Janni explains the long silence

I’m still unearthing bits of the archive I hadn’t noticed before. A letter from 1947 written by my great-aunt, Marianne Bisi, turns out to be the first correspondence with my mother Ruth after the war had ended.


Janni and Vera. Janni was the elder of the two sisters and I remember her very well from my childhood. She died in 1972.

Marianne – or Janni as everyone knew her – was an adored, charismatic figure during my childhood when she made annual summer visits to us in south London in the 1960s and early 1970s, but I wonder if there was a certain frostiness in relations in 1947.

She had been married to an Italian count but was divorced from him and later lived with and looked after a spinally-injured friend and his daughter in Bad Berka, near Weimar, which ended up in the Russian Zone after the war.

Certainly, this missive has an air of defensiveness about it: she explains why she wasn’t able to go to her sister Vera (Ruth’s mother) when Vera was faced with deportation. We don’t know why this is the first letter between them, as Ruth had been in contact with other family members in Germany since the war ended – perhaps Ruth felt awkward about renewing contact.

Click here to see the original letter in German.

Here is the letter in an English translation, passage by passage:

Marianne Bisi 9. April 1947

Am Adelsberg, Bad Berka , near Weimar, Thüringen

Russian Zone, Germany

My dear Ruthi!

I have long awaited  a letter for you, but none has come, so I am writing to you first. Maybe you don’t have my address? Vaio , who has finally landed happily in Rome and has returned to his old position, wrote to me that you often wrote to him in Palestine; Rena, too, has had news from you. Dodo [was in touch with Raimund, and recently your friend Güldenstein from Switzerland wrote to me too. So I constantly got news about you, but now I hope I can have direct contact with you and Raimund.

The family had a habit of using nicknames:

  • Vaio was Janni’s son Valerio. He was in the Italian army and captured, then held as a Prisoner of War in Egypt. As a civilian he worked with Italian Airlines.
  • Rena was Serena, Janni’s daughter, who lived in Berlin. She was raped by Russian soldiers in 1945.
  • Siggy was Sigrid, daughter of the man whom Janni lived with in Bad Berka, near Weimar.
  • Dodo was Dora, Janni and Vera’s sister, who spent the war and subsequent years in Dresden. Her story is here.
Valerio letter_20180208_0001

Valerio Bisi

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 16.35.02

Letter from Janni’s son Valerio to Ruth in 1946, written in Haifa. In it he chronicles his military service years as a wireless operator in north Africa, then working on transports in Turin before returning to Africa in 1940 and getting captured in Egypt.

Serena, Janni (Marianne) and Sigrid in Berlin

Serena, Janni and Sigrid in Berlin after the war.

Janni’s letter continues:

I have lived here since  autumn 1938  in the “green heart of Germany”, in rich forests and hills, lovely Thuringia with very dear, faithful spirited friends. When I was still in Schreiberhau I met an accomplished flower artist, whose brother had lost his wife two years earlier and lived in Bad Berka with a little daughter in quite an extreme distress and helplessness (he was severely injured in a work accident). Since Nonno wanted to go to Berlin and Rena was already there, and Dora’s house had to be sold, I quickly decided to go to Thuringia and act as substitute mother to the child.

Nonno was Martin Ephraim, the father of Janni and Vera. I don’t know what motivated him to go to Berlin (he may have felt safer there), but I have found at the Wiener Library in London several postcards written by him from various Berlin addresses, including the extraordinary Jewish Hospital (which still exists) where some Jews managed to survive right up to liberation in 1945.

Haus Lindenfels Schreiberhau 1964_20171211_0001

Haus Lindenfels, the Ephraims’ home in Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poreba), in the mountains near Poland’s border with the Czech Republic. The house still exists and is now a guesthouse.

There follows the staggering revelation that Janni was due to be deported in 1944. This is the first time I have heard this news. As  women with a Jewish father but non-Jewish mother she and her sister Dora were not first in line for deportation (and Vera would have been in the same position had she not married a Jew) but clearly something was amiss. How she escaped her fate is a mystery:

I was infinitely grateful and joyfully received by dear people and, have here – despite the emergency and danger, in which I languished constantly as a half-Jewish woman – had protection from close friends. Nonno and your dear mother were here for a visit; time and again our friends, despite persecution by the Gestapo, house searches, etc., bravely proved their undying and loyal decency.

