Dora’s testimony: dreading the knock on the door

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Dora in 1938

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

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

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

Status: first degree Mischling

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

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

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

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

After Kristallnacht: living on the edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Erika and her husband Otto, on 3 September 1942

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

 

 

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

News from the rest of the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The failure to save Vera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The two-page report typed and filed by Dora

 

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Dora, December 1954

 

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

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

 

 

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A historic delve at the Wiener Library

Seventy-three years on: Ephraims’ postcards rediscovered

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

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

The Tuesday tour

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Ephraim’s missives

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

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

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

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

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

The last view of Berlin, 1942

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

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

Martin and Hildegard Ephraim, around 1930

Martin and Hildegard Ephraim, around 1930

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

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

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

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

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin around 1930

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin around 1930

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

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

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

Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt

A previously unpublished account of life in Theresienstadt: this is a translation of a document written by Dr Hans Walter Hirschberg, transcribed by Marianne Bisi, daughter of Martin Ephraim and sister of Vera Neumeyer (and my great aunt). Marianne, known to my family as Tante Janni, survived the war and lived in Berlin until 1973.

Dr Hirschberg was a friend of Martin Ephraim (my great-grandfather) and his family. He arrived at Theresienstadt on transport number I/107, which left Berlin on 10 February 1944. He played an active part in Protestant church life in the camp and painted an altarpiece used by Protestants and Catholics. Following liberation he worked at Auschwitz gathering evidence and prosecuting Nazis.

This is one of two reports, and as it has more personal detail and seems to have been more intended for the family than the other report (featured previously on this blog), which was also deposited as a public record in Görlitz.

Marianne headed this as “Report of Herr Dr Hirschberg, state youth lawyer, about our beloved father Martin Ephraim’s last days in Theresienstadt, the infamous Nazi concentration camp for Jews, where he was deported on 10 January 1944 at the age of 84.” Salomon Goldschmidt, the trader, could be the same person described on page 19 of a website about his town Eberswalde, which describes a Salomon Goldschmidt (1874-1951) who was in Theresienstadt and was a trader from Eberswalde; his wife Emma died in the camp.

Martin Ephraim

Martin Ephraim

“I arrived in Theresienstadt on 11 February 1944. One of my first calls was to your father. A human wreck staggered towards me. He had noticeably aged since I said farewell to him in the Jewish hospital in Berlin, little more than four weeks before. Above all he had lost his sense of humour, which had never left him in Berlin.”

The reference to the hospital in Berlin is something I’ll be looking at on the next post in this blog.

“The extraordinarily primitive standard of accommodation weighed particularly heavily on him. He was in a so-called sick bay of the Cavalry Barracks, where around 20 elderly men of various backgrounds lay in 2 rows of beds with scarcely 1m between them in a long, stretched-out room. Your father was near the window, so at least he had daylight, and he read enthusiastically. In Berlin, he had got to know again through me former friends from Eberswalde, Salomon Goldschmidt, a self-employed trader with intellectual interests, and his wife. I spent 19 February with them celebrating my son’s birthday and I still remember the joy with which your father consumed the ‘Leckerbissen’ and crispbread with honey I had brought.”

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Theresienstadt’s spectacular desolation on my visit in 2001. The town was built as a barracks town in the 18th century and is still lived in, its star-shaped fortifications very much intact. During World War II it served as a Nazi camp, and some 150,000 were held there. Most either died of illness in the camp or were deported to Auschwitz, Treblinka or other extermination camps.

“I mention this to show how primitive the food was. I don’t want to say that we were being systematically starved. But the rations were hardly sufficient for the elderly even with strong stomachs, as they had their food allocated, while those capable of work were accordingly better provided for, and everyone who could collect their own food from the mess had the opportunity to get ‘seconds’ and leftovers.”

“Some time after my arrival I noticed a kind of loss of the will to live in your father. Without any medical reason that I could identify, he stayed in bed and told me that the doctor had advised it, and also that he did not really have any wish to go out any more. A little parcel – from one of you [his daughters Dora and Marianne], if my memory is not mistaken, or from Fraulein Rena [Serena, daughter of Marianne], brought him great joy.”

receipt for packet for Ephraim in Theresienstadt 1944

A receipt for a package received by Martin Ephraim in Theresienstadt on 31 March 1944. Might it be the one referred to in this missive from Dr Hirschberg?

