Hans’ plea after Kristallnacht

The mass pogroms across Nazi Germany on the night of 9/10 November 1938 did not happen in Dachau town. There were few Jewish people living in town – a typed list of twelve families with their addresses summed up what the authorities deemed the complete catalogue of who should be removed.

No way out, but “that’s your problem”

One of those Jews on the list was Johanna Jaffe, who lived in Taubenbergstrasse in Dachau and had worked as a private secretary for two professional artists at a time when Dachau was a renowned artists’ colony. Her story is typical of how all twelve households would have been treated that night. She recalled a knock on the door shortly before midnight. She opened the door to find two men in brown SA uniforms, who said ‘Heil Hitler’ and read a document to her, saying that if she did not leave her house before sunrise she could reckon with imprisonment. She asked how she could do that at such short notice, given that there was no way out of Dachau at that time of night. They replied “That’s your problem.” She signed the document and went upstairs to dress and pack a suitcase with all her money and jewellery. A girl from the Wallachs – another Jewish family from town –  came round and offered her a lift  to Munich, where she spent the rest of the night. Some members of both families perished under the Nazis, though some managed to escape to a new life in England.

For my mother’s family, the Neumeyers, the situation was slightly different in that Hans was away in Berlin at the time, learning to make flutes. So it was wife Vera and their children Ruth and Raimund who had to respond to that fateful knock on the door – and leave before sunrise.

Click here to listen to Ruth describing how they were forced to leave their house after Kristallnacht.

 

Hans’ plea to the Gestapo

After the family’s departure to Munich, Hans wrote a letter to the Gestapo requesting access to his house. The Nazis complied and Ruth later accompanied him to the house to sort out some matters. He no longer had a guide dog – Jews were not allowed to own them. (His last two guide dogs had been Amsi – buried in the garden; a tombstone was installed for the purpose – and Thea). Getting around was difficult, for any Jew, let alone a blind one.

That was the last time Hans ever visited his home. Ruth did not see it again until 1952.

I do not have a copy of the letter, but it is recorded in this English translation in Hans-Günter Richardi’s book Dachau: A Guide to its Contemporary History:

According to decree given  to my wife during my absence on the evening of November 10 at about 8 PM, my wife and my two children were ordered to leave my house in Dachau at Hindenburgstrasse 10,  on November 11 by 5:45 AM at the latest, under the threat of imprisonment. This order was issued by three men with Party IDs, and they declared specifically that the decree been issued by a Sondergruppe (special police commission). The Kreiseleitung in Dachau  confirmed the accuracy of the decree. My wife was allowed to take clothing and undergarments for herself and the children with her, but since she was alone, she was  able only to pack the barest necessities for the children. My family left the apartment and that town at five in the morning and I have been told that the apartment was later sealed by the police.

I am turning to the Munich Gestapo with the humble request that I be allowed to return to my house, inhabited by me and my family, for a few days, for the following reasons:

1 To remove my certificates and documents, which I need urgently in order to continue the process of applying to immigration, as well as a series of written material and books in braille, which I depend on owing to my blindness.

2  To submit the documents requested by the Dachau tax office to determine the Jewish property tax, as indicated in the enclosed letter.

3 To pick up winter clothing for myself and my wife.

In the spring of 1938 I asked to Munich real estate agents sell my house, and I declare myself willing to accelerate the sale process. Therefore, I asked for permission to return temporarily to complete the sale of house.

In this connection, I ask that the police seal be removed or that I be allowed to remove it myself.

the house 1926

Vera and Ruth on the steps of the house, 1926

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Current-day view of the house, which is now divided into flats, with new houses built on part of the back garden (photo: Jürgen Müller-Hohagen, who lives in one of the new houses and whom I had the pleasure of meeting last year).

Dachau house Vera and Wolfgang's rose

Vera Gunkel, one of our German relatives from Dresden, and her husband Wolfgang, visited the house in Dachau in August 2017 and placed this rose on the Stolpersteine that commemorate the Neumeyers and their lodger Julius Kohn (‘Onki’, who died in Auschwitz). They also went into the house and spoke to one of the residents of the apartments within – they found a copy of the historic black and white photo shown above hangs on a wall.

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A holiday away from hell: a poignant picture of normality, 1938

Ruth with Alpine cattle
In 1938 life was getting increasingly difficult for my mother’s family in Dachau, with all the disadvantages attached to those deemed Jewish in Nazi Germany.  She and her brother Raimund were forced out of school in 1938. Their father Hans had already lost his job, and their mother found a little work to try to make ends meet. Yet they were determined to put a positive slant on things: at a time when Vera Neumeyer saw the family’s world coming to an  end, she rather wonderfully took the decision to spend a lot of their dwindling cash on holidays. In 1938 they travelled to the Austrian Alps and to northern  Italy. A few months later they were ordered to leave their house in Dachau during Kristallnacht and moved into an attic somewhere in Munich.

I don’t all the details of where they went on holiday, but we have plenty of photos stuffed into the album that her children Ruth and Raimund brought with them on the Kindertransport to England the following year.

I’ve just come across a couple of walking maps in the family archive of Austria, including one of the Kaisergebirge near Innsbruck, published in 1938.