Because I was in the house, my foster-daughter Sigrid-Maria, who is now 20 years old, was barred by the Nazis from becoming a teacher. My passport, my only official ID, was taken away, so when we got your mother’s urgent telephone call from Munich to urging us to come to her aid, we were not for one moment allowed to make that trip, because without ID you could not even get from here to Weimar past the permanent checks.

It would also have been too late, because Dodo, who had travelled to my place [in Berlin], already arrived too late … It was made impossible for us to undertake any relief action. I counted as a Jewess under Italian law and was treated accordingly. In the autumn of 44 I was to be taken away by the Gestapo to a labour camp, never to be seen again; only through a miracle was I spared this fate! But I have been forbidden to practise any profession, and I have agonised greatly over Rena, who for the whole period was in terrible air raids and fighting in Berlin, over Vaio, from whom there was often no news from one year to the next, and above all over our beloved Nonno and my beloved little Vera. Oh, I hope even now that she will come back; I certainly believe that she is still alive! May God help to make this the reality!

Vera’s death, probably at Majdanek concentration camp, was never recorded by the Nazi authorities, but as early as 1945 Ruth wrote in her diary that “99% of hope is dead” on the basis of Red Cross information. It is striking that Janni believed Vera could still be alive in 1947.

I don’t know what documents and letters Janni is referring to in the next part of the letter, but it may include the Red Cross messages that were sent by Ruth and Raymond to their parents; these messages are now in the Imperial War Museum.

There is still the expectation that Ruth and Raymond will want to reclaim the family home in Dachau. That never happened, although the German government did eventually give some compensation for the losses incurred in the war:

Ruthi, I still have the last documents and letters here, all that she has kept for you in pictures and writings of the past. I am guarding everything carefully, and if you want, as soon as possible, I will send the items to you. Should I go to Rome, they will remain available to you here in a designated suitcase with your address. My landlady is Mrs. Gertrud Küchler, the address you see above.

Dora wrote to me saying that Raimund was in Dachau and you will probably get the house again. Quite right! I give you here the address of a couple living in Dachau, friends of our friend Elli Kindermann, The gentleman is working in a radio factory and would certainly be happy to take care of your interests, and also if you want he could live in the house and manage it for you, so long as eg Dodo cannot: Harald and Else Küffner, Dachau Obb., Bruker Str. 2. They should be very nice, completely reliable and decent people. If you need them and want to get in contact with them, you can always do so by citing Miss Kindermann and me.

And some general chitchat about Ruth’s work as a nursery teacher (one of the few professions available for her as an alien during the war). There’s also mention of a Christian contact of Janni, who was a vegetarian and pacifist:

I was very interested to hear about your work as a municipal kindergarten teacher in Cambridge. Do you remember that during 1928-32 there was in Dresden a “progressive private kindergarten” set up, built on completely new, original principles? The children had individual and collective gymnastics and learned English and French through play, were also trained manually in all kinds of handicrafts, and above all, had their more creative spirit  stimulated by inventing toys of their own imagination! I had 20 children to take care of, together with the ingenious artist and professional educator Herbert Küas. Have you been able to use Vera’s rhythmic song games in your kindergarten? “Now we shake out the bedding” .. “Rain, rain, little droplets” .. and so on? I have often used the lovely exercise games in my gymnastics lessons. Vera always wanted to translate them into English and have them printed in England. Could not you take that in hand now? Then I’ll send you what songs are here etc. It would be good to find a publisher and an illustrator who can add some pretty drawings.

As a little girl you also had a lovely talent for drawing. Did you develop that further? I would love to hear about what you are particularly interested in. And Raimund? He always wanted to be a film director, but had such a great gift for acting.

