickt
Der Rabbi der Gemeinde
Die Trostesworte spricht.
(Diese erste Strophe 5 ist durchgestrichen. Es folgt eine neue)
Wir hungern, darben, frieren,
Erleb’n der Klagen zehn.
Was könnte außer Polen
Uns übles noch geschehn
Getragen sind die Särge
Zu eb’ner Erd’ geschickt
Der Rabbi der Gemeinde
Die Trostesworte spricht.
Wir stehen an den Särgen
Darob das Bahrentuch
Geschmückt im Stern der Sterne
Sind wir nicht reich genug?
Er strahlt mit gold’nem Glanz
Im Dunkeln umsomehr
Er strahlt mit den Milliarden
Am weiten Äthermeer.

Das Antlitz gegen Osten
Die Sonne im Zenit
Rotgold in Sonnbrandsschwaden
die Erde überglüht
Wir schauen Gottes Wunder
voll Inbrunst im Gemüt
Bis das die Sonne unter
Fernab der Tag entflieht.

Dann falt ich meine Hände
weiß sie von Sünde rein
beseligt wonnetrunken
hüllt mich ein Schlummer ein
Wir werden nicht vergehen
Wir werden fortbestehen
Wir werden weiterleben
Und Leben um zu sehn.


Mir träumt ein Mene-Tekel
Ich deut’ der Runen Schrift
Im Schemen ewiger Jude
zerbricht Judäa nicht.
Ich höre Sphfärenklänge
Vernimm der Harfe Lied
Und schmück mich mit dem Sterne
In dem Judäa siegt.
Er führt uns einst von Hause
Er führt uns einst zurück
Ein Herd, ein Tisch, ein Lager
Sei unser höchstes Glück.

Und Friede, Friede, Friede, verbreitet sich im Raum
Und Friede, Friede, Friede bedeutet dieser Traum
Und Friede, Friede, Friede hat uns der Herr geschenkt
In Allmacht, Gnade, Güte,
behüt, geschirmt, gelenkt
Wer nie im seinem Leben
Um Freiheit wurd gebracht
Kennt nicht der übel größtes
Kennt nicht der Freiheit Macht.

Allgütiger, Allvater, du hörtest unser Flehen
Wer so wie wir erniedrigt,
Den kannst du nur erhöhen
Wohlan denn, Schwestern, Brüder
In Ghettos nah und fern
vernehmt die große Kunde
Es naht der Tag des Herrn

Auf Gletschers höchsten Höhn
Klafft drohend Spalt und Kluft
Lawinen donnern krachen
Auf eines Hamans (?) Gruft.
Wir aber Schwestern, Brüder
Wir rüsten jetzt zum Fest
Das Fest zum Wiedersehen
Das Gott uns feiern lässt.

Nehmt Euer Hoheitszeichen
Aus König Davids Hand
Und zeugt euch seiner würdig
Und seinem Unterpfand.
Im Geist gebannt was immer
uns zugefügt der Mob
So roll’n die Ghetto Ghettobilder
Vorbei im Zoetrop

Geknebelt und geknechtet
Wir wanken, weichen nicht
Wir trotzen den Gewalten
In tiefster Zuversicht

Entfremdet und entrechtet
Volk ohne Raum und Brot
Verharrend bis ins letzte
In schwerster Schicksalsnacht

So wählt ich jene Weise
So seelenvoll versiehts,
Zu Leitwort und Geleite
Zum Ghettoklagelied.


Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß
Wer nie in kummervollen Nächten
Auf seinem Bett weinend saß
Der kennt euch nicht ihr himmlischen Mächte

Literal translation in English:

Star Among Stars


Sealed is the fate

The order from the high council

is that there shall be no salvation

for any of the Jewish people.

Already the grey walls are shuddering

and the Grim Reaper leers.

Destruction is the watchword

Destruction is the order

With a scythe around his shoulder

the Grim Reaper approaches.

He chooses his victims

And brandishes his scythe.


We pay tribute

Duty of servitude

We pay with blood of our heart

Our blood cries to heaven.


I saw the knight, death and devil

the spawn of hell,

Mingle the scything song

With your mocking roar

Crash and clatter

What dissonance sound

Clattering and crashing

until the very last swan song.

The first line of verse three refers to this work of 1513 by Albrecht Dürer: Knight, Death and the Devil (Ritter, Tod und Teufel)


Then mostly your work

Paint your stigmas

And press the death marks

On each pale brow.

We stand still and weep

The tears extinguish

We stand still and pray

Transfiguration forms from it.

5. (this verse was crossed out)

Carried are the coffins

Sent into the ground

The rabbi of the congregation

Speaks the words of comfort.


We hunger, we starve, we freeze,

Suffering lamentations times ten.

What else could happen to us

What evil can still befall us

The coffins are carried

Sent into the ground

The rabbi of the congregation

Speaks words of comfort.


We stand by the coffins

Whereof the pall

Adorned in the star of stars

Are we not rich enough?

It shines with golden brilliance

In the dark all the more

It shines with the billions

On the wide ethereal sea.


Facing towards the east

The sun at its zenith

Red gold in sunburn swathes

The earth glows

We watch God’s miracle

Full of fervour in the mind

Until the sun sets

Far away the day flees.


Then I fold my hands

I know them clean from sin

Blissfully drunk with joy

A slumber envelops me

We will not perish

We will endure

We will live on

And live to see.

I dream of a Mene-Tekel

[Mene-Tekel: Old Testament reference to the words that appeared on the wall during Belshazzar’s Feast (Daniel 5:25), interpreted by Daniel to mean that God had doomed the kingdom of Belshazzar]

I read the runes’ writing

In the scheme of eternal Judea

Judea does not break.


I hear the sounds of the spheres

I hear the harp’s song

And I am adorned with the star

Within which Judea triumphs.

It leads us once from home

And will lead us back once more.

To our hearth, our table, our camp

It is our highest happiness.


And peace, peace, peace, will spread in the room

Peace signifies this dream

It is peace that the Lord has given us

In omnipotence, grace, goodness,

protected, shielded, guided

He who never in his life

Was deprived of freedom

Does not know the greatest evil

He does not know the power of freedom.


Most gracious Father of all, you have heard our plea

Those who are humiliated like us,

Only you can lift them up

Come then, sisters, brothers

In ghettos near and far

Hear the great news

The day of the Lord is near


On the glacier’s highest peaks

Gaps and chasms are threatening to open

Avalanches will crash

On Haman’s tomb.

[Haman’s tomb- a Haman who is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther for which Purim is celebrated. He sought to annihilate the Jews.]

But we sisters, brothers

We now prepare for the feast

The feast of reunion

That God makes for us to celebrate.


Take your sovereign sign

From King David’s hand

And bear witness to him

And his pledge.

In the spirit we are bound

through whatever will be inflicted on us by the mob

So rolls the ghetto, and its horror

Like in the wheel of the zoetrope

[A zoetrope was a machine invented in 1834 by William George Horner, was an early form of motion picture projector that consisted of a drum containing a set of still images, turned in a circular fashion in order to create the illusion of motion.]


Gagged and chained

We waver, yet do not yield

We defy the forces

In deepest faith


Alienated and disenfranchised

People without room and bread

Persevering to the last

In our heaviest night of fate


So I choose that way

So soulfully do I do it,

To guide and escort others

Through our ghetto lament.

A drawing by Leo Haas (the only artist prisoner to survive Theresienstadt; he died in 1983) of sick bay – we think the figure in dark glasses bottom right may be Hans Neumeyer


He who never ate his bread with tears

He who never in sorrowful nights

Sat on his bed crying

He does not know you, and your heavenly powers.


A literary – or musical – quotation

The words of the last four lines are Goethe’s, not Irma’s. She is quoting from his work Wilhelm Meister. Those words were set to music by Schubert, as part of a song cycle Gesänge des Harfners aus Wilhelm Meister (Songs of the Harpist from Wilhelm Meister). It seems very likely that song was familiar to both of them.

There is a second verse which Irma omits:

The original:

Ihr führt ins Leben uns hinein,
Ihr lasst den Armen schuldig werden,
Dann überlasst ihr ihn der Pein:
Denn alle Schuld rächt sich auf Erden.

The translation:
You bring us into life;
you deem the poor man guilty,
then you leave him in his agony:
for all guilt is avenged on earth.

To hear Schubert’s song, in a poignant performance by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, click here.

