Family Reiss (Mother's Family)
Grandparents had eight children - two died at birth or shortly after, leaving four boys and two girls.
Daniel, the oldest married a non-jewish woman who had one son by a previous marriage. They then had a daughter, Erna.
August married Friedel and had two children - Frederick and Margot.
Ferdinand married Betty who was not jewish but converted to Judaism and became fervently religious. They had two children - Hildegard and Ilse.
Leo married Rik, a Dutch woman and lived in Holland but had no children.
Bertha married and had three children, two girls and a boy. The youngest of the children, a girl was born a 'blue baby' and lived only until she was twenty one.
Lola married Daniel and had one daughter, Ruth.
Family Hirsch (Father's Family)
Grandparents had two sons:
Harry married Julia but had no children.
Daniel married Lola and had one child, Ruth.
One of my earliest memories was living in a big flat at the age of three and a half in Frankfurt, Germany, with my maternal grandmother and my mother and father. My father was a traveling salesman so my early memories of him are not so clear.
We lived with my grandmother as my mother was the youngest of six children, the last to get married and therefore expected to look after her mother. My mother got married at thirty three years of age, which was quite late in those days, because she had tuberculosis as a young girl and spent a year in a sanitarium and many years in recuperation.
I was about four years old when my grandmother died aged seventy six. I remember that my father had been unhappy at having to live at my grandmother's. This was probably because he was jealous that he wasn't getting all the attention. My parents had not been married very long then - I was born a year after they got married.
After my grandmother died we moved to a modern flat a little way outside the centre of Frankfurt. I remember that when I was three I had severe mastoids in both ears and was in hospital. My mother was unable to visit me as she was also ill and only her sister Bertha came to visit. I also had pneumonia and was scared to ask for a bed-pan so I used to wet the bed and a nurse threatened to hang me out of the window at night - typically German! I soon recovered but had two more mastoid operations over the years.
Although I was an only child I was never lonely because I was always together with my cousins Hildegard and Ilse. Frankfurt was quite a small town in those days and we lived near one another. Betty and Ferdinand, Hildegard and Ilse's parents, together with their grandparents had a large flat which was full of cats and usually one dog. At one time they even had a parrot! Betty and Ferdinand were a very happy couple and I always enjoyed staying there.
My other uncle and aunt, August and Friedel lived near us too, but at the time I didn't see much of their children, Freddy or Margot.
My Grandfather died when I was very young and I only vaguely remember him. My grandmother lived in a large flat in the centre of Frankfurt where I was taken to see her sometimes .
My father didn't make friends very easily but the friends he did have were in the music world. One particular family we used to visit had a grand piano and they were always playing music. My father played with them in a quartet and I was allowed to listen to them quite often. More about this particular family later.
My mother on the other hand had quite a few friends who were mostly from her single days. Amongst our friends were the Schonmans who lived in the same block of flats as us. They had no children of their own but had a nephew about my age called Eugene. He and I spent a lot of time together and he proposed to me when I was five years old!
Like all Germans I attended a kind of elementary school from the age of six onwards. Life was fun but I didn't like school very much. I hated mathematics in particular. My father didn't like holidays in those days, so my mother sometimes took me to Holland to see her brother and sister-in-law where I had a great time. Sometimes I went away with Hildegard, Ilsa and their parents and also visited my father's brother Harry and his wife Julia in Leipzig. I had a cousin in Mannheim who I also stayed with sometimes.
The last time I saw my uncle and aunt in Holland was in 1933, just after Hitler rose to power. At that time Hitler was not taken seriously by Jewish people as they all said that he wouldn't last long and the anti-Semitism he preached was mostly ignored. Far from feeling persecuted, Jews at this time thought of themselves as good Germans; many of them, including my father, fought for their country against the allies in the Great War.
The first time I saw an SS uniform was in 1933 while my father and I were out walking. I enquired about their strange uniforms and he said maybe they will mean a lot of trouble for us Jews. However, like most people, he didn't really think that Hitler would carry out his threats and attempt to turn Germany into a pure Aryan country.
At the time I was the only Jewish pupil at my school. Every morning at assembly everyone had to stand up and say "Heil Hitler". I was very lucky as the headmaster stood up for me when I refused and he excused me from saying it. I didn't look Jewish so the other pupils left me alone but the headmaster threatened them with a belting if they were nasty to me! He used to walk home with me and told my parents that they were not to worry as he would look after me. He wished me luck when I eventually left that school to go to a Jewish school.
As time went on, the Hitler movement became stronger. The first time I personally saw trouble was when a Czechoslovakian official was arrested by Nazi thugs and later assassinated. By this time Jewish people were getting nervous and there were a few arrests from time to time but the people were usually released. By this time we had moved back into the centre of Frankfurt for convenience and to be near our relatives and friends.
