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.

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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.

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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 Jewish; she died but had children, who would have been in danger as non-Aryans in Nazi Germany. So when he remarried, his second wife (Ingrid’s mother) pretended they were her children, in order to escape persecution.

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

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.

Vera and Ruth 1924

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.

vera neumeyer. identity papers photo

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.

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

Don’t Stand By: HMD 2016 in Lewes

Here’s the complete text of my presentation at Holocaust Memorial Day in Lewes Town Hall on 27 January 2016, with extracts from an interview made about ten years ago with my mother. The event drew a large audience (over 250) and focused on the stories surrounding those who did something positive to save lives of others in times of genocide. We heard from Wlodka Robertson – a friend of my mother since 1965, she survived the bleakest conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto, where others hid her during round-ups and helped her escape over the wall to safe houses, where various families looked after her for the duration.  There were talks from the Refugee Council, from a local architect who recently built shelters for refugees in Calais, and from a photographer exhibiting in shop windows throughout Lewes photo stories about the individual refugees in the UK who made a notable contribution to this country in one form or another. With Priory School pupils reading from the play Kindertransport, and an excellent band of Klezmer musicians, it made for a thought-provoking three hours.

Here’s the text of my talk, with the Powerpoint slides inserted above each corresponding part of the text.

I’d like to share with you the story of my mother’s family when faced with the greatest danger during the Holocaust in Bavaria. Some escaped  – my mother and her brother came over to England on the Kindertransport. Others died in Nazi camps.

It is a story of action and inaction. Of survival, of escape and of tragic delay. Those who realised they must do something, and those who acted too late or not at all.

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Here they are: Hans, a blind composer and music teacher, and his wife Vera, a teacher of eurhythmics (a music and movement discipline). And in the third picture – Ruth, my mother, and Raimund, my uncle. They lived in the town of Dachau, just outside Munich. Hans was Jewish by birth; Vera had a Jewish father but Aryan mother – she was classified as ‘nicht Arisch’ (‘non-Aryan’) by the Nazis as she was married to a Jew. The family were Lutherans, and there was nothing Jewish about their lifestyle; Ruth and Raimund were quite unaware of their Jewish background.

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‘It was a very nice childhood’, said my mother; certainly up to 1933, when Hitler came to power. After then the noose gradually tightened; Hans lost his job, people sometimes threw stones at them and shouted ‘Saujude’ (Jewish pig). But life carried on, and the feeling was that nothing that terrible could really happen to them. They weren’t rich or important, and were Protestants anyway.

The family photo album shows an idyllic, rather bohemian family life in the 1920s. Playing in the garden, hiking in the mountains…

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…and a tradition of home-made theatricals, with Vera directing plays acted out in their house by local children. It was during one of these plays in 1937 that Ruth and Raimund’s childhood came to an abrupt end, as my mother describes in an interview made at the Imperial War Museum, a few years before her death in 2012:

Click here to listen to Ruth talking about the day SS officials stormed into the Neumeyers’ house.

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In 1938 the Neumeyers were facing real danger. The Burgomaster’s office in Dachau compiled a list of 13 Jewish families living in the town. The Neumeyers are fourth on this list – ‘und zwei Kinder’ (‘and two children’), some official has scribbled at the end.

My mother recalled: There were acts of great kindness from friends, such as the family who ran a grocery store in Dachau, who helped them a lot – they even put out food in the fields for prisoners who were doing forced labour.

It culminated with Kristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938 – there was no pogrom in Dachau that night, but the Neumeyers received orders to leave their house by sunrise.

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

And so the Nazis rejoiced:’Dachau ist somit judenfrei’ – Dachau is hereby free of Jews.

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We never understood why Hans and Vera did not leave: they had contacts in England and Switzerland. But my mother talked of a tension between them at that time.

Hans’ sister Betty – pictured second from the right in the top left picture, escaped on the last Trans-Siberian train out east, then on to Shanghai where she sent these letters to Vera – one of them (top left) is postmarked 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out – then on the last ship to Columbia before war made travel impossible. There she joined her son, Gustl (far right in the same photo), who had emigrated there a few years earlier. Hans’ sister Irma was rounded up by the Nazis and died in Theresienstadt as he did.