Neumeyers walking maps of Austria

In Italy they visited Sienna and Florence as well as some other cities. In the 1980s Ruth and her husband Ronald took a holiday in northern Italy and found a hotel they’d stayed at on that trip. They explained the earlier visit to the hotel staff, who produced the visitors’ book from 1938 and found the Neumeyers’ signatures.

So here is a selection of photos and a couple of walking maps from those albums. Most speak for themselves. They give a poignant picture of normality.

These photos from Italy feature visits to Florence, Siena, Bolzano and the seaside resort of Riccione:

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The holiday in Austria is evoked by these seemingly carefree images, where the Neumeyers were determinedly putting their troubles beneath the surface:

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Raimund Neumeyer’s story

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Throughout his life my uncle, Raymond Newland (born as Raimund Neumeyer), was haunted by the trauma of the Holocaust and the upheaval it caused his family.

He and his elder sister (my mother) Ruth were extremely close throughout their lives and only 15 months separated them in age. Yet their outlook and personalities were very different. Ruth I tend to remember as practical-minded and always seeing the positive side of everything. She seems to have grown up very quickly on leaving Germany and put a lot of the angst of those Holocaust years behind her, though I believe a lot simmered beneath the surface; she felt angry with her parents for failing to organise their own exit from Nazi Germany.  Raymond on the other hand was intellectual and intense. He acutely felt the hurt caused to his parents, and throughout his life felt guilty that he had escaped while his parents stayed behind. Raymond was a very young 14 when they arrived in England on the Kindertransport in May 1939. When the two siblings were separated some months later, he missed Ruth enormously.

Raymond and Ruth had learnt English from their mother, Vera. They both would escort their blind father when he was no longer allowed to have a guide dog, and Raymond’s widow Ingrid tells me that these little excursions were occasions he always sought to make the most of. He was hugely fond of his parents, in equal measures (equal being a hallmark of Raymond’s overwhelming fairness). He helped  Hans with braille and took music theory lessons from him, while Vera taught him piano. I always remember him as someone with an acute musical ear who liked improvising on the piano.

English schooling and flight from the farm: 1939-43

Raymond had a thirst for learning, but it wasn’t satisfied by the dismal standard of education he received at school in Dachau. In England, it was a different matter during his brief period at the private Strodes School in Egham. There he found a warm welcome among both teachers and pupils and he was never berated for being German. But within a few months circumstances force him to move on, first to a different family in Hanger Hill and then to work on a training farm in Hambledon in Buckinghamshire, as part of a scheme called ‘British Boys for British Farms’. Despite that name tag, all the other boys apart from one were foreigners.

registration document with photo page

Raymond’s registration document: the address shoown on 11 May 1939 (the day he and Ruth arrived from Germany) is The Lodge, Hanger Hill, Weybridge. As an ‘enemy  alien’ he was obliged to re-register each time he changed his address.

This life in  the country didn’t suit him one bit, and he ran away from the farm, much to the horror of Lady Simon, his sponsor. He fled on a bicycle, but was picked up by a policeman for having no lights. The policeman took him to his house, where his wife fed him, then the policeman lent Raymond a cycle light and told him to return to Birmingham. That act of kindness may have instilled Raymond’s high respect for the police.

He returned to Weybridge (1940-41) and found work in a radio shop, but in May 1941 the Refugee Committee required him to move to Birmingham and work in the machine shop of the Birmingham  Bicycle Company in Chiseland Street until December 1943, putting ball bearings into cycle mechanisms. He was a lot happier there, and found the company genial. Lunch of tea, bread and dripping was consumed communally on a heap of old tyres. The foreman, Mr Deedes, was according to Raymond a ‘true gentleman’. Nevertheless Raymond desperately wanted to study instead, and spent his Saturdays studying hard for qualifications to compensate the yawning holes in his schooling.

Return to Germany with the British army

As an ‘enemy alien’ Raymond was restricted to certain types of employment. At the end of 1943 he joined the British army as soon as he was eighteen, as a volunteer. He was bound initially for Burma but on his request was permitted to go to Germany.

registration card p14-15

The entry in red ink here on the left-hand page in Raymond’s registration document states ‘Exempt from Registration’, marking the date he joined the British army. This was the first time he felt accepted by his adopted country.

As soon as he joined he was given a telephone book and ordered to look through it and choose a new surname: if he had been caught on enemy soil with a German name it would have effectively been a death sentence. It was then that he changed his name from Raimund Neumeyer to Raymond Newland. He trained with the Shropshire Light Infantry during early 1944 and would have joined the D-Day landings were he not struck down by scarlet fever: that may have saved his life, for his unit was badly hit when landing in France. After that he always made a special point of remembering his colleagues on Remembrance Day.

In February 1945 he transferred to the Intelligence Corps in Brussels and Paris, then from October that year until August 1947 he worked as an interpreter for the Special Branch of the Military Police in Germany – including Bremen, Hamburg, Bad Oeynhausen, Goslar, Verden and Lüneburg. He said later on that he felt desperately lonely on VE Day.

