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.
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.
In essence the new areas of emphasis will be:
- The legacy of the First World War
- The impact and influence of the Second World War
- The ‘Holocaust by bullets’
- The aftermath: surviving survival
- British responses
- Reappraisal of the camp system
- 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
The 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).
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.
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.