Do you have English nationality now and do you want to stay there? For now, it is certainly a good idea, until everything has become clearer and better sorted out, that you stay where you are. A very dear old man, priest of the New Catholic Church, who used to live in Edinburgh for a long time and has now lived in Cambridge for 14 years, recently wrote to me about a sought after book “The Gospel of the Holy Twelve,” which I wanted to translate. I replied to him and told you about you; it is now very likely that he will invite you to visit him. He seems to be a very cultured, kind person, probably a vegetarian and animal rights activist like me. Do give him my best wishes when you see him.

She enquires of Hans’ sister Betty and her son GustlBetty escaped from Germany in 1941 and spent the war years in Colombia with Gustl, who ran a bus company there; she returned to Germany after the war.

The list of clothing requests that follows paints a familiar picture. Ruth sent parcels to Janni and Dora in those postwar years, when life in the Russian Zone of a destroyed Germany must have been a barrel-scraping experience for many. In reciprocation, I remember on our first family holiday in Germany in 1966, Janni sent us a huge food parcel (below) – clearly those days of austerity had not been totally forgotten:

1967 berghausle (13)

If you have a picture of you and Raimund, please send it to me. You will also get some photos of us as soon as I know that this letter has reached you safely. And, dear child, please write often: I will be so glad if I can at least to a slight extent replace your beloved mother. She and your equally dear father. Do Aunt Betty and Gustel sometimes write? What is their address?

Ruthi, could you possible send me a parcel? We are  in dire need here, as you know … And as soon as possible, I’ll reimburse you. I need Stockings size 10, but not too thin, and also a pair of solid sports boots size 40/41 or loafers – at least used ones – if possible with leather soles and heels, also 1 pair of warm knickers, and for father Lüderitz, who is very weak (spine three times broken) 1 pair of warm trousers, about Nonnos size – medium. We don’t mind which colour. Also he really needs some strong shoes. He needs things so much … everything is needed, of course, if you could get it through friends.

We are all so woefully destitute and can buy nothing. Rena also wrote that she needed something to wear, but “only good quality, please, Mutti”. Shoes too, no. 41. I do not want to place heavy burdens on you. You can see if you can somehow find something for us poor persecutees of fascism. We would also be grateful for thin elastic, and size 2B stocking suspenders. I do not dare to ask you for extra food, because you also have a lack of it and you can only send it from your own food card.

All the best for now, my Ruthi, and write soon. Warmest greetings for you and Raimund and let’s hope soon for a happy reunion!

Always your faithful aunt Marianne


Raymond and Marianne (known by everyone as Tante Janni) in 1963, outside the south London house where I was born, in Charlecote Grove, Sydenham.



Janni with me (Tim, in Lederhosen), and my brothers Nic and Stephen, in 1964, at our house in Sydenham, south London.



Wartime Red Cross messages: fragments of news filter through from Germany

Red Cross letters grouped

After her journey on the Kindertransport  with her brother Raymond to England, my mother Ruth kept the correspondence from her parents, Vera and Hans, to her and Raymond. We have 57 letters from the parents from 1939–40 – all but eight of these are from Vera. Hans, being blind, typed his; in one letter his typewriter ribbon has hardly any ink so it’s virtually a blank page with illegible indentations. From Vera, 26 are dated (the last dated 5 March 1940) and 23 are undated or incomplete.

When writing from the UK to Germany in early 1940 letters had to be placed in an open unstamped envelope, within a stamped envelope posted to Thos. Cook & Son in Berkley Street, London W1, with a two-shilling postal order, the name and full address of the sender, and an open addressed envelope for the forwarding of a reply should one be received from the correspondent in Germany.

Specific rules about the contents of the letter were given:

Letters should be written in English or German without the address of the sender, and must contain nothing but matters of personal interest. No enclosure of the following nature is permitted – any printed matter, map, plan, sketch, drawing, print, photograph or other descriptive or pictorial representation , or postage or revenue stamp No reference should be made to any phase of the war. No mention may be made in such letters, of any office of Thos. Cook & Son Ltd. at home or abroad.

Once a month, 25 words maximum: the Red Cross messages

During 1940 it was no longer possible to send letters by mail. Instead the only way of making contact was through Red Cross messages. These were very limiting: a maximum of 25 words and a maximum of one message per month. They did however show the handwriting of the correspondents.

