Dora’s testimony: dreading the knock on the door

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Dora in 1938

My great aunt Dora Böse (‘Tante Dodo’) spent the war years in Dresden and survived. She died in 1962, still in Dresden in what was then East Germany (the DDR). I’ve recently translated a document she wrote for some official purpose in 1949. I assume it was done for the Communist authorities to prove herself as a victim of the Holocaust.

Some of it covers familiar ground but there’s quite a bit that is new to me, particularly the day-to-day stress and uncertainty she and the family suffered.

Here it is, with the German version and my translation below, and my commentary paragraph-by-paragraph:

Status: first degree Mischling

“Meine Erlebnisse in den Jahren der Nazizeit sind keine politischen; sie sind rassischer Art. Meine Mutter war Christin, meine Vater Jude; ich selbst galt also nach der Gesestzen der Nazizeit, den sogennanten ‘Nürnberger Gesetzen’, als Mischling 1 Grades.

My experiences in the years of the Nazi period are racial rather than political. My mother was a Christian, my father a Jew; I was therefore, according to the laws of Nazism, the so-called ‘Nuremberg laws,’ as a Mischling of the first degree.”

So Mischling (mixed race, part Jew) of the first degree would have applied to her siblings Herbert, Marianne and Vera. Only Vera (my grandmother) was ever deported and she was the only one to perish in the Holocaust, due to her marriage to a Jew.

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Dora (right) with her sister Marianne in Berlin in 1947.

After Kristallnacht: living on the edge

“Im März 1938 zogen wir von der Strehlenerstrasse hier heraus; gleich am 2 Tage unseres Einzuges erschien Polizei vom hiesigen Revier, verhörte uns, warum wir hierher gezogen waren etc und sagte als Abschluss, dass wir doch wohl genau wüssten, wie wir uns verhalten hätten. Am Abend des 9 November 1938, klopfte um 23 Uhr Polizei und SS stark an unsere Flurtür; eine Haussuchung nach Waffen fand statt; erfolgles Seit diesem Abend waren wir immer erschrecken bei jedem Klingeln, bei jedem Klopfen; in den folgen den Jahre bis 1945 wurde ich alle paar Monate zur Gestapo bestellt und verhört, befragt; die Gründen bleben mir unbekannt; im Haus und in der Nachbarschaft wurde immer wieder nachgefragt, ob man nichts Nachteiliges über uns zu berichten wüsste; im Oktober 1944 erhielt ich Order für Sonntag früh um 7 zu Aufraumungsarbeiten nach dem Luftangriff in der Wettingerstrasse; ich ging hin, habe mich aber dort geweigert die Arbeiten auszuführen, da ja meine Söhne zum Heeresdienst eingezogen waren; man liess mich auch gehen.

In March 1938 we moved here from Strehlenstrasse; straight away on the second day of our arrival the local police appeared and interrogated us about the reasons for our moving here,  etc, and said as a parting gesture that we should jolly well know what was in store for us. On the evening of November 9 at 11 o’clock, 1938, the police and the SS knocked fiercely  at our door. A search for weapons took place. After that we were frightened every time someone knocked or rang at the door. From then until 1945 I was picked up by the Gestapo every few months and interrogated, for reasons unknown to me. In the house and in the neighbourhood, they kept asking everybody if they had any prejudicial information to report about us. In October 1944 I received orders for Sunday morning at 7 am to help clear up after the air attack in Wettingerstrasse; I went there, but I refused to carry out the work, and since my sons had entered army service; they let me go.”

The date she refers to, November 9 1938, was Kristallnacht when numerous pogroms took place against Jews, as windows were smashed, books burned and Jews beaten up. So Dora escaped persecution but life was thoroughly uncomfortable and uncertain.

