Hans’ plea after Kristallnacht

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

No way out, but “that’s your problem”

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

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

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

 

Hans’ plea to the Gestapo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the house 1926

Vera and Ruth on the steps of the house, 1926

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.

Advertisements

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).

20161206_163408_resized

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.

iwm-hans-neumeyer-exhibit-detail

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.

slide1

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.

slide2

‘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…

slide3

…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.

slide4

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.

slide5

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.

slide6

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.

slide7

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:

slide8

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

slide9

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.

 

slide10

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.

 

slide11

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.

slide12

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…

slide14

 

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 Kellenstrasse 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.

 

sm Dela Hans Betty Gustl c1930 Garmisch.jpg

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.

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 first place in a field of 23 in the Ostdeutsche Tourenpreisfahrt, a rally in eastern Germany.  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.”

DSC00002

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.”

DSC00003

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.”

A desperate scramble for the exit: letters from Munich to England, 1939

I’m looking at a sheaf of letters from my grandparents written early in 1939 –  a time of frantic letter-writing and form-filling for the Neumeyers as they tried to get permissions to leave Germany before their world closed in on them.

Together they build up a picture of how they had hoped to come to the safety of England and settle permanently. The first letters are from the beginning of 1939. Later, tantalisingly, there’s news that permissions have been obtained for them to live in England; but it seems that they never got the required paperwork from the German authorities.

neumeyer letters1

Some of the letters sent by Hans and Vera Neumeyer to the Paishes in early 1939

Hans and Vera Neumeyer had met Frank and Beatrice Paish at the eurthymics school founded by Jacques Dalcroze at Hellerau near Dresden before the First World War. The Paishes and their extended family (the Eckhards and Stirlands) later became lifelong friends of Ruth and Raimund (my mother and uncle) and were known to them as Uncle Frank and Aunt Bea; both died in the 1980s. Frank Paish followed in his father’s footsteps to become an eminent economist: his theory of inflation popped up in the A level economics syllabus when I was at school.

The January 7 and January 8  letters: ‘our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family’

The Neumeyers have evidently just received the very good news that the Paishes were willing to sponsor Ruth and Raimund by acting as guarantors. Hans, although blind, spells out his practical skills. Ruth confirmed to me that he was a very good cook (gnocchi was a speciality; Vera, on the other hand was hopeless and left all the cooking to him).

Vera hopes she can get a ‘domestic permit’, and fears the separation will be worse for her than the children.

Testimonials from Hans' musical contacts, including Jacques Dalcroze

Testimonials from Hans’ musical contacts, including Jacques Dalcroze

With this first missive Hans sent testimonials dated between 1934 and 1938. We have seven of them, typed and translated into English. They are from  Jacques Dalcroze (the pioneer of eurythmics – the music and movement discipline that Vera taught and Hans played music for); Gustav Guldenstein, Dr Ernst Mohr, Walter Muller and Dr R Edlinger (Academy of Music and Conservatoire, Basle); Aug. Schimid-Lindner and H W von Waltershausen (professors at the Royal Academy of Music); Anna Hirzel-Langenhat (Castle of Berg); and Prof Dr F Klose and Prof Theodor Kilian (Public Academy of Music in Munich; Kilian was teacher of violin).

There is also a certificate from the Royal Academy of Music in Munich attesting to his standards in musical composition, pianoforte, general musical doctrine and history of music, and his CV.

[From Hans, but written out by Vera]

January 7 1939

Dear Mrs. Paish

At last I find a quiet hour to thank you for your dear letters of Dec 29th and Jan 2nd. All my words are too feeble to tell you how much my wife as well as myself are touched by your goodness and readiness to help us, how our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family.

We accept the noble-hearted offer of you brother and your sister-in-law with joyful relief. The contents of your last letter came to us as a light sent by God through the hopeless dark of the night around us. All we can do is to stretch out our hands to you, dear Mrs. Paish, as well as to your brother and his wife, to thank you and to pray to God that He may reward you for all your kindness.

We are including the required the certificates and photographs of the children, as well as a list of dates. If there is anything else we can do please write and we shall do it as quickly as possible.

