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

Red Cross letters grouped

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

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

Specific rules about the contents of the letter were given:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[datestamp:]12 AUGUST 1940; 23 September 1940

Name NEUMEYER

Christian name Ruth

Address 71 Barton Road Cambridge

c/o Mrs Stirland

Relationship of Enquirer to Addressee Daughter

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

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

Date 10.6.1940

ADDRESSEE

NAME NEUMEYER

CHRISTIAN NAME HANS

ADDRESS 5 THORWALDSEN STRASSE, MUNICH

The addressee’s reply to be written overleaf.

The rest of the messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Children,

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

Parents.

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

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

From Hans and Vera, 11 March 1941:

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

Love to you both.

Parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love from all.

Parents.

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

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

Parents.

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

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

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

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

Parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Vera and Hans to Raymond, 1 May 1942:

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

Parents

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

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

Am healthy.

Love Mother

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

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

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

Keep happy!

Mother

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

Dearest Ruthi

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

Grandfather Martin.

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

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

RAYMOND.

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

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

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

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

RAYMOND

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

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

Auntie Dora

Postscript

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

Dear Madam,

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

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

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

Yours truly,

for M. R. Carden

Red Cross_letter Aug 1943 about tracing parents

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

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New threads emerge: a miscellany

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

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

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

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

Hans Neumeyer tributes

Hans Neumeyer Garmisch 1930s

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

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

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

Munich 17 July 1947

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

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

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

12 September 1946

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

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

Selected photographs

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

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

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

Some snapshots of the Neumeyers’ normal family life:

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Julius Kohn

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

Gold that somehow the Nazis never got hold of

Ephraim jewellery (2)

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

The Ephraims’ car-rallying antics

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

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

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

Neumeyers in Herbert Ephraims car in Schreiberhau

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

Hans Neumeyer’s music gets more performances

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

Trio in Murcia playing Neumeyer trio 30 Jan 2015

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

Raimund’s school report

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

Raymond school report Egham 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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And finally: an extraordinary image

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

Children in Uniform 1949 cover_20171104_0001

Text and images copyright Tim Locke November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Summer 1939: all change in England after arrival on the Kindertransport

Liverpool Street station, London, 11 May 1939.  My mother Ruth and her brother Raimund arrived on their journey on a Kindertransport from Munich, leaving behind their parents, whom they would never see again. Waiting for the children were the couple who had agreed with their parents to take responsibility for them:  Frank and Bea Paish greeted the Ruth  and Raimund, and the young Neumeyers’ new lives began.

The Paishes were unable to accommodate the children themselves, so Ruth and Raimund (as Raymond was then called before he anglicised his name to Raymond Newland) went to live with relatives – Bea’s sister Doris and husband Oscar Eckhard in Weybridge – until July.

Oscar ran a grocery shop and wasn’t well off enough to be the sponsor to the children, so one Lady Simon (whom Raymond never met) sponsored Raymond; I  don’t know who sponsored Ruth. Oscar and his wife Doris and their daughters Anne and Josie maintained a lifelong attachment to the Neumeyer children. The letter below was written by Oscar six days after Ruth and Raimund’s arrival:

I think we shall all be happy together, they are tiny for their ages, with sweet faces and charming manners. Miss Brooks is an angel, for she has evidently  taken to Ruth, because she has taken her into the school and fitted her  out with school clothes and arranged a special syllabus to get mostly English lessons – and all for nothing… We have not got a school for Raimund yet, Ottershaw College fell through, and county schools require an exam, which he cannot do as he knows very little English yet…

 

 

Ruth and Raimund were very close, and maintained that bond throughout their lives. Ruth stayed on with the Eckhards and extended family (the Stirlands), and spent most of her wartime years in Cambridge as housekeeper to Professor Ginsberg and his wife: she made friends easily and had a great social life – even with her alien status and the restrictions that this brought, it must have been a massive release from the hardships of the Third Reich persecutions. I think she rapidly put her life under the Third Reich behind her, for the time being at least.

The Welsh coast at the outbreak of war

During the summer holidays in 1939 the extended family took Ruth and Raimund to Pembrokeshire, where they stayed in Treginnis Farm on St David’s Head. It was while they were there that they heard war had broken out, on 3 September – Vera Neumeyer’s 46th birthday. Many years later, Raymond and his family revisited Pembrokeshire for numerous family holidays. In the summer of 1975 or 1976 they, my parents and I walked round St David’s Head with and found Treginnis Farm, little changed from the prewar visit.