Frankfurt had one of the largest Jewish communities in Germany. Of course by this time Germany was becoming more prosperous which was a great boost to the Nazi cause. Hitler had put the country back on its feet after the terrible times of the twenties. Around 1936, Ferdinand, being a jeweller had been arrested on some trumped up charge. Once I remember they searched their flat and as kids we looked on, agog with curiosity.
We lived near the synagogue at that time where I used to go every Shabbat. This was mainly because I had a crush on one of the choir boys who was my third cousin. I used to follow him home and made Hildegard and Ilse come with me, but he never took any notice. Synagogues and Jewish shops were tolerated then but we were told never to hang around outside the synagogue after the service.
I used to visit my grandmother quite often then, being her only grandchild she made a fuss of me. She talked about the future and was a good pianist and I used to sit and listen to her play. At the time she seemed very old to me - she must have been in her seventies.
Around 1936, August, Friedel and their children, Freddy and Margot decided to emigrate to England. August had an engineering business in Frankfurt and had maintained connections in London for many years. He wound up his affairs in Germany and everyone thought he was crazy, including my parents - my father in particular. They rented or bought a house in Hendon a suburb of London and set up an office there. In those days foreigners were not allowed to own a business in England. Eventually he found an Englishman who, although not investing in the business, allowed him to use his name and became a sleeping director of the company. It was called Reiss Engineering.
Friedel was very unhappy at first as she hated everything about England. My mother visited them and was very proud when she picked up a few words of English. English wasn't taught in German schools at that time as French was the only other language considered necessary.
By this time many Jewish shops and businesses had been closed down and life became quite hard. Although my father did quite well financially at this time and still seemed to have customers. (I think his customers were lingerie retailers). They were mainly Christians who told him not to worry about the Nazis who at that time were becoming more powerful and daring, persecuting the Jews more and more. This must have been around 1937.
At that time German Jews couldn't emigrate unless they had connections abroad and they also needed visas. August, being in England, knew what was going on in Germany, probably more than we did. He made sure that my parents and I, Ferdinand and Betty and their children had exit visas. I don't know how he managed it, however my father still didn't want to know as he was making a good living and buried his head firmly in the sand.
Many Jewish people were getting very worried by now and decided to emigrate if they could, to the United States, Israel or anywhere they could get in. Jews were not all that welcome unless they had money. About that time a relative of my mother who lived in America died and left some money for the family in Germany. My mother, being one of the beneficiaries, received £400, which was quite valuable in those days. The money was deposited in England in case of emergency - very wise as it turned out.
My mother's niece, Bertha's daughter, decided to emigrate with her husband to Ecuador. Bertha's son went to Chile with his family so Bertha and her husband decided reluctantly to follow them. This must have been around 1937-8. There were still many Jews left who had high hopes of staying in Germany. In the meantime Hitler and Chamberlain had met, lulling people into a false sense of security about there not being a war - that's all history now.
My parents and I experienced little harassment then. I was still at a mixed Jewish school and remember just one incident. When the kids were leaving to go home, some bully yelled at me "Why are you mixing with those Jews. They are scum and will be got rid of by our Fuhrer". As I mentioned before I didn't look Jewish. However I was a bit scared but was defiant and stood my ground. Eventually I ran home and told my parents about the incident.
Around the middle of 1938 we had rumours that Jews were being arrested everywhere, particularly in Berlin. Hitler visited many cities, including Frankfurt and there was always a lot of excitement and hysteria when the Fuhrer was expected. When he came to Frankfurt the flags came out. My friend Eugene and I wanted to see him. Of course we were small and we climbed onto some railings to get a better view. Eugene looked very Jewish. It was quite a sight to behold. A cavalcade of cars leading an open car carrying Hitler standing up and the crowd shouting "Heil Hitler!" We were asked why we didn't salute and our excuse was that we unable to as we were holding on to the railings!.
Sometime in 1938, my uncle Daniel, my mother's eldest brother was arrested with no reason given. He was just taken away. His wife was told nothing and all enquiries about him met a blank. Two weeks later I happened to be visiting my aunt (Erna's mother) when a large fat policeman came to the door and told her that her husband had died from a so-called heart attack. She feinted and the policeman just walked away. She was eventually informed that she could collect his ashes. To this day nobody knows what really happened or why he was singled out at that time.
Now things got really bad. Jews were arrested in the streets and herded onto trucks and never heard from again. At that time it was only the men - they left the women and children alone. Seeing people taken away is a sight that I shall never forget.