What particularly struck me this week as I typed these messages out in date order was the amount of waiting and uncertainty there must have between sending and receiving: they took weeks to get to Switzerland, then weeks more to get to their destination. And when they arrived, they reassured the recipient that the sender was still alive several weeks ago, but there’s no real news apart from the surreal announcements that one was well and happy, and life was normal – and both parties knew the truth was far from that.

It is remarkable that we have the messages died in concentration camps. These messages seem to have been passed to Dora (Vera’s sister), who spent the entire war in Dresden and later passed various items of correspondence to Ruth.

The earliest Red Cross message we have is from Ruth to her parents. It has the handwritten date 10 June 1940 but the official stamps 12 August 1940 and 23 September 1940 [the latter, presumably the date it was transmitted or received; the other messages Ruth sent similarly have handwritten and officially stamped dates.)

She mentions the ‘flute music’ – this would have been the recorder duets Hans composed for Ruth and her friend Jane.

The message is set out as follows (with printed material from the form in bold; each item is also translated into German):


[datestamp:]12 AUGUST 1940; 23 September 1940


Christian name Ruth

Address 71 Barton Road Cambridge

c/o Mrs Stirland

Relationship of Enquirer to Addressee Daughter

The Enquirer desires news of the Addressee and asks that the following message should be transmitted to him.


Date 10.6.1940





The addressee’s reply to be written overleaf.

The rest of the messages

Subsequent Red Cross messages are in the same format. Most sent from England have two rubberstamped dates (in addition to the handwritten one at the date of writing) – one showing the date it was received in Switzerland, the other showing the date it was received by the German Red Cross. Here are the messages with just the dates and message (Ruth’s are written in block capitals, but Vera wrote in cursive script or typed her messages; I have inserted some editorial full stops to ease reading):

From Ruth, date almost illegible but seems to be 22 July 1940, rubberstamped 23 August 1940 [Ruth is putting on plays – her favourite pastime, just like the Neumeyers did back in Dachau]


From Ruth, 23 July 1940, rubberstamped 23 August 1940 and 2 November 1942 [- does this really mean it was returned undelivered more than two years later? That would have been after Vera’s presumed death in a concentration camp.]


From Vera and Hans, 17 September 1940, rubberstamped 4 October 1940 [unfortunately none of the flute music referred to has survived, though he wrote his duo in August 1940 and his trio in 1939-4, both of which exist.]

Alle gesund. Mutti viele Stunden und Ausflüge Vati viele Flöten – und andere Stücke komponiert. Seid Ihr zusammen? Von Rosi Nachricht. Euch beiden immigste  Grüsse! Eltern

All well. Mother many hours and excursions. Father composes many flute and other pieces. Are you together? Best wishes to you both! Parents

From Vera and Hans, 25 September 1940, rubberstamped 15 October 1940: from parents [Raymond was no longer with Ruth; best wishes are from Hans, Martin Ephraim and Vera’s sisters Marianne and Dora].

Sehr erfreut über Deine Julibriefe. Wir sind alle gesund und denken an Euch. Wo ist Raimund? Innigste Grüsse, auch von Vati, Grossvati and deine Tanten. Mutti

Very glad to get your July letter. We are all well and thinking of you. Where is Raymond? Sincerest wishes, also from Father, Grandfather and your aunts. Mother

From Ruth, 24 September 1940, rubberstamped 3 December 1940 and 17 January 1941 [this hints at the slow arrival of the messages – Ruth gives birthday greetings and said she had a lovely birthday herself, but both her and her mother’s birthdays were in September]:


From Ruth, no handwritten date, rubberstamped 15 January 1941 and 25 February 1941:


From Ruth, 7 January 1941, rubberstamped 19 March 1941 and 6 June 1941:


From Hans and Vera, 4 February 1941 [from here onwards, their messages were written in English]:

Dearest Children,

All well, glad about your news. Had beautiful Christmas and snow excursions. Keep on working. All relations and friends send you love.


