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):

WAR ORGANISATION OF THE BRITISH RED CROSS AND ORDER OF ST. JOHN

[datestamp:]12 AUGUST 1940; 23 September 1940

Name NEUMEYER

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.

RAYMOND AND I BUSY WELL AND HAPPY. PLAY A LOT OUTDOORS, ALSO WEEKLY BATHING. HAVE GOT FLUTE MUSIC.

Date 10.6.1940

ADDRESSEE

NAME NEUMEYER

CHRISTIAN NAME HANS

ADDRESS 5 THORWALDSEN STRASSE, MUNICH

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]

EVERYTHING AS BEFORE. BOUGHT PLAY FOR ACTING. RECEIVED TWO LETTERS. NOW LOVELY BATHES IN RIVER. STARTED DIVING AND ALGEBRA.

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.]

ALL WELL. WENT WITH STIRLANDS TO THEIR GRANDMOTHER. HAD SINGING LESSONS THERE. FOUND MANY STRAWBERRIES. WE ALL HAVE HOLIDAYS. Ruth

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]:

ALL WELL. RECEIVED YOUR MESSAGE. MANY HAPPY RETURNS TO YOUR BIRTHDAYS. I HAD A LOVELY ONE. WILL SOON BE GIRL GUIDE. RUTH

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

ALL WELL. GO TO DRESSMAKING AND SEWING CLASSES. HAVE PHYSICAL TRAINING. LEARNING HISTORY GEOGRAPHY GEOMETRY ALGEBRA AND LITERATURE. RUTH

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

ALL WELL. RECEIVED MESSAGES. BEST WISHES FOR NEW YEAR. AM GUIDE SINCE DEC 20TH. BEEN TO PARTIES. RODE YESTERDAY. RUTH

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.

Parents.

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

ALL WELL. HAPPY IN NEW HOME. HAD EXCITING PATROL HIKE FOUND INNUMERABLE SNOWDROPS AND ACONITES. HAVING PIANO LESSONS. LOVE RUTH.

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.

Parents.

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:

ALL WELL. AM ENJOYING DOMESTIC COLLEGE WITH NICE GERMAN GIRLS. GO CANOEING HIKING PASSING GUIDE EXAMS. KEEP HAPPY. LOVE RUTH

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.

Parents.

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!

Parents.

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

THINK MUCH OF YOU ESPECIALLY TODAY BEING MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY. MANY HAPPY RETURNS TO BOTH BIRTHDAYS. ALL WELL. THOUSAND KISSES. RUTH

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.

Parents.

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

ALL WELL RUTH IN NURSERY SCHOOL. I LIKE WORK. HAD PLEASANT CHRISTMAS. HOPE YOU ARE BOTH WELL AND CHEERFUL. SAW OPERA RECENTLY. KEEP SMILING. RAYMOND

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]:

ALL WELL TRAINING IN NURSERY COLLEGE. RECEIVED MESSAGE. ENJOY SHAKESPEARE. GREET ALL FRIENDS AND RELATIONS RAYMOND ENJOYS SCOUTS. HEAR FROM NATHANS. KEEP HAPPY LOVE RUTH.

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

ALL WELL, RECEIVED YOUR MESSAGE. GLAD YOU ARE WELL. HEALTH EXCELLENT. RUTH JUST HAD HOLIDAY. LOOK FORWARD TO HEAR MESSIAH. KEEP CHEERFUL LIKE US. RAYMOND.

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!

Parents

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!

Mother

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]:

ALL WELL HERE, HOW ARE YOU ALL? RUTH AND I FINDING LIFE VERY SATISFACTORY. I STILL WORKING, TAKING LESSONS FOR EXAM. KEEP CHIN UP.

RAYMOND.

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:

BOTH WELL ENJOYED CHRISTMAS. ARE BOTH WORKING AND STUDYING. HAVE MANY HELPFUL FRIENDS. HEALTH EXCELLENT. HOPE TO SEE RUTH SOON. HOW ARE YOU? LOVE

RAYMOND

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

Postscript

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.

