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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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.

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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.

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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.

‘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 Thorwaldstrasse 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 Thorwaldstrasse 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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How the siblings escaped the Holocaust

While my grandparents Hans and Vera Neumeyer died in Nazi camps, all of Vera’s siblings survived the war. Hans’ side of the family were 100 percent Jewish but even his sister managed to escape shortly before the outbreak of war.

Vera’s mother was not Jewish so Vera herself would probably have been safe. During the early 1940s she divorced Hans but this was too late to save her.

Here are the stories of Hans’ and Vera’s sisters and brothers, many recollected by my uncle Raymond Newland (Raimund Neumeyer) and transcribed in the 1990s by his son Tobias, and with certain other details fleshed out by my brother Stephen and by Raymond’s wife Ingrid. For Hans and particularly Vera they are scenarios of what might have been. They had contacts in England and Switzerland they could have used. They just didn’t think it could happen to them, until it was too late.

Betty Braun (1881-1962)

Hans Neumeyer’s sister Betty Braun lived at Kellenstrasse 8 (now Lazarett Strasse)  in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, where the Neumeyer family visited many times. She took the easterly route to salvation, as late as 1939, when she boarded a train through Poland and then travelled on the very last (so it’s reputed) Trans-Siberian train out. Fortuitously she was in time to catch the very last ship from Shanghai to South America, after she’d sent the Neumeyers several letters from Shanghai. The four that survive, and are illustrated here, are addressed to Vera and dated between August and November 1939; the one shown here top left is actually postmarked 3 September 1939, the day the war broke out. They were passed on to Ruth some years after the war when a large number of items kept by friends were sent over.

sm Betty Braun letters from China

Her son Gustav (1901-64) ran a bus company for many years in Manzales and Cali in Columbia, and she joined him. Known as Gustl, he had emigrated on 26 June 1937, officially for one year, but he did not return to Germany and his German nationality was cancelled by court order in 1939.

 

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Betty and Gustl (Gustav), seen on the right with Dela Blakmar (far left) and Hans Neumeyer (in dark glasses). Dela was Hans’ secretary and wrote out his music for him. She moved back to her native Sweden and managed to rescue what survived of Hans’ music in Munich, but reported to Ruth in 1947 that the rest of it had been burnt.

Betty moved back to Munich after the war and visited our family in Sydenham on several occasions in the 1950s. She died in 1962. I have no memory of her, but her photos show a strong resemblance to her brother Hans.

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Betty in Munich in the 1950s having one of her trademark brews of strong coffee with condensed milk, typically (as my brother Stephen recalls) consumed over a game of patience.

Gustav had five children; his daughter, also called Betty Braun, first made contact with our family in the 1990s and visited my parents in Sydenham with her son. She now lives in Alicante.

Irma Kuhn (born Irma Neumeyer; 1874-1943)

Hans’ older sister is a mystery and unfortunately I never asked Ruth about her. She may be one of several unnamed people in the family photo album that Ruth brought with her on the Kindertransport in 1939. Irma was widowed at the age of 50 when her husband Heinrich died in 1924, and paid some visits to the Neumeyers in Dachau in the years that followed, and Raimund could remember her reading them bedtime stories. When World War II broke out, she was living in an old people’s home in Hermann-Schmidt Strasse in Munich.

The day after Hans was transported to Theresienstadt, Irma was put on the train to the same place: 6  June 1942. She survived eleven months there, dying on 14 May the following year. We do not know if she ever saw her brother while in Theresienstadt.

Nathan Neumeyer (1843-1923)  and Frieda Neumeyer (1851-1915), the parents of Hans, Irma and Betty, also had a child called Eugen who died in childhood.

Dora Böse (born Dora Ephraim; later Dora Schweig; 1885-1962)

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Dora in 1942. Also known as Tante Dodo, Dora spent the war and subsequent years in Dresden, where her descendants Vera, Claudia and Cornelia still live. As previously described on this blog, her daughter Erika was due for deportation to a concentration camp in February 1945 only to be saved by the carpet-bombing of Dresden just before her scheduled departure.