Raymond with military police 88 SIS Hamburg spring 1947

Raymond (front row, first on the left) with his Military Police special investigation section, in Germany

Re-encountering Dachau in 1946

The army discouraged soldiers from travelling by themselves in Germany, but in 1946 Raymond managed to sneak away and pay a visit to Dachau. There he met the Steurers, who had been so friendly to his family, and who are described in an earlier post in this blog, and met up with the Wirschings, the family who lived in the Pollnhof in Dachau; Aranka and Otto Wirsching were artists, and their son Anselm was a vet who served in the German army and was held as a prisoner of war in Egypt up to 1947. I’ve recently found a stash of letters from Anselm to my mother, written from that POW camp during 1946 and 1947 and subsequently when he was back home in Dachau, and have yet to translate them – more to come, no doubt, on that in this blog.

Raymond went to the Neumeyer house for the first time since they were thrown out from it after Kristallnacht in 1938. The same tenant, who had been very unfriendly to the family, was still living in the basement and was alarmed to see Raymond.

Still furious at what had been done to his parents, Raymond found the Burgomeister of Dachau, Karl Dobler, SS-Sturmbannführer, who had thrown the family out of their house eight years earlier, and reported him to the authorities. Raymond wanted to appear in the court case but was barred from so doing, and gave a written statement instead. Justice won the day, and  the Burgomeister to lost his job. I have yet to find out what happened to Dobler subsequently.

Dobler denazification letter 1946

Raymond’s statement against Herr Dobler, the Burgomeister of Dachau, identifying him as the person who ordered the Neumeyers out of their house on 9 November 1938. Here he identifies Dobler as responsible for the expulsions of all Jewish families from the district of Dachau. ‘This was Herr Dobler’s own initiative. He gave each family the expulsion order, threatening them with imprisonment if the order was not followed. Dobler was a zealous Nazi in his entirety. For this reason he should be kept under constant observation and not given a position of public responsibility.’

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It must have been a haunting experience for Raymond to see the wreckage of postwar Germany. Photos from the family archive include him at Belsen concentration camp.

Raymond had a sense of adventure, and interest in travel, places and cultures. My earliest memories of him were of a family picnic somewhere in a forest near Canterbury, where we ended up spooning water out of a puddle to feed the boiled-over radiator of his Standard 10. A lot of these excursions were spur of the moment, inspired by Raymond’s love of spontaneity.

He loved nothing better than a really good argument, not because he wanted a fight but because he loved testing out ideas and saw interaction with other people as the best way to do this.

I first knew him as a typical bachelor but from this it was fascinating to watch his transformation into the caring and loving family man he became. In particular I have never forgotten my first trip across London in 1964 to visit Raymond and Ingrid in their newly acquired house in St Albans. His pride of ownership, and his commitment to setting up home, was palpable. Indeed he expressed his own sense of wonderment (with just a tiny trace of Raymondish irony) at having become a member of the ‘semi-detached class’.

Raymond was above all a man who was brilliantly perceptive of his own life, its ups and downs, and who in turn touched many others.

Stephen Locke (my brother), talking about Raymond at his funeral in 2011

The LSE and family life

Raymond’s career took a happier turn after being demobbed in 1947, when he resumed his studies and gained a place at the London School of Economics. He later took up teaching: while a teacher at Scarborough in 1952 he was called up for more military training and made a sergeant. He was not at all used to giving orders to other soldiers, and later cheerfully admitted he was hopeless at it, even falling flat on his face while attempting to salute others, but despite his many mishaps he was much liked by comrades. He now identified himself as British but retained a certain fairness to Germany.

Later he led ski groups for Erna Low holidays.

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He married Ingrid Netzbandt in 1963. She had come to our family as a language student. Her father was a high-ranking officer in the German Navy, and was Chief of Staff on the Bismark when it sank. His first wife was half Jewish; she died but had four children, who would barred from certain jobs in Nazi Germany.

Raymond and Ingrid lived in St Albans and had two sons: Tobias (born 1966) and Oliver (1969-88). While suffering dementia in his final years he repeatedly thought back to his Dachau childhood. He died in 2011. Ingrid still lives in the family house in St Albans.

It was a very happy marriage and also an extraordinary one – my mother coming from a German naval family and my father coming from a family persecuted by the Nazis. But I suppose looking back on it, it was a living and continuing example of reconciliation from the deep wounds inflicted on both of them by the Second World War.

Tobias Newland, speaking at Raymond’s funeral in 2011

Dora’s testimony: dreading the knock on the door

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Dora in 1938

My great aunt Dora Böse (‘Tante Dodo’) spent the war years in Dresden and survived. She died in 1962, still in Dresden in what was then East Germany (the DDR). I’ve recently translated a document she wrote for some official purpose in 1949. I assume it was done for the Communist authorities to prove herself as a victim of the Holocaust.

Some of it covers familiar ground but there’s quite a bit that is new to me, particularly the day-to-day stress and uncertainty she and the family suffered.

Here it is, with the German version and my translation below, and my commentary paragraph-by-paragraph:

Status: first degree Mischling

“Meine Erlebnisse in den Jahren der Nazizeit sind keine politischen; sie sind rassischer Art. Meine Mutter war Christin, meine Vater Jude; ich selbst galt also nach der Gesestzen der Nazizeit, den sogennanten ‘Nürnberger Gesetzen’, als Mischling 1 Grades.

My experiences in the years of the Nazi period are racial rather than political. My mother was a Christian, my father a Jew; I was therefore, according to the laws of Nazism, the so-called ‘Nuremberg laws,’ as a Mischling of the first degree.”