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New threads emerge: a miscellany

Since I’ve started this blog in May 2014, more and more material about the story of my mother’s family has come to light.

In recent months I’ve been keeping contact with the Imperial War Museum who are keen to feature the family story in the revamp of the Holocaust Gallery for 2020 (as part of the remodelling of the World War II galleries). They’ll be looking at the Neumeyers and Ephraims from the years before Hitler came to power to the post war years.

My brothers, cousin and I are delighted that they are taking over the entire Neumeyer/Ephraim archive, which will be kept permanently in IWM London. The famous teddy bear will be on display, and the numerous artefacts such as the letters and photographs will be accessible to researchers. There could well be copious material here for a PhD researcher (and any researchers are very welcome to contact me).

This post is a collection of bits and updates – some of which I’ve also added to the corresponding places in earlier posts.

Hans Neumeyer tributes

Hans Neumeyer Garmisch 1930s

Hans near his sister’s house at Garmisch, in the German Alps

Hans’ secretary Dela Blakmar kept in touch with my mother for some forty years after the war. In one of her letters she copied out notes from two men who knew Hans.

Dr Elias Manuelidis was a Yale Professor of Neurology at Yale. He died in 1992 aged 74. He wrote to Dela:

Munich 17 July 1947

Kurz nach dem Einmarsch der Amerikaner suchte ich Dr Spanier auf und von diesem erfuhr ich als erster das tragische Schicksal, das unsern lieben Hans getroffen hat. Die Nachtricht war für mich ganz besonders schmerzlich, weil ich in den letzten Kriegsmonaten mich ganz besonders auf ein baldiges Wiedersehen mit ihm freute.

Ich brauche Ihnen, liebe Dela, nicht zu betonen, dass Hans in meiner seelischen Entwicklung in meiner Studentenzeit die grösste Rolle gespiet hat. Das “Nicht Hassen” habe ich ihm zu verdanken. Ich erinnere mich oft an seine Worte, dass der Hass etwas Negatives kommnung und zu einer Produtivität im geistigen Gebiet Führe kann. Ich habe sehr viels miterlebt, jedoch an seine Worte muss ich immer denken.
“Shortly after the American invasion I visited Dr Spanier and from this I was the first to experience the tragic fate that has befallen our dear Hans. The nightmare was especially painful for me because in the last months of the war I was especially looking forward to seeing him again soon. I need hardly tell you, dear Dela, the major role Hans played in my development in my student days. I owe to him the principle “not to hate”. I often think of his words that hatred can lead to negativity and to productivity in the spiritual realm. I’ve been through a lot, and what he said is always dear to my heart .”

Alois Weiner, his friend, was with him in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Another letter from Alois has already been recorded in this blog.

12 September 1946

Der gute Hans ist tot. Zwei jahre lang war er eigentlich glücklicher als viel von uns, weil er einige Schüler hatte, hauptsäntlich junge Lehrer aus der Tchechoslovakei. Diese Schüler haben ihn verehrt und, was dort am wichtigsten war, haben ihn zusätzlich reichlich mit Lebensmittel versorgt, den sie bekamen im Gegensatz zu uns mehr und grössere Pakete. Dass er mit dem was er bekam nicht geizte, kann niemand besser bestätigen als ich und mir machte es wiederum Freude, wenn mir ein Päckchen zuflog, mit ihm zu teilen…. Kurz vor seinem Tod kam Ihr letztes Päckchen. Ich erinnere mich noch, dass es Oelsardinen waren und dass er mir eine davon unbedingt aufdrängte…

Aber eines Tage kam seine Krankheit zum Ausbruch und das Schlimme war, dass er in ein Krankenhaus eingeliefert wurde, aus dem er nie an die frische Luft herauskam, sondern immer in einem Zimmer mit etwa acht andern Leuten lag. Bedenkt man seine Blindheit ohnehin und dieses körperliche Leiden dazu, so hat er alles mit grösster Geduld getragen
“The good Hans is dead. For two years he was actually happier than many of us, because he had some students, mainly young teachers from Czechoslovakia. These disciples venerated him and, most importantly, provided him with plenty of food, which they got, unlike us, more and larger packages. No one could confirm better than I can how generous he was with  his share,, and I would chuck him a packet to share …. Shortly before his death came his last package. I still remember that they were sardines in oil and that he urged me on one of them … But one day there was an outbreak of illness and he was taken to a hospital from which he never came out into the fresh air; his fate was to spend all the time lying  in a room with about eight other people. Considering his blindness and suffering, he bore everything with great patience.”