Meanwhile, letters from the Neumeyer parents continued to pour in during 1939. Ruth very admirably kept them all throughout the rest of her life, and at some stage in the future I will look into what they say. This postcard sent by Vera on 10 August 1939 has the address of the farm:

vera letter to R&R_20161020_0024vera letter to R&R_20161020_0023

 

Remarkably we have one letter written by Ruth and Raimund to their parents in Germany, and acknowledging the postcard shown above, and shows the children earnestly improving their English (which Hans and Vera Neumeyer themselves spoke very well). Clearly it was never sent as war was imminent:

Dear People!

Aunty Be [sic; actually Bea, short for Beatrice – Ruth called her Aunt Bea throughout her life] (Mrs P) [Paish] sayd that it is much better we write in English and very short. Now I wish Mutti many happy returns of the day. If there does not come a letter later I wish Vati many happy returns better now too [Hans’ birthday was on 13 September].

Thank you ever so much for the last postcard. It shall be little snow white on the picture.

We are all happy. We get now work to do from the farm people. Pumping water. Weeding in the vegetable garden, feeding chickens, sometimes milking cows. But all this began only today. Every day we find lots and lots of blackberries. Yesterday we had a lovely tart (blackberry tart), always with cream. I’ll fetch Mani [the family nickname for Raimund] who is mangling or weeding.

With lots of love, Ta [the family nickname for Ruth]

Today I’ll only write some greetings to Ruth’s letter. I am merry and so are all the others. I hope you are too. Helo Gruvo Rai means Best Greetings [presumably this was a brave attempt to say something in Welsh?]. From Raimund. I write more on your next letter day.

letter from Ruth and Raimund to parents just before 3 Sep 1939

Ruth kept photos of the Paishes’ extended family in a dedicated album. Some of the leaves are shown here:

 

 

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Her friend Jane Donaldson (nee Eckhard) clicked with Ruth immediately. She commented how family life had brightened up as Ruth immediately set about recreating the fun she’d had as a child during the better times at Dachau. It was with Jane that she is depicted on the ink drawing of two girls playing recorders in a hammock – click here to see the story; that drawing is on display at the Imperial War Museum. At Ruth’s funeral in 2012, Jane recalled:

In May 1939 Ruth and her brother Raymond arrived in London and became part of my Eckhard family. They were fleeing from the Nazi regime. Their parents remained in Germany. The connection was through my Aunt Bea, who had studied eurythmics in Germany before the 1914-18 War. Over that summer, Ruth came to know several of my cousins, staying in Weybridge and holidaying in Wales.

Then in September 1939 at the very beginning of he war, Ruth came to live with my family in Cambridge and settled in with my two brothers and my sister. Ruth was 15 – round-faced, rosy cheeked and with two long brown plaits. It must have been tough for her to be parted from her parents and friends, but I am ashamed to say that I don’t remember considering this – perhaps because she was always so cheerful. She was so full of ideas – games to play, songs to sing, and Christmas plays to act. She and I taught ourselves to play recorders. Our damp cellar became our air-raid shelter and we painted the walls and tried to make it comfortable, though it meant sleeping on shelves – but fortunately there were only two or three occasions when the air-raid sirens sounded at night, and we trooped down with our eiderdowns to try out our arrangements.

Ruth did not go to school, but I think she had some coaching. Now I wonder how she passed the time while we were all at school.

Her stay with us came to an end in 1941 when my family moved to Scotland (as the school my father taught in was evacuated to Pitlochry). Ruth remained in Cambridge and had some training for work with children.

My cousins and I meet regularly, and Ruth has always been included, as we feel she is an adopted cousin. We will all miss her cheerful presence.

Ruth's play at Paishes

Home-made Christmas entertainment: a play  – How it Happened – put on by Ruth and the Stirland and Paish children on Boxing Day (presumably 1939). R Neumeyer (Ruth and possibly Raimund – I am not sure where he was then) play the part of Snowflake, Cloud and Music and Dancing. Various Stirlands and Paishes play Raindrop, Moonbeam, Father Christmas, Moon, Devil and Mania. The play is handwritten by Beth Stirland: ‘Scene 1: a chair draped in white to represent a cloud. An Angel is sitting on the chair.’

 

Raimund Neumeyer’s story

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Throughout his life my uncle, Raymond Newland (born as Raimund Neumeyer), was haunted by the trauma of the Holocaust and the upheaval it caused his family.