So Mischling (mixed race, part Jew) of the first degree would have applied to her siblings Herbert, Marianne and Vera. Only Vera (my grandmother) was ever deported and she was the only one to perish in the Holocaust, due to her marriage to a Jew.

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Dora (right) with her sister Marianne in Berlin in 1947.

After Kristallnacht: living on the edge

“Im März 1938 zogen wir von der Strehlenerstrasse hier heraus; gleich am 2 Tage unseres Einzuges erschien Polizei vom hiesigen Revier, verhörte uns, warum wir hierher gezogen waren etc und sagte als Abschluss, dass wir doch wohl genau wüssten, wie wir uns verhalten hätten. Am Abend des 9 November 1938, klopfte um 23 Uhr Polizei und SS stark an unsere Flurtür; eine Haussuchung nach Waffen fand statt; erfolgles Seit diesem Abend waren wir immer erschrecken bei jedem Klingeln, bei jedem Klopfen; in den folgen den Jahre bis 1945 wurde ich alle paar Monate zur Gestapo bestellt und verhört, befragt; die Gründen bleben mir unbekannt; im Haus und in der Nachbarschaft wurde immer wieder nachgefragt, ob man nichts Nachteiliges über uns zu berichten wüsste; im Oktober 1944 erhielt ich Order für Sonntag früh um 7 zu Aufraumungsarbeiten nach dem Luftangriff in der Wettingerstrasse; ich ging hin, habe mich aber dort geweigert die Arbeiten auszuführen, da ja meine Söhne zum Heeresdienst eingezogen waren; man liess mich auch gehen.

In March 1938 we moved here from Strehlenstrasse; straight away on the second day of our arrival the local police appeared and interrogated us about the reasons for our moving here,  etc, and said as a parting gesture that we should jolly well know what was in store for us. On the evening of November 9 at 11 o’clock, 1938, the police and the SS knocked fiercely  at our door. A search for weapons took place. After that we were frightened every time someone knocked or rang at the door. From then until 1945 I was picked up by the Gestapo every few months and interrogated, for reasons unknown to me. In the house and in the neighbourhood, they kept asking everybody if they had any prejudicial information to report about us. In October 1944 I received orders for Sunday morning at 7 am to help clear up after the air attack in Wettingerstrasse; I went there, but I refused to carry out the work, and since my sons had entered army service; they let me go.”

The date she refers to, November 9 1938, was Kristallnacht when numerous pogroms took place against Jews, as windows were smashed, books burned and Jews beaten up. So Dora escaped persecution but life was thoroughly uncomfortable and uncertain.

“As they were making our life hell, we just had to try to defend ourselves”

“Unsere Lebensmittelkarten erhielten wir nicht wie die anderen Leute ins Haus gebracht, sondern mussten sie uns in der Stadt auf einem Amt persönlich abholen, da man Arien nicht zumuten könne, eine Mischlingshaushalt zu betreten. Im Mai 1944 fuhr ich nach Bayern zu einer Haushaltstätigkeit in der Pension von Freunden; die Liebensmittel Kartenabmeldung musste auf ‘unserm’ Amt geschehen; man schrieb mir dort hinein ‘Mischling 1 Grades’!  Ich wusste, dass ich mit dieser Karte in der kleinen Stadt in Bayern nie und nimmer eine Lebensmittelkartenanmeldung erhalten hätte, und habe stillsehweigend  diesen Passus ausradiert und bei Blickkehr nach hier es wieder hinzugefügt; ich tat das nicht gern, aber, wenn man uns das Leben zur Hölle machte, musste man versuchen sich zu wehren.  

Ich will noch hinzufügen, dass alle Wege und Bestellungen zu Ämtern immer mit unverschämten Schmähungen verbunden waren. Meine älteste Tochter aus meine 1 Ehe mit einem Juden, der 1913 starb, galt als Jüdin, da sie 3 jüdische Grosselternteile hatte; sie war seit Juli 1935 in Leuben mit einem Former  verheiratet; sie musste jahrelang unter sehr unangenehmen Bedingungen in der Kartonagenfgabrik arbeiten und wurde in dieser Zeit grundlos 10 Tage im Polizeipräsidium eingesperrt; für den 16 Februar 1945 war sie zum Abtransporrt nach Th bestellt; nur  der Luftangriff vom 13 und 14 Februar  verhinderte das. Meine jüngere Tochter war von Beruf Buchhändlerin; im Jahre 1935 musste sie diesen Beruf auf Befehl aufgeben.

We did not have our ration cards delivered to the house like other people – these had to be picked up in the city from an office in person, since you could not expect Aryans to enter a Mischling house. In May 1944 I went to Bavaria to do housework at a friends’ pension. It was mandatory to report with one’s ration cards at the designated office: they recorded me as a Mischling of the first degree. I knew that with this card in the little town in Bavaria I would never have received my rations, so I surreptitiously crossed that description out and reinstated it when I got back home – I didn’t feel at all comfortable doing that, but as they were making our life hell, we just had to try to defend ourselves.