Selected photographs

There are hundreds of historic photos in the archive. Here are a few that I’d like to highlight:

Evangelische Schule Dachau 1935 Ruth top row 5th from R, Raymond 2nd row 2nd from R

Evangelische Schule Dachau in 1935. Ruth is in the top row fifth from right, and Raymond is in the second row, second from right

Some snapshots of the Neumeyers’ normal family life:

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Julius Kohn

Julius Kohn, who lived with the Neumeyers in Dachau. He had no family and when the Nazis stormed into the house in 1939 to stop a children’s play being performed in front of friends and neighbours, he was arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp for two weeks – he never spoke about his ordeal there. A kindly, somewhat mild-mannered man (nicknamed Onki), he died in Auschwitz.

Gold that somehow the Nazis never got hold of

Ephraim jewellery (2)

This beautiful gold locket bears the photo of Hildegard Ephraim (my mother’s maternal grandmother) on the back. The back panel has been removed, maybe deliberately – would have Martin Ephraim have taken it off (perhaps it was Hildegard’s and Martin’s  photo was inside the missing part) when Hildegard died in 1932? My mother Ruth never showed me this locket – we discovered it at the back of her wardrobe when we cleared out her house in Sydenham in 2013. But in her wedding photo of 1951 she is wearing this locket – possibly for the only time. We don’t know it got to Britain but assume one of Ruth’s aunts brought it over after the war.

The Ephraims’ car-rallying antics

On July 13-14 1909 Vera’s brother (my great uncle) Herbert Ephraim 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 organised 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.

Motoring historian Anders Clausager has also contacted me with more information. in 1906 Martin Ephraim took part in the Herkomer Fahrt, a motor rally in Germany, driving a Daimler. Anders thought it was most unusual for a German to have owned an English car, but I’ve thus far drawn a blank why Martin had a Daimler.

Neumeyers in Herbert Ephraims car in Schreiberhau

Martin Ephraim in the front passenger seat of the family car at Schreiberhau. Behind them are Hans and Vera Neumeyer, clearly visible; the other passengers are unknown (as is the make of car).

Hans Neumeyer’s music gets more performances

There have been performances of Hans Neumeyer’s trio and duo in various places, including at a music festival in Murcia, Spain, and in Lewes and very soon in Dachau. There’s a complete recording on youtube of the Duo, recorded at a summer festival at the Waldheim Palace, performed by Oleg Fedchuk  (violin) and  Iakov Zats (viola).

Trio in Murcia playing Neumeyer trio 30 Jan 2015

A performance of Hans Neumeyer’s trio, January 2015 in Murcia

Raimund’s school report

My uncle Raymond (then called Raimund Neumeyer before he anglicised his name to Raymond Newland) had a huge thirst for learning when he arrived in England, as evidenced by this school report from the Strodes School, Egham:

Raymond school report Egham 1940

Raimund’s school report for 1940 shows encouraging signs, topping the class in physics and chemistry, and coming second in geography. Since he’d only been living in England for a year, he did remarkably well in English, too.

Munich, 1939: last months before the Kindertransport journey to England

I noticed today a set of photos which belong together – on some of them Ruth has annotated that they are of the Köbner family, and some are labelled ‘Munich, April 1939′, a month before Ruth and Raimund’s departure. The Neumeyers by then were living in Thorwaldsenstrasse, in central Munich. It may be that the Köbners were neighbours – we don’t have any details. The father was a doctor.