“As they were making our life hell, we just had to try to defend ourselves”

“Unsere Lebensmittelkarten erhielten wir nicht wie die anderen Leute ins Haus gebracht, sondern mussten sie uns in der Stadt auf einem Amt persönlich abholen, da man Arien nicht zumuten könne, eine Mischlingshaushalt zu betreten. Im Mai 1944 fuhr ich nach Bayern zu einer Haushaltstätigkeit in der Pension von Freunden; die Liebensmittel Kartenabmeldung musste auf ‘unserm’ Amt geschehen; man schrieb mir dort hinein ‘Mischling 1 Grades’!  Ich wusste, dass ich mit dieser Karte in der kleinen Stadt in Bayern nie und nimmer eine Lebensmittelkartenanmeldung erhalten hätte, und habe stillsehweigend  diesen Passus ausradiert und bei Blickkehr nach hier es wieder hinzugefügt; ich tat das nicht gern, aber, wenn man uns das Leben zur Hölle machte, musste man versuchen sich zu wehren.  

Ich will noch hinzufügen, dass alle Wege und Bestellungen zu Ämtern immer mit unverschämten Schmähungen verbunden waren. Meine älteste Tochter aus meine 1 Ehe mit einem Juden, der 1913 starb, galt als Jüdin, da sie 3 jüdische Grosselternteile hatte; sie war seit Juli 1935 in Leuben mit einem Former  verheiratet; sie musste jahrelang unter sehr unangenehmen Bedingungen in der Kartonagenfgabrik arbeiten und wurde in dieser Zeit grundlos 10 Tage im Polizeipräsidium eingesperrt; für den 16 Februar 1945 war sie zum Abtransporrt nach Th bestellt; nur  der Luftangriff vom 13 und 14 Februar  verhinderte das. Meine jüngere Tochter war von Beruf Buchhändlerin; im Jahre 1935 musste sie diesen Beruf auf Befehl aufgeben.

We did not have our ration cards delivered to the house like other people – these had to be picked up in the city from an office in person, since you could not expect Aryans to enter a Mischling house. In May 1944 I went to Bavaria to do housework at a friends’ pension. It was mandatory to report with one’s ration cards at the designated office: they recorded me as a Mischling of the first degree. I knew that with this card in the little town in Bavaria I would never have received my rations, so I surreptitiously crossed that description out and reinstated it when I got back home – I didn’t feel at all comfortable doing that, but as they were making our life hell, we just had to try to defend ourselves.

I would like to emphasise that all contacts with officialdom were associated with shameless abuse. My eldest daughter from my marriage to a Jew who died in 1913 was considered a Jewess, having three Jewish grandparents. She had been married to a sheet-metal worker in Leuben since July 1935. She had had to work under very unpleasant conditions in a cardboard box factory for many years, and during this time was imprisoned without reason for 10 days in the police department. She was ordered to report for transportation to Theresienstadt on 16 February 1945. Only the air attack [the carpet bombing of Dresden by the Allies] on 13 and 14 February prevented this. My younger daughter was by  profession a bookkeeper. In 1935 she was ordered to give up her profession.”

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Erika and her husband Otto, on 3 September 1942

It was Erika who had to report for transportation to Theresienstadt, as she had married a Jew, Otto Schweig. The paper (shown below) was sent out by Dr Ernst Israel Neumark, a Jew working for the Nazis, on 12 February 1945. Then two days later the whole city was carpet bombed, and Neumark told Erika to lie low instead. The deportation never happened. (See my earlier post, Saved by the Bombs in Dresden.)

 

 

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Deportation order issued to Erika for 12 February 1945, two days before the city was carpet bombed by the Allies.

News from the rest of the family

“Und trotzdem mussten meine beiden Söhne im Osten als Soldaten kämpfen; der ältested fiel mit 23 J in Januar 1944; 4 Monat verheiratet. Mein Vater, 1860 geboren, wurde in den Jahren 1942/44 mehrfach zur Gestapo geholt und einmal 3 Wochen dort gehalten, aber immer wieder gelang es uns ihn zurück zu bekommen; am 8 Januar 1944 rief mich ein Telegramm nach Berlin; man hatte ihn aus seiner Pension in das jüdische Altersheim in der Innischen Strasse gebracht; bei meiner Ankunft war er schon fertig zum Abtransport nach Theresienstadt; er war vollkommen gesund zu dieser Zeit und sehr rüstig für sein Alter; erfolglos versuchte ich nochmal an allerlei Stellen ihn frei  zu bekommen.