He and his elder sister (my mother) Ruth were extremely close throughout their lives and only 15 months separated them in age. Yet their outlook and personalities were very different. Ruth I tend to remember as practical-minded and always seeing the positive side of everything. She seems to have grown up very quickly on leaving Germany and put a lot of the angst of those Holocaust years behind her, though I believe a lot simmered beneath the surface; she felt angry with her parents for failing to organise their own exit from Nazi Germany.  Raymond on the other hand was intellectual and intense. He acutely felt the hurt caused to his parents, and throughout his life felt guilty that he had escaped while his parents stayed behind. Raymond was a very young 14 when they arrived in England on the Kindertransport in May 1939. When the two siblings were separated some months later, he missed Ruth enormously.

Raymond and Ruth had learnt English from their mother, Vera. They both would escort their blind father when he was no longer allowed to have a guide dog, and Raymond’s widow Ingrid tells me that these little excursions were occasions he always sought to make the most of. He was hugely fond of his parents, in equal measures (equal being a hallmark of Raymond’s overwhelming fairness). He helped  Hans with braille and took music theory lessons from him, while Vera taught him piano. I always remember him as someone with an acute musical ear who liked improvising on the piano.

English schooling and flight from the farm: 1939-43

Raymond had a thirst for learning, but it wasn’t satisfied by the dismal standard of education he received at school in Dachau. In England, it was a different matter during his brief period at the private Strodes School in Egham. There he found a warm welcome among both teachers and pupils and he was never berated for being German. But within a few months circumstances force him to move on, first to a different family in Hanger Hill and then to work on a training farm in Hambledon in Buckinghamshire, as part of a scheme called ‘British Boys for British Farms’. Despite that name tag, all the other boys apart from one were foreigners.

Raymond school report Egham 1940

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

registration document with photo page

Raymond’s registration document: the address shoown on 11 May 1939 (the day he and Ruth arrived from Germany) is The Lodge, Hanger Hill, Weybridge. As an ‘enemy  alien’ he was obliged to re-register each time he changed his address.

This life in  the country didn’t suit him one bit, and he ran away from the farm, much to the horror of Lady Simon, his sponsor. He fled on a bicycle, but was picked up by a policeman for having no lights. The policeman took him to his house, where his wife fed him, then the policeman lent Raymond a cycle light and told him to return to Birmingham. That act of kindness may have instilled Raymond’s high respect for the police.

He returned to Weybridge (1940-41) and found work in a radio shop, but in May 1941 the Refugee Committee required him to move to Birmingham and work in the machine shop of the Birmingham  Bicycle Company in Chiseland Street until December 1943, putting ball bearings into cycle mechanisms. He was a lot happier there, and found the company genial. Lunch of tea, bread and dripping was consumed communally on a heap of old tyres. The foreman, Mr Deedes, was according to Raymond a ‘true gentleman’. Nevertheless Raymond desperately wanted to study instead, and spent his Saturdays studying hard for qualifications to compensate the yawning holes in his schooling.

Return to Germany with the British army

As an ‘enemy alien’ Raymond was restricted to certain types of employment. At the end of 1943 he joined the British army as soon as he was eighteen, as a volunteer. He was bound initially for Burma but on his request was permitted to go to Germany.

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The entry in red ink here on the left-hand page in Raymond’s registration document states ‘Exempt from Registration’, marking the date he joined the British army. This was the first time he felt accepted by his adopted country.

As soon as he joined he was given a telephone book and ordered to look through it and choose a new surname: if he had been caught on enemy soil with a German name it would have effectively been a death sentence. It was then that he changed his name from Raimund Neumeyer to Raymond Newland. He trained with the Shropshire Light Infantry during early 1944 and would have joined the D-Day landings were he not struck down by scarlet fever: that may have saved his life, for his unit was badly hit when landing in France. After that he always made a special point of remembering his colleagues on Remembrance Day.

In February 1945 he transferred to the Intelligence Corps in Brussels and Paris, then from October that year until August 1947 he worked as an interpreter for the Special Branch of the Military Police in Germany – including Bremen, Hamburg, Bad Oeynhausen, Goslar, Verden and Lüneburg. He said later on that he felt desperately lonely on VE Day.