From Ruth, 4 May 1941, rubberstamped 2 May 1941 and 24 July 1941:


From Hans and Vera, 11 March 1941:

All well. Glad having got your news. Mother teaches, father composes. All friends and relatives send greetings.

Love to you both.


From Vera, 7 April 1941, rubberstamped 17 April 1941 and 25 April 1941 [this is the only Red Cross message from Vera to be on an official form with addresses of senders and recipients – all the others are just handwritten on paper with a rubberstamped date; the Neumeyers are still at Thorwaldsenstrasse 5, Munich; Raymond was by then working on a farm and not happy; the ‘servant Anna’ is I think Anna Kürzinger, whom Ruth described as her nanny/nurse – she survived the war and I remember visiting her with my parents in Dachau in 1966]:

Received Raimond’s farming greetings. Very glad. What about his confirmation? We all well and working. Our servant Anna married. I went to grandfather’s birthday. Mother.

From Ruth, 20 May 1941, rubberstamped 18 July 1941 and 2 December 1941:


Red Cross 20 5 1941From Vera and Hans, 19 June 1941 [Aunt Dodo/Tante Dodo – was Vera’s sister Dora, who lived in Dresden for the rest of her life; she refers to Betty, Hans’ sister, who has gone to Columbia to join her son Gustl (Gustav)]

All  well. Aunt Dodo was here, Aunt Betty has gone to Gustl. Mother works much. How are you both?

Love from all.


From Vera and Hans, 22 July 1941, rubberstamped 11 August 1941:

All well. Glad about your news. Do tell more about new home and Raymond. Mother likes gardening work. Best wishes for your Birthday, dear!


From Ruth, 3 September 1941, rubberstamped 18 November 1941:


From Vera and Hans, 26 November 1941, rubberstamped 15 December 1941:

All well, hoping same of you two. Working busily. Greetings from relations and friends. Best wishes for Xmas and Raimund’s birthday.


From Raymond, 10 February 1942, rubberstamped 2 March 1942 and 4 May 1942 [sent from Birmingham, where Raymond was working in a bicycle factory]:


From Vera, 25 January 1942, rubberstamped 18 February 1942:

Happy about your news. Hope all enjoyed your Xmas play. Did you spend holidays with brother? All well. Love from parents, grandfather, aunts and friends.

From Ruth, 17 March 1942, rubberstamped 10 April 1942 and 10 July 1942 [mention of nursery training she was then doing at Wellgarth, near Swindon]:


From Raymond, 31 March 1942, rubberstamped 19 June 1942:


From Vera and Hans to Raymond, 1 May 1942:

Very well and glad about your news. What work are you doing? Mother doing gardening-work. Do you meet Ruth often? Love to both!


From Vera, 17 June 1942, rubberstamped 31 July 1942 [only signed by her; presumably she was no longer with Hans]:

Very happy about your and Ruth’s messages. Sure you enjoyed Messiah as I did. Should like to hear about your work

Am healthy.

Love Mother

From Vera, 9 July 1942 [her last message, just before deportation to a concentration camp near Lublin (probably Madjanek), where she would have likely been murdered on arrival; to get past the censors she just says ‘going on journey’ rather than the actual truth; this was the last ever heard from her apart from her letter written on the train to the camp]:

Going on journey, but cheerful and happy, healthy. Father same.

Keep in touch with aunt Dora Böse, Dresden, Leipzigerstrasse 147.

Keep happy!


red-cross_veras-last-message-09-07-1942.jpgFrom Martin Ephraim, undated, rubberstamped 20 or 28 November 1942 [this is the only message sent by Martin; by then he was in the Jewish Hospital in Iranische Strasse, Berlin, before his deportation to Theresienstadt in January 1944]:

Dearest Ruthi

Received with pleasure your good news. Am quite well. Don’t know where parents are now. Many greetings.

Grandfather Martin.

From Raymond to Dora, 13 October 1942, rubberstamped 2 November 1942 and 28 December 1942 [Vera having been deported, Raymond now writes to his aunt Dora in Dresden]:



From Dora (Vera’s sister), 24 December 1942, rubberstamped 28 February 1943:

Received your news; Nonno[?] and we all are well. Our love to you and Ruthi. Keep cheerful both. Auntie Dora.