Noch 2 mal  erhielten wir Karten meines Vaters aus Theresienstadt; im März 1944 die letzte auf Umwegen. 

Durch Berliner Freunde bekam ich im 1944 die Machricht ,dass er am 5 April infolge der Entbehrungen, Hunger und Kälte gestorben sei; amtlicher seits hat man nie nötig gefunden, seine nächsten Angehörigen zu benachrichtigen.

In spite of all this, my two sons had to fight as soldiers in the East. The elder [Gernot] perished at the age of 23 in January 1944; he had been married 4 months. My father [Martin Ephraim], born in 1860, was repeatedly taken to the Gestapo in 1942-44 and held there for three weeks, but again and again we managed to get him back. On January 8, 1944, a telegram called me to Berlin. He had been taken from his pension to the Jewish retirement home in the Innstrasse. On my arrival he was ready for transport to Theresienstadt. He was perfectly healthy at this time, and very alert for his age; I tried unsuccessfully from office to office to try and get him free again.

Just twice again we received cards from my father from Theresienstadt, the last in March 1944 by a circuitous route.

Through Berlin friends in 1944 I received the message that he died on the 5th of April, due to deprivation, hunger, and cold; it was not deemed necessary by the authorities to send an official notification to his immediate family.”

We know that her son Gernot (‘Notti’) perished on in action fighting for the Germans near Kirovograd in the Ukraine. Her father Martin Ephraim had his cherished fountain pen which while imprisoned in Theresienstadt he intended  to pass on to Gernot, but it ended up in the wrong hands and the prisoner who took possession of it was lucky to escape from the one train out of  the camp to safety in Switzerland. See the subhead The Lost Pen and the Salvation Train (midway through the piece on Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt).

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Wartime postcard to Erika at Lilienthal Strasse 8, Dresden. It is from her father Martin Ephraim, writing from the notorious ‘model’ Nazi camp at Theresienstadt.

The failure to save Vera

“Meine jüngste Schwester war mit einem Musiker, einem blinden Juden, verheiratet; zuerst nahmen man ihnen ihr Häuschen; im Mai 1939 schickten sie ihre Kinder mit einem Transport nach England, um sie zu retten; im Juni 1942 wurde mein blinder Schwager, aber ein sonst  kerngesunder Mann, nach Theresienstadt geschafft; nach 2 Jahren Dortsein starb er an Tuberkulose.

Unterdessen hatte ich mich an den Minister des Inneren gewandt, um meiene Schwester zu retten, da sie ja ihrer Abstammung nach garnicht Jüdin war; “man versprach den Fall zu prüfen”. Aber schon im Juli 1942 rief mich ein Telegramm nach München, da sie in grösster Gefahr schwebe, sie sei schon in ein Lager gebracht und ihr Abtransport nach Polen stehe unmittelbar befor, sagen die Worte ihrer Freunde.

Ich fuhr in der gleichen Nacht noch hin; durfte meine Schwester aber nicht mehr sehen; war bei den höchsten Stellen dort, um einen Aufschub zu erhalten, aber es war alles vergebens. Es kam nur noch aus Liegnitz von der Fahrt ein Brief an uns dann nichts mehr; 1945 erfuhren ihre Kinder in England auf Nachgrage bei der “un”, dass sie in Lager Piasky-Lublin gewesen sei und, dass alle dortigen Insassen verschwunden seien und somit in Auschwitz vergast worden seien.

Mein einziger Bruder rette sich 1934 noch durch Emigration nach USA.  

My youngest sister [Vera] was married to a musician [Hans Neumeyer], a blind Jew; At first their house was taken; In May 1939 they sent their children to England to save them; In June 1942, my brother-in-law who was blind but healthy, was taken to Theresienstadt, where he died of tuberculosis after two years.

