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

Red Cross letters grouped

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

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

Specific rules about the contents of the letter were given:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[datestamp:]12 AUGUST 1940; 23 September 1940

Name NEUMEYER

Christian name Ruth

Address 71 Barton Road Cambridge

c/o Mrs Stirland

Relationship of Enquirer to Addressee Daughter

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

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

Date 10.6.1940

ADDRESSEE

NAME NEUMEYER

CHRISTIAN NAME HANS

ADDRESS 5 THORWALDSEN STRASSE, MUNICH

The addressee’s reply to be written overleaf.

The rest of the messages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Children,

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

Parents.

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

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

From Hans and Vera, 11 March 1941:

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

Love to you both.

Parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love from all.

Parents.

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

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

Parents.

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

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

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

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

Parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Vera and Hans to Raymond, 1 May 1942:

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

Parents

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

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

Am healthy.

Love Mother

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

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

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

Keep happy!

Mother

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

Dearest Ruthi

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

Grandfather Martin.

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

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

RAYMOND.

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

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

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

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

RAYMOND

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

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

Auntie Dora

Postscript

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

Dear Madam,

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

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

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

Yours truly,

for M. R. Carden

Red Cross_letter Aug 1943 about tracing parents

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

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New threads emerge: a miscellany

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

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

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

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

Hans Neumeyer tributes

Hans Neumeyer Garmisch 1930s

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

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

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

Munich 17 July 1947

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

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

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

12 September 1946

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

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

Selected photographs

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

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

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

Some snapshots of the Neumeyers’ normal family life:

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Julius Kohn

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

Gold that somehow the Nazis never got hold of

Ephraim jewellery (2)

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

The Ephraims’ car-rallying antics

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

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

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

Neumeyers in Herbert Ephraims car in Schreiberhau

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

Hans Neumeyer’s music gets more performances

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

Trio in Murcia playing Neumeyer trio 30 Jan 2015

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

Raimund’s school report

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

Raymond school report Egham 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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And finally: an extraordinary image

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

Children in Uniform 1949 cover_20171104_0001

Text and images copyright Tim Locke November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Dora’s testimony: dreading the knock on the door

dora-1938-with-dog-in-park

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.

dora_and-janni-berlin-1947

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.

 

 

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 Thorwaldsenstrasse where you lived. A horrible picture: many deaths and homelessness. Many have lost hope and are desperate. You can’t believe they’ll ever rebuild it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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 a house called Starenhäusl, Kellerstrasse 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. He did however regain a certificate of repatriation from Bavaria in 1956.

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At the Starenhäusl in Garmisch: 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.

sm Betty having coffee postwar

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. The youngest, Frieda, has recently contacted me from Florida through this blog: very nice to find a second cousin this way.

Irma Kuhn (born Irma Neumeyer; 1874-1943)

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

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

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

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

sm Dora 1942

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

sm Janni and her kindergarten in Schreiberhau c1930

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

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

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

sm Janni and Bruno Schweig

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

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

sm Vera and Herbert

Vera and Herbert as children

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

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

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

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

The Prince Henry Tour was an automobile race 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.