These are the pictures Raimund took when visiting as British army personnel just after the war, showing the Neumeyers’ lodging at 5 Thorwaldsenstrasse in ruins, and just round the corner the Bennokirche in what remained of Lorisstrasse. Both streets have since been completely rebuilt although the church still stands, presumably much repaired:

The photos of the Köbners themselves include their son Peter Klaus and infant daughter Beatrice. In the slideshow below  he is on his bicycle – the architecture looks quite similar to Thorwaldsenstrasse. The group photo is of the family dressed for  Fasching (Shrovetide carnival) costumes, presumably February 1939 (Ruth is far right; Raimund is wearing a hat and only half his face is visible):

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And finally: an extraordinary image

With very good reason, Ruth absolutely detested swastikas. My father had to cover up the spine of a novel that had a swastika on it to avoid offending her. So it’s particularly surprising to come across her design for this programme cover for an all-women play by Christa Winsloe called Children in Uniform. This was produced at Leavesden Green Emergency Teacher Training College, where she and my father met in 1949. She’s in the programme as playing ‘Her Excellency Von Ehrenhardt’. She must have been very uncomfortable about creating this cover: it’s not something she ever showed me.

Children in Uniform 1949 cover_20171104_0001

Text and images copyright Tim Locke November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Hans’ plea after Kristallnacht

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

No way out, but “that’s your problem”

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

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

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

 

Hans’ plea to the Gestapo

 

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

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

The letter below is held in the Munich state archive. It is recorded in this English translation in Hans-Günter Richardi’s book Dachau: A Guide to its Contemporary History:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 08.37.35

The letter Hans Neumeyer sent to the Nazi authorities in order to gain access to the family’s house, 9 December 1938. Ruth accompanied him to the house.

the house 1926

Vera and Ruth on the steps of the house, 1926

DSC02837

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

Dachau house Vera and Wolfgang's rose

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

Changes afoot in Holocaust Gallery at IWM

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

jess-and-james-visiting-lewes

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

20161206_130359_resizedIn essence the new areas of emphasis will be:

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

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

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

The current display of the Neumeyers at IWM

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

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

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What next?

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

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

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

How wonderful it is that she kept it all.

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.

 

 

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)

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. She took the easterly route to salvation, as late as 1939, when she boarded a train through Poland and then travelled on the very last (so it’s reputed) Trans-Siberian train out.

Fortuitously she was in time to catch the very last ship from Shanghai to South America, after she’d sent the Neumeyers several letters from Shanghai. The four that survive, and are illustrated here, are addressed to Vera and dated between August and November 1939; the one shown here top left is actually postmarked 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out. They were passed on to Ruth some years after the war when a large number of items kept by friends were sent over.

sm Betty Braun letters from China

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.

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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)

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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.

 

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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.

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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)

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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.

 

 

 

Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt

A previously unpublished account of life in Theresienstadt: this is a translation of a document written by Dr Hans Walter Hirschberg, transcribed by Marianne Bisi, daughter of Martin Ephraim and sister of Vera Neumeyer (and my great aunt). Marianne, known to my family as Tante Janni, survived the war and lived in Berlin until 1973.

Dr Hirschberg was a friend of Martin Ephraim (my great-grandfather) and his family. He arrived at Theresienstadt on transport number I/107, which left Berlin on 10 February 1944. He played an active part in Protestant church life in the camp and painted an altarpiece used by Protestants and Catholics. Following liberation he worked at Auschwitz gathering evidence and prosecuting Nazis.

This is one of two reports, and as it has more personal detail and seems to have been more intended for the family than the other report (featured previously on this blog), which was also deposited as a public record in Görlitz.

Marianne headed this as “Report of Herr Dr Hirschberg, state youth lawyer, about our beloved father Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt, the infamous Nazi concentration camp for Jews, where he was deported on 10 January 1944 at the age of 84.” Salomon Goldschmidt, the trader, could be the same person described on page 19 of a website about his town Eberswalde, which describes a Salomon Goldschmidt (1874-1951) who was in Theresienstadt and was a trader from Eberswalde; his wife Emma died in the camp.