In the meantime, I had approached the Minister of the Interior to save my sister, since she was in no sense a Jewess by her lineage; “They promised to examine the case”. But as early as July 1942 a telegram called me to Munich, as she was in a great danger that she had already been taken to a camp, and was immediately put on a transport to Poland, according to her friends.

I travelled to Munich that very night, but I never saw my sister again. I tried with the highest authorities there to get a postponement, but it was all in vain. All we got was  a letter written on the journey and  sent to us  from Liegnitz – and then nothing more. In 1945, their children in England learned that she had been in Piasky Lublin [Madjanek] camp, and that all the inmates there had disappeared and had been gassed in Auschwitz.

My only brother saved himself in 1934 by emigration to the USA.”

This is about Vera and Hans, and their children Ruth (my mother) and Raimund, whose stories are covered elsewhere in this blog (see ‘Cateogories’, in right-hand panel).

Dora may have escaped persecution herself but she lived in constant fear of the authorities and would have been fraught with worry about Vera and after Vera’s death there must have been endless been self-questioning on her part about whether she could have helped in any way.

 

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Family group, April 1948: left to right – Eckhard (Dora’s son by her second marriage), Irmi, Peter, Dora, Ingl, Erika; the elderly couple far right are thought to be Otto’s parents.

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The two-page report typed and filed by Dora

 

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Dora, December 1954

 

I have a file of  36 post-war letters and postcards from Dora to Ruth and Raymond, largely from 1945-48. Some are in slightly broken English (though it’s not bad – she explains in one letter that she once spent a year learning English in Eastbourne), and several mention food parcels my mother Ruth sent over. Obviously food was in extremely short supply in Germany at that time ‘ Some of its content had been robbed unfortunately. Do you imagine our joy when getting your parcels? We are so grateful every time one arrives. It is tedious for you, darlings, year after year, but shall it never get better with ones poor here in your former country…’

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

 

 

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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 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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

A historic delve at the Wiener Library

Seventy-three years on: Ephraims’ postcards rediscovered

A few weeks back I made a visit to London’s Wiener Library, in Bloomsbury – a few paces from the British Museum (29 Russell Square; www.wienerlibrary.co.uk). It owes its origins to  Alfred Wiener (1885-1964), who fought in World War I. He was an academic orientalist and secretary of a Jewish human rights group, and while in Berlin in 1928 he set up a collection of documents charting the development of anti-Semitism. It is the only Holocaust-related institution in the world that predates Hitler’s rise to power.

This was not originally intended as a library but his archive grew rapidly.  In 1933 he realised the danger to his family so moved to Amsterdam with his collection. Five years later he packed up the whole lot and moved it to London, where the Wiener Library opened in 1939.

The Tuesday tour

I was drawn to the place after Googling for Martin Ephraim and discovering that the library holds a number items of correspondence written by him during World War II from three addresses in Berlin.

I timed my visit with the highly recommended free Tuesday lunchtime tour of the establishment. Our volunteer guide Kerrstyn showed us  to the store rooms: a Hitler Youth colouring book, a Lyons tea sachet concealing a German resistance pamphlet, the family archive of the Neumann family in Essen with a certificate pronouncing the takeover of the  Jewish textile factory in 1938. We glimpsed shelves and shelves of this vast collection, including its archive of 17,000 photos.

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In the reception hall is this hauntingly sinister board game from the Third Reich. Called “Juden Raus!” (Jews Out), it was manufactured in Dresden in 1936 and bears the legend in the bottom right-hand corner ‘”Auf nach Palӓstina!” (Begone to Palestine!). The rule state: “show your skill with the dice by collecting as many Jews as you can! If you succeed in chasing out 6 Jews you will be the unquestioned victor!”

During the war, Wiener arrived in England and was like many other alien Jews interred in the Isle of Man; meanwhile his parents were trapped in Berlin. He later joined the Home Guard in the Midlands and spent some time in the USA. He was involved in  working for the Jewish Relief Unit from 1946 to 1949 and it was not until 1947 that he found out about the deaths of his parents in concentration camps.