“The last weeks passed waiting in vain for further signs of life. On his birthday, I believe, I found him out of bed for the last time and lying down with Goldschmidt, who was housed one level above him and who, as the oldest person in the room, had a little more space. Again I was able to contribute a little something to the day’s [catering?] arrangements.”

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Abandoned rail tracks in Theresienstadt

The lost pen and the Salvation Train

In Theresienstadt, prisoners were not stripped of all their possession as they were in other camps. The fact that Martin Ephraim’s pen was so treasured hints that such items were surely key to retaining one’s identity.

He mentions Gernot: this is Martin’s nephew, and the son of Dora. He died with the German army on the Russian front.

I assumed at first that the reference below to ‘transport to Switzerland’ was a Theresienstadt joke meaning transport to Auschwitz though in fact there was an arrangement for 1200 prisoners to be released from Theresienstadt in 1945. This was orchestrated by the former Swiss president Jean-Marie Musy who negotiated with the German High Command to make a payment of 5 million Swiss francs that had been donated by Jews in the USA. The train (later to be known as the ‘Salvation Train’) departed on 5 February 1945 – the actual date ties in with Hirschberg’s account (click here for the full story):

“When I learned that your brother-in-law, Hans Neumeyer, was also in Theresienstadt, I visited him. He was in a room for those with lung diseases in quite a distant barracks and was bed-ridden. The two could not come to see each other. On his birthday I brought your father a very warm letter from his son-in-law. But then it became clear that he [Martin Ephraim] was rapidly going downhill. One day I heard, from asking about him daily, that he had just quietly died in his sleep (that must have been on 4 April, his sister Ida’s birthday M.B.) [note added by Marianne].”

“His remains had already been removed from the room, the belongings shared out, apart from those which Herr Weiner, an acquaintance of the Neumeyers from Munich, had taken. I took a picture of your father in his forties to bring to you. It was to be lost with a suitcase in Prague. He had entrusted his bed neighbour Seelig with his beautiful fountain pen, but at the last minute arranged for Seelig, who died a few days after your father, to pass the pen on to me. I was to use it but later give it to Gernot. It was quite likely that Gernot was no longer alive at the time. I kept the fountain pen for ten months. Then it needed some minor repairs. A specialist was recommended to me. He delayed the delivery. On 5 February [1945] I went to his accommodation. It was empty! He had been assigned for transport to Switzerland. I went to the place where those on the transport were gathered. With difficulty I found the guy. He was very embarrassed: ‘I cannot get to the pen just now, but I can give you this one as a substitute’. He gave me a really bad one. There was nothing to be done about it.”

Finale

The tragic story of the dumping of the ashes from the crematorium into the river, described below, is one of the much-cited anecdotes about Theresienstadt.

Philippson

Alfred Philippson, the eminent geographer, who lost his job during the Third Reich. After the war he resumed his major work on Greek landscapes.

A happier ending awaited Professor Philippson, described at the end of this report. Alfred Philippson (1864-1953), was a distinguished geographer and geologist. He was probably also related to the Ephraims as Lesser Ephraim, Martin’s father, was married to Henrietta Philippson. While in Theresienstadt he wrote his memoir Wie ich zum Geographen wurde. 

For more about the Philippsons, click here.

“Frau Goldschmidt died a few days after your father, also without any particular illness being identified, and poor Neumeyer after a few weeks. I sent some women to read to him, but he was already too frail and sent most of the reading volunteers away without requiring their service.”

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Inside the crematorium on my 2001 visit, I lit candles for my grandparents – Hans and Vera Neumeyer – and for Martin Ephraim. All perished in camps – Hans and Martin died here.

“I could not even pay my last respects to him, because I was not informed in time. On the other hand I was present at the cremation of your father. The naturally rather simple coffins, Jews and Christians in separate rooms in a double hall, were put on the bier next to each other and some acquaintances gathered around them.”

“The clergy performed the funeral rites according to the religious customes. Some men then lifted the coffins onto a cart that moved them to the crematorium. Outside the ghetto proper, there was an urn cemetery, with over 25,000 urns, which had to be thrown into the River Eger in the late autumn of 1944. This was one of the most barbaric of all SS orders.”

“I kept up your father’s tradition by visiting Professor Philippson, with whom I kept very much in touch towards the end.”

In June 1945 the city of Bonn picked him up in a private car. I had long-standing family relations with the Philippsons.