Music from the Schubert song cycle quoting “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß/Wer nie in kummervollen Nächten/ Auf seinem Bett weinend saß/ Der kennt euch nicht ihr himmlischen Mächte” from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister – very likely a song known to both Hans and Irma. This is one of three settings Schubert made to the words.

Special thanks to Lauren Leiderman for her help.

If anyone has any extra information or observations about the wording in this poem please let me know (timothy.locke@talktalk.net), or add a comment below.

Words and text copyright Tim Locke, 12.8.2022

Love in 1937: an astonishing hoard found in a Swedish basement

Earlier this year I had an email from Marianne Hellman in Sweden that completely bowled me over. We knew nothing of each other.

Marianne and her husband Mats had been clearing out their basement in Bjärred in Sweden – a village near the city of Lund – for the installation of a heat pump when they discovered a box of old letters. They were all addressed to Dela (Adele) Blakmar (maiden name Mankiewitz), with whom they had had a family connection many years ago. Dela was secretary and friend of my grandfather, Hans Neumeyer. Both were Jewish.

Among these papers were some fifty typed letters to Dela from ‘Hans’, dated 1937, plus a few written out in barely decipherable script. The name meant nothing to Marianne until she googled ‘Dela Blakmar’ and found this blog. Then everything clicked into place.

Big sorting job needed on all this…

The relationship between Hans and Dela was something of an unknown to me until then. It was clear that the two were hugely intellectual musicians and valued each other’s musicality. That according to correspondence Dela – a professional violinist and violist – was devastated at the loss of her friend Hans, himself a talented pianist, and that playing with student musicians was not the same. As Hans was blind, she wrote down his compositions, presumably he dictating from a piano. The loss of virtually all his musical output during bombing in Berlin must have been almost as severe a hammer blow as Hans’ death itself.

And there was a gut feeling I had that their relationship might have been more than just platonic. Here at last is the apparent proof.

I have yet to go through all the letters. They also contain a good deal about the musical world of Hans and Dela. More about that in a future blog post.

But picking one at random, I alight upon the words ‘Du glauben, dass ich nicht verstünde, nicht selber tief im Herzen wünschte dass unsere Liebe, unser Einsseinin einem kleinen, jungen schlagendenchen fortlebte und wie das Echo unseres Glückes uns entgegenklingt.’ (‘You believe that I do not understand, do not wish deep in my heart that our love, our oneness, lives on in a small, young, beating little one and how the echo of our happiness rings out to us.’)

They are all passionate love letters.

And among the papers, a letter from one Mimi in 1947: ‘Ich habe sehr viel an Sie gedacht, ich weiss ja, wie eng Sie miteinander verbun den waren, und wie schwer Sie sich Ihr kurzes Glückerkämpft hatten.’ (‘I’ve thought about you a lot, I know how close you were and how hard you fought for your hard-lived happiness.’)

In addition to the 1937 letters are postcards from Hans in the Theresienstadt ghetto, sent in 1944 shortly before his death there. And on top of that a large amount of correspondence from persons unknown, and photos – of Dela, her family and Hans.

One of them, dated 12 April 1944, reads as follows:

The singer Marianne Mörner (1895-1977), referred to in Hans’ postcard, was a Swedish book artist and opera singer, and made several classical music recordings on 78rpm records

Meine Liebste

Dein Oktoberbrief ist noch immer allein, aber heute erhielt ich Dein drittes Päckchen, aus Lisbon, Liege noch immer im Spital, keine Angst, nicht gefährlich, Gustl könnte öfters an mich denken, ich wundere mich sehr. Gehe bitte zu Gräfin Marianne Mörner, Konzertsängerin, sie wird sich sicher an ihren altern Lehrer erinnern. Mochte gern wissen, was Du beruflich tust und wie es Dir geht. Bin mit allen meine Gedanken bei Dir, warte sehnsüchtig auf ein paar Zeilen von Dir, grüsse Dich innigst.

Dein Hans

My love,

Your October letter is still the only one I have, but today I received your third package, from Lisbon [parcels were sent via a neutral country], I’m still in the hospital, don’t worry, it’s not dangerous, Gustl [Gustav Güldenstein, a music colleague and family friend based in Switzerland] could often think of me, I’m very surprised. Please go to Countess Marianne Mörner, concert singer, she will surely remember her old teacher. I would like to know how you are doing.

All my thoughts are with you, waiting longingly for a few lines from you, and my warmest greetings.

your Hans

Postcards from Hans during his two-year incarceration in Theresienstadt. He perished there in May 1944.

Marianne and Mats Hellman met Dela on numerous occasions, which is why Dela left a number of her possessions to them, including a quantity of Dela’s printed sheet music. The items lay forgotten in the basement of the Hellmans’ house until very recently.

I have informed the Imperial War Museum and they are very excited by the discovery, stating that they will take it into their archives along with the rest of our family artefacts.

Marianne recalls this picture of a blind man that was always in Dela’s hall. It was Hans Neumeyer, but Dela never explained that. Indeed she never talked about those earlier times in her life.

The plan to escape to New York, 1938

Last year I spotted online a reference to a letter to a Jewish composer, Herbert Fromm, referring to an application made by Hans in July 1938 to emigrate to New York with Dela. Nothing came of it, but the letter exists somewhere in an archive in New York.

The letter is listed in a reference book Quellen zur Geschichte emigrierter Musiker 1933-1950 (Sources Relating to the History of Émigré Musicians) by Horst Weber and Stefan Drees, concerning musicians who emigrated to New York during that period. The listing is heavily abbreviated and in German. Here’s a translation (Mankiewitz being Dela’s maiden name):

Hans Neumeyer (residing with Mankiewitz, Berlin) to Herbert Fromm, Signed Typed Letter, 4 p., German Emigration Ausreise / Hans Israel Neumeyer (if possible together with Dela Mankiewitz Blakmar, violinist and teacher (only initials mentioned): Einreise / Hans Neumeyer (immigration conditions no relatives in the USA, Age, health; possibility of recommendation by institutions or persons; integration / Herbert Fromm (positive experiences in exile: new beginning in America) Aktivitäten [Activities]: employment Hans Neumeyer (experience with organising library for the blind; ANTON SCHEIDLER. Director of the Munich Central Blind Institute; possibility of working in the area education for the blind in the USA: request for mediation by Herbert Fromm); recommendation (letters of recommendation and certificates, confirmation of musical activities by Hans Neumeyer); compositions / Hans Neumeyer (harp accompaniment to melodramatic performance of Psalms 90, 97 and 121: works for recorder), public / Herbert Fromm (Interest in music / Herbert Fromm ) Writings Hans Neumeyer (“Modulation Theory”, transcript of the first part, Dela Mankiewitz Blakmar. As a helper); teaching / Hans Neumeyer (practical experience with theory lessons) Reflexion [reflection] Music / Hans Neumeyer (“Modulation Theory”, transcript of the first part, Dela Mankiewitz Blakmar. As assistant); teaching (music theory as the basis of “modulation theory”; for using the recorder) Zeitgescheben [contemporary]: Politik Hans Neumeyer (“Modulation Theory”, transcript of the first part, Dela Mankiewitz Blakmar. As a helper); teaching (Situation in Germany, “Dissonance of the Present”).

I have contacted the author, Stefan Drees, who suggested where the letter might be (he recorded finding it on a trip to New York in the early 2000s) but so far I have drawn a blank. There is no mention of it in the Herbert Fromm archive. Another possibility is the archive of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, but I have been unable to contact them.

If Hans and Dela had made it to New York, would they have attempted to get Vera (Hans’ wife) and the children (my mother Ruth and uncle Raymond) over to America later on?

As far as I can see it, the relationship between Dela and Vera was very close too, and Vera may have had a lover, possibly Leo Weil (see his story about his letters to her and his escape to Shanghai in 1939 here), who was also on close terms with the rest of the family. The set-up looks bohemian, to say the least.

Dela’s connections to the anti-Nazi resistance

Franz Kaufmann in Berlin

More revelations from this hoard came in the form of a letter from the Berlin judge Hans Walter Hirschberg, who had survived Theresienstadt – where he met both Hans and Hans’ father-in-law Martin Ephraim. In it he writes: I was often with your cousin Franz Kaufmann, latterly in the Jewish prison in Berlin where I spent my last ten days before being deported to Theresienstadt, and where he was held for interrogation. A few days after I arrived, he was taken off in chains and executed. He should be honoured as a martyr. We met in his apartment in 1940.