Dora seems to have been the Neumeyers’ main contact point during the war. When Vera sent the Red Cross message that she was ‘going on a journey’ (in other words, being deported) she requested that family members should stay in touch with Dora. I assume that the letter Vera got passed on from the train on her final journey to the concentration camp was sent to Dora, as were the testimonies of Dr Hirschberg who described meetings with Hans Neumeyer and Martin Ephraim in Theresienstadt. (See earlier posts on this blog for the full stories.) Dora circulated copies of these to the family and deposited Dr Hirschberg’s testimonies with the post-war authorities.

My mother Ruth kept closely in contact with her, and sent her food parcels after the war. Letters from her express gratitude as at one stage they hadn’t even had potatoes for months: the Russians, she said, were taking all the produce.

Marianne (‘Janni’) Bisi (born Marianne Ephraim; 1887-1972)

sm Marianne Bisi nee Ephraim.jpgTante Janni, as everyone (even non-relations) knew her, is the only one of the siblings I can remember in person. She was supremely charismatic: clever, vivacious, an idealist, a vegetarian (on principle: she believed the world’s food problems could be solved if everyone became vegetarian) and a pacifist. When she stayed with us in Sydenham back in the 1960s, she would walk down the street beaming at complete strangers and stopping for a chat. The elderly, behatted Betterware door-to-door salesman never sold us anything but always made a point of visiting our house when Tante Janni was staying. I’d come home from school to find the two of them seated out in the front porch immersed in an hour-long (or perhaps even longer) chat. I  don’t think any Betterware commodities ever changed hands between them either.

She married Luigi Bisi, an Italian count and architect, in the 1920s, and they had a preposterously extravagant wedding, with all the guests going up in hot-air balloons. It wasn’t the most comfortable of family set-ups: his brother was a friend of Mussolini. She later separated from him. He had made his housekeeper pregnant and wanted to marry  her instead; bizarrely he went to the Pope to obtain a divorce, but we don’t know if this action was successful.

During the war she had a close affair with a man called Luderitz, who gave her a safe home; she had worked as a housekeeper during the war with the family in Bad Berka, Thuringia. She wasn’t quite Jewish enough to be deported but her cohabiting and the visits from the Ephraim and Neumeyer families had to be kept very quiet in the climate of fear that prevailed. In particular, his daughter Sigrid (Siggy) faced an awkward time at school and didn’t confide to anyone what was going on at home. She never had an easy relationship with Janni thereafter, but lived near her in Berlin as a fostered daughter and spent her last years in Cambridge until her death in 1996.

 

sm Janni and her kindergarten in Schreiberhau c1930

Janni (seen mid right, in white at the far side of the main table) at the Montessori Kindergarten she ran in Schreiberhau (now called Szklarska Poreba, and in Poland). Here her parents had a large country house – still extant as a building and now functioning as a guesthouse. Ruth is the fourth from the left (with plaits) and Raimund is standing to the right of her.

After the war Janni lived in Zehlendorf in Berlin. At a time when air travel was for the privileged few, she got many free flights through her son Valerio, who worked for Alitalia. He had been a Prisoner of War in north Africa for most of the war and for some time thereafter.

Her daughter Serena (1912-c.1995) was raped by Russian soldiers in 1945 and never married (we don’t think she had any relationships either). As compensation for her misfortune, she was given a job at the US Servicemen’s Club in Berlin, decorating the rooms for special events.

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Tante Janni (Marianne) with Bruno Schweig, the brother-in-law of Dora, seen outside our house in Sydenham. This is some time in the 1960s during one of her annual summer visits. Bruno lived in Golders Green.

Fritz Herbert Everett (born Fritz Herbert Ephraim; 1891-1950)

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Vera and Herbert as children

Even by the standards of the rest of the family, the mysterious Herbert seems to have led a colourful life.

He certainly lived in style. His first wife Pina (later Pina Talamonia) owned a villa on Capri which the Neumeyers visited in 1934. The Berlin-based Expressionist painter Walter Gramatté (later to be banned by the Nazis as a decadent artist) painted a portrait of one Pina Ephraim in 1919; given the Ephraims’ interest in supporting the arts, could this be the same person?

