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.

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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

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‘Anyone might end up in a concentration camp’: letters from Dachau

I’ve recently come across letters sent from my mother Ruth’s friends in the town of Dachau in 1946. By then, Ruth had spent seven years in England having escaped with her brother Raimund on the Kindertransport.

The friends were the Steurer family. Ruth spoke to me of them with great affection, saying they were tremendously kind to her family. They ran a grocery, and helped the Neumeyers a lot during the dark days of the Third Reich. Ruth said they would leave out food in fields where prisoners from the concentration camp were doing forced labour. I never met them myself, but remember in 1966 waiting in the street in Dachau with my brother Nic while my parents went into the Steurer shop and resumed contact. After about an hour they came out laden with goodies proffered by the Steurers.

The letters reveal a huge affection for  the Neumeyers and revulsion of what happened during the Nazi rule. Below I’ve extracted the gist of what the letters say. Huge thanks to Eva Marschan-Hayes  for translating them for me.

The family members were Frau and Herr Steurer, and their daughters Anni (who seems to have been an invalid) and Mathilde (‘Hilde’). 

 

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Ruth (second from the left) was reunited with the Steurer family when making her first postwar trip back to Dachau, in 1953, accompanied by her husband Ronald (whom she married two years previously). This is the only photo I know to be of the Steurers, as she wrote ‘Steurer family’ on the back, but two other photos in this article may depict the daughters when children (read on). Left to right (my guesswork): Anni (as she was the frail one), Ruth, Frau Steurer and Hilde.

‘It’s not our fault what happened’: 12 January 1946 to Raymond from Frau Steurer

This letter seems to have been the first one sent by the Steurers after they discovered that Raymond and Ruth were still alive. Frau Steurer is very concerned that a woman called Frau Meier has taken over the Neumeyer’s family home that was taken from them by the Nazis, and desperately wants Raimund and Ruth to come back (perhaps to live there permanently) and sort things out in Dachau.

Frau Steurer mentions that someone has some possessions from the Neumeyers; these may have been some of the items that were sent over after the war (including books, music scores, a wooden sculpture of St Francis and, bizarrely, an electric coffee pot – which is entirely useless but which stands on our kitchen shelf as a memento).

I remember you Raimund as such a very lovely boy, and we all look forward to seeing you back. Mathilde and Anni speak a lot about you .  Anni who was such a weak child is  seriously ill. She went to Munich to look for Frau Scharl and Frau Meikel, but their houses were bombed out and destroyed. I found both – Frau Meikel through the police. Frau Scharl told me there was another woman who has things from your mother [Vera] and they kept them and the people are unharmed.

You should get compensation for your house. Frau Meier is now living in the [Neumeyer] house after taking it over from your parents. She has turned your house into a Pensionat/guesthouse out of the house. Raimund, you must come over as soon as possible to see what’s happening, to sort out everything here – you had to lose your parents for this!  God will reward you!

We are very happy that you are safe as we were all constantly worrying about you. I haven’t had time to write to Ruth yet. We just wish you would both move back to Dachau.

The family Broschart, and Annie, are always looking forward to see you. Please come back to your parents’ house.

It’s not our fault what happened – we were never on the Nazis’ side. We hated them. They were criminals and murderers. If they had won the war we would have suffered the same fate as your parents had. But the good Lord wanted it otherwise, and he is fair. Everything will get better eventually.

I have been looking for Alois Weiner, who was in Theresienstadt. He was a good friend of your lovely Mum. If you don’t come to see us, I’ll write to you and explain what happened to Alois.

Have you and Ruth pictures of your lovely Christmas plays? I kept all mine. When you come I will get them all out so you can remember your youth. It’s such a shame that there was such a sad ending. You really had a good mother. She really saved your life.

Thousands of children fell into the hands of these murderers and the same could have happened to you. But your good Mum had such a strong sense of caring instilled in her for you lovely children – and she rescued you.

The important thing was that her children got away and no one could get them any longer. And nobody knew what happened to people in the concentration camp, or how they were cared for.

Two possible photos of the Steurer children?