I have seen this letter before and recorded it in a previous blog post, but only in a retyped version that omitted the words ‘Dear Dela’ at the beginning. So we now know that Franz Kaufmann was Dela’s cousin.

An article in Wikipedia explains Kaufmann’s role as a leading member of the Underground movement in Berlin, smuggling Jews out of Nazi Germany.

Franz Kaufmann

And the fascinating memoir The Forger by Cioma Schönhaus brilliantly sets the scene. Schönhaus was a young Jewish graphic artist during the Third Reich, living in Berlin. He was able to forge Nazi stamps on false identity papers so that Jews could use them to escape Nazi Germany. He met up with Kaufmann, a Christian Jew who obtained identity cards donated by Berliners – they would surreptitiously deposit their own ID cards in the collection plate at church services and later get replacements. Kaufmann and Hirschberg were both involved in the Christian community in Dahlem, in Berlin.

Here Schönhaus describes visiting Kaufmann’s villa for the first time:

Dr Kaufmann’s villa, set in elegant parkland, could easily have been some professor’s private clinic. A few magazines lay on the coffee table in the study, where five Jews were waiting, planning to go into hiding in Berlin. Dr Kaufmann received me in his office, seated behind a desk. I had tucked the forged ID card away inside a folded newspaper, where it would not be immediately spotted in a body search. Student-style, Dr Kaufmann rapped the desk with his knuckles in appreciation. ‘Good idea, that business with the newspaper. You’re right: you’ve got to use your head.’

He took the pass, went to the window, said nothing at all, and left the office. I could hear somebody next door thanking him. Then I saw a man walking out through the garden towards the road. ‘You see, Schönhaus, you never met him. That’s my principle; the people you make passes for will not know who you are. Then, if it comes to the worst, they can’t betray you.’

All the visitors had left. He took out his sewing basket from under the bookcase and handed me five more passes, with passport photos to match. He added two more books of ration coupons and declared: ‘I’m happy with your work, Schönhaus. I am appointing you my assistant. I’ll see you next Friday at the same time.’ And then, as though he sensed my misgivings, he went on: ‘Our system has been carefully worked out, you know. What happens in a police check? Somebody is stopped in the street and ordered to produce identification. At worst he is taken to the police station, where they check out whether the owner of the pass is registered with the police. If he is, then they establish whether he’s wanted for any offence. If he’s not, they let him go. Schönhaus, it’s possible that my villa and the apparent normality surrounding my rescue operations are a better way of going about a conspiracy than if I were to meet every one of my protégés at night in a dark place. The Gestapo are not trained in criminology, so, like the man in the street, they think illegal activities only take place under cover of darkness, with the participants going around in turned-up collars looking furtive. My style is the exact opposite, so I don’t fit the Gestapo’s preconceived ideas. That’s what keeps us safe.’

All the same, I knew that on any visit to Dr Kaufmann a Gestapo man might open the door to me. I felt as though I were playing Russian roulette every time I went there.

Dr Kaufmann was satisfied with my first forged pass. But I wasn’t. Once opened and re-closed with pliers, the eyelets fixing the photo to the pass no longer looked absolutely right. What I needed was the sort of tool used by cobblers to fit eyelets for shoelaces…

Helge Blakmar in Copenhagen

And that doesn’t seem Dela’s only family link with the Resistance movements. In September 1933 she married Helge Blakmar and lived for a period at Gotherstade 129 in Copenhagen. She was in Denmark between 1933 and 1938 but seems to have returned to Germany at some time, as she was secretary to Hans from 1936.

Helge’s nephew Mogens Sørensen happened to find this blog and read my earlier post about Dela. He has this week told me more about Helge. The marriage was indeed simply done within months of Hitler coming to power, to help her her escape danger – they later divorced and he married again.

Mogens sent me Helge’s obituary, and Marianne pointed me to a book Nordens lænkehunde: Den første Holger Danske-gruppe which refers to him.

Helge Blakmar (1907-1985; born as Helge Sørensen but changed his name to Blakmar) worked for the Danish resistance movement.

His career was remarkable. He worked as an engineer as well as a paratrooper. And on top of that he spied for the resistance, firstly by taking a job at an aviation factory in Warnemünde for three months, then at an aluminium factory in northern Norway, from where he reported his espionage findings about the heavy water project, in which the Nazis were attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons, to a British consul in Sweden. As a result of the intelligence he gave, a commando raid known as Operation Musketton in September 1942 totally destroyed the Glomfjord power plant in Norway, which provided electricity for a nearby aluminium plant.

He was arrested three times by the Gestapo, but thanks to his language skills, he managed to go free every time. At one point the woman he married after divorcing Dela had to flee to Sweden when the Gestapo caught up with them.

After the war he returned to Denmark but was arrested and jailed because of his work for the Germans. However it soon transpired that he had been spying for the resistance and after a week he was released. In 1950 he and others were honoured with a private audience with the King Haakon of Norway for their heroic efforts.

It was probably thanks to her married status as a Dane that Dela got out of Germany some time after 1938 and then out of Denmark in October 1943, when she and many others fled by boat to Sweden. Her boat’s engine failed but a favourable wind blew them into Swedish territorial waters.

After arriving in Sweden she lived in the mining town of Norberg, sharing a house with a local headmistress, Sara. They became lifelong friends.

And the rest of the archive

In addition to Hans’s letters the box from Marianne and Mats’ basement contains scores of letters, postcards and scribbled notes from mostly unknown people, photos (with nothing written on the back to identify them) including some photos of Hans and some early studio portraits of the Mankiewitz family.

A very comprehensive typed list of possessions was presumably done for the Nazi authorities when she had to change address. And she’s written a 7500-word description of life during the Third Reich – for a purpose I have yet to discover.

June 2022, St James’s Park, London : Marianne’s daughter Mikaela hands over the box of items discovered in her parents’ house. My brother Stephen is on the right and I’m in the centre.

Then amongst all this history I find a very unexpected link. It’s a letter written by me at the age of ten, a couple of months after Dela came over to England to give me her spare violin, a large three-quarter size instrument made by Michael Dötsch of Berlin in 1919. I have no recollection of writing it, or playing the violin to her. I am very touched that she kept my missive and hope my fiddle-playing to her wasn’t too excruciating…

Special thanks to Marianne Hellman and Mogens Sørensen for the amazing material that enabled me to write this blog post.

Letters from war-torn Germany

My uncle Raymond and his sister (my mother) Ruth arrived in Britain together on a Kindertransport in May 1939 and rapidly had to adapt to a new way of life, a new language, a new adopted family, a new country – and much more.

They went through the war years not knowing that their parents were dead, but with each week that passed the chances of the family being reunited must have seemed smaller.

Over a hundred letters – in German and English – from Raymond to Ruth, whom he nicknames as Ta, have survived, from 1940 to 1948, with the vast bulk of them dating from his time in the British army.

Thanks to my brother Stephen for translating many of these fascinating letters. Here I’m highlighting just a few of them – including his description of his long-awaited first postwar visit to Munich and Dachau, and his attempts to find lost relatives of friends.

Discovery in 2019

I did not realise this correspondence existed until his widow Ingrid passed them on to me in 2019. And quite a remarkable eye-opener they have proved to be. They flesh out detail of his life – which I have previously written about in another post on this blog. Much more so than anything Ruth wrote, they are full of raw emotion and contemporary detail.

Ingrid told me that Ruth had handed them to him during his final years: as his dementia took a grip he seems to have wanted to think about earlier stages of his life – these letters evidently helped the process of revisiting the past.

Although some letters are almost illegible fragments – according to Ingrid he’d sifted through these letters so often that some fell to pieces – he had put them in some sort of date order and even written the year on some of the undated ones.

At that late stage in life he made lists of events in his life, including exactly where he was during the war and in his military service.

The desire to sign up

As a teenager, Raymond is extremely keen to help the Allied cause and while working in the Birmingham Bicycle Factory in 1942 he tries to join the Air Ministry, but to no avail despite 18 weeks of participation: ‘The Committee knew straight away how  I felt, even though I didn’t say anything, and they’ll try to sort something out. So the story may not yet be at an end. I hope that I can soon join Civil Defence.’