Both Vera’s sisters survived. Marianne (Janni; pictured seated) had married an Italian count before the war. It wasn’t the cosiest of set-ups: he made his housekeeper pregnant and his brother was a friend of Mussolini. She separated from him and went to live in Thuringia. Dora (pictured far right) stayed in Dresden throughout the war – not Jewish enough to be persecuted, though her daughter married a Jew and in February 1945 was ordered to turn up the next day for deportation to a concentration camp. As it was, that night Dresden was carpet bombed and the deportation never happened.

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Vera’s father, Martin Ephraim, was a retired Jewish industrialist and patriotic German. When told of Nazi atrocities he said ‘That is surely exaggerated. Germans would never do a thing like that.’ His son Herbert, a professional racing car driver (and once national German champion – ‘Ephraim für Deutschland’  – how ironic is that?) – seen here with his new car in the 1920s with Ruth and Raimund on the fender – emigrated to America in 1931. As life became increasingly difficult for Jews, he wrote to Martin several times urging his father to come to America. Martin refused: ‘I was born in Germany and will die here.’ Martin Ephraim was arrested by Nazis and perished in Theresienstadt in 1942.

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By early 1939 the parents were desperate to get their children to safety. The first Kindertransport had started late in 1938: Vera undertook lots of queuing and form-filling, and waiting to see if Ruth and Raimund could get a place on one of the transports to England. Hans and Vera had remembered they  had a contact from England, Beatrice Paish, whom they’d met years before at a Dalcroze Eurythmic school near Dresden. Vera wrote to her and to their joy Beatrice and her husband Frank agreed to take in Ruth and Raimund. Meanwhile Vera had received a promise from the Jewish Blind Society in England that accommodation could be found for them, but the visas never came. Here’s how Ruth describes the arrangements for the Kindertransport:

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Click here to listen to Ruth’s description of the endless form filling, and how they smuggled a new dressing gown into their luggage…

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May 10 1939: Munich Hauptbahnhof. Vera and Hans say goodbye for the very last time Ruth and Raimund. Ruth is sure that their parents will follow: after the children arrive in England, Vera and Hans write frequent letters, all upbeat and concealing their true emotions; then after war begins in September, only short Red Cross messages come, maximum 20 words, one a month – the last says simply ‘going on a journey’; then after 1942, nothing. Here’s how Ruth remembers it:

Click here to listen to Ruth’s memories of the Kindertransport journey she undertook with her brother Raimund, from Munich to Liverpool Street.

 

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May 11 1939: Ruth and Raimund arrive in Weybridge. The first word of English pops up in her diary for May 12: cornflakes.

Her new life in England was a revelation. She loved her new family; they loved her. She wasn’t homesick, just pleased to get away from the tension and awfulness. She enjoyed school for the first time. Her new friend Jane said ‘before Ruth came, our family was rather boring. Then she came and everything was wonderful.’ Ruth slipped into the English language without even remembering how she learnt it.

Raimund had a tougher time and had to live elsewhere and work on a farm, which he hated, then in a bicycle factory, which wasn’t much better. After the war he worked for British army intelligence as an interpreter and revisited Germany – he even denounced the burgomaster of Dachau – the very man who had ordered the Neumeyers out of their house on Kristallnacht – to the authorities, who were able to prosecute as a result.

But both children stayed on in England and married and had families.

 

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Fast forward half a century: Ruth maintained contact with friends in Dachau and in 1988 was invited to attend an exhibition in the town hall to mark the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Ruth was still very ambivalent about Germany. ‘The only thing I really like about it is the mountains.’ She said she would only attend if the town of Dachau would agree to two things. [1] That they would erect a memorial to the Jewish families from Dachau who had been forced out on Kristallnacht. And [2] That she could visit a school and talk to children the same age as she was when she was forced to leave in 1939. Dachau’s town council at first refused, giving the reason that no persecutions of Jews had happened in Dachau town itself. But she persisted and a German journalist, Hans Holzhaider, came to her aid. He had written a book about the stories of the Jewish families ousted from Dachau and I think he had helped her come to terms with a lot of her past. He argued it out with the authorities, who eventually gave in.

