Our committee Tim Locke (chair), Gaby Weiner (secretary), Peter Stimpson (treasurer), Peter Kammerling, Jackie Stimpson, Janina Karpinska, David Hamilton, Jeffrey Craig, Sandra Ellis, Peter Holmes, Christine Cohen Park, Jessica Roland, Karin Fuchs, Jane Smol, Susan Kotecha
My parents were born in Vienna and had very happy childhoods. After the Anschluss in 1938 both their families tried to get out as best they could, but only mum’s succeeded.
Walter was on the first Kindertransport out of Vienna in December 1938; mum came a month later age 13 with her brother Otto age 9. Dad spent 3 years on a farm in Northern Ireland, coming to London at 18. Mum spent a couple of unhappy years in Liverpool and Chester, but ran away to London at 15 where she eventually met dad at an Austrian refugee youth club; they married in 1944 age 21 and 18.
After demob from the army, for political reasons, they decided to move back to Vienna where my brother and I were born. In 1956 they became disillusioned and returned to England where we grew up in Bournemouth close to mum’s parents.
Walter and Herta Kammerling
My father’s parents, Gerda and Fred, escaped from Czechoslovakia and Germany before the annexation of the Sudetenland and went to Bombay where they lived until Partition, when they came to London.
Both Fred’s family (apart from his mother) and Gerda’s were not so lucky, all perished in the Holocaust. Gerda’s parents and beloved younger brother were sent to Terezin (Theresienstadt) and then on the last transport to Auschwitz. Her younger brother Josef (Pepek) had volunteered to go with his elderly parents to Auschwitz. He survived but died later on a death march. Her elder brother was executed in Prague by the Gestapo for being a member of the communist resistance. Gerda survived until she was 103!
As for my mother, she only discovered that her father had been the product of orthodox Jewish parents at his funeral.
I live in Lewes and am a politics lecturer, news junkie and art lover.
My grandfather, grandmother and father on holiday in Kashmir in about 1942
I told my family story in my book Tales of Loving and Leaving (Authorhouse, 2016), which was primarily about three people - my maternal grandmother, my father and my mother.
My maternal grandmother, Amalia Moszkowicz Dinger was born in 1873 in Brody in Galicia in what is now the Ukraine, moved to Vienna with her husband where she lived for the next forty years and had nine children six of who survived to adulthood and four, into the post-war period. Amalia was murdered in Treblinka at the age of 69.
My father Uszer Frucht was born in Lodz in Poland in 1900, was a revolutionary socialist and Communist all his life, and fled to Belgium in 1923 primarily to avoid military service. He worked as a coal miner in the Charleroi area, married and had a family there, continued his commitment to Jewish revolutionary politics and was expelled from Belgium in 1938. He arrived illegally in London in 1938, avoided immediate deportation due to the start of the war, joined a Yiddish theatre group and met Steffi Dinger with whom he had a child (me).
At the end of the war, finding his first family alive, he travelled several times to Belgium and was eventually expelled from Britain. He lived into his 81st year in Brussels with his ‘first family’ although entered Britain illegally on several occasions and retained the life-long affections of his ‘second’ wife. It was only when he gained Belgian citizenship at the age of 74 that he was finally safe from deportation.
My mother, Stefanie (Steffi) Dinger was born in Vienna in 1903, faced starvation during World War I, relative prosperity in her 20s and 30s and then exile and separation from much of her family and a fiancé, as the Nazis swept to power into Austria in 1938. She escaped with two sisters to London just before the war started, met Uszer Frucht and had a daughter, and following his expulsion, sought to make a life for herself as a single mother at a time when illegitimacy and single parenthood were highly stigmatised. She faced hostility from MI5 and the security services, following her two (unsuccessful) attempts to gain British citizenship.