In 1943 he signed up for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) but  instead was put down for the Infantry of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment:

It was either the Infantry or nothing, so I chose the former. I must report to Glasgow on 16 December. To begin with, I will just be in the General Service Corps. I’ll try after that perhaps to join a different corps where I can learn more and will be in less danger. The danger is quite a big issue. It’s not that I’m fearful or anything – just that I feel responsible for our parents and that it’s my duty to try to find them after the war and to look after them.

Constant thoughts about the safety of his parents haunt him. This letter from 16 November 1942 suggests a conflict of opinions between him and his sister about the need to wage war:

The news from our parents is clearly not very positive, and we can be certain that at very least they are living through a very unpleasant time. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you that I simply can’t agree with your position on Conscientious Objectors. Against a positive evil a real Christian has to fight, and can’t remain neutral.

He is called up just before his 19th birthday. He is told that a man called Raimund Neumeyer cannot serve with the British army with such a German-sounding name, and so is handed a phone book and told to find another name.

In November 1943 he becomes Raymond Newland:

If I have to go abroad, I’ll need to change my name – I’ve thought of Newland – can you think of anything better?

As a signed-up member of the army, his identity card is marked ‘exempt from registration’ that December – it is the first time he felt truly accepted by the United Kingdom:

Raymond in army uniform in Belgium, early 1945

Army life begins: training in Shrewsbury

Raymond’s native German is useful to the Allies, and he becomes an interpreter, working for the Military Police and Intelligence Corps.

Soon he is posted to The Maltings, Shrewsbury, for his initial training (5 February 1944):

The first impressions here were bleak. It’s certainly not beautiful. The barrack room is the worst I have ever seen, and the toilets are abominable. Even so there are advantages compared with Glasgow. First, proximity to Birmingham, and second, food. Last Sunday I hitchhiked to Birmingham, first on a small American lorry, then on a big lorry and two milk trucks. Everyone in Birmingham was wonderfully nice to me. It’s good for the soul when others are genuinely pleased to see you.

The war seems, thank goodness, to be coming to an end. What the Russians have achieved is quite amazing. If we can attach from the West, it can’t last much longer. If I can get to Europe I will have lots of things to do. Whether we’ll ever get money for our family house, who knows.

On 30 May  1944 he is suffering effects of scarlet fever which means he did not accompany his colleagues on their D-Day mission, which ended in heavy casualties. That illness may well have saved his life:

Here at the barracks I was violently sick on the stroke of midnight which repeated during the night and the next morning so I had to report to the sick bay.

The Maltings barracks are as depressing as ever and each time I leave through the gate it feels like entering a different world.

By June he has learned his father’s whereabouts: ‘The news that Vati is in Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia) is by the way not so terrible, as the camp there doesn’t seem as bad as the ghettoes in Poland.’ but the following month hears that the Maws, who took him in when he first arrived in Weybridge from Germany, have been bombed out by a flying bomb – they were shaken but uninjured.

He is still hopeful in December 1944 that the parents are alive, being unaware that they have perished – their father in May that year and their mother presumably in 1942. He hitchhikes from Shrewsbury to Birmingham and stays with Mr and Mrs Coleman:

They were wonderfully kind. Doris said that when I find our parents, they can stay in her house. She thinks that a specific address will help with immigration. She also shared with me that if we needed money she could help with anything up to £100.

Happy arrival in France, then Belgium and Germany…

21 January 1945, Louvain:

I very often get stopped by little boys wanting to buy cigarettes (pour papa) and chocolate but the other day when asked without I had a blanket for sale. The schoolchildren seem to regard soldiers as an especially attractive target for snowballs and I had to run through quite a few barrages and can offer but feeble resistance.

 He is prohibited from giving names of towns in his letters but is amazed at what can be got without difficulty in the shops. He can get Ruth a fountain pen for £1.

21 February 1945: he has arrived in France and is rather enjoying himself. He’s set about his self-education to make up for all the schooling he has missed out on – a theme that pervades many of his letters, as he asks Ruth to send various text books.

Life here is quite incredible, like a holiday and what I am doing in the way of work and lessons is extremely fascinating and I don’t feel it’s a strain… France has impressed me rather like a neglected garden. The country seems somehow dirty and untidy, probably a result of a four-year occupation and two campaigns of war.

Please send textbooks on tutorial dynamics and applied mathematics. Also urgently required is a North Stafford cap badge, obtainable at various shops for approximately tenpence.

He is still seeking for information about the parents, but to no avail. From Belgium in March he notes:

About the position father and mother, I am still trying to gather information. The main obstacle seems to be that even in high official circles they don’t seem to have made up their minds about that sort of thing.

He reunites a German girl, Maria, with Leon Long – the two were engaged before the war and met while Maria was staying with the Longs in England.

Realisation of what has happened casts a very black shadow over Raymond.

22 April 1945:

With utter horror I heard the facts and saw the pictures of the death pit at Belsen where 60,000 men and women and children were just slaughtered and starved to death. Out of a certain amount of confusion I now know but for all war and horrors the whole German people are directly or indirectly responsible, that I like to see Germany as a nation held in the subjugation for an indefinite period, about half a million of the worst criminals publicly hanged and the very young removed from their parents and educated in a decent manner.

You will probably think that I am saying these things in fury but I am not. I just could not believe everything we were told about the atrocities and now that I have concrete proof, I utterly fail to understand it.

Furthermore I feel no more ties of kinship to any German and hope that once I have left this country have left it once and for all.

1 May 1945, on a journey from Bremen to Lüneberg, on roads badly damaged by war action:

I sat in the front of the truck next to the driver and had a fine view of everything. Of towns there is very little left… destruction is so terrific that even the bombed East End areas and Coventry are nothing compared to this. Most towns are heaps of not rubble but just dust, the jagged piece of brickwork standing here and a wall on the verge of collapse there. Although we are at this moment in the town in Germany well very much cut off from the world having no wireless, no newspapers and having not received any mail up to now.

One thing I found rather encouraging was the many children waving along the roadside, showing they were not as much saturated with Nazi fanaticism as I feared.

7 May 1945, Lüneburg to Hamburg: it is the eve of VE Day and he has made his application for compassionate leave.

Every day I gather a host of impressions and have one absurd thing happening to me after another. The populace is so very mixed in behaviour and on top of that there are thousands and thousands of ex–prisoners and foreign workers wearing all sorts of uniforms. There are bearded Russians on the one extreme and on the other little Ex BOM and Jungvolk kids still wearing bits of their uniform.

Everybody who is not in the armed forces or otherwise in prison behind barbed wire seems to be doing exactly has he or she pleases. There are German army air officers walking around free, some directing traffic and being saluted by their respective lower ranks.

Nearly everyone calls the Nazis Schweinehunde or Saubande. This morning a girl came up to me and wanted protection against some alleged Nazis who are menacing her family in a certain way. I rather enjoy this topsy–turvy world. One must under no circumstances ever grow soft especially two pathetic cries or appealing eyes and always be ready for immediate self–defence.

Raymond (bottom left) with colleagues in the military police, Hamburg 1947

Postwar transition

VE Day has come and gone, but things are still difficult for Raymond, particularly the uncertainty regarding his parents’ fate but also the chaos of destruction all around. He also is studying hard with the aim of getting a place at LSE after he is demobbed in August 1947.

22 July 1945: Raymond says that when he returns from leave he gets a strong mental depression lasting week or more as well as physical symptoms such as frequent faintness etc he consults himself by saying the depression may be a reaction to the drudgery of army life.

He returns to his post: travels to Folkestone where the streets are brilliantly lit, followed by the long walk to the transit camp. They spend the night by the seafront, an area used for dancing in gambling in peace time. Then a wild sea crossing to Calais. He continues to Brussels.

I have been told that unless I get on the 14-day interpreters’ course, which would enable me to have motorbike lessons, I would have to settle for being a utility interpreter without any prospects of promotion. I have enquired on behalf of a man in Hamburg about Mrs W Atzi, sent to Theresienstadt in 1942.

21 October 1945: he is being looked after by a kind elderly woman refugee from Katowice. She has come practically all the way there on foot having left a comfortable house and a valuable library at the mercy of the Poles.

He sketches details of his leave: day one arrival Birmingham; day two arrival Weybridge; day three arrival teatime in London; day four arrive evening in Cambridge taken days 5 to 11 stay in Cambridge; day 12 departure. Route of travel will be either by Rotterdam to Harwich or else Cuxhaven to Hull.

He is fed up with people imposing on him the need to send parcels to relatives.

16 December 1945:

Braunschweig is a most depressing sight. Mere shells of towns with a sort of deadly, hopeless, indifferent atmosphere about everything. The only human warmth was in the Jewish canteen in Braunschweig.