Raymond with military police 88 SIS Hamburg spring 1947

Raymond (front row, first on the left) with his Military Police special investigation section, in Germany

Re-encountering Dachau in 1946

The army discouraged soldiers from travelling by themselves in Germany, but in 1946 Raymond managed to sneak away and pay a visit to Dachau. There he met the Steurers, who had been so friendly to his family, and who are described in an earlier post in this blog, and met up with the Wirschings, the family who lived in the Pollnhof in Dachau; Aranka and Otto Wirsching were artists, and their son Anselm was a vet who served in the German army and was held as a prisoner of war in Egypt up to 1947. I’ve recently found a stash of letters from Anselm to my mother, written from that POW camp during 1946 and 1947 and subsequently when he was back home in Dachau, and have yet to translate them – more to come, no doubt, on that in this blog.

Raymond went to the Neumeyer house for the first time since they were thrown out from it after Kristallnacht in 1938. The same tenant, who had been very unfriendly to the family, was still living in the basement and was alarmed to see Raymond.

Still furious at what had been done to his parents, Raymond found the Burgomeister of Dachau, Karl Dobler, SS-Sturmbannführer, who had thrown the family out of their house eight years earlier, and reported him to the authorities. Raymond wanted to appear in the court case but was barred from so doing, and gave a written statement instead. Justice won the day, and  the Burgomeister to lost his job. I have yet to find out what happened to Dobler subsequently.

Dobler denazification letter 1946

Raymond’s statement against Herr Dobler, the Burgomeister of Dachau, identifying him as the person who ordered the Neumeyers out of their house on 9 November 1938. Here he identifies Dobler as responsible for the expulsions of all Jewish families from the district of Dachau. ‘This was Herr Dobler’s own initiative. He gave each family the expulsion order, threatening them with imprisonment if the order was not followed. Dobler was a zealous Nazi in his entirety. For this reason he should be kept under constant observation and not given a position of public responsibility.’

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It must have been a haunting experience for Raymond to see the wreckage of postwar Germany. Photos from the family archive include him at Belsen concentration camp.

Raymond had a sense of adventure, and interest in travel, places and cultures. My earliest memories of him were of a family picnic somewhere in a forest near Canterbury, where we ended up spooning water out of a puddle to feed the boiled-over radiator of his Standard 10. A lot of these excursions were spur of the moment, inspired by Raymond’s love of spontaneity.

He loved nothing better than a really good argument, not because he wanted a fight but because he loved testing out ideas and saw interaction with other people as the best way to do this.

I first knew him as a typical bachelor but from this it was fascinating to watch his transformation into the caring and loving family man he became. In particular I have never forgotten my first trip across London in 1964 to visit Raymond and Ingrid in their newly acquired house in St Albans. His pride of ownership, and his commitment to setting up home, was palpable. Indeed he expressed his own sense of wonderment (with just a tiny trace of Raymondish irony) at having become a member of the ‘semi-detached class’.

Raymond was above all a man who was brilliantly perceptive of his own life, its ups and downs, and who in turn touched many others.

Stephen Locke (my brother), talking about Raymond at his funeral in 2011

The LSE and family life

Raymond’s career took a happier turn after being demobbed in 1947, when he resumed his studies and gained a place at the London School of Economics. He later took up teaching: while a teacher at Scarborough in 1952 he was called up for more military training and made a sergeant. He was not at all used to giving orders to other soldiers, and later cheerfully admitted he was hopeless at it, even falling flat on his face while attempting to salute others, but despite his many mishaps he was much liked by comrades. He now identified himself as British but retained a certain fairness to Germany.

Later he led ski groups for Erna Low holidays.

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He married Ingrid Netzbandt in 1963. She had come to our family as a language student. Her father was a high-ranking officer in the German Navy, and was Chief of Staff on the Bismark when it sank. His first wife was half Jewish; she died but had four children, who would have been barred from certain jobs in Nazi Germany.

Raymond and Ingrid lived in St Albans and had two sons: Tobias (born 1966) and Oliver (1969-88). While suffering dementia in his final years he repeatedly thought back to his Dachau childhood. He died in 2011. Ingrid still lives in the family house in St Albans.

It was a very happy marriage and also an extraordinary one – my mother coming from a German naval family and my father coming from a family persecuted by the Nazis. But I suppose looking back on it, it was a living and continuing example of reconciliation from the deep wounds inflicted on both of them by the Second World War.

Tobias Newland, speaking at Raymond’s funeral in 2011

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.

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

20161206_130359_resizedIn essence the new areas of emphasis will be:

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

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

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

The current display of the Neumeyers at IWM

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

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

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.

