I’m looking at a sheaf of letters from my grandparents written early in 1939 – a time of frantic letter-writing and form-filling for the Neumeyers as they tried to get permissions to leave Germany before their world closed in on them.
Together they build up a picture of how they had hoped to come to the safety of England and settle permanently. The first letters are from the beginning of 1939. Later, tantalisingly, there’s news that permissions have been obtained for them to live in England; but it seems that they never got the required paperwork from the German authorities.
Hans and Vera Neumeyer had met Frank and Beatrice Paish at the eurthymics school founded by Jacques Dalcroze at Hellerau near Dresden before the First World War. The Paishes and their extended family (the Eckhards and Stirlands) later became lifelong friends of Ruth and Raimund (my mother and uncle) and were known to them as Uncle Frank and Aunt Bea; both died in the 1980s. Frank Paish followed in his father’s footsteps to become an eminent economist: his theory of inflation popped up in the A level economics syllabus when I was at school.
The January 7 and January 8 letters: ‘our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family’
The Neumeyers have evidently just received the very good news that the Paishes were willing to sponsor Ruth and Raimund by acting as guarantors. Hans, although blind, spells out his practical skills. Ruth confirmed to me that he was a very good cook (gnocchi was a speciality; Vera, on the other hand was hopeless and left all the cooking to him).
Vera hopes she can get a ‘domestic permit’, and fears the separation will be worse for her than the children.
With this first missive Hans sent testimonials dated between 1934 and 1938. We have seven of them, typed and translated into English. They are from Jacques Dalcroze (the pioneer of eurythmics – the music and movement discipline that Vera taught and Hans played music for); Gustav Guldenstein, Dr Ernst Mohr, Walter Muller and Dr R Edlinger (Academy of Music and Conservatoire, Basle); 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; Kilian was teacher of violin).
There is also a certificate from the Royal Academy of Music in Munich attesting to his standards in musical composition, pianoforte, general musical doctrine and history of music, and his CV.
[From Hans, but written out by Vera]
January 7 1939
Dear Mrs. Paish
At last I find a quiet hour to thank you for your dear letters of Dec 29th and Jan 2nd. All my words are too feeble to tell you how much my wife as well as myself are touched by your goodness and readiness to help us, how our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family.
We accept the noble-hearted offer of you brother and your sister-in-law with joyful relief. The contents of your last letter came to us as a light sent by God through the hopeless dark of the night around us. All we can do is to stretch out our hands to you, dear Mrs. Paish, as well as to your brother and his wife, to thank you and to pray to God that He may reward you for all your kindness.
We are including the required the certificates and photographs of the children, as well as a list of dates. If there is anything else we can do please write and we shall do it as quickly as possible.
We wrote several weeks ago to a Berlin committee which arranges the journey of non Aryan Christian children (Dr Spieron[?], Berlin, Brandenburgische Strasse 41), but we did not hear anything from it since then. I do not know if that Berlin committee is in connection with your English committee. But surely it will be best if the latter will arrange for the children to travel on one of the children’s trains. We know that if makes a great difference when the future residence of the children is guaranteed and that they are sure to come to your country sooner by this.
The informations we got here were rather different. Do you know if they need a passport and a visum? And is it true that they are allowed to take only one suit-case with them?
I am very thankful to you, too, for all that you try to find a possibility of existence for myself and my wife. I am sending you now my testimonials and recommendations translated into English.
Besides musical teaching (which includes the writing and reading of music in Braille – writing and stenography) I am able to teach blind people typewriting and other practical work as well. For instance I have a profound knowledge of handicraft work: electrical installation, upholstery, locksmith’s work, joinery and some book-binding. All these, if taught to blind people, want special knowledge and methods of working, and it is on account of my large practical experience that I should be able to give such practical teaching even more thoroughly than a seeing teacher. Or my experience and advice might be a useful help for a seeing teacher to whom I could give instructions how to organise such work at any institution or school for the blind. I am a good cook, too.
And I have gained a great experience with guide-dogs, an experience which might be useful for the blind in certain regards.
My wife as well as I quite understand that it will perhaps be necessary to go in separate places at first. If so, I might be accompanied by a friend of ours who is of Danish nationality and so with her passport might travel wherever it would be necessary.
Please excuse me for not answering before this. I had to wait for the translation of my testimonials which were in Berlin at the time when your letter arrived. I hope to hear from you soon.
With kind regards to yourself as well as your brother and your sister-in-law
Vera follows this up with a letter written a day later echoing Hans’ gratitude:
…they [the children] are brave and reasonable little souls and they both are looking forward to the new life, and I trust they will soon get accustomed to the new surroundings and the English language which they are already studying here. I think the separation will be harder for me than for them, but I do hope I shall soon be able to follow them, as I have already got a passport and so all I want is only to be required by some family or institution as a household-help or for the education of children, or as a lady companion… Later on, perhaps, it would be possible to do some rhythmic work or to combine my faculties with my knowledge of the French and Italian languages. But for the moment I am told the only way to come to your country is by a domestic permit’.