20 January 1946:

During the week I interpreted at the reading out charges against six war criminals. This was done in a proper courtroom with a huge Union Jack draping the wall behind the judge’s seat. I enjoyed it tremendously and hope I can see the proper trial too. I enjoyed it because it was so formal and dignified, not out of revenge.

10 February 1946: Raymond visits Hamburg by car and finds it much improved from last summer. He is working on an interesting large-scale fraud and ‘impeding the Allies’ case.

It has again a measure of culture and there are cranes, freighters, steamers and smoking chimney pots which tell of a gradual recovery from the chaos.

Classical music is a vital refuge for Raymond, and is much-mentioned in his letters. He attends concerts and listens to the radio with rapt attention. On 17 February 1946 he writes ‘I am listening to the Eroica symphony, the finest thing in my life.’

3 March 1946, Verden:

Civilian rations are being cut again this week and starvation is settling in.

14 April 1946, Verden:

I want people like the Regensburgers and Kestners to stop sending mail and parcels (presumably to forward to relatives) as I haven’t the time to do with it and can’t afford all the postage costs so I will send items back in future.

22 April 1946, Lüneburg: a request for lined foolscap paper, instead of the plain paper that Ruth sent. He cannot obtain foolscap paper in Germany. He’s going to Lüneburg tomorrow for a new posting.

He has had a grim evening with the other interpreter and three girls:

There must be millions like them having nothing to look forward to but a hard and dreary future (and with few marriage prospects). The majority of manhood was wiped out in the war. What a dreary country. The food situation is going steadily worse and you have to watch the sickening spectacle of normal people losing their ideals and self-respect and becoming something of pure materialists. The blooming spring is almost like a mockery.

There is no news about the compassionate leave and Raymond is putting his name down for teacher training.

I will not spend the rest of my life in England. I am not an Englishman.

5 May 1946: a typist, cook and mechanic have now been employed at the house where he is billeted and it has been thoroughly cleaned and equipped with crockery etc. There’s a piano ‘Horribly out of tune, but we have already ordered a piano tuner.’

He is struggling with Latin and aims to register in geography and British history

One of the sergeants is ‘playing’ the piano. I think he’s composing some song about lilac bows and sweet-scented rapture.

My own religious ideas I am afraid are getting more and more mixed.

17 May 1946: there is shattering news in that the rules about leave have changed: 19 days every six months instead of 12 days every four months.

30 June 1946: better news. He has had an interview with a nice and helpful official from the Ministry of Labour and thinks Raymond has a good chance of completing his degree before the teacher’s course, with a government subsidy. And he’s getting a pay rise from 6/– to 8/6d a day.

14 July 1946: less good news. He has heard from Ruth Simmonds of the Birmingham committee that ‘even if I passed the wretched exam I should find it extremely difficult to find a university place.’ The ministry of education said he must reckon to wait at least a year for the emergency training scheme. Raymond feels unsuited to any other profession.

15 September 1946:

The coming winter is something of a nightmare. Unless food is imported on an enormous scale, people will die like flies with the continued threats of rupture between East and West.

22 September 1946: He’s getting a Voigtländer camera tomorrow – has already paid £6 10s for it.

The camera later made its way to my mother and was used for family photos until 1967.

13 October 1946: In his role with the military police he works on a case involving burglary of 12 billiard tablecloths  – working in close liaison with the German ‘Kripo’ and had complete success – culprits were put in jail. To recover some of the cloth his team had to go to Cuxhaven.

He has his first horseback ride: he trotted round a big sandy area and made good progress according to the instructor.

Raymond strongly disagrees with Bernard Shaw’s view that the Nazi war criminals on trial should be spared:

This week the world will rid itself of some of the most ghastly human beings in history.

His diaries from 1945 to 1947

He writes in his diary at the end of 1946 that things have turned a corner:

1946 as compared with 1945 has been an all-round improvement and I hope that I may keep on the upward gradient throughout 1947. The leave too has everything considered been successful. I am growing steadier in my emotions and less subject to outward things which considered from the point of view of contentment is most desirable.

Seeking restitution for the family

He repeatedly mentions in his letters his applications for special leave to go to Dachau, to visit the family house and to set things right: ‘It would give me a certain amount of satisfaction to throw the present inhabitants out.’

23 and 25 December 1945, writing from Goslar (he is referring here to Karl Dobler, the Sturmbannführer who evicted the family from their house on the eve of Kristallnacht in November 1938):

Am putting more hopes on the house and garden in Dachau, which even though it was sold it still belongs to us. The transaction was I think quite illegal since the terms were simply dictated by Messrs. Dobler and Jacob. It is good to know that the word of a soldier here counts about 10 times as much as than any German civilian and even more in the American zone.

If Friend Dobler is still alive and free I shall see to it that he gets his proper punishment. There is a value of at least £1000 over here which still belongs to us.

I don’t know how much of that stuff in Munich is still in existence. Frau Steurer is finding out about it and I have written to Fraulein Gertrud Scharll, München Zeppelinstr 67/I. I have here in front of me a list of things in mother’s own handwriting sent by Tante Dodo – where and what they are. One lot is with Frl. Scharrl, another with Lind Meyke Loristr 7, another with Frl Rothmund in Haus Schönfeld, Obergrainau bei Garmisch. Poor Frl Rothmund has, according to the note, since died and I don’t know what happened to that part of our belongings. It all has to be found out.

Maria did tell me about those people from Theresienstadt who are supposed to be at Deggendorf Bayern now. Naturally I making contact with Camp Deggendorf but have not really the slightest hope.

13 January 1946, concerning the family home in Dachau:

Of course it would be useful if we can get it, I thought of selling it properly and buying another small one in the mountains – Tyrol, to be used for holidays, Or else to try to get the money transferred to England. About the transaction between father and Jacob [this is the transaction forced by the Nazis in 1938], I’m only guessing up to now but possibly we find some real evidence. The fact that father got practically nothing out of it seems almost too obvious to be said.

3 February 1946: He has made an application to spend the next leave in Dachau from where he hopes to take a trip Vienna. But there is no question of going to Dresden to visit his aunt Dora because it is in the Russian zone.

10 February 1946, Verden: he has made contact with the Steurers – old family friends from Dachau, who are keen for him and Ruth to go back and live there.

The Steurers’ idea of our returning to Dachau and living at number 10 is high-power imagination. If I ever I came back to the continent for any length of time, I certainly would not choose Dachau to live in. Not even Germany.

6 October, Lüneburg: he has put his case about going to Munich to the Soldiers Sailors and Airmen’s Family Association.

They advised me to write straight to the property control branch of the American military government in Munich, since the Americans are very helpful and fair in such matters as restoration of property. SSAFA say that if their investigations should prove that my claim on the property in Dachau is valid, I shall be granted compassionate leave. I have already written and am waiting for a reply. SSAFA are also keeping their eyes open to arrange a duty journey to the south.

1 November 1946:

I am going to Munich, very probably next week. I am rather excited, naturally. It all started by my handing in another enquiry that house and garden at Hindenburgstr 10 [the Neumeyers’ house in Dachau] to the officer for despatch to the American military government in Munich. When I asked him a few days later the whether he had despatched it he said had not, but wanted me to write the application so that it would carry more weight.

The letter is followed by one-liners in capitals in his diary – 3 November DOUBT; 7 November ALMOST POSITIVE CERTAINTY; 9 November CERTAINTY AT LAST

10 November 1946: a week of cruel uncertainty and consequent disquiet and depression. He is granted 72 hours leave to Munich and and is leaving tomorrow at 11.30am to arrive just before 7am the following morning.

Luckily my camera has just come back from repair – I have a film, so I will be able to take some snaps. Funnily it is just eight years since we were pushed out of Dachau so unceremoniously.

17 November 1946: the trip to Munich and Dachau finally happens.

In a 20-page letter written in German he describes the trip. A convoluted train journey, lifts from GIs in jeeps and hitch-hikes.

A scene of devastation greets him at Munich:

I had the first surprise as soon as I entered the main train station. The station hall is only a skeleton and even this has been partially torn away. The train station building – when I think  how nice and warm, big and full of promise it always seemed to me – now the debris of bricks, plaster and dirt makes it look like many other train stations in Germany today.  HERTIE is still standing, but the shop windows have been boarded over. The Starnberger station and the big buildings in the Bayerstrasse have been badly damaged. I didn’t feel sentimental just a little tired, unshaven and depressed. The Löwenbräukeller has suffered damage and Gloria Palais on Nymphenburgerstrasse has burned down.