From Raymond to Dora, 5 January 1943, rubberstamped in Germany 2 June 1943:



From Dora, 31 May 1943, rubberstamped 30 June 1943 [the final message; total silence after that]:

Grandfather and we all in good health. Erik, Peter send love. Irmgard and myself going for long Sunday walks. Love to you both

Auntie Dora


Ruth tried in vain to get more news about her parents but this letter from the Red Cross shows they drew a blank:

Dear Madam,

In reply to your letter, we will do our best to find out about your parents, if you could first give us a little more information.

When did you last receive news of them, and how? What reason have you for thinking that they have been deported? Were you ever in touch with them through the Red Cross? If you could give us names and addresses of anybody in Munich who would be likely to keep in touch with them as far as possible, this would be a great help to us in making our enquiries. Please add the laces of birth of your parents, if you know this.

May I say how deeply we sympathise with you in your anxiety?

Yours truly,

for M. R. Carden

Red Cross_letter Aug 1943 about tracing parents

Copyright Tim Locke November 2017. Originals of all these Red Cross messages are in the Imperial War Museum, London.

Dora’s testimony: dreading the knock on the door


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.


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.”


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.)





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).


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.



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.



The two-page report typed and filed by Dora



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…’


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



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.


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.


‘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…


…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.


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.


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 in 1941 – 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.


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.


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:


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


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.



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.



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.


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…



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.



How the siblings escaped the Holocaust

While my grandparents Hans and Vera Neumeyer died in Nazi camps, all of Vera’s siblings survived the war. Hans’ side of the family were 100 percent Jewish but even his sister managed to escape shortly before the outbreak of war.

Vera’s mother was not Jewish so Vera herself would probably have been safe. During the early 1940s she divorced Hans but this was too late to save her.

Here are the stories of Hans’ and Vera’s sisters and brothers, many recollected by my uncle Raymond Newland (Raimund Neumeyer) and transcribed in the 1990s by his son Tobias, and with certain other details fleshed out by my brother Stephen and by Raymond’s wife Ingrid. For Hans and particularly Vera they are scenarios of what might have been. They had contacts in England and Switzerland they could have used. They just didn’t think it could happen to them, until it was too late.

Betty Braun (1881-1962)

Betty and husband with Gustl 1905

Betty and husband with Gustl in 1905

Hans Neumeyer’s sister Betty Braun lived at a house called Starenhäusl, Kellerstrasse 8 (now Lazarett Strasse)  in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, where the Neumeyer family visited many times, mostly at Easter but also during the summer of 1934. She had to sell the  house on February 1 1938 and moved to Bad Kreuznach where she kept house in some kind of institution until 1941. She took the easterly route to salvation, as late as 1941, when she boarded a train through Poland and then travelled out to Harbin in Manchuria on the very last Trans-Siberian train before the German invasion of Russia. Fortuitously she was in time to catch the very last ship from to Columbia before the outbreak of the Pacific War at Pearl Harbor.

Raymond remembers her as a wonderful aunt with whom they spent many happy holidays. These were mostly at Easter but also the summer of 1934.

Her son Gustav (1901-64) ran a bus company for many years in Manzales and Cali in Columbia, and she joined him. Known as Gustl, he had emigrated on 26 June 1937, officially for one year, but he did not return to Germany and his German nationality was cancelled by court order in 1939. He did however regain a certificate of repatriation from Bavaria in 1956.

sm Dela Hans Betty Gustl c1930 Garmisch.jpg

At the Starenhäusl in Garmisch: Betty and Gustl (Gustav), seen on the right with Dela Blakmar (far left) and Hans Neumeyer (in dark glasses). Dela was Hans’ secretary and wrote out his music for him. She moved back to her native Sweden and managed to rescue what survived of Hans’ music in Munich, but reported to Ruth in 1947 that the rest of it had been burnt.