His father, Martin Ephraim, was passionate about cars, and Herbert developed the interest further, becoming a professional racing-car driver for Opel and for a while becoming the German racing champion. At one race a banner read ‘Ephraim für Deutschland’. Very ironic, in retrospect.

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

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

Raymond in Capri

Raimund on a visit with Vera to Pina Ephraim’s villa in Capri in 1934, some years after she had separated from Herbert.

He left Germany in 1931, so escaped the years under the Nazis completely, emigrating with his third wife to America, where he changed his surname to Everett.

Bricky toy

In New York Herbert worked for (and perhaps owned) a company making Bricky toy building sets, a kind of precursor to Lego. A set of it turned up at our house: it involved gluing individual bricks together and I don’t think any of us ever worked out how to use it.

He sent multiple invitations to his father Martin urging him to come to America but according to Dora Martin had never wanted to leave his beloved homeland. ‘I was born here. I will die here too,’ was his constant response.

After the war, he sent over some secondhand children’s clothes to my mother, but there was little news from him. Raimund Neumeyer (who had by then changed his name to Raymond Newland) managed to  contact Herbert through the British Consulate in New York. Herbert promised to get in touch but the family never heard from him again. He died soon after in, we think, 1950.

 

Herbert Ephraim with children and new car

Herbert on the fender of his new car (around 1928), with Ruth and Raimund beside him and Hans Neumeyer behind the fence to the left.

 

 

 

A desperate scramble for the exit: letters from Munich to England, 1939

I’m looking at a sheaf of letters from my grandparents written early in 1939 –  a time of frantic letter-writing and form-filling for the Neumeyers as they tried to get permissions to leave Germany before their world closed in on them.

Together they build up a picture of how they had hoped to come to the safety of England and settle permanently. The first letters are from the beginning of 1939. Later, tantalisingly, there’s news that permissions have been obtained for them to live in England; but it seems that they never got the required paperwork from the German authorities.

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Some of the letters sent by Hans and Vera Neumeyer to the Paishes in early 1939

Hans and Vera Neumeyer had met Frank and Beatrice Paish at the eurthymics school founded by Jacques Dalcroze at Hellerau near Dresden before the First World War. The Paishes and their extended family (the Eckhards and Stirlands) later became lifelong friends of Ruth and Raimund (my mother and uncle) and were known to them as Uncle Frank and Aunt Bea; both died in the 1980s. Frank Paish followed in his father’s footsteps to become an eminent economist: his theory of inflation popped up in the A level economics syllabus when I was at school.

The January 7 and January 8  letters: ‘our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family’

The Neumeyers have evidently just received the very good news that the Paishes were willing to sponsor Ruth and Raimund by acting as guarantors. Hans, although blind, spells out his practical skills. Ruth confirmed to me that he was a very good cook (gnocchi was a speciality; Vera, on the other hand was hopeless and left all the cooking to him).

Vera hopes she can get a ‘domestic permit’, and fears the separation will be worse for her than the children.

Testimonials from Hans' musical contacts, including Jacques Dalcroze

Testimonials from Hans’ musical contacts, including Jacques Dalcroze

With this first missive Hans sent testimonials dated between 1934 and 1938. We have seven of them, typed and translated into English. They are from  Jacques Dalcroze (the pioneer of eurythmics – the music and movement discipline that Vera taught and Hans played music for); Gustav Guldenstein, Dr Ernst Mohr, Walter Muller and Dr R Edlinger (Academy of Music and Conservatoire, Basle); Aug. Schimid-Lindner and H W von Waltershausen (professors at the Royal Academy of Music); Anna Hirzel-Langenhat (Castle of Berg); and Prof Dr F Klose and Prof Theodor Kilian (Public Academy of Music in Munich; Kilian was teacher of violin).

There is also a certificate from the Royal Academy of Music in Munich attesting to his standards in musical composition, pianoforte, general musical doctrine and history of music, and his CV.

