After her journey on the Kindertransport with her brother Raymond to England, my mother Ruth kept the correspondence from her parents, Vera and Hans, to her and Raymond. We have 57 letters from the parents from 1939–40 – all but eight of these are from Vera. Hans, being blind, typed his; in one letter his typewriter ribbon has hardly any ink so it’s virtually a blank page with illegible indentations. From Vera, 26 are dated (the last dated 5 March 1940) and 23 are undated or incomplete.
When writing from the UK to Germany in early 1940 letters had to be placed in an open unstamped envelope, within a stamped envelope posted to Thos. Cook & Son in Berkley Street, London W1, with a two-shilling postal order, the name and full address of the sender, and an open addressed envelope for the forwarding of a reply should one be received from the correspondent in Germany.
Specific rules about the contents of the letter were given:
Letters should be written in English or German without the address of the sender, and must contain nothing but matters of personal interest. No enclosure of the following nature is permitted – any printed matter, map, plan, sketch, drawing, print, photograph or other descriptive or pictorial representation , or postage or revenue stamp No reference should be made to any phase of the war. No mention may be made in such letters, of any office of Thos. Cook & Son Ltd. at home or abroad.
Once a month, 25 words maximum: the Red Cross messages
During 1940 it was no longer possible to send letters by mail. Instead the only way of making contact was through Red Cross messages. These were very limiting: a maximum of 25 words and a maximum of one message per month. They did however show the handwriting of the correspondents.
What particularly struck me this week as I typed these messages out in date order was the amount of waiting and uncertainty there must have between sending and receiving: they took weeks to get to Switzerland, then weeks more to get to their destination. And when they arrived, they reassured the recipient that the sender was still alive several weeks ago, but there’s no real news apart from the surreal announcements that one was well and happy, and life was normal – and both parties knew the truth was far from that.
It is remarkable that we have the messages died in concentration camps. These messages seem to have been passed to Dora (Vera’s sister), who spent the entire war in Dresden and later passed various items of correspondence to Ruth.
The earliest Red Cross message we have is from Ruth to her parents. It has the handwritten date 10 June 1940 but the official stamps 12 August 1940 and 23 September 1940 [the latter, presumably the date it was transmitted or received; the other messages Ruth sent similarly have handwritten and officially stamped dates.)
She mentions the ‘flute music’ – this would have been the recorder duets Hans composed for Ruth and her friend Jane.
The message is set out as follows (with printed material from the form in bold; each item is also translated into German):
WAR ORGANISATION OF THE BRITISH RED CROSS AND ORDER OF ST. JOHN
[datestamp:]12 AUGUST 1940; 23 September 1940
Christian name Ruth
Address 71 Barton Road Cambridge
c/o Mrs Stirland
Relationship of Enquirer to Addressee Daughter
The Enquirer desires news of the Addressee and asks that the following message should be transmitted to him.
RAYMOND AND I BUSY WELL AND HAPPY. PLAY A LOT OUTDOORS, ALSO WEEKLY BATHING. HAVE GOT FLUTE MUSIC.
CHRISTIAN NAME HANS
ADDRESS 5 THORWALDSEN STRASSE, MUNICH
The addressee’s reply to be written overleaf.
The rest of the messages
Subsequent Red Cross messages are in the same format. Most sent from England have two rubberstamped dates (in addition to the handwritten one at the date of writing) – one showing the date it was received in Switzerland, the other showing the date it was received by the German Red Cross. Here are the messages with just the dates and message (Ruth’s are written in block capitals, but Vera wrote in cursive script or typed her messages; I have inserted some editorial full stops to ease reading):
From Ruth, date almost illegible but seems to be 22 July 1940, rubberstamped 23 August 1940 [Ruth is putting on plays – her favourite pastime, just like the Neumeyers did back in Dachau]
EVERYTHING AS BEFORE. BOUGHT PLAY FOR ACTING. RECEIVED TWO LETTERS. NOW LOVELY BATHES IN RIVER. STARTED DIVING AND ALGEBRA.
From Ruth, 23 July 1940, rubberstamped 23 August 1940 and 2 November 1942 [- does this really mean it was returned undelivered more than two years later? That would have been after Vera’s presumed death in a concentration camp.]
ALL WELL. WENT WITH STIRLANDS TO THEIR GRANDMOTHER. HAD SINGING LESSONS THERE. FOUND MANY STRAWBERRIES. WE ALL HAVE HOLIDAYS. Ruth
From Vera and Hans, 17 September 1940, rubberstamped 4 October 1940 [unfortunately none of the flute music referred to has survived, though he wrote his duo in August 1940 and his trio in 1939-4, both of which exist.]