I walked through Thorwaldsenstrasse. No. 5 and about 95% of the houses in this street are kaput

He hitchhikes to Dachau, as far as the paper factory, then walked from there. In contrast to Munich, everything is intact: there’s virtually nothing changed at all.

The first stop is to visit the shop run by the old family friends, the Steuerers. The shop is crowded so he goes to their house and there’s a joyous reunion with the parents and the two daughters, Annerl and Hilda :

“I wrote down some addresses and inspected the things that are there and belong to us. They’re just little things including the defunct electric teapot and the carved St Francis. Also 500 Reichsmarks in the district savings bank Dachau.” So presumably Raymond lugged this entirely useless teapot back to England, where it was kept in my parents’ storeroom in London for about 50 years; it is now in the Imperial War Museum archive. The St Francis figure was displayed on a bookshelf in the hall – it’s now with a family member in New York.

They were all incredibly happy. You can’t describe the feelings you have in such moments of reunion, they are too confused. Frau Steurer then told me a lot about her experiences, from the years when my parents were still in Munich. I could only speak superficially. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Frau Steurer is white-haired but otherwise the same. Herr Steurer has changed little. Annerl is small and unfortunately not fully developed physically and mentally. Hilde is about my size, plump, fresh and funny (as always). 

For more about the Steurers and their correspondence with our family, click here.

Next stop, the lawyer’s office to sort out the family house in Dachau:

I went to the savings bank and from there to the notary Mr. Demeter, who seemed to be a very nice and good man. He had the rights to the house on Hindenburg Strasse (which is now called Hermann Stockmannstrasse, by the way). It was sold on October 31, 1939 to a Mr. Meyer. Price apparently 18000 RM. Of this, about 11,000 RM covered tax arrears and mortgages and the rest went to a blocked account from certain percentages which the so-called ‘Aryanization Office’ set up. Father was ‘allowed’ to deduct small monthly amounts from the blocked account, what is left of it is not known – no documents. The whole affair has been confirmed to me again by Dela in a letter that arrived today and which I will send you. It’s all highly complicated.

This means that the current owner is not allowed to resell it and a prognostic rate of the rent goes into a blocked account (supervised by the Military Government). The law of restitution is not yet in force, but it is expected soon. The notary says that we have every chance that the house will be returned to us. His statements were confirmed by the Property Control of the Military Government (in the Town Hall) and later by a Jewish Committee (in the Café Alt-Dachau). We now just have to wait for the law. There’s not much you can do before then.

The above reference to the Café Alt-Dachau is interesting: after the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 it became the first meeting place in Dachau for a national paramilitary group, and later for the Nazis; on 26 April 1933 the BDM (League of German Girls) had its first meeting there. For more about this building click here.

Then he walks on to find the house from which the family had been evicted by the Nazis in November 1938:

The Neumeyer house in Dachau, 1937

Later on Wednesday afternoon I went to the house. The two ash trees and the garden wall have gone, a garage has been built on the Köbler’s side close to the house, otherwise little has changed from the outside. The garden has been completely transformed however: many trees felled, all shrubs gone, and all the paths have disappeared.

Frau Meyer lives in the bedroom and the verandah. There was a man in long lederhosen with her who said that he had known our parents well. I let him show me the whole house. The studio is divided in two by a screen or something similar. The upper floor is occupied by a Polish Jew, his wife and children. The Baumgartners live on the entire ground floor, including the reception room. I looked at her apartment but neither he nor she recognised me – not even when I remarked ‘Nothing has changed, has it?’ The man in the lederhosen then remarked, ‘That’s Neumeyer’s son’. Fr Baumgartner screamed ‘Mani’ [Raymond’s nickname] in a rather hysterical tone. I then said goodbye immediately without shaking her hand and went into the basement.

An old man and woman live in the basement. All rooms in the house look different with other furniture of course but the studio is recognisable.

For my mother’s description of the house as it was in 1938 click here.

Returning to Munich, he pays a visit to the State Commissioner for Victims of Fascism. He mentions some paintings, presumably that the family owned. It’s the first time we have heard about these and have no idea what happened to them:

I found the state commissioner and found out that there are still five pictures left and about 890 Reichsmarks. The five pictures (religious, and said not to be of great value) and 200 Reichsmarks were delivered at the beginning of the year by Eduard Salisko (Obermenzinger School), who had kept them safe during the war. The 890 Reichsmarks are deposited in the Bankhaus Seider & Co Löwengrube 18.

The final stop on his tour was to visit Alois Weiner, who survived Theresienstadt and who met Raymond and Ruth’s mother Vera (my grandmother) shortly before her deportation in July 1942. Vera knew Alois was bound for Theresienstadt and it appears she asked him to look out for her blind husband Hans who was there. Alois made friends with Hans and was with him when Hans died in Theresienstadt in 1944. Before Theresienstadt Alois was deported to do forced labour at the Lohhof Flax Roast factory north of Munich.

Alois subsequently wrote to the family and Raymond felt it would be good to make contact with him. He made a two-and-half-hour visit to Alois, the only Jew living in Moosburg. This is the first time they had ever met:

Alois Weiner

He is an elderly man, somewhat frail at the same time amiable and jovial. Also a bit harsh and cynical through everything he’s been through, but those traits only come out sometimes. He owns a department store and is apparently a very prominent citizen in Moosburg. He also has a very comfortable and nice apartment and apparently enough to eat. He told me a lot about mother – he worked with her before he was deported to Lohhof. He was in Theresienstadt with his father and grandfather. He gave me more details about their life and death in the camp.

He gave me a silver pocket watch from grandfather and the Schreiberhau guest book. I brought both things with me and will bring them home on my next vacation.

We don’t know what happened to the silver pocket watch or the guest book from the grandparents’ country house at Schreiberhau.

My earlier post about the family members’ deportations has more about Alois’s story. Click here and scroll down to the heading Identifying Herr W.

19 November 1946: Raymond writes a letter to the authorities, urging that former Sturmbannführer Dobler be punished for his Nazi activities. As a result, Dobler loses his job, but what else happened to him is unknown:

In his overall attitude, Dobler showed himself to be a zealous Nazi. For this reason he should be kept under constant and keen observation. In any case, he should not be given a position with public responsibility.

It took many years for our family to get compensation, but eventually money came – some time in the 1960s. It was enough to pay for several family summer holidays, including two visits to Germany.

Caught up in the Holocaust: Anitta Weiss and her mother

Raymond’s generous nature extends beyond sending parcels to friends and contacts in need. Lore and Erika Weiss – twins from Vienna who arrived in Cambridge with their father as refugees before war broke out – have become very close friends of both Ruth and Raymond. He repeatedly tries to trace their mother and sister Anitta but risks getting into trouble as they are not blood relatives.

On 20 January 1946 he reports that although Anitta was supposed to have been detained at Gross Rosen KZ at the end of February 1945, he hears now that the entire camp was evacuated on 18 February 1945.

Further enquiries are made by phone to Belsen, and he is looking at applying for compassionate leave to the American zone to visit family members for tracing purposes and to make trips to Munich (where his family were) and Vienna (where the Weisses were, but they aren’t actually relatives).

Undated, probably late November 1944:

It would be really fantastic if I could find Lore and Erica’s mother and sister. I will make it my duty to do everything within my power.

3 June 1945:

I have typed out everything I know about father and the Weisses in the form of a request and signed by the officer. This together with one personal letter addressed to directly to father and one to Mrs Weiss and Anitta, what has it into eight attachments of the military government, who promised to do their best to pass it onto the Russian authorities, and thus get a reply. How long it will take, or whether we will be successful is impossible to predict.

In July he visits the British Red Cross having filled in for such forms making a slight lie about the twins’ relationship to him and Ruth which was necessary; and is awaiting a reply from the World Jewish Congress in London. He has heard of that a centre for missing people has been set up in Hannover and another would be shortly set up in Lübeck.

The search is fruitless. In December he hears that someone at Theresienstadt said they had been deported and heard they were then sent to Auschwitz. Anitta came out of Auschwitz and while she was on the transport destined for Belsen she was unloaded at Gross Rosen Niederschlesien camp because of a heavy attack of angina in February or March 1945.