We wrote several weeks ago to a Berlin committee which arranges the journey of non Aryan Christian children (Dr Spieron[?], Berlin, Brandenburgische Strasse 41), but we did not hear anything from it since then. I do not know if that Berlin committee is in connection with your English committee. But surely it will be best if the latter will arrange for the children to travel on one of the children’s trains. We know that if makes a great difference when the future residence of the children is guaranteed and that they are sure to come to your country sooner by this.

The informations we got here were rather different. Do you know if they need a passport and a visum? And is it true that they are allowed to take only one suit-case with them?

I am very thankful to you, too, for all that you try to find a possibility of existence for myself and my wife. I am sending you now my testimonials and recommendations translated into English.

Besides musical teaching (which includes the writing and reading of music in Braille – writing and stenography) I am able to teach blind people typewriting and other practical work as well. For instance I have a profound knowledge of handicraft work: electrical installation, upholstery, locksmith’s work, joinery and some book-binding. All these, if taught to blind people, want special knowledge and methods of working, and it is on account of my large practical experience that I should be able to give such practical teaching even more thoroughly than a seeing teacher. Or my experience and advice might be a useful help for a seeing teacher to whom I could give instructions how to organise such work at any institution or school for the blind. I am a good cook, too.

And I have gained a great experience with guide-dogs, an experience which might be useful for the blind in certain regards.

My wife as well as I quite understand that it will perhaps be necessary to go in separate places at first. If so, I might be accompanied by a friend of ours who is of Danish nationality and so with her passport might travel wherever it would be necessary.

Please excuse me for not answering before this. I had to wait for the translation of my testimonials which were in Berlin at the time when your letter arrived. I hope to hear from you soon.

With kind regards to yourself as well as your brother and your sister-in-law

Yrs thankful

Hans Neumeyer

Vera follows this up with a letter written a day later echoing Hans’ gratitude:

The Paishes' house at 86 Kingsley Way, London N2 as it is now

The Paishes’ house at 86 Kingsley Way, London N2 as it is now. Ruth and Raimund couldn’t stay there, though, and went to live with Bea’s brother, Oscar Eckard instead.

…they [the children] are brave and reasonable little souls and they both are looking forward to the new life, and I trust they will soon get accustomed to the new surroundings and the English language which they are already studying here. I think the separation will be harder for me than for them, but I do hope I shall soon be able to follow them, as I have already got a passport and so all I want is only to be required by some family or institution as a household-help or for the education of children, or as a lady companion… Later on, perhaps, it would be possible to do some rhythmic work or to combine my faculties with my knowledge of the French and Italian languages. But for the moment I am told the only way to come to your country is by a domestic permit’.

News from the Jewish Blind Society

The Neumeyers’ hopes must have been raised – in vain as it turned out – by the Jewish Blind Jewish Blind Soc lettersSociety, based in Fordwych Road, London NW2. In February, the Society wrote two letters to Beatrice Paish. On 5 February it is recorded that the organisation will ‘probably be willing to apply for Mr. Neuberger [sic] & his wife’. Another note three days later confirms the receipt of the doctor’s certificate for Mr Neumeyer, but asking for certificates for the rest of the family and the birth dates of the children. This if followed by a very hopeful letter on 16 March to Beatrice Paish, giving a tantalising promise of what life would be like for the Neumeyers in the safety of England:

On 22 February we applied for permission for you and your husband to enter this country, and I hope the necessary visas will be granted by the Home Office very shortly, although I cannot guarantee anything, nor do I know how long it will take. Without wishing to raise your hopes too much, I would say that up to now they have not taken a very long time, but there is no chance of urging them forward, and we must just wait until they come through.

When you and your husband arrive here, I propose to send you both to the Royal School for the Blind, Leatherhead, Surrey. This is a big place in the country, and not very far from London You will be put up there in dormitories, and naturally, you and your husband will not be allowed to share the same room. When you are once here we shall see what we can do for you. Possibly you will be able to get a domestic post quite independent of this Society, and if your husband has been trained for any work, such as basket-making or brush-making, then doubtless we shall be able to find him a position in one of the workshops for the Blind. I will inform you as soon as I have heard from the Home Office, and will then give you whatever further information is necessary.