The time was getting near the pogroms of 1938. My parents realized along with most people that they couldn't stay in Frankfurt any longer and would have to leave the country if they could. The day before the real trouble started I remember walking along a street where a policeman was asking people if they were Jewish and then arresting them. I saw Bertha's husband, Rudy, being questioned. I went over to see what was going on and the policeman told me to leave or be questioned too. I ran all the way home. He was too fat and luckily couldn't follow me.
Anyhow my uncle escaped and he and aunt Bertha packed their bags as quickly as possible and managed to get to Chile with their son. They left all their furniture and most of their belongings behind, asking my mother to send them on if possible. It was a sad parting and they never saw each other again. My aunt died of cancer some years later.
I don't remember the exact date of the pogroms in Frankfurt - they must have been in November of 1938. I went to school as usual but was sent home early as the school was to be closed down. All the pupils were told to return home immediately as it was known that Jews were being rounded up and the men were to be sent away, presumably to concentration camps. When I arrived home my parents were surprised to see me as they didn't know anything of what was happening.
There was no time to waste. My mother went to the airport to get our tickets and also to the embassy to get our passports validated for immigration. My father and I in the meantime went to see the friends with whom he played music to see if they could hide us for a few days. Unfortunately they refused as they were scared of the authorities so we had to say goodbye. When we got back home we had a telephone call from some other old friends who were also Christians who offered to hide us until we were ready to leave so we went to stay there. They were a brother and sister. He was in his eighties and she was not much younger. I can't remember their names.
My father naturally wanted to say goodbye to his mother so the three of us went to her flat. It was heart breaking but we hoped to see her again in England as soon as possible. Now we hurriedly packed a few belongings and went to stay with our friends. I shall always remember when my Dad and I were in an adjoining room when this old boy's nephew, a staunch Nazi arrived and asked him what happened to those Jews he had been friendly with. We overheard the old man saying "I don't know and wouldn't tell you even if I did". He would have been in serious trouble if we had been caught.
Anyhow, we stayed there for a couple of days and then for some reason went back to our flat. My parents had to leave for a short while for some reason but I stayed behind. I stood by the window waiting for my parents to come back when I saw furniture being thrown out of windows in our street and people shouting "Jews out!" Suddenly I saw a 'Black Shirt' walking up and down the street looking for Jews. I saw my parents approaching from the other direction but fortunately he didn't see them.
We caught a taxi to the airport and when we got there my mother discovered that she had forgotten the airline tickets and she had to rush all the way back while my father and I waited anxiously at the airport. However she made it back in time and we were eventually airborne on our way to Brussels to change planes for Croydon Airport, London. It was a very bumpy flight and my mother was air-sick. I remember that the pilot wished us luck in our new life. We were to stay with August and Friedel for a few days and so they met us at the airport.
Paula and Lev Schonman had already emigrated to England some time before the pogroms and had established themselves in a big house in Balham in South London. My parents and a fair number of refugees lived there as paying guests. I stayed with August and Friedel for three months or more and they sent me to school with Freddy and Margot. That's where I first learned to speak English.
Back in Frankfurt Ferdinand was again arrested but his wife Betty somehow managed to get him released and they all followed us to London a few days later. My father's brother and his wife Julia were still in Leipzig then. He was taken to a concentration camp. Julia had a relative in the United States called Adolf Lorch who was even then quite wealthy and managed to get them a visa for America. Harry was detained for quite a few weeks but eventually he was freed. He and Julia had come to London first and stayed with us in a flat that we then had in Clapham Common until 1939, after war was declared. Harry to the best of my knowledge never discussed his time in the concentration camp.
My grandmother was of course still in Frankfurt. She had an exit visa for the United States but didn't really want to leave. She was about seventy six and frightened to start a new life at her age. I think that she agreed to come in the end by which time it was too late. War had broken out and there was no transport. All communication ceased at that time and we heard after the war that she was eventually taken to a concentration camp. Hopefully she didn't live too long.
Apparently Erna's mother who wasn't Jewish, visited my grandmother sometimes and did what she could for her. I always remember the last letter that I wrote to her, telling her about school and how I was learning to speak English.
Before Holland and Belgium were invaded by the Germans, August tried desperately to get my uncle Leo and his wife Rik to leave their home in Rotterdam and come to England. Unfortunately they wouldn't listen as they thought they were safe from invasion and persecution. Particularly as Rik was Dutch and her family lived in Holland too and her parents were still alive. I think Holland had quite a large Jewish population. Sadly most of them were killed in concentration camps along with my uncle Leo, Rik and her family. We never found out when they were deported or to which camps. Again we could only hope that they didn't survive to suffer for too long.
Ruth Gold - October 15th 1982