[From Hans, but written out by Vera]

January 7 1939

Dear Mrs. Paish

At last I find a quiet hour to thank you for your dear letters of Dec 29th and Jan 2nd. All my words are too feeble to tell you how much my wife as well as myself are touched by your goodness and readiness to help us, how our hearts are full of thankfulness towards you and your family.

We accept the noble-hearted offer of you brother and your sister-in-law with joyful relief. The contents of your last letter came to us as a light sent by God through the hopeless dark of the night around us. All we can do is to stretch out our hands to you, dear Mrs. Paish, as well as to your brother and his wife, to thank you and to pray to God that He may reward you for all your kindness.

We are including the required the certificates and photographs of the children, as well as a list of dates. If there is anything else we can do please write and we shall do it as quickly as possible.

We wrote several weeks ago to a Berlin committee which arranges the journey of non Aryan Christian children (Dr Spieron[?], Berlin, Brandenburgische Strasse 41), but we did not hear anything from it since then. I do not know if that Berlin committee is in connection with your English committee. But surely it will be best if the latter will arrange for the children to travel on one of the children’s trains. We know that if makes a great difference when the future residence of the children is guaranteed and that they are sure to come to your country sooner by this.

The informations we got here were rather different. Do you know if they need a passport and a visum? And is it true that they are allowed to take only one suit-case with them?

I am very thankful to you, too, for all that you try to find a possibility of existence for myself and my wife. I am sending you now my testimonials and recommendations translated into English.

Besides musical teaching (which includes the writing and reading of music in Braille – writing and stenography) I am able to teach blind people typewriting and other practical work as well. For instance I have a profound knowledge of handicraft work: electrical installation, upholstery, locksmith’s work, joinery and some book-binding. All these, if taught to blind people, want special knowledge and methods of working, and it is on account of my large practical experience that I should be able to give such practical teaching even more thoroughly than a seeing teacher. Or my experience and advice might be a useful help for a seeing teacher to whom I could give instructions how to organise such work at any institution or school for the blind. I am a good cook, too.

And I have gained a great experience with guide-dogs, an experience which might be useful for the blind in certain regards.

My wife as well as I quite understand that it will perhaps be necessary to go in separate places at first. If so, I might be accompanied by a friend of ours who is of Danish nationality and so with her passport might travel wherever it would be necessary.

Please excuse me for not answering before this. I had to wait for the translation of my testimonials which were in Berlin at the time when your letter arrived. I hope to hear from you soon.

With kind regards to yourself as well as your brother and your sister-in-law

Yrs thankful

Hans Neumeyer

Vera follows this up with a letter written a day later echoing Hans’ gratitude:

The Paishes' house at 86 Kingsley Way, London N2 as it is now

The Paishes’ house at 86 Kingsley Way, London N2 as it is now. Ruth and Raimund couldn’t stay there, though, and went to live with Bea’s brother, Oscar Eckard instead.

…they [the children] are brave and reasonable little souls and they both are looking forward to the new life, and I trust they will soon get accustomed to the new surroundings and the English language which they are already studying here. I think the separation will be harder for me than for them, but I do hope I shall soon be able to follow them, as I have already got a passport and so all I want is only to be required by some family or institution as a household-help or for the education of children, or as a lady companion… Later on, perhaps, it would be possible to do some rhythmic work or to combine my faculties with my knowledge of the French and Italian languages. But for the moment I am told the only way to come to your country is by a domestic permit’.

News from the Jewish Blind Society

The Neumeyers’ hopes must have been raised – in vain as it turned out – by the Jewish Blind Jewish Blind Soc lettersSociety, based in Fordwych Road, London NW2. In February, the Society wrote two letters to Beatrice Paish. On 5 February it is recorded that the organisation will ‘probably be willing to apply for Mr. Neuberger [sic] & his wife’. Another note three days later confirms the receipt of the doctor’s certificate for Mr Neumeyer, but asking for certificates for the rest of the family and the birth dates of the children. This if followed by a very hopeful letter on 16 March to Beatrice Paish, giving a tantalising promise of what life would be like for the Neumeyers in the safety of England:

On 22 February we applied for permission for you and your husband to enter this country, and I hope the necessary visas will be granted by the Home Office very shortly, although I cannot guarantee anything, nor do I know how long it will take. Without wishing to raise your hopes too much, I would say that up to now they have not taken a very long time, but there is no chance of urging them forward, and we must just wait until they come through.