Raymond reports that most of the staff at the concentration camps are so embittered so as to make them not in the least cooperative. ‘On the contrary they often look with contempt on the efforts to trace someone.’

On 30 December he announces plans to go to Belsen concentration camp with photos of the two women and see if he can find out more.

What happened to Susi Lamberg

He also tries to trace Anitta’s friend Susi (Susanne) Lamberg. Born in Vienna on 3 November 1925, she was in five concentration camps, ending at Belsen, but somehow managed to survive the ordeal.

14 April 1946 he pleads with Ruth to offer assistance:

Please pull your weight to help that Susi girl. You know that will take a weight off my mind. You don’t seem interested in helping her after all she has been through. I think people in England including you are lacking that sense of urgency which is necessary when seeking further missing people.

Raymond learns that Susi is in Holland for recuperation. She subsequently then gets to Sweden and later misses the special transport to Vienna for displaced persons.

13 May 1946: he receives a severe reprimand from the commanding officer sending a letter to the research bureau about Susi Lamberg. It was forwarded to the Deputy Provost Marshal of the 30 Corps District for disciplinary action: ‘apparently I committed to all three offences by writing as I did.’ They thought was the letter was ignorant and offensive. Raymond felt somewhat staggered and he has dropped enquiries ‘I don’t intend to burn my fingers again.’

6 October 1946:

The transport that Susi Lamberg missed was the last of its kind and subsequent journeys to Austria must be either organised and financed by a Jewish Committee or else undertaken privately. Susi will have to opt to go privately as she is presumably not Jewish by religion.

She finally returned to Vienna in 1949 at her own expense: here she moved in with her grandmother, who had survived Theresienstadt.

In old age she spoke publicly about her wartime experiences:

‘A classmate called me ‘Judensau’. I didn’t even know I was Jewish. I got kicked out of ballet school. I had to leave school. I was no longer allowed to go out – not to the cinema, not to a bar, not to the park. The caretaker fetched me when snow had to be shovelled. They just took our apartment away from us. Then I had to wear the Star of David. And suddenly I was definitely marked.’

The SS picked them up, for a deportation to Theresienstadt on 1 October 1942, where she found conditions not too bad – now 17 years old, she worked in the machine shop and, among other things, made some money setting up bunk beds. Friends at the food counter often gave her double servings. She was there with her mother, father and grandfather. Two years later a transport from there took them to Auschwitz. Her mother was taken straight to the gas chamber, while the SS official shouted at Susi ‘you are young and can work’ and sent her to the other side – she never said goodbye to her mother. Her father perished in Dachau later.

From Auschwitz she was sent to a labour camp in Silesia, digging tank traps.

When the sound of distant Russian cannons signalled things were nearing an end, the Nazis took them on a forced death march, through extreme cold in winter. Those who collapsed were shot. ‘I actually never saw it, you only ever heard the shots.’

They ended up in Gross-Rosen camp, then were crammed into onto open coal wagons where coal dust was still lying inside. They arrived at Buchenwald in terrible condition. The camp was full and they had to wait outside, still in the coal wagons, while Allied bombers flew overhead and dropped bombs around Weimar.

From there they were moved on again, this time to Bergen-Belsen. ‘That was definitely the worst camp. There was no work at all there, the only thing we did was that we got each other’s lice off. But we were no longer assigned work there.’

Aged 20 when liberated she was extremely ill and frail, weighing just 35 kilograms, suffering typhus and emaciated to the bone.

Yet she never considered suicide by throwing herself to the electric fence: ‘I always wanted to live. My only thought was that I want to get out of this, I want to live like I always have.’

‘In 1945 I was 20 and at the end. I was deathly ill, weighted 35 kilograms. I had lost my family. I had seen more dad bodies than anyone. But I wanted to live. And to go home. Austria and Vienna were my home. Despite it all. And because I had no other home. So I came back. And I stayed.’

For my post about Raymond’s life click here.

A prewar musical ensemble: Hans Neumeyer and the Sandkühler connection

One particularly gratifying aspect of writing this blog is the connections that I have made with readers. Ron Kammer from Pennysylvania read the account of my grandmother being deported in 1942 to certain death somewhere in Nazi-occupied Poland, and the letter in which she described her friendship with the woman sitting next to her as one Malwine Porsche. That woman was Ron’s aunt. The internet has reunited two descendants of women who may well have been murdered just hours later in Auschwitz, perhaps dying in each other’s arms.

Then Jan Qvick explained that Dela Blakmar, secretary to my musician grandfather Hans Neumeyer had been Jan’s music teacher in the 1960s, and that Dela had arrived in Sweden in a dramatic fashion:

She played in the Berliner Philharmonic and mentioned a husband she had left and left for Denmark and escaped to Sweden over Öresund with a boat together with many other refugees. The Engine of the boat got a problem and German patrol boats followed them in the complete dark searching with floodlights, but they were lucky the wind was from the west (which it normally is in this country) and they drifted into Swedish territorial water and were picked up by the coastguards.

It seems almost certain that while fleeing from the Nazis she rescued rescued the two sole surviving pieces of chamber music composed by Hans in 1940.

A revelation from a stranger

And then one Saturday night this summer I had an email from another total stranger – one Bruno Sandkühler, whose father Konrad I had mentioned in the blog as a friend of Hans without knowing very much else about him:

While working on my biography, I just wanted to check some details concerning the ways my parents came together. I knew that both of them were friends of Hans Neumeyer, and that they first met when they accompanied Hans on a journey from Munich to Garmisch, but I was hoping to find further details on the internet. That’s how I came across your blog, and I am so thrilled by this discovery that I could not go to sleep without writing this short message.

So remarkably the internet had now put me in contact with someone whose parents actually met through Hans, probably in 1919, when Hans was 32 – Konrad and Hans having first met in in Munich around 1906 when they were studying at the university and Academy of Music respectively. Bruno’s father was a Waldorf teacher as well as a philologist. But the connection with Hans was music. Konrad was a violist, and later played with the Dresden Philharmonic.

Late in life Konrad wrote his autobiography, Wirker durch Worte und Klänge: Autobiographie eines Waldorflehrers (Work through words and sounds: autobiography of a Waldorf teacher). In it he gives quite a bit of detail about the musical world of Hans Neumeyer that I hadn’t known about before.

Hans, being blind, needed assistance when he travelled. His sister Betty lived in Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, and on one visit he asked his pupil Konrad Sandkühler to accompany him. There, in Hans’s musical circle was also Jutta Kronecker: the two fell in love, and in 1918 moved to Munich and married there.

My blind friend Hans Neumeyer tried to help me and suggested that I take a job at a private high school in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He had heard about it from the writer Fritz Müller-Partenkirchen, who was friends with him and who himself taught at this private high school. First, however, I became acquainted with the small group of students that Hans Neumeyer taught music theory. After Hans Neumeyer had corresponded with Fritz Müller, he invited me to take him on a trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He needed a companion on all of his journeys.

Hans’ sister Betty lived at this house, the Starenhäusl, in Garmisch

Music making in Munich

Bruno heard his parents talk warmly about Hans many times but never met him.

Here is what Konrad says about his music-making, when a university student, with Hans:

The man in whose house we made music was a person of very special quality and one of the few really brilliant people I got to know. He had a very high level of education. He came from a wealthy Jewish family and was blind, not from birth; he had become blind when he was about twelve years old. When I later met the tragic personality of Jacques Lusseyran [a blind French author and Resistance activist], I remembered this old friend who bore his blindness in a similar way, but died in an even more tragic way in World War II: he died in Theresienstadt.

We had a deep friendship with this man. He was a pianist and composer and gave excellent theoretical music lessons. In him we not only had an excellent supporter of our playing, our programme also expanded, as we repeatedly practised piano trios, piano quartets or piano quintets with him. He took the study of the works very carefully and quickly knew the score of each of these works by heart after they had been played to him a few times and then precisely dictated. That was very stimulating for us and the rest of the friends who helped him.

Our friend was called Hans Neumeyer: life with him was very beneficial for all of us and especially for me. Adoration of his personality and factual thoroughness in our work were the cornerstones of our friendship. The best Munich life prevailed in this house, and all the good qualities that characterise the people of this city were at work there to make everyone who came there a good person. From there I got to know many of the musical personalities who were working in Munich at the time. Such acquaintances were a great asset to me.

Hans Neumeyer (left) with his nephew (Betty’s son) Gustl at Garmisch in 1930. Gustl escaped to Columbia before the war broke out, and ran a bus company there.