Ruth had her wish. Here’s the memorial, and a photo taken at a school in Dachau. Here she’s speaking to a class of children; the teacher sits to the right, and to the right of him is my father Ronald.

Meanwhile she always asked the question: why didn’t her parents leave when they had the chance?

It was only after the end of the war that she found out that her parents died in camps. Until then, there was always a glimmer of hope.

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And finally: the kindness of these people – Bea and Frank Paish – rescued two children from oblivion. They didn’t have to do it, and would have known hardly anything about Ruth and Raimund themselves. Frank Paish, a distinguished economist, said late in his life that taking in the two Neumeyer children was ‘the best thing we ever did in our lives’. They certainly didn’t stand by.

They weren’t able to take in Ruth and Raimund into their house, but their extended family – the Paishes, Eckhards and Stirlands – came to the rescue. The children stayed first with Oscar Eckard, who ran a shop in Weybridge and instantly took to them. The adopted family became a lifelong bond.

Finally, do have a look at some of the items Ruth brought over on the Kindertransport – on show at the library till the end of this month: the teddy, the dressing gown, her diaries, the suitcase with a tatty luggage label, the silver knife, fork and spoon…

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I’ll now introduce the next musical item.

Ruth’s father, Hans Neumeyer, was a blind composer and teacher of musical theory who survived two years in Theresienstadt, apparently helped by giving music lessons to fellow prisoners in exchange for food, before his death there in 1944. All of his compositions perished in bombing, except for two chamber works. We are now going to hear the slow movement from a duo for violin and viola, written in 1940, two years before his deportation. It will be played by Anna Lowenstein and Stephen Giles; many thanks to Stephen for agreeing to play this at very short notice.

Anna and Stephen gave a very moving account of this movement of the duo. Anna had first heard it when I played a couple of minutes of it from the recording, at last years HMD event in Lewes: she liked it so much she asked me if she could use it as her student recital piece in Manchester last year, and then a few weeks back asked me to look for a viola player so she could play it again at this event. Happily, Stephen Giles – a professional viola player and viola teacher based in Lewes – volunteered his services.

Click here to listen to this movement, the Andante Moderato, played by Chris Brierley (who plays both tracks, one recorded over the other). Anna and Stephen took a slower tempo than this.

 

 

Holocaust memorial event draws huge audience

2015 Holocaust memorial eventAt the end of last month I was asked to speak at the Holocaust Memorial Day event in Lewes. The event primarily focused on Terezin (Theresienstadt). We heard from local author Ruth Thomson (who has written a children’s book about Terezin) about the story of the camp, its community,  the notorious Nazi sham devised to impress the Red Cross into believing all the camps were well run. We heard cabaret songs composed in the camp, and children from the  Priory School in Lewes read poems written by children in the camp (extraordinarily, these poems survived in a suitcase, along with numerous children’s paintings).

The evening was originally scheduled to be in the Town Hall lecture room, but it became apparent that there was huge public interest. So we switched to a much larger space in the White Hart Hotel across the road: capacity about 200, I think, and it was packed out, with many standing at the back.

In the end it was moving but also strangely uplifting and not always as grim as the subject matter suggested.

My own contribution looked not at the inevitable bleakness that my grandparents and great-grandfather must have encountered, but in the survival of the human spirit in the face of the Holocaust.

Here’s the gist of my talk, which was accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation. I have omitted most of the illustrations as they appear elsewhere in this blog.

Slide 1

sm Neumeyers with coffee pot and bearThis picture is of my mother’s family, the Neumeyers, in the little town of Dachau: parents Hans and Vera; Raimund; Ruth (my mother – note the teddy bear – there’s a twist to the tale later). Around 1930 it was a rather idyllic hilltop town with a castle, a bit like a sort of German version of Lewes. The infamous camp was set up later, a couple of kilometres out of town.

