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Sun, Apr. 11th, 2010, 09:05 pm
My grandparents' escape from Germany

Three years ago, on Yom ha-Shoah, the memorial day for victims of the Holocaust, I posted the following. Since many of you weren't reading my blog then, I thought it would be appropriate to re-post it again this year. I have added some hyperlinks this time.

With my mother's permission, I would like to share with you her father's story of how my grandparents left Germany at the last moment, in his own words, from a book he wrote for my mother.

Your parents were married March 21 1937 and have been living in Munich until they left in August 1939.

It was not exactly peaceful times to get married and to live in Germany. Since 1933 Hitler reigned and what this meant you may learn from the history books. Under other circumstances you would have found other surroundings and most certainly you would not have been born in England and this report would not have been written in English.

Nevertheless we tried to make the best out of it as we started married life and under the circumstances it ran smoothly till June 1938. Your father got fired and the big question turned up where to go. There was certainly no place in Germany and as we did not have any connections we tried everything to somewhere abroad, somewhere even if it meant to leave everything behind. There was a bad time ahead for us and millions of other Jews. One tried to kill the time learning English and the Executive of Photo Schaja became a waiter apprentice and paid for it. And between studying and writing letters and hoping the time went by and was November 1938. We will never forget the terrible time of the days of November 8 - 9 1938 with the pogroms, the burning down of the temples and the mass deportations of the Jews to the concentration camps. Fortunately your father escaped, he belonged to the few who managed not to get caught and lived in fear and horror for days. For many was the trip to the concentration camp the last journey. Your uncle Leo belonged to them.

After this we doubled our efforts to get out. Month after month we have been waiting, we wrote letters and we did everything what was in our power to reach the goal -- saving our lives. The war loomed in the background and it was high time that something did happen. In the meantime it was April. Your mother's cousin Gus Hines was at this time, April 1939, in Holland and his sister-in-law Gogo, alias Sofie Guggenheim, alias Gilbert, visited them from England. Our desperate letters moved them so that they put an ad in an English paper and so we got employment as Butler and cook in a deserted hamlet with a reverend at Cardynham near Bodmin, Cornwall, in England. It was the usual way for the desperate to save their lives and we have been more than glad to get the job and so we waited for the visas.

We began to get ready, part of our stuff should go to England, another part straight to The U.S.A. Unity Mitford, a daughter of Lord Readsdale and friend of Hitler, took over our apartment. One August morning it came. In 48 hours we got ready and said Good Bye to our loved ones and Munich. We went to Nuremberg, saw your grandmother and your uncle Juler and during the night we travelled through Germany to the border. We crossed into Holland and we have been free. We pray you will never have the experience we went through all these months. And looking back, it was saying "Good Bye" for ever, we never saw them again and we would have perished like our loved ones and millions of others if we would not have been lucky to get the job as Butler and cook.

It was three weeks before the war broke out as we arrived in England. We worked like slaves in the big house in the isolated hamlet of Cardynham and Cornwall. After three months we moved up to Torquay, a lovely town in Devon. The position was not much better but we found friends and had people to talk to. And here we learned that all our possessions got stuck in Germany and that we had to make the best out of the things we had with us. As I said before, we saved our naked lives and nothing else. And it happened in Torquay that we met our English friends who did so much for us and for you. They took care of you before, during, after you arrived in this world. They brought everything what a baby needed and they never let us down, the Quaker of Torquay and our dear friend Mrs. Helene Griffith. [AMG note: this last bit is out of chronological order.]

The war did not go too well, the allies got defeated and after 6 months in Torquay we had to move for security reasons. We went to London and shortly afterwards I left for 14 months for the Onchan Camp on the Isle of Man. [This was an internment camp - AMG] Your mother was left alone in London, with not much money, under the heavy "Blitz" which became the expression of the heavy nightly air raids. It have been difficult times, full of anxious thoughts for your father and nerve-wracking for mother.

With the Lord's help these 14 months went by, I got released as trustworthy and helping the war effort by being an agricultural worker in Wigton, Cumberland. Your mother joined me there soon and told me that the few things we brought with us from Germany went up in flames in one of the terrible raids in London. Our luggage in September 1941 was not very heavy. And so was it easy to go in January 1942 back to London. I got a nice job very quickly this time and we began to build up again our appearance, our expectations and ourselves.

Mon, Apr. 12th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)

Thank you for sharing this.

Mon, Apr. 12th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)

That's quite a story.

Mon, Apr. 12th, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)

Thanks for sharing this.

Mon, Apr. 12th, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)

Thank you for sharing this.

Sun, May. 1st, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)

Interesting details here. It's fascinating to read of the connection to the infamous Unity Mitford. But it was another detail that struck me, because I only recently learned of its significance.

Judy's mother Ursel and grandmother Meta had a similar story. Ursel was a 16-year-old schoolgirl near Bournemouth on 9-10 November 1938. Meta was still living in Düsseldorf. When Ursel heard the news, she went to the local family with whom she spent holidays and begged them to hire her mother as a housekeeper, which they did, and that's how Meta was saved.

But why a housekeeper? Meta came from an upper-middle-class family and knew nothing about housework; they had servants for that. I learned only a year or two ago that England, which had tight restrictions on immigration, had special provisions encouraging the immigration of domestic workers (which would presumably free up loyal British subjects to do work of national importance). Those were the provisions under which Meta, and your grandparents as well, were permitted to come to England.

Meta had been hired by people who couldn't pay, to do work she didn't know how to do, but soon started taking in sewing work -- the one domestic skill well-born German girls learned -- and gained a reputation as an expert dressmaker. Her elderly mother, left behind in Germany, was resettled in Theresienstadt, from where she was taken in 1942 to either Minsk or Treblinka -- accounts vary -- and disappeared there.

Sun, May. 1st, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC)

I knew that there were many who got housekeeper positions for which t hey were untrained; I hadn't realized why. Thanks for this!