My mother Ruth and uncle Raymond were brought up by their parents Hans and Vera Neumeyer as Lutherans. The Neumeyer family lived in Dachau, a quiet town known for its colony of artists but now of course indelibly connected with its notorious concentration camp, which opened in a former munitions works in 1933. Hans, a blind music teacher and composer, was Jewish while Vera had a Jewish father but was brought up by her Christian mother as a Lutheran. Ruth and Raymond had an idyllic childhood in the 1920s, but three of their grandparents were Jewish, which meant they were regarded as Jews by the Nuremberg laws of 1935.
With the advent of the Nazis, Hans lost his job and the Neumeyers became increasingly poor. In November 1938 the Neumeyers were ordered to leave their house by dawn the next day or else face imprisonment.
Ruth and Raymond managed to escape to England in May 1939 on a Kindertransport, but the parents both perished in Nazi camps – Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.
After Ruth’s death in 2012 I found a huge and remarkable collection of letters, diaries, photos and more from the family’s past, all of which is to be taken into the archives of the Imperial War Museum, where some items are on display in the new Holocaust Galleries. Through these artefacts I have managed to find out much about the story and record it in my blog ephraimneumeyer.wordpress.com
The Neumeyers in their garden in Dachau, around 1929
Christine Cohen Park
My father's family came to England from Bavaria at the end of the 18th century and settled on the south coast. My mother's family came from Lodz in Poland a century later. One great-aunt and her family remained behind, and perished in the Holocaust, as did some more remote Dutch relatives, about whom sadly we know little. Our upbringing in Ditchling was that of assimilated Jews. My mother even attended the vibrant Unitarian church in the village accompanied by me and my sister. While my father went to Synagogue in Hove, sometimes with my brother! At boarding school my sister and I neither joined the Jewish contingent at Hebrew lessons on Saturdays, nor were prepared for Confirmation on Sundays. Neither fish nor fowl, you could say.
In my early life, then, I didn't identify as a Jewish person, and when I published my first two novels in the 80s and 90s I didn't think of myself as a Jewish writer. This changed overnight in the late 90s when while working in Canada I saw an art film about how the memory of the Holocaust was experienced by ordinary people in German villagers. The testimonies from the Holocaust deniers and those who sought time and again to minimize its impact and scale shocked me. I came out of the cinema and knew I had to stand witness. As a start, I added my father's name (Cohen) to my married gentile name (Park).
I began to travel to Israel for research for the novels I'm writing about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Later, back in Sussex, teaching at Sussex University and settled in Lewes, I joined, amongst other things, the Holocaust Memorial Group. What inspires me particularly about this group is its breadth of vision, inclusiveness, and willingness to tackle past and current painful themes with verve and humanity.
My father was born in Paris in 1931, the only child of Jewish parents. After France fell in 1940 the family remained in Paris. In 1942, aged 11, my father was sent alone to the free zone.
After hiding on a farm for some time he returned to Paris in 1943 to be with his parents. In 1944, his parents were arrested. My father hid in the house and managed to escape. My grandmother had cancer and I think was taken to hospital. My grandfather was taken to Drancy interment camp from where he was deported to Auschwitz and killed.
Once Paris had been liberated my father was able to reunite with his mother, by then very ill, and through family connections managed to fly out to England where he has remained. He met my mother at university - I am one of their five children. I have lived in Lewes since 2009.
I woke up on the morning of 27 January 1995 to a voice on the radio talking about the liberation of Auschwitz fifty years previously. The word ‘Auschwitz’ kept being repeated over and over – it was a rude awakening. Later in the day it was talked about again on the news. I had mixed feelings – on the one hand it felt important for the horrific events to be acknowledged and remembered, but on the other hand it felt like a bit of a bombardment, and I felt very protective of my father. How would he feel if he turned on his television and it was all about Auschwitz, where his father had been murdered, and he wasn’t prepared?
It made me think about the time when, aged around five I think, my mother first told me my dad was Jewish. She also told me that his father, my grandfather, had been a good man – a doctor trying to find a cure for tuberculosis – but had been killed just because he was Jewish. It brought back the intensity of what I had felt as a young child being told this.
In February 1995 I wrote the song ‘Haunted,’ based on what I had felt that morning when I woke to the radio, and what I had felt as a young child on first finding out what had happened to my grandfather.