The family was Lutheran by religion, but Jewish by descent. On Kristallnacht, November 9 1938 they were ordered by the Nazis to leave town by sunrise. They moved into a series of temporary lodgings in Munich.

When my mother was aged 15 she and her brother Raimund said goodbye to their parents on the railway station platform at Munich in May 1939. The Kindertransport – trains arranged in the nine months prior to the outbreak of war to rescue predominantly Jewish children –  took the two children to safety and a new life in England. They never saw their parents again.

Both parents died in camps at the hands of the Nazis. What I’d like to share with you is not the inevitable hardship and suffering but the resilience of two individuals to create the semblance of normality  – interludes of calm amid the stress and mayhem.

Slide 2

Hans Neumeyer (front, second from left, in the dark suit) with some of his pupils

Hans Neumeyer (front, second from left, in the dark suit) with some of his pupils

Hans Neumeyer, my grandfather, was a blind composer and teacher of musical composition and harmony. He arrived on a transport from Munich in Terezin in 1942.

Two young men who met  him  were Thomas Mandl, a 16-year-old violinist, and his 17-year-old friend Hans Ries. Mandl  died in America in 2007. The two young men had the job of taking food to those unable to fetch it themselves, and making sure that others did not steal from them.

Slide 3

They met Neumeyer at the camp’s home for the blind. Probably Mandl’s habit of whistling Bach fugues alerted Neumeyer to their presence. They became his pupils, paying in soup or bread when they had it in return for lessons in harmony and composition. Although blind, Neumeyer survived nearly two years in Terezin before his death in May 1944: his teaching work was surely part of that survival strategy. He was known as The Professor in the camp.

Hans Neumeyer gave the impression of a sharp wit and intelligence. Mandl said that he understood that behind his smiling tolerance was a great mental toughness. Despite the rigours of camp life, Hans met his fate with acceptance and sometimes even humour.

Mandl last saw him in the block washroom. He was shocked at his expression of utter dejection and some sort of strange wild premonition. In May 1944 he heard of his death, and enquired about the day of the funeral.

It was a sunny day: three of Neumeyer’s pupils were among those who saw his crudely made coffin placed among the others on a truck. They followed it to the barrier on the edge of the camp, which was as far as they were allowed to go. The barrier came down: ‘that was the way our dead left us’.

Slide 4

Vera Neumeyer had got separated from her husband, She was in Munich in 1942 and taken on a train to her death in a camp somewhere in eastern Poland: we don’t know where, but it may have been Majdenek. She may well have been executed on arrival. Remarkably we know a lot about her journey. That’s because on the train, she wrote a note, and somehow it was delivered to her family – maybe she threw it out of the window at a station. It strives to be reassuringly normal with touching banality – and almost reads like she’s on a Sunday outing. And this is what it says:

14 July 1942

TO ALL MY DEAR ONES!

I am writing on the train after Liegnitz where we all refilled our thermos flasks with water. So far we have not been treated badly. Most of all we feel grateful for the pleasant weather we have had on our trip.

Well: yesterday morning we had to get up at 5 o’clock in Munich, and shortly after 7 o’clock we sat in a truck which was not as dark and the air not as filthy inside as I had expected. All the luggage was taken care of. At the service goods train station, a third-class carriage was waiting for us. I occupied a corner seat next to the dear Frau Professor Prosche, the widow of a well-known painter, a cultivated and very nice Austrian who attached herself to me on the first day.

I soon became acquainted with the six other fellow travellers and something like a feeling of community began to develop throughout the entire travelling ensemble. The group grew as people joined at Regensburg and Dresden. In Dresden we suddenly had to change carriages, which was a nuisance as we had just made ourselves comfortable for the night and in the hurry and darkness we had trouble finding our belongings.

This morning at 6 o’clock we came through Görlitz, and there I saw our house. Now we’re travelling through meadows and fields. The woman from Poland says it looks like this in Poland too.

The mood isn’t bad. Opposite me sit the Samsons, husband and wife, who lived in Starenhäusle for some time. Rebekkus did not come along, in spite of his efforts. However, I experience again an atmosphere of bonhomie, and don’t feel lonely.