Alle gesund. Mutti viele Stunden und Ausflüge Vati viele Flöten – und andere Stücke komponiert. Seid Ihr zusammen? Von Rosi Nachricht. Euch beiden immigste Grüsse! Eltern
All well. Mother many hours and excursions. Father composes many flute and other pieces. Are you together? Best wishes to you both! Parents
From Vera and Hans, 25 September 1940, rubberstamped 15 October 1940: from parents [Raymond was no longer with Ruth; best wishes are from Hans, Martin Ephraim and Vera’s sisters Marianne and Dora].
Sehr erfreut über Deine Julibriefe. Wir sind alle gesund und denken an Euch. Wo ist Raimund? Innigste Grüsse, auch von Vati, Grossvati and deine Tanten. Mutti
Very glad to get your July letter. We are all well and thinking of you. Where is Raymond? Sincerest wishes, also from Father, Grandfather and your aunts. Mother
From Ruth, 24 September 1940, rubberstamped 3 December 1940 and 17 January 1941 [this hints at the slow arrival of the messages – Ruth gives birthday greetings and said she had a lovely birthday herself, but both her and her mother’s birthdays were in September]:
ALL WELL. RECEIVED YOUR MESSAGE. MANY HAPPY RETURNS TO YOUR BIRTHDAYS. I HAD A LOVELY ONE. WILL SOON BE GIRL GUIDE. RUTH
From Ruth, no handwritten date, rubberstamped 15 January 1941 and 25 February 1941:
ALL WELL. GO TO DRESSMAKING AND SEWING CLASSES. HAVE PHYSICAL TRAINING. LEARNING HISTORY GEOGRAPHY GEOMETRY ALGEBRA AND LITERATURE. RUTH
From Ruth, 7 January 1941, rubberstamped 19 March 1941 and 6 June 1941:
ALL WELL. RECEIVED MESSAGES. BEST WISHES FOR NEW YEAR. AM GUIDE SINCE DEC 20TH. BEEN TO PARTIES. RODE YESTERDAY. RUTH
From Hans and Vera, 4 February 1941 [from here onwards, their messages were written in English]:
All well, glad about your news. Had beautiful Christmas and snow excursions. Keep on working. All relations and friends send you love.
From Ruth, 4 May 1941, rubberstamped 2 May 1941 and 24 July 1941:
ALL WELL. HAPPY IN NEW HOME. HAD EXCITING PATROL HIKE FOUND INNUMERABLE SNOWDROPS AND ACONITES. HAVING PIANO LESSONS. LOVE RUTH.
From Hans and Vera, 11 March 1941:
All well. Glad having got your news. Mother teaches, father composes. All friends and relatives send greetings.
Love to you both.
From Vera, 7 April 1941, rubberstamped 17 April 1941 and 25 April 1941 [this is the only Red Cross message from Vera to be on an official form with addresses of senders and recipients – all the others are just handwritten on paper with a rubberstamped date; the Neumeyers are still at Thorwaldsenstrasse 5, Munich; Raymond was by then working on a farm and not happy; the ‘servant Anna’ is I think Anna Kürzinger, whom Ruth described as her nanny/nurse – she survived the war and I remember visiting her with my parents in Dachau in 1966]:
Received Raimond’s farming greetings. Very glad. What about his confirmation? We all well and working. Our servant Anna married. I went to grandfather’s birthday. Mother.
From Ruth, 20 May 1941, rubberstamped 18 July 1941 and 2 December 1941:
ALL WELL. AM ENJOYING DOMESTIC COLLEGE WITH NICE GERMAN GIRLS. GO CANOEING HIKING PASSING GUIDE EXAMS. KEEP HAPPY. LOVE RUTH
From Vera and Hans, 19 June 1941 [Aunt Dodo/Tante Dodo – was Vera’s sister Dora, who lived in Dresden for the rest of her life; she refers to Betty, Hans’ sister, who has gone to Columbia to join her son Gustl (Gustav)]
All well. Aunt Dodo was here, Aunt Betty has gone to Gustl. Mother works much. How are you both?
Love from all.
From Vera and Hans, 22 July 1941, rubberstamped 11 August 1941:
All well. Glad about your news. Do tell more about new home and Raymond. Mother likes gardening work. Best wishes for your Birthday, dear!
From Ruth, 3 September 1941, rubberstamped 18 November 1941:
THINK MUCH OF YOU ESPECIALLY TODAY BEING MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY. MANY HAPPY RETURNS TO BOTH BIRTHDAYS. ALL WELL. THOUSAND KISSES. RUTH
From Vera and Hans, 26 November 1941, rubberstamped 15 December 1941:
All well, hoping same of you two. Working busily. Greetings from relations and friends. Best wishes for Xmas and Raimund’s birthday.