Vera Neumeyer’s story

My mother Ruth kept a photo of her mother Vera by her bed throughout my life. I was actually born in that room and in that very bed, so that photo portrait of the handsome, dark-haired woman with a sideways, inwards look, was a constant of my childhood, though of course I’d never met her.

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Vera Ephraim was born in 1893, daughter of Martin and Hildegard Ephraim.

It seems that she had a very pleasant and privileged upbringing in a vast house in Görlitz, with her two sisters – Marianne and Dora – and brother Herbert. The house was sold, sadly at the height of the German hyperinflation, and by the time they received the purchase money, it was enough ‘to buy a basket of cherries’. But her parents still had another large house, in the mountain resort of Schreiberhau (now known as Szklarska Poreba, and in Poland).

The Ephraim villa in Görlitz still has a stained glass window in its hall depicting three female graces – maybe a reference to the three Ephraim daughters.

Eurythmics and music

She was certainly musical: I still have inherited a lot of sheet music from her – Beethoven sonatas, Bach, Mendelssohn songs, Schumann piano works and Lieder, and much more – with her name written inside and the stamp of a bookseller’s in Görlitz on the title page. This, and numerous other books, were kept during the war by friends  – including the Wirsching family – in Dachau and sent over to England in the 1950s.

Music was hugely important to the Neumeyer family, and both her children inherited a love of music. To Ruth and Raimund I believe that classical music was something of a refuge from the chaos of the world, and composers such as Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven were a key part of that. For Ruth particularly two operas she loved that must have originated from her Bavarian childhood were Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Weber’s Der Freischütz.

Vera worked as a eurthymics teacher, and it was while studying eurythmics at Hellerau near Dresden that she met Hans Neumeyer, my grandfather, a blind Jewish pianist who played for the eurythmics classes. They married in 1920.

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Vera in eurythmic exercise – one of a number of such pictures we have. Presumably this dates from her teaching days.

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Vera (middle, front row) with fellow students at Hellerau before the First World War. The light style of clothing and the free dance movements that went with it must have been quite a liberation from the restrictive fashions of this period.

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The Festspielhaus – the main centre for eurythmics and performance at Hellerau, which closed in 1914 after only four years of operation. It is now being restored as a theatre.

Family relationships among the Neumeyers

The Neumeyers in the 1920s

Vera and Hans, with children Ruth and Raimund, late 1920s

I’ve never been clear about the dynamics around their marriage, but it seems to have been very happy up until things fell apart in the Third Reich. My mother seems to have had a daughter’s affection for Vera, but occasionally came out with sharp criticisms: ‘she was very aware of her good looks’, or words to that effect, delivered in a surprisingly resentful way for someone as overwhelmingly kind as Ruth.

Vera and Ruth 1924

Vera with Raimund in 1925.

A trivial incident in Ruth’s childhood seemingly caused a schism between the two: Vera was taking a photo of Raimund when he was a baby or toddler, and Ruth asked to be included in the picture. Vera said she couldn’t be in it, and there was apparently something in the tone of how she spoke that upset Ruth dramatically.

Then there’s the untold matter of Vera and Hans. I understand from people who were close to Ruth that both had affairs. Hans’ relationship with his secretary Dela was perhaps more than just a friendship, and Vera seems to have had affairs with several men. But I know no details.

vera neumeyer. identity papers photo

The last known picture of Vera appears on her ID card, embellished as it is with swastikas. She and Hans divorced in the 1940s. It was too late to save Vera, but had she divorced earlier she may well have survived, as only her marriage to Hans classed her as sufficiently Jewish for the Nazis to arrest and deport her. After all, both her sisters survived, spending the war in Germany.

The plays

But Ruth always spoke with huge affection about the plays Vera organised for her children and friends. It must have been quite a social event on the Dachau town calendar, as friends and neighbours packed into the house to see a nativity play or fairytale. The many photos Ruth kept in an album she brought on the Kindertransport show productions that were clearly amply rehearsed and costumed.

The books in her house in London included a volume entitled Deutsche Hausbühne – with twelve one-act plays that Vera had clearly used for her homespun productions. Some are annotated with detailed staging notes.

It was during one of these plays that the Nazis stormed in and stopped everything, taking everyone’s names and arresting the lodger. See the post An innocent childhood shattered in this blog.