The library played an important part in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials, and its resources were also used in the libel case against Holocaust denier David Irving in 2000.

Martin Ephraim’s missives

Ephraim postcards in Wiener libraryIt was quite something to handle these postcards (and one letter) last touched by a family member in the early 1940s. Dating from 1941 to 1943 they were all addressed to Felix Hepner at the Pension Beau Séjour in Vevey in Switzerland and written by my great-grandfather Martin Ephraim (presumably in that much-cherished fountain pen he kept in Theresienstadt only to lose it to another inmate who ended up on the special transport from there to Switzerland, as described elsewhere on this blog).

They appear to be thanks for various things sent, including tins of sardines and cocoa. In one card he says he knows the whereabouts of two of his daughters, but has no news of Vera (my mother’s mother, whose end in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland was not confirmed until after the end of the war).

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The last known correspondence from Martin Ephraim, dated 20 December 1943. He was at the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, which astonishingly was in use until the end of the war. From here he was deported on 10 January 1944 to Theresienstadt, where he died in April of the same year.

The addresses are all from Berlin: Moselstrasse 10, Heilbronne Strasse 28 (marked “deportiert” – deported), Iranische Strasse 2 (the Jewish Hospital, described on the previous post in this blog, where he was until being deported to Theresienstadt). The last one, from the Jewish Hospital, room 261, is dated 20 December 1943.

He signs off: “Dein alter Freund, Martin” – your old friend, Martin. I’ve not been able to find out more about Felix and where he slots into the Ephraim story.

The last view of Berlin, 1942

The Jewish Hospital, Iranischer Strasse, Berlin, 1942. Here Martin Ephraim spent his last days before being taken to Theresienstadt in 1942. His daughter (and my great aunt) Marianne (‘Tante Janni’) wrote a note about this period. What we get is an impression of someone loyally German and stubbornly unable to believe what was happening in the outside world:

“In his little bedroom in the Jewish hospital, Iranischer Str 2, with the window barred with wood with almost no view after the constant air-raids, in the far north [of Germany], during the coldest winter in 34 years, he was an example of courage and calm. “I can console others on the way and so will have something to do”, he said, as an admiring nurse wrote to me afterwards.”

Martin and Hildegard Ephraim, around 1930

Martin and Hildegard Ephraim, around 1930

“He never wanted to leave his beloved homeland, despite multiple invitations from his son Herbert in America. “I was born here, and I will die here too!” was his constant refrain. And also in his pride he did not want to be dependent on anyone. Meanwhile he did not even receive his small pension from the ironworks any more.”

“When someone hinted at the atrocities of the Nazis, he always answered ‘That is surely exaggerated. A GERMAN WOULD NEVER DO THAT!’.”

“In his child-like innocence, he saw only the good in others; his trusting nature could not even imagine the possibility of such crimes on the part of German people!”

“All his care and love was for us, his children and grandchildren. Many people came to him full of sadness, to ask for his advice and help, and poured their hearts out to him! He helped them all patiently, with words and deeds. What he promised, he did, reliably and punctually. He kept  things in scrupulous order, so that everything was always immediately dealt with.”

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin around 1930

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin around 1930

Remarkably, the Jewish hospital in Berlin survived the war and still stands, complete with inscription “Krankenaus  der Judischen Gemeinde,” (Hospital of  the Jewish Community). In May 2014 I went to the address and imagined him peering out of a window into the street outside.

Even more remarkably, there were 800 Jews still living inside the hospital near the end of the war. Daniel Silver’s book A Refuge in Hell gives the full story. See also http://strangeside.com/world-war-ii-jewish-hospital-in-berlin/

Martin’s wife Hildegard died in 1932, a year before Hitler’s rise to power. What a tragedy that Martin did not end his days that same year instead of having to suffer a ten-year slide into oblivion.

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.”

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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.”