Hans would have played the piano at such gatherings, which presumably were at his parents’ house in Munich.

After the war, a large quantity of printed music belonging to the Neumeyers was sent over from Germany – among other items these books were stored with acquaintances for safe keeping during the war itself. While we don’t have any chamber music, there are piano works and songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn, and these give an idea of the music Hans liked to play.

So perhaps the chamber group he formed would have played such works as the Schumann and Brahms piano quintets, Mozart piano quartets and the piano trios of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

The broader musical circle

Hans helped launch Konrad’s younger brother Wendelin’s career as a musician. As a child, Wendelin showed no interest in taking up an instrument, but Hans encouraged him and gave him piano and theory lessons. Progress was stupendous, and Wendelin’s prodigious talent was unleashed: he studied music, and became a talented cellist as well as a choral conductor. But his life was tragically cut short by the First World War: he joined up as an infantryman, and was bullied by his superiors, who sent him to to the front where he was wounded, and his hearing severely impaired. In October 1915 he was killed on the front lines in northern France.

Jutta and Konrad played chamber music with Hans on many occasions, as well as with Philippine Schick, Hans Werner and (and one of Hans Neumeyer’s pupils) Gretel von Kap-Herr. Another insight into Konrad’s world hints at the musical life in Munich at the time – Felix Mottl was one of Hans’s examiners at the Academy of Music:

I found a friend in the student new philology association in Hans Werner who, in addition to Romance studies, mainly studied music and later became a conductor. This man personally knew all the major musicians of the time, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, the great conductors, Mottl, Nikisch, Ferdinand Löwe, Bruckner’s friend, and many others. I went to many concerts with him, especially the big symphony concerts and the performances of new orchestral works or operas. We studied Richard Wagner’s oeuvre whenever a musical drama of his was performed. The world of music opened up in the deepest way.

Hans with some of his pupils. The woman in the white dress to the right of and just behind Hans looks very much like Jutta.

Further information

There are Wikipedia articles about Konrad Sandkühler, Bruno Sandkühler and Hans Neumeyer.

In earlier posts in this blog I have written about Hans’ music colleagues, memories of Hans in Theresienstadt as remembered by violinist Thomas Mandl, and about Hans’ secretary and friend Dela Blakmar whom he first met in Garmisch.

Our family featured in new IWM Holocaust gallery

[Note: those looking for my interview with BBC1 Southeast Today for Holocaust Memorial Day 2022, click here]

It has taken over six years in the making – longer than the Second World War itself. But certainly worth the wait.

London’s Imperial War Museum has completed its largest ever project, the Second World War and Holocaust galleries, opened 20 October 2021 at the cost of over £30million.

The day before its opening to the public, I had my first sight of the new Holocaust gallery, at a preview event for those who contributed their family stories to this massive display. The fourth photo in the slideshow below shows a V-1 (“Doodlebug”) flying bomb: the V-1s were assembled by Jews forced into slave labour; downstairs, the V-1 appears overhead in the Second World War gallery. In this way the two galleries are linked, making this the first museum in the world to link Second World War and Holocaust exhibitions under one roof.

And among all this, are those items my brothers and I grew up with in our family house in Sydenham. The teddy bear and dressing gown that came over on our mother’s Kindertransport in May 1939. The recorder duets composed by our grandfather, Hans Neumeyer, and which languished in the piano stool until I suggested my mother (Ruth) donate it to the museum. The printed book of plays that our grandmother Vera Neumeyer annotated when she got children to perform them in the Neumeyers’ home in Dachau. It started with a confused clutter of artefacts plonked on our kitchen table for the visit of the IWM staff to our house back in 2017, and it’s wonderful to see them publicly displayed like this.

And years back we grew up with these objects, not really appreciating them – monogrammed silver cutlery from our great-grandparents that was used every day, the dressing gown hanging on a hook, the bear (known by Ruth merely as ‘The Bear’) in a toy basket for years before retirement on a chair in Ruth’s bedroom, the silver napkin rings bearing ancestral dates and names that were on the table for every meal…

Last messages sent to my mother during the war, including (top left, in the frame) the final Red Cross message from my grandmother, Vera, in July 1942: ‘Going on journey, but cheerful and happy’ – when she was actually being deported. Behind is the image of my blind grandfather, the music teacher and composer Hans Neumeyer at the piano, and beyond that part of a cattle truck typical of the kind where some 100 victims would have been deported to concentration camps or death camps.

At the end of the exhibition is a “witness room” with two hours of recordings of interviews with children of Holocaust survivors talking about their experiences living with this family history. My brothers Stephen, Nic and myself are featured. I arrived while Isabel and Mark Robertson, family friends from Sydenham, appeared on screen talking about growing up with their mother Wlodka, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and who managed to survive the war sheltering with Polish peasant families until eventually being reunited with their father. When Wlodka and my mother met in 1965 they immediately became close friends. I was delighted to see Wlodka at this gallery preview.

I have uploaded the full three-hour interview, uncut, which you can see here.

In another case is a letter from my 21-year-old uncle Raymond denouncing the former mayor of Dachau, Carl Dobler, who in his role as Sturmbannführer, evicted the Neumeyers from their house in Dachau on 8 November 1938, telling them to leave by dawn or else go to prison. While working as an interpreter in Germany for the British army (in the Military Police), Raymond went on leave, visited Dachau and sought Dobler’s prosecution.

Lüneburg, 19.11.46.

On a recent visit to Dachau, I heard that the XI Mayor of Dachau, Mr. Dobler, will shortly appear in front of the Spruchkammer.

Up to November 1938 I lived in Dachau. I can therefore state that Dobler has been culpable in at least one case. On November 9th, 1938, it was Dobler who was responsible for the nightly evictions of all Jewish families from the district and district of Dachau.

I heard that this was done on Mr Dobler’s own initiative and without special orders from above. In fact, he gave every family the eviction order, threatening them with the destruction of their homes and unlimited imprisonment if the order was not followed.

In his overall attitude, Dobler showed himself to be a zealous Nazi. For this reason he should be kept under constant and keen observation. In any case, he should not be given a position with public responsibility.

Translation of Raymond’s letter to the authorities

For more about how Imperial War Museum curator Lucy May Maxwell and I worked together on the family-related content of those displays, see a post in my school alumni newsletter (we both attended Alleyn’s School in southeast London, though at different times).

Two weeks earlier, I spoke on a panel at the Association for Jewish Refugees (AJR) at their two day conference in Chelsea football club’s stadium. I was on a panel of six after lunch on the second day, following on from Anne Karpf, author of The War After in which she brilliantly describes her life growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors: my yellowed copy of her book is full of paperclips where I’ve marked pages that seem hauntingly close to my own experiences.

The panel consisted of people from the Wiener Holocaust Library, the National Holocaust Centre and the Imperial War Museum, each in conversation with a person about a specific item they had donated. Lucy May Maxwell from the IWM talked to me about Raymond’s letter denouncing Dobler.

That letter tells of retribution. Raymond wanted to set things right. He realised now he couldn’t get his parents back but he had a keen sense of justice and Nazis like Dobler should not get away with it. While Ruth stoically drew a line under the traumatic events of her family’s recent past – it of course affected her but she largely chose not to show it – Raymond displayed his emotions much more outwardly, certainly in the letters he wrote Ruth from Germany while in the army.

In the event Dobler lost whatever job he then had, although what happened to him subsequently is something we have yet to find out.

We have the chance here to start to change the way people think about these events – we can’t allow this just something that happened in a distant black and white past which some people have described as ‘Planet Auschwitz’. This is something that happened in our world. This is who we are.

James Bulgin, Head of Content, Holocaust Gallery

German citizenship regained

The German law allows for descendants of people made stateless by the Third Reich to be able to reclaim their German citizenship.

On 15 September 1935 Hitler’s Nuremberg laws rendered all those deemed to be Jews to lose their status as German citizenship. That included my mother’s family, even though she, her brother and her mother were Lutherans. But 86 years and 8 days later, in a capacious chandelier-lit room in London’s German Embassy, the pleasant woman official stamped the certificate and said ‘It is a great honour for Germany to give you back the citizenship that your family should never have lost’.

So on 23 September 2021, two and a half years after applying, my brother Stephen and I became German citizens

Not that I intend to move from Britain to mainland Europe. But it really feels a very right thing to do. More done as a symbolic gesture than for practical reasons.