News from the Jewish Blind Society
The Neumeyers’ hopes must have been raised – in vain as it turned out – by the Jewish Blind Society, based in Fordwych Road, London NW2. In February, the Society wrote two letters to Beatrice Paish. On 5 February it is recorded that the organisation will ‘probably be willing to apply for Mr. Neuberger [sic] & his wife’. Another note three days later confirms the receipt of the doctor’s certificate for Mr Neumeyer, but asking for certificates for the rest of the family and the birth dates of the children. This if followed by a very hopeful letter on 16 March to Beatrice Paish, giving a tantalising promise of what life would be like for the Neumeyers in the safety of England:
On 22 February we applied for permission for you and your husband to enter this country, and I hope the necessary visas will be granted by the Home Office very shortly, although I cannot guarantee anything, nor do I know how long it will take. Without wishing to raise your hopes too much, I would say that up to now they have not taken a very long time, but there is no chance of urging them forward, and we must just wait until they come through.
When you and your husband arrive here, I propose to send you both to the Royal School for the Blind, Leatherhead, Surrey. This is a big place in the country, and not very far from London You will be put up there in dormitories, and naturally, you and your husband will not be allowed to share the same room. When you are once here we shall see what we can do for you. Possibly you will be able to get a domestic post quite independent of this Society, and if your husband has been trained for any work, such as basket-making or brush-making, then doubtless we shall be able to find him a position in one of the workshops for the Blind. I will inform you as soon as I have heard from the Home Office, and will then give you whatever further information is necessary.
Mr Herbert M Harris
The final letter we have from the Society was sent on 22 March, confirming the receipt of the permit for ‘Mr & Mrs. Neumeyer from Munich’. But nothing ever came of it, and the whole thing simply fizzled out in the bureaucratic nightmare of those pre-war months.
More delay; ‘it will take about three months before the guarantees will be examined’
This letter concerns the transport of the children to England. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the air, and all sorts of guarantees are required for things to proceed. Happily it worked – due I am sure in no small measure to the Paishes, and on 11 May Ruth and Raimund left Germany on the Kindertransport for a new life with a new family in England.
14 March 1939
My dear Mrs. Paish!
Permit me to answer the letter addressed to my wife, that she sent me in order to give me the opportunity to get in touch with the headquarters of the different committees that are here in Berlin where I am staying for a short time. You know how grateful we are for the interest you take in our affairs and the sympathy you are showing us. It oppresses me very much to think that we are forced to make use of your time and your kindness, you may find some excuse for it in the extreme difficulty of our situation.
To-day I went to inform me at the central bureau for the emigration of non-Aryan Christian children, Pfarrer Grueber , Berlin Oranienburgerstr. 20. The reporter Frau Studienrat Draeger told me
- The transports are not altogether stopped but delayed on account of several difficulties
- Until now one had to give the guarantees to the Home Office if one intended to send the children privately, but it is quite possible that one has to address oneself now to the Inter-aid Committee (Bloomsbury House), that means that one has to give the guarantees now to the inter-aid committee. In that case – Mrs Draeger told me – the guarantees have to be given to Miss Gerstley Bloomsbury House who would pass it on to the Home Office, that would communicate with the bureau of Pfarrer Grueber. One has to assure a guarantee:
a) for the financial support
b) for the family that is going to take the children, and
c) for the school that the children are going to be sent to.
It will take about three months till the guarantees will be examined. In case that the papers would not yet be at the Inter-aid committee I should be very much obliged to you if you could have that done as soon as possible.
At the committee here nothing is known about children coming to England privately being treated differently by the government from those that go with transports. There are no difficulties with the luggage, as each thing is taxed and sealed at home.
You mention that your brother might have to take a smaller house and then would not be in the position to take the children. I am very happy that in case you intend to take Ruth, that is very kind of you. But it is necessary that another suitable home for our boy should be found this has to be settled before giving the guarantees to the Inter-aid committee or else his permit would be made uncertain. Perhaps your brother might give the committee the assurance of taking the children to make things easier and meanwhile one could try to find another home for Raimund. Unfortunately we have scarcely any friends in England so that we cannot do much, would you have the great kindness to try if you can find somebody among your friends who could be of help. I’m sure you’ll understand, dear Mrs. Paish, how we feel about it, it’s so hard for the children to leave their parents and everything and it would be such a comfort for them if they could remain together or at least not too far apart. I feel so depressed about giving you so much trouble but all of this is of such importance for us and the children, so please pardon me.
Ever so many thanks for all you kindness and please give our thanks to Lady Simon and Miss Zimmern and to your brother.
Believe me, dear Mrs. Paish, to be
This is followed up on 20 March 1939. Vera and Hans are still expecting to come, but nothing ever came of it:
Dear Mrs Paish
I have to thank you for three letters which you wrote to us. I am so sorry to cause you so much trouble just at a time where you are more than usually occupied because of your maid’s illness. We are absolutely convinced that everything that can be done has been done by you, and that under these circumstances it is useless at present to urge the Interaid to hurry.
We are very glad than our children will stay together in your brother’s family, after all.
I am sending you a copy of a letter which I got from the Jewish Society three days ago. You will see that their plans are not so favourable as the informations they gave to you, the latter being certainly preferable for us as a future perspective.
However, we share your and your husband’s opinion that the most important thing is to come, and that everything else will be settled afterwards.
In the meantime we must be patient.
With best greetings from us all,
We have a large number of letters in German written to Ruth and Raimund from May 1939 until the end of the year. Thereafter, communications were restricted to much shorter Red Cross messages (the originals of which are now in the Imperial War Museum), which say very little. More about these on a future post.