Betty moved back to Munich after the war and visited our family in Sydenham on several occasions in the 1950s. She died in 1962. I have no memory of her, but her photos show a strong resemblance to her brother Hans.

sm Betty having coffee postwar

Betty in Munich in the 1950s having one of her trademark brews of strong coffee with condensed milk, typically (as my brother Stephen recalls) consumed over a game of patience.

Gustav had five children; his daughter, also called Betty Braun, first made contact with our family in the 1990s and visited my parents in Sydenham with her son. She now lives in Alicante. The youngest, Frieda, has recently contacted me from Florida through this blog: very nice to find a second cousin this way.

Irma Kuhn (born Irma Neumeyer; 1874-1943)

Hans’ older sister is a mystery and unfortunately I never asked Ruth about her. She may be one of several unnamed people in the family photo album that Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in 1939. Irma was widowed at the age of 50 when her husband Heinrich died in 1924, and paid some visits to the Neumeyers in Dachau in the years that followed, and Raimund could remember her reading them bedtime stories. When World War II broke out, she was living in an old people’s home in Hermann-Schmidt Strasse in Munich.

The day after Hans was transported to Theresienstadt, Irma was put on the train to the same place: 6  June 1942. She survived eleven months there, dying on 14 May the following year. We do not know if she ever saw her brother while in Theresienstadt.

Nathan Neumeyer (1843-1923)  and Frieda Neumeyer (1851-1915), the parents of Hans, Irma and Betty, also had a child called Eugen who died in childhood.

Dora Böse (born Dora Ephraim; later Dora Schweig; 1885-1962)

sm Dora 1942

Dora in 1942. Also known as Tante Dodo, Dora spent the war and subsequent years in Dresden, where her descendants Vera, Claudia and Cornelia still live. As previously described on this blog, her daughter Erika was due for deportation to a concentration camp in February 1945 only to be saved by the carpet-bombing of Dresden just before her scheduled departure.

Dora seems to have been the Neumeyers’ main contact point during the war. When Vera sent the Red Cross message that she was ‘going on a journey’ (in other words, being deported) she requested that family members should stay in touch with Dora. I assume that the letter Vera got passed on from the train on her final journey to the concentration camp was sent to Dora, as were the testimonies of Dr Hirschberg who described meetings with Hans Neumeyer and Martin Ephraim in Theresienstadt. (See earlier posts on this blog for the full stories.) Dora circulated copies of these to the family and deposited Dr Hirschberg’s testimonies with the post-war authorities.

My mother Ruth kept closely in contact with her, and sent her food parcels after the war. Letters from her express gratitude as at one stage they hadn’t even had potatoes for months: the Russians, she said, were taking all the produce.

Marianne (‘Janni’) Bisi (born Marianne Ephraim; 1887-1972)

sm Marianne Bisi nee Ephraim.jpgTante Janni, as everyone (even non-relations) knew her, is the only one of the siblings I can remember in person. She was supremely charismatic: clever, vivacious, an idealist, a vegetarian (on principle: she believed the world’s food problems could be solved if everyone became vegetarian) and a pacifist. When she stayed with us in Sydenham back in the 1960s, she would walk down the street beaming at complete strangers and stopping for a chat. The elderly, behatted Betterware door-to-door salesman never sold us anything but always made a point of visiting our house when Tante Janni was staying. I’d come home from school to find the two of them seated out in the front porch immersed in an hour-long (or perhaps even longer) chat. I  don’t think any Betterware commodities ever changed hands between them either.

She married Luigi Bisi, an Italian count and architect, in the 1920s, and they had a preposterously extravagant wedding, with all the guests going up in hot-air balloons. It wasn’t the most comfortable of family set-ups: his brother was a friend of Mussolini. She later separated from him. He had made his housekeeper pregnant and wanted to marry  her instead; bizarrely he went to the Pope to obtain a divorce, but we don’t know if this action was successful.

