I’ve recently come across letters sent from my mother Ruth’s friends in the town of Dachau in 1946. By then, Ruth had spent seven years in England having escaped with her brother Raimund on the Kindertransport.
The friends were the Steurer family. Ruth spoke to me of them with great affection, saying they were tremendously kind to her family. They ran a grocery, and helped the Neumeyers a lot during the dark days of the Third Reich. Ruth said they would leave out food in fields where prisoners from the concentration camp were doing forced labour. I never met them myself, but remember in 1966 waiting in the street in Dachau with my brother Nic while my parents went into the Steurer shop and resumed contact. After about an hour they came out laden with goodies proffered by the Steurers.
The letters reveal a huge affection for the Neumeyers and revulsion of what happened during the Nazi rule. Below I’ve extracted the gist of what the letters say. Huge thanks to Eva Marschan-Hayes for translating them for me.
The family members were Frau and Herr Steurer, and their daughters Anni (who seems to have been an invalid) and Mathilde (‘Hilde’).
‘It’s not our fault what happened’: 12 January 1946 to Raymond from Frau Steurer
This letter seems to have been the first one sent by the Steurers after they discovered that Raymond and Ruth were still alive. Frau Steurer is very concerned that a woman called Frau Meier has taken over the Neumeyer’s family home that was taken from them by the Nazis, and desperately wants Raimund and Ruth to come back (perhaps to live there permanently) and sort things out in Dachau.
Frau Steurer mentions that someone has some possessions from the Neumeyers; these may have been some of the items that were sent over after the war (including books, music scores, a wooden sculpture of St Francis and, bizarrely, an electric coffee pot – which is entirely useless but which stands on our kitchen shelf as a memento).
I remember you Raimund as such a very lovely boy, and we all look forward to seeing you back. Mathilde and Anni speak a lot about you . Anni who was such a weak child is seriously ill. She went to Munich to look for Frau Scharl and Frau Meikel, but their houses were bombed out and destroyed. I found both – Frau Meikel through the police. Frau Scharl told me there was another woman who has things from your mother [Vera] and they kept them and the people are unharmed.
You should get compensation for your house. Frau Meier is now living in the [Neumeyer] house after taking it over from your parents. She has turned your house into a Pensionat/guesthouse out of the house. Raimund, you must come over as soon as possible to see what’s happening, to sort out everything here – you had to lose your parents for this! God will reward you!
We are very happy that you are safe as we were all constantly worrying about you. I haven’t had time to write to Ruth yet. We just wish you would both move back to Dachau.
The family Broschart, and Annie, are always looking forward to see you. Please come back to your parents’ house.
It’s not our fault what happened – we were never on the Nazis’ side. We hated them. They were criminals and murderers. If they had won the war we would have suffered the same fate as your parents had. But the good Lord wanted it otherwise, and he is fair. Everything will get better eventually.
I have been looking for Alois Weiner, who was in Theresienstadt. He was a good friend of your lovely Mum. If you don’t come to see us, I’ll write to you and explain what happened to Alois.
Have you and Ruth pictures of your lovely Christmas plays? I kept all mine. When you come I will get them all out so you can remember your youth. It’s such a shame that there was such a sad ending. You really had a good mother. She really saved your life.
Thousands of children fell into the hands of these murderers and the same could have happened to you. But your good Mum had such a strong sense of caring instilled in her for you lovely children – and she rescued you.
The important thing was that her children got away and no one could get them any longer. And nobody knew what happened to people in the concentration camp, or how they were cared for.
Two possible photos of the Steurer children?
Ruth and Raimund’s childhood was a happy one before the Nazis came to power in 1933. Their mother Vera organised plays performed at home and ran eurythmy classes for children. The girls on the extreme left and extreme right resemble to some extent the grown women in the 1953 picture of the Steurers at the start of this blog post. Could that be Anni on the left and Hilde on the right? Then there’s a 1935 photo of the Evangelische Schule in Dachau (below) – Ruth is in the back row, fifth from the right; Raimund is in a checked jacket in the second row, second from the right. It looks like that could be Anni in the second row, fourth from the left, and her sister Hilde to the right of her.
After so many long years we finally get a message from you two lovely playmates! My happiness I can’t describe! How often we talked about you and how you are, and if we’d ever see each other again. We spent so many wonderful hours together at your house. To think that your lovely parents were killed by those beastly SS men! You weep to the skies when you think of how many people died. But now lovely Raimund, keep your spirits up and trust in God. Please send lots of greetings to Ruth. Maybe you have a little photo you could send me? It would make me very happy. Until our happy reunion, hearty greetings!
‘Even parents became scared of their own children… these murderers would kill us all’: 27 April 1946 Frau Steurer to Ruth
…No one could know that there were so many devilish people among us. It was mostly those people who did not know there is a God in Heaven. Unfortunately through their brutality even good-hearted people got sucked in. We now know that these people were suffering psychologically, but others became cold hearted. You had to be very careful what you said because there were spies everywhere.
Anyone might end up in a concentration camp – you didn’t have to do a lot to get in there. Even parents became scared of their own children.
How often we heard we mustn’t win the war because otherwise these murderers would kill us all.
Others said when the war ends and these devilish people get the upper hand then there would be no justice any more.
Yes, dear, lovely Ruth, there is justice. God has rescued us from these beasts. It took a long time for our deliverance. During that time the murderers killed so many people and brought suffering to us all.
Innocent people suffered too. Munich is in ruins – including Thorwaldstrasse where you lived. A horrible picture: many deaths and homelessness. Many have lost hope and are desperate. You can’t believe they’ll ever rebuild it.
Dachau was bombed three times but only on one side. The Papendel factory and some houses were bombed. Frau Wirsching’s house survived. Near your parents’ house many bombs fell – 30 houses were hit but have already been repaired. But your house stayed intact. They’ve built a garage beside it. Frau Meier made it into a guesthouse.
I have heard several times that these properties will be returned to the concentration camp prisoners or to their families.
I haven’t seen you, Ruth, for such a long time – now you will have grown up! I cannot express how happy we are. Anni and Hilde were shouting and crying at the same time – it was like post had arrived from heaven.
Raimund wrote to us three times. Now thank goodness we are allowed to write abroad. He wrote he would probably come in the middle of March and would visit us, but hasn’t come yet.
Alois Weiner of Moosburg was with his father in Theresienstadt. Raimund must come and speak to Herr Weiner because he has lots of things to say about your good mother. From your grandfather he rescued a clock, some photos and a guest book – and I want to give them to Raimund. I have two little boxes of money from your mother, and have paid them in at the bank in your names.
Thank you for the photos. You look like a mirror image of your mum. How lovely it would be if you could come to visit us!
Please don’t blame all the Germans! We couldn’t do anything – we took no part in what happened. There are still lots of good people. Please write soon!