I would like to emphasise that all contacts with officialdom were associated with shameless abuse. My eldest daughter from my marriage to a Jew who died in 1913 was considered a Jewess, having three Jewish grandparents. She had been married to a sheet-metal worker in Leuben since July 1935. She had had to work under very unpleasant conditions in a cardboard box factory for many years, and during this time was imprisoned without reason for 10 days in the police department. She was ordered to report for transportation to Theresienstadt on 16 February 1945. Only the air attack [the carpet bombing of Dresden by the Allies] on 13 and 14 February prevented this. My younger daughter was by  profession a bookkeeper. In 1935 she was ordered to give up her profession.”

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Erika and her husband Otto, on 3 September 1942

It was Erika who had to report for transportation to Theresienstadt, as she had married a Jew, Otto Schweig. The paper (shown below) was sent out by Dr Ernst Israel Neumark, a Jew working for the Nazis, on 12 February 1945. Then two days later the whole city was carpet bombed, and Neumark told Erika to lie low instead. The deportation never happened. (See my earlier post, Saved by the Bombs in Dresden.)

 

 

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Deportation order issued to Erika for 12 February 1945, two days before the city was carpet bombed by the Allies.

News from the rest of the family

“Und trotzdem mussten meine beiden Söhne im Osten als Soldaten kämpfen; der ältested fiel mit 23 J in Januar 1944; 4 Monat verheiratet. Mein Vater, 1860 geboren, wurde in den Jahren 1942/44 mehrfach zur Gestapo geholt und einmal 3 Wochen dort gehalten, aber immer wieder gelang es uns ihn zurück zu bekommen; am 8 Januar 1944 rief mich ein Telegramm nach Berlin; man hatte ihn aus seiner Pension in das jüdische Altersheim in der Innischen Strasse gebracht; bei meiner Ankunft war er schon fertig zum Abtransport nach Theresienstadt; er war vollkommen gesund zu dieser Zeit und sehr rüstig für sein Alter; erfolglos versuchte ich nochmal an allerlei Stellen ihn frei  zu bekommen.

Noch 2 mal  erhielten wir Karten meines Vaters aus Theresienstadt; im März 1944 die letzte auf Umwegen. 

Durch Berliner Freunde bekam ich im 1944 die Machricht ,dass er am 5 April infolge der Entbehrungen, Hunger und Kälte gestorben sei; amtlicher seits hat man nie nötig gefunden, seine nächsten Angehörigen zu benachrichtigen.

In spite of all this, my two sons had to fight as soldiers in the East. The elder [Gernot] perished at the age of 23 in January 1944; he had been married 4 months. My father [Martin Ephraim], born in 1860, was repeatedly taken to the Gestapo in 1942-44 and held there for three weeks, but again and again we managed to get him back. On January 8, 1944, a telegram called me to Berlin. He had been taken from his pension to the Jewish retirement home in the Innstrasse. On my arrival he was ready for transport to Theresienstadt. He was perfectly healthy at this time, and very alert for his age; I tried unsuccessfully from office to office to try and get him free again.

Just twice again we received cards from my father from Theresienstadt, the last in March 1944 by a circuitous route.

Through Berlin friends in 1944 I received the message that he died on the 5th of April, due to deprivation, hunger, and cold; it was not deemed necessary by the authorities to send an official notification to his immediate family.”

We know that her son Gernot (‘Notti’) perished on in action fighting for the Germans near Kirovograd in the Ukraine. Her father Martin Ephraim had his cherished fountain pen which while imprisoned in Theresienstadt he intended  to pass on to Gernot, but it ended up in the wrong hands and the prisoner who took possession of it was lucky to escape from the one train out of  the camp to safety in Switzerland. See the subhead The Lost Pen and the Salvation Train (midway through the piece on Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt).

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Wartime postcard to Erika at Lilienthal Strasse 8, Dresden. It is from her father Martin Ephraim, writing from the notorious ‘model’ Nazi camp at Theresienstadt.

The failure to save Vera

“Meine jüngste Schwester war mit einem Musiker, einem blinden Juden, verheiratet; zuerst nahmen man ihnen ihr Häuschen; im Mai 1939 schickten sie ihre Kinder mit einem Transport nach England, um sie zu retten; im Juni 1942 wurde mein blinder Schwager, aber ein sonst  kerngesunder Mann, nach Theresienstadt geschafft; nach 2 Jahren Dortsein starb er an Tuberkulose.

Unterdessen hatte ich mich an den Minister des Inneren gewandt, um meiene Schwester zu retten, da sie ja ihrer Abstammung nach garnicht Jüdin war; “man versprach den Fall zu prüfen”. Aber schon im Juli 1942 rief mich ein Telegramm nach München, da sie in grösster Gefahr schwebe, sie sei schon in ein Lager gebracht und ihr Abtransport nach Polen stehe unmittelbar befor, sagen die Worte ihrer Freunde.

Ich fuhr in der gleichen Nacht noch hin; durfte meine Schwester aber nicht mehr sehen; war bei den höchsten Stellen dort, um einen Aufschub zu erhalten, aber es war alles vergebens. Es kam nur noch aus Liegnitz von der Fahrt ein Brief an uns dann nichts mehr; 1945 erfuhren ihre Kinder in England auf Nachgrage bei der “un”, dass sie in Lager Piasky-Lublin gewesen sei und, dass alle dortigen Insassen verschwunden seien und somit in Auschwitz vergast worden seien.

Mein einziger Bruder rette sich 1934 noch durch Emigration nach USA.  