From Raymond, 10 February 1942, rubberstamped 2 March 1942 and 4 May 1942 [sent from Birmingham, where Raymond was working in a bicycle factory]:
ALL WELL RUTH IN NURSERY SCHOOL. I LIKE WORK. HAD PLEASANT CHRISTMAS. HOPE YOU ARE BOTH WELL AND CHEERFUL. SAW OPERA RECENTLY. KEEP SMILING. RAYMOND
From Vera, 25 January 1942, rubberstamped 18 February 1942:
Happy about your news. Hope all enjoyed your Xmas play. Did you spend holidays with brother? All well. Love from parents, grandfather, aunts and friends.
From Ruth, 17 March 1942, rubberstamped 10 April 1942 and 10 July 1942 [mention of nursery training she was then doing at Wellgarth, near Swindon]:
ALL WELL TRAINING IN NURSERY COLLEGE. RECEIVED MESSAGE. ENJOY SHAKESPEARE. GREET ALL FRIENDS AND RELATIONS RAYMOND ENJOYS SCOUTS. HEAR FROM NATHANS. KEEP HAPPY LOVE RUTH.
From Raymond, 31 March 1942, rubberstamped 19 June 1942:
ALL WELL, RECEIVED YOUR MESSAGE. GLAD YOU ARE WELL. HEALTH EXCELLENT. RUTH JUST HAD HOLIDAY. LOOK FORWARD TO HEAR MESSIAH. KEEP CHEERFUL LIKE US. RAYMOND.
From Vera and Hans to Raymond, 1 May 1942:
Very well and glad about your news. What work are you doing? Mother doing gardening-work. Do you meet Ruth often? Love to both!
From Vera, 17 June 1942, rubberstamped 31 July 1942 [only signed by her; presumably she was no longer with Hans]:
Very happy about your and Ruth’s messages. Sure you enjoyed Messiah as I did. Should like to hear about your work
From Vera, 9 July 1942 [her last message, just before deportation to a concentration camp near Lublin (probably Madjanek), where she would have likely been murdered on arrival; to get past the censors she just says ‘going on journey’ rather than the actual truth; this was the last ever heard from her apart from her letter written on the train to the camp]:
Going on journey, but cheerful and happy, healthy. Father same.
Keep in touch with aunt Dora Böse, Dresden, Leipzigerstrasse 147.
From Martin Ephraim, undated, rubberstamped 20 or 28 November 1942 [this is the only message sent by Martin; by then he was in the Jewish Hospital in Iranische Strasse, Berlin, before his deportation to Theresienstadt in January 1944]:
Received with pleasure your good news. Am quite well. Don’t know where parents are now. Many greetings.
From Raymond to Dora, 13 October 1942, rubberstamped 2 November 1942 and 28 December 1942 [Vera having been deported, Raymond now writes to his aunt Dora in Dresden]:
ALL WELL HERE, HOW ARE YOU ALL? RUTH AND I FINDING LIFE VERY SATISFACTORY. I STILL WORKING, TAKING LESSONS FOR EXAM. KEEP CHIN UP.
From Dora (Vera’s sister), 24 December 1942, rubberstamped 28 February 1943:
Received your news; Nonno[?] and we all are well. Our love to you and Ruthi. Keep cheerful both. Auntie Dora.
From Raymond to Dora, 5 January 1943, rubberstamped in Germany 2 June 1943:
BOTH WELL ENJOYED CHRISTMAS. ARE BOTH WORKING AND STUDYING. HAVE MANY HELPFUL FRIENDS. HEALTH EXCELLENT. HOPE TO SEE RUTH SOON. HOW ARE YOU? LOVE
From Dora, 31 May 1943, rubberstamped 30 June 1943 [the final message; total silence after that]:
Grandfather and we all in good health. Erik, Peter send love. Irmgard and myself going for long Sunday walks. Love to you both
Ruth tried in vain to get more news about her parents but this letter from the Red Cross shows they drew a blank:
In reply to your letter, we will do our best to find out about your parents, if you could first give us a little more information.
When did you last receive news of them, and how? What reason have you for thinking that they have been deported? Were you ever in touch with them through the Red Cross? If you could give us names and addresses of anybody in Munich who would be likely to keep in touch with them as far as possible, this would be a great help to us in making our enquiries. Please add the laces of birth of your parents, if you know this.
May I say how deeply we sympathise with you in your anxiety?
for M. R. Carden
Copyright Tim Locke November 2017. Originals of all these Red Cross messages are in the Imperial War Museum, London.