“Later I took part professionally in many funeral ceremonies. The Catholic community would recite the entire service during transports to the east. Then the Lutheran minister would take over. These were elderly men, who were strained in winter by these early-morning outdoor missions. Then I turned up and became, if I may say so myself, the winter organiser for both denominations…”

Afterword

I have yet to uncover the details of Hirschberg’s work as a prosecutor after the war, but he later wrote this about his time in Theresienstadt:

One tenth of the Jews who had been interned there belonged to a Christian confession. Some were Protestants, some Catholics. Among these Jews, there was a group of Evangelical Jewish Christians from Holland, four hundred in number that distinguished themselves. They even had a Jewish Christian pastor with them. Many of our ‘church members’ had, although they had been baptized, never really considered being followers of Jesus until they came to Theresienstadt. But here, under the influence of God’s word, many of them were truly converted. Jews who had been Christians in name only became true Christians. Many Mosaic Jews and Jews who had no faith whatsoever found Jesus and were saved in Theresienstadt. I am one of the few survivors from the concentration camp in Theresienstadt. Most of my brothers went home to be with the Lord. But my Saviour saved me out of this camp so that I might proclaim the wonderful things that He performed among those who were in “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Holocaust memorial event draws huge audience

2015 Holocaust memorial eventAt the end of last month I was asked to speak at the Holocaust Memorial Day event in Lewes. The event primarily focused on Terezin (Theresienstadt). We heard from local author Ruth Thomson (who has written a children’s book about Terezin) about the story of the camp, its community,  the notorious Nazi sham devised to impress the Red Cross into believing all the camps were well run. We heard cabaret songs composed in the camp, and children from the  Priory School in Lewes read poems written by children in the camp (extraordinarily, these poems survived in a suitcase, along with numerous children’s paintings).

The evening was originally scheduled to be in the Town Hall lecture room, but it became apparent that there was huge public interest. So we switched to a much larger space in the White Hart Hotel across the road: capacity about 200, I think, and it was packed out, with many standing at the back.

In the end it was moving but also strangely uplifting and not always as grim as the subject matter suggested.

My own contribution looked not at the inevitable bleakness that my grandparents and great-grandfather must have encountered, but in the survival of the human spirit in the face of the Holocaust.

Here’s the gist of my talk, which was accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation. I have omitted most of the illustrations as they appear elsewhere in this blog.

Slide 1

sm Neumeyers with coffee pot and bearThis picture is of my mother’s family, the Neumeyers, in the little town of Dachau: parents Hans and Vera; Raimund; Ruth (my mother – note the teddy bear – there’s a twist to the tale later). Around 1930 it was a rather idyllic hilltop town with a castle, a bit like a sort of German version of Lewes. The infamous camp was set up later, a couple of kilometres out of town.

The family was Lutheran by religion, but Jewish by descent. On Kristallnacht, November 9 1938 they were ordered by the Nazis to leave town by sunrise. They moved into a series of temporary lodgings in Munich.

When my mother was aged 15 she and her brother Raimund said goodbye to their parents on the railway station platform at Munich in May 1939. The Kindertransport – trains arranged in the nine months prior to the outbreak of war to rescue predominantly Jewish children –  took the two children to safety and a new life in England. They never saw their parents again.

Both parents died in camps at the hands of the Nazis. What I’d like to share with you is not the inevitable hardship and suffering but the resilience of two individuals to create the semblance of normality  – interludes of calm amid the stress and mayhem.

Slide 2

Hans Neumeyer (front, second from left, in the dark suit) with some of his pupils

Hans Neumeyer (front, second from left, in the dark suit) with some of his pupils

Hans Neumeyer, my grandfather, was a blind composer and teacher of musical composition and harmony. He arrived on a transport from Munich in Terezin in 1942.

Two young men who met  him  were Thomas Mandl, a 16-year-old violinist, and his 17-year-old friend Hans Ries. Mandl  died in America in 2007. The two young men had the job of taking food to those unable to fetch it themselves, and making sure that others did not steal from them.

Slide 3

They met Neumeyer at the camp’s home for the blind. Probably Mandl’s habit of whistling Bach fugues alerted Neumeyer to their presence. They became his pupils, paying in soup or bread when they had it in return for lessons in harmony and composition. Although blind, Neumeyer survived nearly two years in Terezin before his death in May 1944: his teaching work was surely part of that survival strategy. He was known as The Professor in the camp.

