Following on from my Berlin visit – and purely coincidental in terms of timing – I was privileged to listen to a talk by a Holocaust survivor yesterday, and afterwards got to shake his hand.
I have to say the hour and a bit spent listening to him was a very moving and humbling experience. The survivor, now 86-years old was, despite his advancing years, very lucid and told his story in a factual, but engaging manner, with not a little self-deprecating humour too.
If anyone has not had the opportunity of listening to one of these talks ‘in the flesh’ then I would urge you try and do so while there is still time.
For those interested, I intend to summarise his story here in the coming days.
Part 1 - The pre-war years
Rudi was born in Germany in 1931 and lived near Templehof airport in Berlin. He had an older brother, Paul. His family were not practicing Jews – he said they never went to a synagogue – but were assimilated Jews. His parents, Hans from Nuremburg and Friedericke from Heidelberg, met while at university in Heidelberg. At the time of Rudi’s birth his father worked in a bank, he does not recall his mother working.
Rudi does not recall anything bad happening while in Germany, but he was very young and at that time had not started school so his contact with the outside world would have been limited. Following Hitler’s rise to power and the implementation of laws that gradually eroded normal life more and more for the Jews of Germany, his parents decided to leave the country in 1936. Rudi, Paul and their pregnant mother went to England where Rudi had an uncle living in London. His father went to Holland, where he got a job with an overseas branch of the bank a short while later. He does not know why his father did not come with them to England, or why having got a job in Amsterdam, the family did not move to Holland together.
The family stayed in London for 6 months, during which time Rudi’s mother gave birth to his sister Eve. This event – though of course they did not know it at the time - was the single most important factor in why Rudi is alive today. Being born in England, meant Eve had British nationality (this is a fascinating aspect of the story and something I knew nothing about – more to follow).
After 6 months in London, in September 1936, the family moved to Holland to join Rudi’s father. Apparently, with Holland having been neutral during WWI, it was felt that this country was safe for a Jewish family. The family settled in a town called Heemstede near Haarlem close to the Dutch coast. For the next three years Rudi remembers a happy, normal time for the family – although he thinks that their financial position must have altered as there were no more holidays like they had enjoyed when in Germany. He believes that his father was probably ordered to give up certain possessions when leaving Germany. Rudi's grandparents on both sides, were also able to leave Germany and joined the family in Holland.
And then everything changed on 10 May 1940.....
England expects that every man will do his duty. Horatio Nelson October 1805