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Ruth and Raimund’s childhood was a happy one before the Nazis came to power in 1933. Their mother Vera organised plays performed at home and ran eurythmy classes for children. The girls on the extreme left and extreme right resemble to some extent the grown women in the 1953 picture of the Steurers at the start of this blog post. Could that be Anni on the left and Hilde on the right? Then there’s a 1935 photo of the Evangelische Schule in Dachau (below) – Ruth is in the back row, fifth from the right; Raimund is in a checked jacket in the second row, second from the right. It looks like that could be Anni in the second row, fourth from the left, and her sister Hilde to the right of her. 

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‘My happiness I can’t describe!’ 12 January 1946: a note from Anni and Hilde

This note from one of the Steurers’ daughters follows at the end of Frau Steurer’s letter. From this I learn that the girls participated in the children’s plays that were put on at the Neumeyers’ house. They may well appear in the many photos we have of those home-made theatricals.

After so many long years we finally get a message from you two lovely playmates!  My happiness I can’t describe! How often we talked about you and how you are, and if we’d ever see each other again. We spent so many wonderful hours together at your house. To think that your lovely parents were killed by those beastly SS men! You weep to the skies when you think of how many people died. But now lovely Raimund, keep your spirits up and trust in God. Please send lots of greetings to Ruth. Maybe you have a little photo you could send me? It would make me very happy. Until our happy reunion, hearty greetings!

‘Even parents became scared of their own children… these murderers would kill us all’: 27 April 1946 Frau Steurer to Ruth

 

 

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Above: Nativity play with local children at the Neumeyer’s house in Dachau, some time around 1930. Below: assorted theatricals at the Neumeyers

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…No one could know that there were so many devilish people among us. It was mostly those people who did not know there is a God in Heaven. Unfortunately through their brutality even good-hearted people got sucked in. We now know that these people were suffering psychologically, but others became cold hearted. You had to be very careful what you said because there were spies everywhere.

Anyone might end up in a concentration camp – you didn’t have to do a lot to get in there. Even parents became scared of their own children.

How often we heard we mustn’t win the war because otherwise these murderers  would kill us all.

Others said when the war ends and these devilish people get the upper hand then there would be no justice any more.

Yes, dear, lovely Ruth, there is justice. God has rescued us from these beasts. It took a long time for our deliverance. During that time the murderers killed so many people and brought suffering to us all.

Innocent people suffered too. Munich is in ruins – including Thorwaldsenstrasse where you lived. A horrible picture: many deaths and homelessness. Many have lost hope and are desperate. You can’t believe they’ll ever rebuild it.

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Frau Steurer refers to Thorwaldsenstrasse in Munich. This is where the Neumeyers lived after being thrown out of their house in Dachau by the Nazis in 1939. Raymond returned here and took this photo while working for the British army in 1946. During that time he also visited Dachau and denounced the Burgomaster – who’d evicted the Neumeyers eight years previously – to the authorities. He lost his job as a result of Raymond’s efforts.

Dachau was bombed three times but only on one side. The Papendel factory and some houses were bombed. Frau Wirsching’s house survived. Near your parents’ house many bombs fell – 30 houses were hit but have already been repaired. But your house stayed intact. They’ve built a garage beside it. Frau Meier made it into a guesthouse.

I have heard several times that these properties will be returned to the concentration camp prisoners or to their families.

I haven’t seen you, Ruth, for such a long time – now you will have grown up! I cannot express how happy we are. Anni and Hilde were shouting and crying at the same time – it was like post had arrived from heaven.

Raimund wrote to us three times. Now thank goodness we are allowed to write abroad. He wrote he would  probably come in the middle of March and would visit us, but hasn’t come yet.

Alois Weiner of Moosburg was with his father in Theresienstadt. Raimund must come and speak to Herr Weiner because he has lots of things to say about your good mother. From your grandfather he rescued a clock, some photos and a guest book – and I want to give them to Raimund. I have two little boxes of money from your mother, and have paid them in at the bank in your names.

Thank you for the photos. You look like a mirror image of your mum. How lovely it would be if you could come to visit us!

Please don’t blame all the Germans! We couldn’t do anything – we took no part in what happened. There are still lots of good people. Please write soon!

 

 

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