My youngest sister [Vera] was married to a musician [Hans Neumeyer], a blind Jew; At first their house was taken; In May 1939 they sent their children to England to save them; In June 1942, my brother-in-law who was blind but healthy, was taken to Theresienstadt, where he died of tuberculosis after two years.

In the meantime, I had approached the Minister of the Interior to save my sister, since she was in no sense a Jewess by her lineage; “They promised to examine the case”. But as early as July 1942 a telegram called me to Munich, as she was in a great danger that she had already been taken to a camp, and was immediately put on a transport to Poland, according to her friends.

I travelled to Munich that very night, but I never saw my sister again. I tried with the highest authorities there to get a postponement, but it was all in vain. All we got was  a letter written on the journey and  sent to us  from Liegnitz – and then nothing more. In 1945, their children in England learned that she had been in Piasky Lublin [Madjanek] camp, and that all the inmates there had disappeared and had been gassed in Auschwitz.

My only brother saved himself in 1934 by emigration to the USA.”

This is about Vera and Hans, and their children Ruth (my mother) and Raimund, whose stories are covered elsewhere in this blog (see ‘Cateogories’, in right-hand panel).

Dora may have escaped persecution herself but she lived in constant fear of the authorities and would have been fraught with worry about Vera and after Vera’s death there must have been endless been self-questioning on her part about whether she could have helped in any way.

 

april-1948-ecki-irimi-peter-dodo-ingl-eri-cris-schw-geti

Family group, April 1948: left to right – Eckhard (Dora’s son by her second marriage), Irmi, Peter, Dora, Ingl, Erika; the elderly couple far right are thought to be Otto’s parents.

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The two-page report typed and filed by Dora

 

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Dora, December 1954

 

I have a file of  36 post-war letters and postcards from Dora to Ruth and Raymond, largely from 1945-48. Some are in slightly broken English (though it’s not bad – she explains in one letter that she once spent a year learning English in Eastbourne), and several mention food parcels my mother Ruth sent over. Obviously food was in extremely short supply in Germany at that time ‘ Some of its content had been robbed unfortunately. Do you imagine our joy when getting your parcels? We are so grateful every time one arrives. It is tedious for you, darlings, year after year, but shall it never get better with ones poor here in your former country…’

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The Ephraim children around 1900 or slightly later. Left to right: Marianne, Vera, Dora, Herbert.

 

 

Changes afoot in Holocaust Gallery at IWM

The Imperial War Museum in London is planning a total restructuring of its Holocaust Gallery for 2020. It’s hoped our family’s substantial archive about the fates of the Ephraims and Neumeyers in the 1930s and 1940s will be part of that. In October Jess and James from the museum paid a visit to my house and spent three hours looking through the family archive.

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Earlier this month I attended a lunch event where they summarised the new approach they’re taking. Since the opening of the Gallery in 2000 much new material has come to light and it’s felt that there’s a need to widen the span historically from 1930 to 1949. This follows on from the new First World War galleries opened in 2014, and will coincide with the unveiling of a new Second World War gallery in 2020.

20161206_130359_resizedIn essence the new areas of emphasis will be:

  1. The legacy of the First World War
  2. The impact and influence of the Second World War
  3. The ‘Holocaust by bullets’
  4. The aftermath: surviving survival
  5. British responses
  6. Reappraisal of the camp system
  7. The extent of collaboration and complicity

So they’ll be examining life pre-Holocaust, under Nazi power and after the war. The museum will be collecting associated artefacts and engaging with audiences through a ‘people’s forum’.

One theme they’ll explore will be the stories of mothers of Kindertransport children aiming to enter Britain as domestics – which is what Vera Neumeyer attempted to do.

The current display of the Neumeyers at IWM

20161206_163620_resizedThe Holocaust Gallery in its present form begins with a brightly lit wood-panelled display area with photos of Jewish life in Germany and elsewhere before 1933. From there the display areas become increasingly dark as the theme itself darkens, until a huge starkly lit, ghostly white scale model of Auschwitz-Birkenau appears. Beyond is a room devoted to the theme of hiding – and that’s where there’s this small display case devoted to the. Neumeyers (seen in the centre of the photo above, with details in the photo below).

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The current display on the Neumeyers at the Imperial War Museum features a photo of Hans Neumeyer and the story that the family lived in attics in Munich under a false identity. Beneath Hans’ picture is the cover of the recorder duet music he composed in 1939 for Ruth (pictured at the bottom, and positioned on the music itself). The music cover depicts an imaginary view, probably drawn by Hans’ secretary Dela Blakmar, of Ruth and her friend Jane in England, playing a recorder duet whilst lying in a hammock – see the post made in June 2016 about the first performance of these pieces.

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What next?

There’s so much of the family archive that could be relevant to the new display. As well as artefacts such as Ruth’s teddy bear and dressing gown, there are all the family photos showing life in Dachau in the 1920s and 1930s, and the letters from Vera and Hans to Ruth and Raimund in 1939 (which I have yet to scan and translate).

The story of Raimund Neumeyer, who became Raymond Newland by deed poll, and his time spent in Germany working for the British military police postwar is another story that I need to look into and will form a future post on this blog.