When you and your husband arrive here, I propose to send you both to the Royal School for the Blind, Leatherhead, Surrey. This is a big place in the country, and not very far from London You will be put up there in dormitories, and naturally, you and your husband will not be allowed to share the same room. When you are once here we shall see what we can do for you. Possibly you will be able to get a domestic post quite independent of this Society, and if your husband has been trained for any work, such as basket-making or brush-making, then doubtless we shall be able to find him a position in one of the workshops for the Blind. I will inform you as soon as I have heard from the Home Office, and will then give you whatever further information is necessary.

Yours faithfully

Mr Herbert M Harris

Secretary

The final letter we have from the Society was sent on 22 March, confirming the receipt of the permit for ‘Mr & Mrs. Neumeyer from Munich’. But nothing ever came of it, and the whole thing simply fizzled out in the bureaucratic nightmare of those pre-war months.

More delay; ‘it will take about three months before the guarantees will be examined’

This letter concerns the transport of the children to England. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the air, and all sorts of guarantees are required for things to proceed. Happily it worked – due I am sure in no small measure to the Paishes, and on 11 May Ruth and Raimund left Germany on the Kindertransport for a new life with a new family in England.

München

Thorwaldsentstr. 5

14 March 1939

My dear Mrs. Paish!

Permit me to answer the letter addressed to my wife, that she sent me in order to give me the opportunity to get in touch with the headquarters of the different committees that are here in Berlin where I am staying for a short time. You know how grateful we are for the interest you take in our affairs and the sympathy you are showing us. It oppresses me very much to think that we are forced to make use of your time and your kindness, you may find some excuse for it in the extreme difficulty of our situation.

To-day I went to inform me at the central bureau for the emigration of non-Aryan Christian children, Pfarrer Grueber , Berlin Oranienburgerstr. 20. The reporter Frau Studienrat Draeger told me

  1. The transports are not altogether stopped but delayed on account of several difficulties
  2. Until now one had to give the guarantees to the Home Office if one intended to send the children privately, but it is quite possible that one has to address oneself now to the Inter-aid Committee (Bloomsbury House), that means that one has to give the guarantees now to the inter-aid committee. In that case – Mrs Draeger told me – the guarantees have to be given to Miss Gerstley Bloomsbury House who would pass it on to the Home Office, that would communicate with the bureau of Pfarrer Grueber. One has to assure a guarantee:

a) for the financial support
b) for the family that is going to take the children, and
c) for the school that the children are going to be sent to.

It will take about three months till the guarantees will be examined. In case that the papers would not yet be at the Inter-aid committee I should be very much obliged to you if you could have that done as soon as possible.

At the committee here nothing is known about children coming to England privately being treated differently by the government from those that go with transports. There are no difficulties with the luggage, as each thing is taxed and sealed at home.

We think this photo of Raimund was sent in a letter to the Paishes

You mention that your brother might have to take a smaller house and then would not be in the position to take the children. I am very happy that in case you intend to take Ruth, that is very kind of you. But it is necessary that another suitable home for our boy should be found this has to be settled before giving the guarantees to the Inter-aid committee or else his permit would be made uncertain. Perhaps your brother might give the committee the assurance of taking the children to make things easier and meanwhile one could try to find another home for Raimund. Unfortunately we have scarcely any friends in England so that we cannot do much, would you have the great kindness to try if you can find somebody among your friends who could be of help. I’m sure you’ll understand, dear Mrs. Paish, how we feel about it, it’s so hard for the children to leave their parents and everything and it would be such a comfort for them if they could remain together or at least not too far apart. I feel so depressed about giving you so much trouble but all of this is of such importance for us and the children, so please pardon me.

Ever so many thanks for all you kindness and please give our thanks to Lady Simon and Miss Zimmern and to your brother.

Believe me, dear Mrs. Paish, to be

Yours truly

Hans Neumeyer.