Martin Ephraim

Martin Ephraim

“I arrived in Theresienstadt on 11 February 1944. One of my first calls was to your father. A human wreck staggered towards me. He had noticeably aged since I said farewell to him in the Jewish hospital in Berlin, little more than four weeks before. Above all he had lost his sense of humour, which had never left him in Berlin.”

The reference to the hospital in Berlin is something I’ll be looking at on the next post in this blog.

“The extraordinarily primitive standard of accommodation weighed particularly heavily on him. He was in a so-called sick bay of the Cavalry Barracks, where around 20 elderly men of various backgrounds lay in 2 rows of beds with scarcely 1m between them in a long, stretched-out room. Your father was near the window, so at least he had daylight, and he read enthusiastically. In Berlin, he had got to know again through me former friends from Eberswalde, Salomon Goldschmidt, a self-employed trader with intellectual interests, and his wife. I spent 19 February with them celebrating my son’s birthday and I still remember the joy with which your father consumed the ‘Leckerbissen’ and crispbread with honey I had brought.”

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Theresienstadt’s spectacular desolation on my visit in 2001. The town was built as a barracks town in the 18th century and is still lived in, its star-shaped fortifications very much intact. During World War II it served as a Nazi camp, and some 150,000 were held there. Most either died of illness in the camp or were deported to Auschwitz, Treblinka or other extermination camps.

“I mention this to show how primitive the food was. I don’t want to say that we were being systematically starved. But the rations were hardly sufficient for the elderly even with strong stomachs, as they had their food allocated, while those capable of work were accordingly better provided for, and everyone who could collect their own food from the mess had the opportunity to get ‘seconds’ and leftovers.”

“Some time after my arrival I noticed a kind of loss of the will to live in your father. Without any medical reason that I could identify, he stayed in bed and told me that the doctor had advised it, and also that he did not really have any wish to go out any more. A little parcel – from one of you [his daughters Dora and Marianne], if my memory is not mistaken, or from Fraulein Rena [Serena, daughter of Marianne], brought him great joy.”

receipt for packet for Ephraim in Theresienstadt 1944

A receipt for a package received by Martin Ephraim in Theresienstadt on 31 March 1944. Might it be the one referred to in this missive from Dr Hirschberg?

“The last weeks passed waiting in vain for further signs of life. On his birthday, I believe, I found him out of bed for the last time and lying down with Goldschmidt, who was housed one level above him and who, as the oldest person in the room, had a little more space. Again I was able to contribute a little something to the day’s [catering?] arrangements.”

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Abandoned rail tracks in Theresienstadt

The lost pen and the Salvation Train

In Theresienstadt, prisoners were not stripped of all their possession as they were in other camps. The fact that Martin Ephraim’s pen was so treasured hints that such items were surely key to retaining one’s identity.

He mentions Gernot: this is Martin’s nephew, and the son of Dora. He died with the German army on the Russian front.

I assumed at first that the reference below to ‘transport to Switzerland’ was a Theresienstadt joke meaning transport to Auschwitz though in fact there was an arrangement for 1200 prisoners to be released from Theresienstadt in 1945. This was orchestrated by the former Swiss president Jean-Marie Musy who negotiated with the German High Command to make a payment of 5 million Swiss francs that had been donated by Jews in the USA. The train (later to be known as the ‘Salvation Train’) departed on 5 February 1945 – the actual date ties in with Hirschberg’s account (click here for the full story):

“When I learned that your brother-in-law, Hans Neumeyer, was also in Theresienstadt, I visited him. He was in a room for those with lung diseases in quite a distant barracks and was bed-ridden. The two could not come to see each other. On his birthday I brought your father a very warm letter from his son-in-law. But then it became clear that he [Martin Ephraim] was rapidly going downhill. One day I heard, from asking about him daily, that he had just quietly died in his sleep (that must have been on 4 April, his sister Ida’s birthday M.B.) [note added by Marianne].”

