3C Text

My father Harry was a rather frail child, who suffered from asthma. After the Great War, his parents decided to send him out of the polluted city (top right: a new Bauhaus building) to school in the country. The Odenwaldschule (centre right), a private boarding school, was founded by Edith Cassirer and Paul Geheeb (top left), an unusual and charismatic couple. Financed by Edith’s eminent and wealthy family, the progressive school believed in informality, the strength of community and the power of personality and self-determination. My father, who was not academic but highly practical and sporty, treasured his time at the school and maintained a lifelong association. The school had moved to Switzerland after the rise of the Nazis and my brothers and I enjoyed long summer holiday camps there during the 1950s and 60s.

By the time Harry finished at the Odenwaldschule, Germany, burdened with vast post war debt, had suffered from hyperinflation, during which paper money had to be carried in suitcases or wheelbarrows. The fiftymillion- mark note (lower centre) was issued in 1923. His father’s business had declined and although his older brother Werner had gone to university to study law, there was no money for another son to go to university. Harry started to train in vocational colleges and with various companies in the metal business, which was to serve him well. However, his passions lay elsewhere. He loved sport, particularly skiing and sailing. He kept a modest sailing boat (centre) on the Wannsee to the south west of Berlin and would spend sailing weekends there with his long-term girlfriend Liselotte, known as Lilo, and his beloved German Shepherd dog (bottom left).

My father was a charming and good-looking man, assets he retained all his life. Highly sociable, inevitably his other fondness was for women. He made close friends, mostly Jewish, in Berlin, many of whom he retained throughout his life even though they had dispersed to all corners of the world.

By 1930 he had set himself up as a metal merchant and was travelling throughout Germany. He was in Dresden in 1934, where he met my mother, who only 19, fell in love with this sophisticated Berliner. It must have been reciprocated to have continued, although he was still in a relationship with Lilo who was departing for the US. In February 1936 he followed her and went by boat to America, in a visit which he documented in a book of photos and memorabilia that he called Die Grosse Riese (The Great Journey). After visiting France and Spain he went to Cherbourg to embark on the new ocean liner, SS ‘Deutschland’ (bottom right), which had about 50 passengers. Met by Lilo, who had officially underwritten his visit, they stayed in New York, went to concerts at Carnegie Hall, visited Radio City Music Hall and an off-Broadway theater and went upstate.

Most astonishingly, he then went back to Germany. Presumably because of his aging parents but also because he was not at that stage committed to leaving. He later said, however, that he used to sleep with a loaded pistol under his pillow, and would, if required, have used it! Although the country was increasingly hostile to Jews, with notices like the one (centre left) which said, ‘Jews are not wanted’, my sport-mad father wanted to attend the Olympic Games (left, above centre) in Berlin. Not looking particular ‘Jewish’ he managed it, I do not know how. He often recalled watching Jesse Owens the Black American sprinter win gold medals and how Hitler refused to shake his hand.