 

This is followed up on 20 March 1939. Vera and Hans are still expecting to come, but nothing ever came of it:

Dear Mrs Paish

I have to thank you for three letters which you wrote to us. I am so sorry to cause you so much trouble just at a time where you are more than usually occupied because of your maid’s illness. We are absolutely convinced that everything that can be done has been done by you, and that under these circumstances it is useless at present to urge the Interaid to hurry.

We are very glad than our children will stay together in your brother’s family, after all.

I am sending you a copy of a letter which I got from the Jewish Society three days ago. You will see that their plans are not so favourable as the informations they gave to you, the latter being certainly preferable for us as a future perspective.

However, we share your and your husband’s opinion that the most important thing is to come, and that everything else will be settled afterwards.

In the meantime we must be patient.

With best greetings from us all,

Yrs,

V. Neumeyer

We have a large number of letters in German written to Ruth and Raimund from May 1939 until the end of the year. Thereafter, communications were restricted to much shorter Red Cross messages (the originals of which are now in the Imperial War Museum), which say very little. More about these on a future post.

 

 

Dire news from Poland, 1945

Vera (left) and Ruth - the last picture taken of the two together in the countryside in 1939

Vera (left) and Ruth – the last known picture of them together, in the mountains in 1939

Days after the war with Japan ended, my mother finally found out the truth. She, Ruth Neumeyer, was in Cambridge through much of the war. Ruth always spoke of those times with great affection: lots of friends, full of life and plenty going on.

As an alien she was restricted in what work she could do but it didn’t seem to stop her from living things to the full. She had done nursery training at Wellgarth in Wiltshire, and later resided at 19 Adams Road, Cambridge, as housekeeper to Professor and Ethel Ginsberg.

She kept up her interests in theatricals with backstage work at the ADC Theatre, and did fire-watching duties from the tower of Great St Mary’s. Her closest friends included Lore and Erica Weiss (twins, who had arrived  from Vienna; they still live in Cambridge) and Trude Deutsch (an actress).

The wartime diaries

Ruth's wartime diaries

The diary entry for 17 September, 1945, her 22nd birthday. On the left-hand page she records in August ‘a startling, awful and terrifying invention’, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the subsequent surrender of the Japanese

Ruth kept a diary for most of her life, and those during the wartime years oscillate between  German and English. Her 22nd birthday, on 17 September 1945, was far from a joyful experience, as she learned almost for certain that her mother Vera Neumeyer had perished in a concentration camp in Poland:

There is much to be recorded of last week, when I spent a supremely wonderful holiday with Leon [Leon Long, her boyfriend], but before anything else I must thank God for His inestimable Love and Wisdom.

Almost officially there has been some news about my mother. Raymond’s letters were awaiting my arrival at No 19 [Adams Road, Cambridge], but my darling Lore [Lore Weiss] has prepared me before. Everybody has been so charming to me that I can only shed tears for the love those true friends show, but yet I cannot believe it. Aunt Mary said only yesterday that when my hope was smallest there would be some joyful news from a corner of Poland. It is not this however entirely that gives me such almost unexpected supernatural support in the grief I should feel about this.

At times there is a storm coming up, but how can anyone let misery win victory over the bounteous mercy of God. Those friends I have are more dear than ever I dared to imagine before.

Mrs Ginsberg, who is Ethel to me now, was so sweet that my tears started to fall. My Ruth 1940s_0001sweetest Leon was with me while I read the news about mother. She did Zwansgsarbeit [forced labour] at a factory and lived with my father although separated from him. I cannot understand this. Then she was deported to Poland in 1942 and is at a place from where there is little news (Lublin). 99% of hope is dead but I will trust in God and face everything through the strength in Jesus Christ. Leon was such a comfort and understands my thoughts so well. It just hasn’t sunk in yet.

Ethel gave me some hot gin and lemonade and a tablet, which seems to affect my brain and a dizzy kind of action. I think I must stop before I drop my pen.

There are no further diary entries beyond this until the following July. We know Ruth suffered from jaundice in the intervening period. I don’t think she lost her faith after that, but the Christian references aren’t so strong in what she subsequently wrote.