Then there are Ruth’s diaries and letters throughout the 1940s that paint a vivid picture of her new life in England. So far in her wartime diaries I have found virtually no reference to her feelings about leaving her parents – but that absence of a record is itself interesting, as she no doubt sought to rebuild afresh.

How wonderful it is that she kept it all.

Vera Neumeyer’s story

My mother Ruth kept a photo of her mother Vera by her bed throughout my life. I was actually born in that room and in that very bed, so that photo portrait of the handsome, dark-haired woman with a sideways, inwards look, was a constant of my childhood, though of course I’d never met her.

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Vera Ephraim was born in 1893, daughter of Martin and Hildegard Ephraim.

It seems that she had a very pleasant and privileged upbringing in a vast house in Görlitz, with her two sisters – Marianne and Dora – and brother Herbert. The house was sold, sadly at the height of the German hyperinflation, and by the time they received the purchase money, it was enough ‘to buy a basket of cherries’. But her parents still had another large house, in the mountain resort of Schreiberhau (now known as Szklarska Poreba, and in Poland).

The Ephraim villa in Görlitz still has a stained glass window in its hall depicting three female graces – maybe a reference to the three Ephraim daughters.

Eurythmics and music

She was certainly musical: I still have inherited a lot of sheet music from her – Beethoven sonatas, Bach, Mendelssohn songs, Schumann piano works and Lieder, and much more – with her name written inside and the stamp of a bookseller’s in Görlitz on the title page. This, and numerous other books, were kept during the war by friends  – including the Wirsching family – in Dachau and sent over to England in the 1950s.

Music was hugely important to the Neumeyer family, and both her children inherited a love of music. To Ruth and Raimund I believe that classical music was something of a refuge from the chaos of the world, and composers such as Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven were a key part of that. For Ruth particularly two operas she loved that must have originated from her Bavarian childhood were Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Weber’s Der Freischütz.

Vera worked as a eurthymics teacher, and it was while studying eurythmics at Hellerau near Dresden that she met Hans Neumeyer, my grandfather, a blind Jewish pianist who played for the eurythmics classes. They married in 1920.

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Vera in eurythmic exercise – one of a number of such pictures we have. Presumably this dates from her teaching days.

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Vera (middle, front row) with fellow students at Hellerau before the First World War. The light style of clothing and the free dance movements that went with it must have been quite a liberation from the restrictive fashions of this period.

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The Festspielhaus – the main centre for eurythmics and performance at Hellerau, which closed in 1914 after only four years of operation. It is now being restored as a theatre.

Family relationships among the Neumeyers

The Neumeyers in the 1920s

Vera and Hans, with children Ruth and Raimund, late 1920s

I’ve never been clear about the dynamics around their marriage, but it seems to have been very happy up until things fell apart in the Third Reich. My mother seems to have had a daughter’s affection for Vera, but occasionally came out with sharp criticisms: ‘she was very aware of her good looks’, or words to that effect, delivered in a surprisingly resentful way for someone as overwhelmingly kind as Ruth.

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Vera with Raimund in 1925.

A trivial incident in Ruth’s childhood seemingly caused a schism between the two: Vera was taking a photo of Raimund when he was a baby or toddler, and Ruth asked to be included in the picture. Vera said she couldn’t be in it, and there was apparently something in the tone of how she spoke that upset Ruth dramatically.

Then there’s the untold matter of Vera and Hans. I understand from people who were close to Ruth that both had affairs. Hans’ relationship with his secretary Dela was perhaps more than just a friendship, and Vera seems to have had affairs with several men. But I know no details.

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The last known picture of Vera appears on her ID card, embellished as it is with swastikas. She and Hans divorced in the 1940s. It was too late to save Vera, but had she divorced earlier she may well have survived, as only her marriage to Hans classed her as sufficiently Jewish for the Nazis to arrest and deport her. After all, both her sisters survived, spending the war in Germany.

The plays

But Ruth always spoke with huge affection about the plays Vera organised for her children and friends. It must have been quite a social event on the Dachau town calendar, as friends and neighbours packed into the house to see a nativity play or fairytale. The many photos Ruth kept in an album she brought on the Kindertransport show productions that were clearly amply rehearsed and costumed.

The books in her house in London included a volume entitled Deutsche Hausbühne – with twelve one-act plays that Vera had clearly used for her homespun productions. Some are annotated with detailed staging notes.

It was during one of these plays that the Nazis stormed in and stopped everything, taking everyone’s names and arresting the lodger. See the post An innocent childhood shattered in this blog.

From the photo album Ruth brought in the Kindertransport in May 1939. The album is absolutely packed with photos, including many of the plays. I can imagine Vera and Ruth frantically cutting out all the family pictures and glueing them in, ordered by theme. Here are several of their friends; Ruth helpfully captioned them all a few years ago. She's top right; Raimund (with lamb) is bottom left. At a reunion in Dachau about 20 years ago one old man turned unannounced to Ruth and his first words were 'I am the holy Joseph!' She then knew exactly who she was. The two remained friends and in close contact until the end of her life in 2012.