Yours faithfully

Mr Herbert M Harris

Secretary

The final letter we have from the Society was sent on 22 March, confirming the receipt of the permit for ‘Mr & Mrs. Neumeyer from Munich’. But nothing ever came of it, and the whole thing simply fizzled out in the bureaucratic nightmare of those pre-war months.

More delay; ‘it will take about three months before the guarantees will be examined’

This letter concerns the transport of the children to England. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the air, and all sorts of guarantees are required for things to proceed. Happily it worked – due I am sure in no small measure to the Paishes, and on 11 May Ruth and Raimund left Germany on the Kindertransport for a new life with a new family in England.

München

Thorwaldsentstr. 5

14 March 1939

My dear Mrs. Paish!

Permit me to answer the letter addressed to my wife, that she sent me in order to give me the opportunity to get in touch with the headquarters of the different committees that are here in Berlin where I am staying for a short time. You know how grateful we are for the interest you take in our affairs and the sympathy you are showing us. It oppresses me very much to think that we are forced to make use of your time and your kindness, you may find some excuse for it in the extreme difficulty of our situation.

To-day I went to inform me at the central bureau for the emigration of non-Aryan Christian children, Pfarrer Grueber , Berlin Oranienburgerstr. 20. The reporter Frau Studienrat Draeger told me

  1. The transports are not altogether stopped but delayed on account of several difficulties
  2. Until now one had to give the guarantees to the Home Office if one intended to send the children privately, but it is quite possible that one has to address oneself now to the Inter-aid Committee (Bloomsbury House), that means that one has to give the guarantees now to the inter-aid committee. In that case – Mrs Draeger told me – the guarantees have to be given to Miss Gerstley Bloomsbury House who would pass it on to the Home Office, that would communicate with the bureau of Pfarrer Grueber. One has to assure a guarantee:

a) for the financial support
b) for the family that is going to take the children, and
c) for the school that the children are going to be sent to.

It will take about three months till the guarantees will be examined. In case that the papers would not yet be at the Inter-aid committee I should be very much obliged to you if you could have that done as soon as possible.

At the committee here nothing is known about children coming to England privately being treated differently by the government from those that go with transports. There are no difficulties with the luggage, as each thing is taxed and sealed at home.

We think this photo of Raimund was sent in a letter to the Paishes

You mention that your brother might have to take a smaller house and then would not be in the position to take the children. I am very happy that in case you intend to take Ruth, that is very kind of you. But it is necessary that another suitable home for our boy should be found this has to be settled before giving the guarantees to the Inter-aid committee or else his permit would be made uncertain. Perhaps your brother might give the committee the assurance of taking the children to make things easier and meanwhile one could try to find another home for Raimund. Unfortunately we have scarcely any friends in England so that we cannot do much, would you have the great kindness to try if you can find somebody among your friends who could be of help. I’m sure you’ll understand, dear Mrs. Paish, how we feel about it, it’s so hard for the children to leave their parents and everything and it would be such a comfort for them if they could remain together or at least not too far apart. I feel so depressed about giving you so much trouble but all of this is of such importance for us and the children, so please pardon me.

Ever so many thanks for all you kindness and please give our thanks to Lady Simon and Miss Zimmern and to your brother.

Believe me, dear Mrs. Paish, to be

Yours truly

Hans Neumeyer.

 

This is followed up on 20 March 1939. Vera and Hans are still expecting to come, but nothing ever came of it:

Dear Mrs Paish

I have to thank you for three letters which you wrote to us. I am so sorry to cause you so much trouble just at a time where you are more than usually occupied because of your maid’s illness. We are absolutely convinced that everything that can be done has been done by you, and that under these circumstances it is useless at present to urge the Interaid to hurry.

We are very glad than our children will stay together in your brother’s family, after all.

I am sending you a copy of a letter which I got from the Jewish Society three days ago. You will see that their plans are not so favourable as the informations they gave to you, the latter being certainly preferable for us as a future perspective.

However, we share your and your husband’s opinion that the most important thing is to come, and that everything else will be settled afterwards.

In the meantime we must be patient.

With best greetings from us all,

Yrs,

V. Neumeyer

We have a large number of letters in German written to Ruth and Raimund from May 1939 until the end of the year. Thereafter, communications were restricted to much shorter Red Cross messages (the originals of which are now in the Imperial War Museum), which say very little. More about these on a future post.