Maybe it is best to depend entirely on oneself. Dela, send this letter to father, who will have been informed by Dora in the meantime.

Farewell. I am in good spirits and well prepared for whatever happens.

Yours, Vera.

Slide 5

I took these pictures of the railway line and the house in Görlitz last year.

[These are the photos of the house shown earlier on this blog]

Slide 6

Vera’s father, who built that house in 1904, also perished in Terezin in 1944, aged 84. Martin Ephraim was a wealthy Jewish industrialist – factory made railway carriages and other components; contributed to building of station, synagogue, and an imposing museum which he endowed with a huge collection of applied art and antiquities.

sm Martin Ephraim's writingI have a supremely poignant relic in the form of a scrap of paper in Martin’s handwriting which neatly sums up this tactic of self-preservation. He quotes Martin Luther: “If the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today”.

My mother told me that the blue writing below is by his friend and fellow inmate Dr Hirschberg, who survived Terezin,  went to Auschwitz after the war and became a public prosecutor of Nazis: “das hilft in Auschwitz/This helped in Auschwitz, 1945.”

Slide 7

And here’s a snatch of Hans Neumeyer’s duo. The performers last year remarked that what little survives of his music shows a wide range of styles, from neoclassical to polyphonic. Here I think he’s harking back to JS Bach…

[at this point I played an extract from the slow movement]

Slide 8

sm Ruths bearAnd the teddy bear in the first photo? There’s a happy ending here. That bear survived, and came over in the Kindertransport in my mother’s suitcase.

And here he is… 90 years old, looking pretty good after all he’s been through, and making his public debut!

[and here’s the bear (according to the antique teddy shop in Lewes he’s an unknown make), whom I also included at the very start of this blog. I raised him up and there was a huge wave of quite unexpected applause.]

 

Rediscovered: a long-forgotten Christmas song by Hans Neumeyer

Hans Neumeyer's unpublished Christmas song (voice only, no piano part), written out for the blind composer by his wife Vera

Hans Neumeyer’s unpublished Christmas song (voice only, no piano part), written out for the blind composer, either by his wife Vera or by his secretary Dela Blakmar

Among the letters sent from Dachau by the Neumeyers is one sent by Hans Neumeyer, the blind composer, in December 1939. It is typed out and signed as ‘Vati’ (‘Daddy’) in his wonky handwriting. Written to his children, Ruth (my mother) and Raimund (my uncle, nicknamed ‘Manibursch’ and later known as Raymond) it expresses hope that by next Christmas they will be together again. That was never to happen.

In this letter Hans mentions that he is writing a Christmas piece for Raimund to play on the piano. By December 1939 Ruth and Raimund had been in England for seven months, having arrived in May on the Kindertransport from Munich.

It seems typical of the upbeat semblance of normality the Neumeyers wanted to have on their life after the Nazis had thrown them out of their home: it was Christmas, after all. Certainly their letters to the children seemed to want to assure those in England that all was comparatively well. I’ll be looking at some of the prolific numbers of letters from 1939 in a later post.

Christmas was much celebrated at the Neumeyer household when they were in Dachau. Prior to 1937 they held  regular nativity and other seasonal plays, with neighbours and friends in the cast and audience on evenings when a suitable space in the rambling house was transformed into a theatre.

Christmas play c1935

Ruth as an angel in one of the Neumeyer festivities in the family home in Dachau in about 1935

Letter from Hans Neumeyer, December 1939

Letter from Hans Neumeyer, December 1939 to his two children, Ruth and Raimund, in England

The music score illustrated here is a stray sheet of manuscript music I found at the bottom of my parents’ piano stool when clearing out the house around the start of 2013: Weihnachtslied (‘Christmas Song’) by Hans Neumeyer. How it had been overlooked for such a long time I have no idea: for years we thought the only surviving compositions of his were the string trio and duo, and the two little recorder duets (see previous posts). It has only the voice part written out – no piano accompaniment. The key signature – E major – is missing from some systems on the page.  One wonders if there was a piano accompaniment – I never heard Raymond or Ruth mention anything about it. The opening five notes are identical to Respighi’s The Birds (written in 1928), and to the dotted-rhythm Soldier’s March (Soldatenmarsch) by Schumann, a composer Hans Neumeyer certainly played (some of Hans’ piano scores of Schumann have been passed on to me) – probably a coincidence. Whether or not this is to do with the Christmas piece he was composing for Raimund is hard to say. No musical masterpiece, but a nice curio to chance upon.