“His remains had already been removed from the room, the belongings shared out, apart from those which Herr Weiner, an acquaintance of the Neumeyers from Munich, had taken. I took a picture of your father in his forties to bring to you. It was to be lost with a suitcase in Prague. He had entrusted his bed neighbour Seelig with his beautiful fountain pen, but at the last minute arranged for Seelig, who died a few days after your father, to pass the pen on to me. I was to use it but later give it to Gernot. It was quite likely that Gernot was no longer alive at the time. I kept the fountain pen for ten months. Then it needed some minor repairs. A specialist was recommended to me. He delayed the delivery. On 5 February [1945] I went to his accommodation. It was empty! He had been assigned for transport to Switzerland. I went to the place where those on the transport were gathered. With difficulty I found the guy. He was very embarrassed: ‘I cannot get to the pen just now, but I can give you this one as a substitute’. He gave me a really bad one. There was nothing to be done about it.”

Finale

The tragic story of the dumping of the ashes from the crematorium into the river, described below, is one of the much-cited anecdotes about Theresienstadt.

Philippson

Alfred Philippson, the eminent geographer, who lost his job during the Third Reich. After the war he resumed his major work on Greek landscapes.

A happier ending awaited Professor Philippson, described at the end of this report. Alfred Philippson (1864-1953), was a distinguished geographer and geologist. He was probably also related to the Ephraims as Lesser Ephraim, Martin’s father, was married to Henrietta Philippson. While in Theresienstadt he wrote his memoir Wie ich zum Geographen wurde. 

For more about the Philippsons, click here.

“Frau Goldschmidt died a few days after your father, also without any particular illness being identified, and poor Neumeyer after a few weeks. I sent some women to read to him, but he was already too frail and sent most of the reading volunteers away without requiring their service.”

DSC00004

Inside the crematorium on my 2001 visit, I lit candles for my grandparents – Hans and Vera Neumeyer – and for Martin Ephraim. All perished in camps – Hans and Martin died here.

“I could not even pay my last respects to him, because I was not informed in time. On the other hand I was present at the cremation of your father. The naturally rather simple coffins, Jews and Christians in separate rooms in a double hall, were put on the bier next to each other and some acquaintances gathered around them.”

“The clergy performed the funeral rites according to the religious customes. Some men then lifted the coffins onto a cart that moved them to the crematorium. Outside the ghetto proper, there was an urn cemetery, with over 25,000 urns, which had to be thrown into the River Eger in the late autumn of 1944. This was one of the most barbaric of all SS orders.”

“I kept up your father’s tradition by visiting Professor Philippson, with whom I kept very much in touch towards the end.”

In June 1945 the city of Bonn picked him up in a private car. I had long-standing family relations with the Philippsons.

“Later I took part professionally in many funeral ceremonies. The Catholic community would recite the entire service during transports to the east. Then the Lutheran minister would take over. These were elderly men, who were strained in winter by these early-morning outdoor missions. Then I turned up and became, if I may say so myself, the winter organiser for both denominations…”

Afterword

I have yet to uncover the details of Hirschberg’s work as a prosecutor after the war, but he later wrote this about his time in Theresienstadt:

One tenth of the Jews who had been interned there belonged to a Christian confession. Some were Protestants, some Catholics. Among these Jews, there was a group of Evangelical Jewish Christians from Holland, four hundred in number that distinguished themselves. They even had a Jewish Christian pastor with them. Many of our ‘church members’ had, although they had been baptized, never really considered being followers of Jesus until they came to Theresienstadt. But here, under the influence of God’s word, many of them were truly converted. Jews who had been Christians in name only became true Christians. Many Mosaic Jews and Jews who had no faith whatsoever found Jesus and were saved in Theresienstadt. I am one of the few survivors from the concentration camp in Theresienstadt. Most of my brothers went home to be with the Lord. But my Saviour saved me out of this camp so that I might proclaim the wonderful things that He performed among those who were in “the valley of the shadow of death.”