Hans Neumeyer gave the impression of a sharp wit and intelligence. Mandl said that he understood that behind his smiling tolerance was a great mental toughness. Despite the rigours of camp life, Hans met his fate with acceptance and sometimes even humour.

Mandl last saw him in the block washroom. He was shocked at his expression of utter dejection and some sort of strange wild premonition. In May 1944 he heard of his death, and enquired about the day of the funeral.

It was a sunny day: three of Neumeyer’s pupils were among those who saw his crudely made coffin placed among the others on a truck. They followed it to the barrier on the edge of the camp, which was as far as they were allowed to go. The barrier came down: ‘that was the way our dead left us’.

Slide 4

Vera Neumeyer had got separated from her husband, She was in Munich in 1942 and taken on a train to her death in a camp somewhere in eastern Poland: we don’t know where, but it may have been Majdenek. She may well have been executed on arrival. Remarkably we know a lot about her journey. That’s because on the train, she wrote a note, and somehow it was delivered to her family – maybe she threw it out of the window at a station. It strives to be reassuringly normal with touching banality – and almost reads like she’s on a Sunday outing. And this is what it says:

14 July 1942

TO ALL MY DEAR ONES!

I am writing on the train after Liegnitz where we all refilled our thermos flasks with water. So far we have not been treated badly. Most of all we feel grateful for the pleasant weather we have had on our trip.

Well: yesterday morning we had to get up at 5 o’clock in Munich, and shortly after 7 o’clock we sat in a truck which was not as dark and the air not as filthy inside as I had expected. All the luggage was taken care of. At the service goods train station, a third-class carriage was waiting for us. I occupied a corner seat next to the dear Frau Professor Prosche, the widow of a well-known painter, a cultivated and very nice Austrian who attached herself to me on the first day.

I soon became acquainted with the six other fellow travellers and something like a feeling of community began to develop throughout the entire travelling ensemble. The group grew as people joined at Regensburg and Dresden. In Dresden we suddenly had to change carriages, which was a nuisance as we had just made ourselves comfortable for the night and in the hurry and darkness we had trouble finding our belongings.

This morning at 6 o’clock we came through Görlitz, and there I saw our house. Now we’re travelling through meadows and fields. The woman from Poland says it looks like this in Poland too.

The mood isn’t bad. Opposite me sit the Samsons, husband and wife, who lived in Starenhäusle for some time. Rebekkus did not come along, in spite of his efforts. However, I experience again an atmosphere of bonhomie, and don’t feel lonely.

Maybe it is best to depend entirely on oneself. Dela, send this letter to father, who will have been informed by Dora in the meantime.

Farewell. I am in good spirits and well prepared for whatever happens.

Yours, Vera.

Slide 5

I took these pictures of the railway line and the house in Görlitz last year.

[These are the photos of the house shown earlier on this blog]

Slide 6

Vera’s father, who built that house in 1904, also perished in Terezin in 1944, aged 84. Martin Ephraim was a wealthy Jewish industrialist – factory made railway carriages and other components; contributed to building of station, synagogue, and an imposing museum which he endowed with a huge collection of applied art and antiquities.

sm Martin Ephraim's writingI have a supremely poignant relic in the form of a scrap of paper in Martin’s handwriting which neatly sums up this tactic of self-preservation. He quotes Martin Luther: “If the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today”.

My mother told me that the blue writing below is by his friend and fellow inmate Dr Hirschberg, who survived Terezin,  went to Auschwitz after the war and became a public prosecutor of Nazis: “das hilft in Auschwitz/This helped in Auschwitz, 1945.”

Slide 7

And here’s a snatch of Hans Neumeyer’s duo. The performers last year remarked that what little survives of his music shows a wide range of styles, from neoclassical to polyphonic. Here I think he’s harking back to JS Bach…

[at this point I played an extract from the slow movement]

Slide 8

sm Ruths bearAnd the teddy bear in the first photo? There’s a happy ending here. That bear survived, and came over in the Kindertransport in my mother’s suitcase.

And here he is… 90 years old, looking pretty good after all he’s been through, and making his public debut!

[and here’s the bear (according to the antique teddy shop in Lewes he’s an unknown make), whom I also included at the very start of this blog. I raised him up and there was a huge wave of quite unexpected applause.]