 

 

 

 

 

Dachau: postwar visits to the childhood home

It is 76 years to the day after my mother’s family was ejected from their home in Dachau town on Kristallnacht (‘the night of the broken glass’), November 9-10 1938.

Dachau is a name that for most of the world resonates with horror.

Ruth with pram bw

Ruth in Dachau around 1928

But my mother Ruth Neumeyer, who lived in a few kilometres from the Concentration Camp, was extraordinarily ambivalent about the place: huge affection and extreme bitterness all at the same time. She spent a happy – even idyllic childhood there. For the first ten years of her life, from 1923, all was well. A secure home in a large house. Family photos of children, dancing, dressing up, playing, being children. Her mother Vera taught eurythmics – a method of music and dance pioneered by Jacques Dalcroze while her blind father Hans taught musical composition and theory.

Dachau cutting 4

The list of Jews living in Dachau, as typed up by a Nazi official. The Neumeyers are fourth on the list. Next to their names someone has added ‘und 2 Kinder’ (‘and two children’)

Then from 1933 their world began to fall to pieces. It was to Ruth and Raimund something of a gradual process, as she recalls in her interview with the Imperial War Museum:

We didn’t actually know we had a Jewish background. We suddenly realised we were different when I was about twelve… It was the sort of time parents really kept children innocent and didn’t share their burden.

On Kristallnacht in November 1938, while Hans was away in Berlin, the family was ordered to leave Dachau before sunrise, and moved into accommodation in Munich – keeping a very low profile as the parents tried desperately to get permissions to leave Germany. Only once did Ruth return to the boarded-up house, with her father – a visit reluctantly granted by the Nazi authorities so that he could sort out some tax matter .

It was then that it was declared that ‘Dachau ist somit judenfrei‘ (Dachau is hereby free of Jews’).

Ruth and her brother Raimund left for England on the Kindertransport in May 1939 and never saw their parents again.

Dachau revisited

But Ruth, Raimund and their families did see Dachau again, on several occasions. Raimund worked for British Intelligence as a German interpreter after the War, and assisted with the denazification process. While in Dachau he found the house, and denounced the Burgermaster as a Nazi who had ousted the Neumeyers from their house. Like many other ex-Nazis  the Dachau Burgermaster didn’t get his come-uppance – more on this later, but it seems that as post-war suspicion of the Russians, grew the Western powers accepted the reinstatement of many who had been associated with the administration of the Third Reich, rather than put anti-Nazis with communist leanings in positions of power.

Ruth married Ronald Locke in 1951 and in August 1953 they took the train back to Germany for a holiday. Quite a strange choice, in retrospect, and her sister-in-law told me recently that on his return Ronald was profoundly changed by the experience. I have only fragmentary records of their visit. A holiday diary records departure on the boat train, with stays in Aachen, Trier, and the journey deeper into Germany to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, only for it tantalisingly to peter out just as they were heading for Dachau. She found her house in Hindenburg Strasse (since renamed Hermann-Stockmann Strasse), and very little had changed.

My childhood glimpse of Dachau

In the 1950s a modicum of compensation for having lost the house and practically everything else was paid to our family by the German government – I think it amounted to a few hundred pounds. That money was used rather masterfully to pay for a series of family holidays – all of which made a profoundly positive impact on me. In 1966 and 1967 we went to Germany – the first occasion involved travelling the day after the World Cup Final (England 4, West Germany 2; the Dover-Ostend ferry packed with German supporters arguing over the dodgy third England goal). Every German village in the Allgäu then had a forlorn-looking noticeboard with dozens of photos of soldiers who had not been seen since the war – it wasn’t at all a distant event back then.