During the war she had a close affair with a man called Luderitz, who gave her a safe home; she had worked as a housekeeper during the war with the family in Bad Berka, Thuringia. She wasn’t quite Jewish enough to be deported but her cohabiting and the visits from the Ephraim and Neumeyer families had to be kept very quiet in the climate of fear that prevailed. In particular, his daughter Sigrid (Siggy) faced an awkward time at school and didn’t confide to anyone what was going on at home. She never had an easy relationship with Janni thereafter, but lived near her in Berlin as a fostered daughter and spent her last years in Cambridge until her death in 1996.


sm Janni and her kindergarten in Schreiberhau c1930

Janni (seen mid right, in white at the far side of the main table) at the Montessori Kindergarten she ran in Schreiberhau (now called Szklarska Poreba, and in Poland). Here her parents had a large country house – still extant as a building and now functioning as a guesthouse. Ruth is the fourth from the left (with plaits) and Raimund is standing to the right of her.

After the war Janni lived in Zehlendorf in Berlin. At a time when air travel was for the privileged few, she got many free flights through her son Valerio, who worked for Alitalia. He had been a Prisoner of War in north Africa for most of the war and for some time thereafter.

Her daughter Serena (1912-c.1995) was raped by Russian soldiers in 1945 and never married (we don’t think she had any relationships either). As compensation for her misfortune, she was given a job at the US Servicemen’s Club in Berlin, decorating the rooms for special events.

sm Janni and Bruno Schweig

Tante Janni (Marianne) with Bruno Schweig, the brother-in-law of Dora, seen outside our house in Sydenham. This is some time in the 1960s during one of her annual summer visits. Bruno lived in Golders Green.

Fritz Herbert Everett (born Fritz Herbert Ephraim; 1891-1950)

sm Vera and Herbert

Vera and Herbert as children

Even by the standards of the rest of the family, the mysterious Herbert seems to have led a colourful life.

He certainly lived in style. His first wife Pina (later Pina Talamonia) owned a villa on Capri which the Neumeyers visited in 1934. The Berlin-based Expressionist painter Walter Gramatté (later to be banned by the Nazis as a decadent artist) painted a portrait of one Pina Ephraim in 1919; given the Ephraims’ interest in supporting the arts, could this be the same person?

His father, Martin Ephraim, was passionate about cars, and Herbert developed the interest further, becoming a professional racing-car driver for Opel and for a while becoming the German racing champion. At one race a banner read ‘Ephraim für Deutschland’. Very ironic, in retrospect.

On July 13-14 1909 Herbert gained fourth place in a field of 23 in the Ostdeutsche Tourenpreisfahrt, a rally in eastern Germany, driving an Opel.  Two years later he took part in The Prince Henry Tour, an automobile race between Britain and Germany in honour of George V’s coronation. It started from Homburg on 4 July 1911 and finished in London on 19 July, with the British team victors. One of the drivers racing for Britain was the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the story of Conan Doyle’s participation is recounted here.

The Prince Henry Tour was an automobile race organized by Prince Henry (Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen, 1862-1929). This tour was a gesture of sporting good will in honour of King George V’s coronation. Prince Henry participated to the tour himself. The race featured 37 German cars from the Kaiserlichter Automobil-Klub (mostly Opel, Benz and Mercedes) versus 28 British cars from the Royal Automobile Club.

Raymond in Capri

Raimund on a visit with Vera to Pina Ephraim’s villa in Capri in 1934, some years after she had separated from Herbert.

He left Germany in 1931, so escaped the years under the Nazis completely, emigrating with his third wife to America, where he changed his surname to Everett.

Bricky toy

In New York Herbert worked for (and perhaps owned) a company making Bricky toy building sets, a kind of precursor to Lego. A set of it turned up at our house: it involved gluing individual bricks together and I don’t think any of us ever worked out how to use it.

He sent multiple invitations to his father Martin urging him to come to America but according to Dora Martin had never wanted to leave his beloved homeland. ‘I was born here. I will die here too,’ was his constant response.

After the war, he sent over some secondhand children’s clothes to my mother, but there was little news from him. Raimund Neumeyer (who had by then changed his name to Raymond Newland) managed to  contact Herbert through the British Consulate in New York. Herbert promised to get in touch but the family never heard from him again. He died soon after in, we think, 1950.


Herbert Ephraim with children and new car

Herbert on the fender of his new car (around 1928), with Ruth and Raimund beside him and Hans Neumeyer behind the fence to the left.