From the photo album Ruth brought in the Kindertransport in May 1939. The album is absolutely packed with photos, including many of the plays. I can imagine Vera and Ruth frantically cutting out all the family pictures and glueing them in, ordered by theme. Here are several of their friends; Ruth helpfully captioned them all a few years ago. She's top right; Raimund (with lamb) is bottom left. At a reunion in Dachau about 20 years ago one old man turned unannounced to Ruth and his first words were 'I am the holy Joseph!' She then knew exactly who she was. The two remained friends and in close contact until the end of her life in 2012.

From the photo album Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in May 1939. The album is absolutely packed with photos, including many of the plays. I can imagine Vera and Ruth in the days before the children’s departure to England frantically cutting out all the family pictures and glueing them in, ordered by theme. Here are several of their friends; Ruth helpfully captioned them all a few years ago. She’s top right; Raimund (with lamb) is bottom middle. At a reunion in Dachau about 20 years ago one elderly man, turned unannounced to Ruth and his first words were ‘I am the holy Joseph!’ She then knew exactly who he was: her childhood friend Hans Engl, who had appeared in one of Vera’s Nativity plays acting the role of Joseph. The two remained friends and in close contact until the end of her life in 2012.

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Vera’s staging notes in one of the plays performed in the Neumeyers’ house in Dachau.

The recipe books

Vera was apparently, according to Ruth, not much of a cook, and Hans did all the more refined cooking (making a particular speciality of gnocchi), though I’ve never quite understood why it was that so many of Vera’s well-thumbed recipe books, including one entirely written out by hand, have survived to this day. Maybe Vera dictated all of this to Hans.

The handwritten book contains various recipes for cakes, soups, omelettes, souflees, risottos and puddings. Ruth kept them in a drawer in the kitchen in Sydenham, along with other cookery books and various utensils. I rescued them when clearing out the house in 2012.

Pages from Vera's handwritten recipes, in a well-thumbed exercise book.

Pages from Vera’s handwritten recipes, in a well-thumbed exercise book.

It's incredible that Ruth didn't throw this away years ago. While in the kitchen with her in Sydenham about ten years ago she said 'Gosh, I've still got that old recipe.' The story was that her parents stopped by a cafe while on a walk and had some delicious cake. Vera complimented the woman proprietor, who said Vera should give them her address and she'd post the recipe to them. And here it is. Only at the end of the message the woman signs off with 'Heil Hitler'. Ruth said to me 'Somehow I don't think my mother ever made that cake!'

It’s incredible that Ruth didn’t throw this away years ago. While in the kitchen with her in Sydenham about ten years ago she said ‘Gosh, I’ve still got that old recipe.’ The story was that her parents stopped by a cafe while on a walk in September 1938 and had some delicious cake there. Vera complimented the woman proprietor who had baked it. The woman said Vera should give them her address and she’d post the recipe to them. And here it is. Only at the end of the message the woman signs off with ‘Heil Hitler’. Ruth said to me ‘Somehow I don’t think my mother ever made that cake!’

The end: Majdanek 1942

The most poignant of her many letters was the one delivered from the train while being deported to a death camp in Poland. She was deported on Monday, 13 July 1942 to Lublin, where she was very likely taken to Majdanek forced labour camp. No record exists of what happened to her there. None of the people on this transport is known to have survived. Majdanek was established as a sorting centre for sending prisoners on to Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, but the previous March it too had been turned into a killing centre. The gas chambers were used from September onwards. I just hope she came to a swift end and her suffering wasn’t drawn out.

Aftermath: heirlooms from Vera

I never met Vera, of course, but thankfully we have a substantial amount of material from her. Ruth kept all her letters from 1939 and the Red Cross messages that followed, as well as the photos I’ve mentioned above. Her cousin Karin kept aside a few items which were collected by Raimund in the 1960s, and include the perfectly useless electric teapot that is photographed with the Neumeyers enjoying afternoon tea in Dachau around 1929.

These two items are particularly treasured mementoes:

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Vera’s napkin ring was a christening present and is dated 3 September 1893, her date of birth – 46 years to the day before the Second World War broke out. Ruth brought this item with her on the Kindertransport when fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 and to my knowledge used it pretty much every day of her life thereafter.

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This bronze statuette of Vera as a young woman in her eurythmics costume was sculpted by Emilio Bisi (1850-1920), her sister’s father-in-law, in 1913. Bisi carved stone figures outside several Italian cathedrals, including at Milan and Trieste. His father Luigi Bisi was also a distinguished artist.

Vera Ephraim 1898 or 1899 studio portrait

A studio portrait of Vera taken by Max Ganzel in Görlitz in 1898 or 1899

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Vera around the late 1910s or early 1920s; location unknown.

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.