DSC00199 (2)

That’s me (Tim Locke) in the cart, enjoying a chauffeur-driven Leiterwagen tour of Dachau courtesy of my brother Nic in 1967

IMG_2808

The Neumeyer house in Dachau today

The 1967 visit gave me my first view of Dachau. I didn’t get the full picture at all. I was aware that my mother was born there, but didn’t understand why she had to leave or what really happened to her parents. All the conversation between her and long-lost neighbours and friends was in German, and I grasped none of its meaning. I was parked in a Leiterwagen (a small hand-drawn cart) with my brother Nic in charge of me while my parents visited the elderly owners of a grocery: much later I learnt that these people had displayed remarkable kindness to the Neumeyers throughout the Nazi years, and at great personal risk had often left food concealed out in the fields for concentration camp prisoners doing forced labour on the land. Sure enough, when they emerged from the shop, my parents came laden with more proffered goodies.

I remember a brief visit to the Neumeyer house. Ruth just rang the bell and talked her way in: it had by now been turned into apartments, and somewhat shorn of its original gingerbread quirkiness.

Fifty years on: a momentous memorial

Much more momentous things happened 21 years later. The fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht in November 1988 prompted an invitation from the Burgermaster of Dachau for Ruth and Ronald to come to a commemorative exhibition as guests of the town. Ruth initially refused, saying she would only come on two conditions. One was that she wished a proper memorial be erected in the town hall to the Jewish people who were evicted from Dachau. The second was that she would be allowed to visit a school and to talk to children the same age as she was – fifteen – when she left Germany in 1939.

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From a publication commemorating the 1988 visit. My father Ron is prominent on the right side, and second from the far right is Ruth. Beneath it is the memorial installed by the town hall in Dachau on Hans Holzhaider’s insistence. Since then a second plaque has appeared listing the actual names of the Jewish people who were victimised.

Initially, and almost incredibly, the town of Dachau turned down her first request. Although the Dachau Concentration Camp was a well established international memorial to the horrors of the Holocaust, the idea of a commemorating the aftermath of a typed list of Jewish families living in Dachau during the late 1930s (after Hans and Vera Neumeyer’s name, some pedant had scribbled ‘und 2 Kinder’/’and 2 children’) wasn’t the cosiest of prospects for this satellite commuter town just outside Munich. The authorities seemed to have prided themselves on no actual violence having taken place in the town itself, though many of those evicted were to die elsewhere.

It was a journalist, Hans Holzhaider of the Sud Deutsche Zeitung, who came to the rescue. He had come over to England a year earlier and interviewed the Kindertransport children from those four Dachau families, and wrote a book – Vor Sonnenaufgang (Departure before Sunrise) about their stories. On a late summer day in 1987 he came to my house and spent a day with Ruth and Raymond (as Raimund now spelled his name) while the rest of us cleared off to watch a cricket match. The three pored over family photos and talked to Holzhaider all day.

Holzhaider persuaded the authorities to install a memorial to the Jewish families in Dachau, right beside the town hall. It was a major coup for us.

And Ruth got her wish to visit schoolchildren. She told them she was the same age as them when this happened. I wish I’d been there to have heard it, but apparently they hung on to her every word. They could talk about the Second World War with their parents, they said, but not with their grandparents.

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Hans Holzhaider’s book about the Jewish families evicted from Dachau in 1938; Ruth and Raimund are depicted on the cover

I have a huge amount of gratitude for this journalist’s actions: until then, my mother only fitfully spoke about her German background. But suddenly the floodgates opened – she was exorcised of this dark silence and spoke freely about her experiences. From that point onwards we were able to talk about her parents, their disappearance, her departure. I learnt who she was and why it happened, in a way that I could previously only guess at by fragments of conversations and nuances. And Holzhaider’s succinct book sets it all out beautifully clearly: the fates of the Neumeyers, Julius Kohn, the Wallachs, Fraulein Jaffe, Kurt Bloch, Heinfirch Hirsch, Meinhold Rau and Hermann Gottschalk.