2D Book

The Isakowitz family were exceptionally fortunate. Although their passports (bottom right) were clearly stamped with a J for Jew they were able to leave Germany in relatively good order. Largely because they were intelligent middle-class professionals and had modest funds.

The British government response to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi German throughout the period from 1933 to 1945 appears to have placed self-interest above humanitarian aid. It might be said that this still prevails, considering current attitudes towards refugees. Fortunately for my family, in the 1930’s, not enough British students wanted to become dentists. Half of the 15,000 registered dentists were said to be unqualified! German dentists, by contrast, were highly trained, with superior skills and by 1937 87 German dentists had been given refugee status and allowed to practice.

The Isakowitz’s settled in Hampstead in north west London at 26 Lyndhurst Road (similar to top left), in a large house divided into flats. Jews had lived in the London villages of Hampstead and Highgate (see tube map) since the 18th century, choosing their spacious housing and leafy surroundings
as places to establish homes and synagogues. Hampstead had long been the heart of a ‘bohemian’ artistic and intellectual community. In such places the predominantly urban refugees found a sympathetic environment. Erich’s first practice was close by in Cricklewood and initially Lore (top right) assisted him, as she had in Dresden. Erich was by all accounts an excellent dentist and after many years of struggle he created a successful practice with mostly fellow refugees as loyal patients. He used to practice on himself with a mirror (bottom left)!

There was widespread xenophobia in 1930’s Britain. Exemplified not long after my family arrived by the infamous Battle of Cable Street in October 1936. This was a conflict in London’s East End between police protecting a march by the British Union of Fascists and various antifascist demonstrators including local anarchist, communist, Jewish and socialist groups. A riot characterised by running battles on all sides, The Daily Mail headline included the line “Reds attack Blackshirts’. The Daily Mail, with its vast readership, was owned by Lord Rothermere, a committed supporter and friend of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The paper fueled anti–Semitism, consistently opposing the arrival of Jewish refugees escaping Germany, describing their arrival as ‘a problem’.

British Jews were divided in their response to Nazi persecution. Left-wing Jewish activists fought in Cable Street and demanded a boycott of German goods. The traditional Jewish leadership was more cautious, hoping to avoid increasing already virulent British anti-Semitism. However, many Britons, both Jewish and non-Jewish, wanted to help with the plight of German Jews. In March 1933 the German-Jewish Refugee Council (JRC) had been established. They pledged that none of the refugees would be a financial burden on the state. They would aid Jewish refugees with housing, education and job training.

British artists, art dealers and academics also wanted to help their German contemporaries. In a direct response to the first Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich, an organising committee including the art historian Herbert Read and a diverse group of Swiss and German emigres planned an exhibition of 20th Century German Art. The New Burlington exhibition (centre) opened in London’s West End in July 1938 with 271 works by 60 artists in an exhibition which, due to its popularity, had to be extended three times. It presented a complete ‘who’s who’ of great European art to a previously unaware British public. Max Beckmann’s Triptych ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’ (centre) was one of the highlights of the exhibition, which was publicised with a poster featuring Franz Marc’s painting of ‘Large Blue Horses’. Despite its critical success the exhibition did not achieve the expected sales to either public or private collections. It was however an early indication of the vast contribution that Hitler’s emigres, such as the Hess family (see panels 4), were to play in post war Britain.