From the photo album Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in May 1939. The album is absolutely packed with photos, including many of the plays. I can imagine Vera and Ruth in the days before the children’s departure to England frantically cutting out all the family pictures and glueing them in, ordered by theme. Here are several of their friends; Ruth helpfully captioned them all a few years ago. She’s top right; Raimund (with lamb) is bottom middle. At a reunion in Dachau about 20 years ago one elderly man, turned unannounced to Ruth and his first words were ‘I am the holy Joseph!’ She then knew exactly who he was: her childhood friend Hans Engl, who had appeared in one of Vera’s Nativity plays acting the role of Joseph. The two remained friends and in close contact until the end of her life in 2012.

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Vera’s staging notes in one of the plays performed in the Neumeyers’ house in Dachau.

The recipe books

Vera was apparently, according to Ruth, not much of a cook, and Hans did all the more refined cooking (making a particular speciality of gnocchi), though I’ve never quite understood why it was that so many of Vera’s well-thumbed recipe books, including one entirely written out by hand, have survived to this day. Maybe Vera dictated all of this to Hans.

The handwritten book contains various recipes for cakes, soups, omelettes, souflees, risottos and puddings. Ruth kept them in a drawer in the kitchen in Sydenham, along with other cookery books and various utensils. I rescued them when clearing out the house in 2012.

Pages from Vera's handwritten recipes, in a well-thumbed exercise book.

Pages from Vera’s handwritten recipes, in a well-thumbed exercise book.

It's incredible that Ruth didn't throw this away years ago. While in the kitchen with her in Sydenham about ten years ago she said 'Gosh, I've still got that old recipe.' The story was that her parents stopped by a cafe while on a walk and had some delicious cake. Vera complimented the woman proprietor, who said Vera should give them her address and she'd post the recipe to them. And here it is. Only at the end of the message the woman signs off with 'Heil Hitler'. Ruth said to me 'Somehow I don't think my mother ever made that cake!'

It’s incredible that Ruth didn’t throw this away years ago. While in the kitchen with her in Sydenham about ten years ago she said ‘Gosh, I’ve still got that old recipe.’ The story was that her parents stopped by a cafe while on a walk in September 1938 and had some delicious cake there. Vera complimented the woman proprietor who had baked it. The woman said Vera should give them her address and she’d post the recipe to them. And here it is. Only at the end of the message the woman signs off with ‘Heil Hitler’. Ruth said to me ‘Somehow I don’t think my mother ever made that cake!’

The end: Majdanek 1942

The most poignant of her many letters was the one delivered from the train while being deported to a death camp in Poland. She was deported on Monday, 13 July 1942 to Lublin, where she was very likely taken to Majdanek forced labour camp. No record exists of what happened to her there. None of the people on this transport is known to have survived. Majdanek was established as a sorting centre for sending prisoners on to Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, but the previous March it too had been turned into a killing centre. The gas chambers were used from September onwards. I just hope she came to a swift end and her suffering wasn’t drawn out.

Aftermath: heirlooms from Vera

I never met Vera, of course, but thankfully we have a substantial amount of material from her. Ruth kept all her letters from 1939 and the Red Cross messages that followed, as well as the photos I’ve mentioned above. Her cousin Karin kept aside a few items which were collected by Raimund in the 1960s, and include the perfectly useless electric teapot that is photographed with the Neumeyers enjoying afternoon tea in Dachau around 1929.

These two items are particularly treasured mementoes:

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Vera’s napkin ring was a christening present and is dated 3 September 1893, her date of birth – 46 years to the day before the Second World War broke out. Ruth brought this item with her on the Kindertransport when fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 and to my knowledge used it pretty much every day of her life thereafter.

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This bronze statuette of Vera as a young woman in her eurythmics costume was sculpted by Emilio Bisi (1850-1920), her sister’s father-in-law, in 1913. Bisi carved stone figures outside several Italian cathedrals, including at Milan and Trieste. His father Luigi Bisi was also a distinguished artist.

Vera Ephraim 1898 or 1899 studio portrait

A studio portrait of Vera taken by Max Ganzel in Görlitz in 1898 or 1899

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Vera around the late 1910s or early 1920s; location unknown.

‘Anyone might end up in a concentration camp’: letters from Dachau

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’). 

 

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Ruth (second from the left) was reunited with the Steurer family when making her first postwar trip back to Dachau, in 1953, accompanied by her husband Ronald (whom she married two years previously). This is the only photo I know to be of the Steurers, as she wrote ‘Steurer family’ on the back, but two other photos in this article may depict the daughters when children (read on). Left to right (my guesswork): Anni (as she was the frail one), Ruth, Frau Steurer and 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?

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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. 

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‘My happiness I can’t describe!’ 12 January 1946: a note from Anni and Hilde

This note from one of the Steurers’ daughters follows at the end of Frau Steurer’s letter. From this I learn that the girls participated in the children’s plays that were put on at the Neumeyers’ house. They may well appear in the many photos we have of those home-made theatricals.

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

 

 

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Above: Nativity play with local children at the Neumeyer’s house in Dachau, some time around 1930. Below: assorted theatricals at the Neumeyers

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…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.

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Frau Steurer refers to Thorwaldstrasse in Munich. This is where the Neumeyers lived after being thrown out of their house in Dachau by the Nazis in 1939. Raymond returned here and took this photo while working for the British army in 1946. During that time he also visited Dachau and denounced the Burgomaster – who’d evicted the Neumeyers eight years previously – to the authorities. He lost his job as a result of Raymond’s efforts.

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!

 

 

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