While my grandparents Hans and Vera Neumeyer died in Nazi camps, all of Vera’s siblings survived the war. Hans’ side of the family were 100 percent Jewish but even his sister managed to escape shortly before the outbreak of war.
Vera’s mother was not Jewish so Vera herself would probably have been safe. During the early 1940s she divorced Hans but this was too late to save her.
Here are the stories of Hans’ and Vera’s sisters and brothers, many recollected by my uncle Raymond Newland (Raimund Neumeyer) and transcribed in the 1990s by his son Tobias, and with certain other details fleshed out by my brother Stephen and by Raymond’s wife Ingrid. For Hans and particularly Vera they are scenarios of what might have been. They had contacts in England and Switzerland they could have used. They just didn’t think it could happen to them, until it was too late.
Betty Braun (1881-1962)
Hans Neumeyer’s sister Betty Braun lived at Kellenstrasse 8 (now Lazarett Strasse) in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, where the Neumeyer family visited many times. She took the easterly route to salvation, as late as 1939, when she boarded a train through Poland and then travelled on the very last (so it’s reputed) Trans-Siberian train out. Fortuitously she was in time to catch the very last ship from Shanghai to South America, after she’d sent the Neumeyers several letters from Shanghai. The four that survive, and are illustrated here, are addressed to Vera and dated between August and November 1939; the one shown here top left is actually postmarked 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out. They were passed on to Ruth some years after the war when a large number of items kept by friends were sent over.
Her son Gustav (1901-64) ran a bus company for many years in Manzales and Cali in Columbia, and she joined him. Known as Gustl, he had emigrated on 26 June 1937, officially for one year, but he did not return to Germany and his German nationality was cancelled by court order in 1939.
Betty moved back to Munich after the war and visited our family in Sydenham on several occasions in the 1950s. She died in 1962. I have no memory of her, but her photos show a strong resemblance to her brother Hans.
Gustav had five children; his daughter, also called Betty Braun, first made contact with our family in the 1990s and visited my parents in Sydenham with her son. She now lives in Alicante.
Irma Kuhn (born Irma Neumeyer; 1874-1943)
Hans’ older sister is a mystery and unfortunately I never asked Ruth about her. She may be one of several unnamed people in the family photo album that Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in 1939. Irma was widowed at the age of 50 when her husband Heinrich died in 1924, and paid some visits to the Neumeyers in Dachau in the years that followed, and Raimund could remember her reading them bedtime stories. When World War II broke out, she was living in an old people’s home in Hermann-Schmidt Strasse in Munich.
The day after Hans was transported to Theresienstadt, Irma was put on the train to the same place: 6 June 1942. She survived eleven months there, dying on 14 May the following year. We do not know if she ever saw her brother while in Theresienstadt.
Nathan Neumeyer (1843-1923) and Frieda Neumeyer (1851-1915), the parents of Hans, Irma and Betty, also had a child called Eugen who died in childhood.
Dora Böse (born Dora Ephraim; later Dora Schweig; 1885-1962)
Dora seems to have been the Neumeyers’ main contact point during the war. When Vera sent the Red Cross message that she was ‘going on a journey’ (in other words, being deported) she requested that family members should stay in touch with Dora. I assume that the letter Vera got passed on from the train on her final journey to the concentration camp was sent to Dora, as were the testimonies of Dr Hirschberg who described meetings with Hans Neumeyer and Martin Ephraim in Theresienstadt. (See earlier posts on this blog for the full stories.) Dora circulated copies of these to the family and deposited Dr Hirschberg’s testimonies with the post-war authorities.
My mother Ruth kept closely in contact with her, and sent her food parcels after the war. Letters from her express gratitude as at one stage they hadn’t even had potatoes for months: the Russians, she said, were taking all the produce.
Marianne (‘Janni’) Bisi (born Marianne Ephraim; 1887-1972)
Tante Janni, as everyone (even non-relations) knew her, is the only one of the siblings I can remember in person. She was supremely charismatic: clever, vivacious, an idealist, a vegetarian (on principle: she believed the world’s food problems could be solved if everyone became vegetarian) and a pacifist. When she stayed with us in Sydenham back in the 1960s, she would walk down the street beaming at complete strangers and stopping for a chat. The elderly, behatted Betterware door-to-door salesman never sold us anything but always made a point of visiting our house when Tante Janni was staying. I’d come home from school to find the two of them seated out in the front porch immersed in an hour-long (or perhaps even longer) chat. I don’t think any Betterware commodities ever changed hands between them either.
She married Luigi Bisi, an Italian count and architect, in the 1920s, and they had a preposterously extravagant wedding, with all the guests going up in hot-air balloons. It wasn’t the most comfortable of family set-ups: his brother was a friend of Mussolini. She later separated from him. He had made his housekeeper pregnant and wanted to marry her instead; bizarrely he went to the Pope to obtain a divorce, but we don’t know if this action was successful.
During the war she had a close affair with a man called Luderitz, who gave her a safe home; she had worked as a housekeeper during the war with the family in Bad Berka, Thuringia. She wasn’t quite Jewish enough to be deported but her cohabiting and the visits from the Ephraim and Neumeyer families had to be kept very quiet in the climate of fear that prevailed. In particular, his daughter Sigrid (Siggy) faced an awkward time at school and didn’t confide to anyone what was going on at home. She never had an easy relationship with Janni thereafter, but lived near her in Berlin as a fostered daughter and spent her last years in Cambridge until her death in 1996.
After the war Janni lived in Zehlendorf in Berlin. At a time when air travel was for the privileged few, she got many free flights through her son Valerio, who worked for Alitalia. He had been a Prisoner of War in north Africa for most of the war and for some time thereafter.
Her daughter Serena (1912-c.1995) was raped by Russian soldiers in 1945 and never married (we don’t think she had any relationships either). As compensation for her misfortune, she was given a job at the US Servicemen’s Club in Berlin, decorating the rooms for special events.
Fritz Herbert Everett (born Fritz Herbert Ephraim; 1891-1950)
Even by the standards of the rest of the family, the mysterious Herbert seems to have led a colourful life.
He certainly lived in style. His first wife Pina (later Pina Talamonia) owned a villa on Capri which the Neumeyers visited in 1934. The Berlin-based Expressionist painter Walter Gramatté (later to be banned by the Nazis as a decadent artist) painted a portrait of one Pina Ephraim in 1919; given the Ephraims’ interest in supporting the arts, could this be the same person?
His father, Martin Ephraim, was passionate about cars, and Herbert developed the interest further, becoming a professional racing-car driver for Opel and for a while becoming the German racing champion. At one race a banner read ‘Ephraim für Deutschland’. Very ironic, in retrospect.
He left Germany in 1931, so escaped the years under the Nazis completely, emigrating with his third wife to America, where he changed his surname to Everett.
He sent multiple invitations to his father Martin urging him to come to America but according to Dora Martin had never wanted to leave his beloved homeland. ‘I was born here. I will die here too,’ was his constant response.
After the war, he sent over some secondhand children’s clothes to my mother, but there was little news from him. Raimund Neumeyer (who had by then changed his name to Raymond Newland) managed to contact Herbert through the British Consulate in New York. Herbert promised to get in touch but the family never heard from him again. He died soon after in, we think, 1950.