3D Text

Ludwig Meidner’s collotype of the ‘Streets and Cafés of Berlin, Potsdamer Platz’ (centre and in the Leicester collection) captures something the frenzy of the city in the early 20th century. By 1938 my father Harry Petzal had decided to leave Germany. His father Hermann had died the year before, at the age of 63, and was buried in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery (bottom left). Harry remained in charge of the family flat in Tile-Wardenburg Strasse, which he rented out. His older brother Werner
had decided to leave a year earlier for Holland, taking their widowed mother with him. By 1939 there were some 140,000 Dutch Jews living in the Netherlands, together with about 30,000 German-Jewish refugees. Before 1940, the Netherlands had for decades been characterised by their parliamentary democracy and liberal tradition. There was some antisemitism, but not often openly expressed. There had been no legal difference between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens for almost 150 years and the Jewish community was highly assimilated and integrated.

Werner, his fiancée Fanni Oppenheim and his mother Selma settled in The Hague. I know very little about Werner, there are no remaining letters and only some official documents (centre bottom) and letters that say he was a Human Rights lawyer. My father never talked about him and I did not ask. There are many prewar photographs of a serious bespectacled young man (top right and centre left), never as carefree as his younger brother. There was an apocryphal story about him going to fight in the Spanish Civil War, but I never knew the truth of it. His wife Fanni Oppenheim was a physiotherapist from a large family in Frankfurt. She was ten years his junior; when they hastily married in July 1939 in Holland (top centre) she was 23.

Both Harry and Werner were attempting to leave their lives in Germany behind them. For Harry, still in Berlin, this was mired in Nazi bureaucracy. I have copies of a long correspondence of him trying to get a job in Bolivia. Another letter (centre right) states that if he could get to London and have this permission approved by the Germans, he could have a visa to travel to China. Werner meanwhile had possibly travelled to Mexico to see if his family could move there (bottom right). They were desperate to get out of Europe, but not yet so desperate that they would leave without a definite plan.

After the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, Werner, Fanni and Selma were forced to move. They were taken in, but not hidden, by the Hummeling Family at Pieter de Hooghlaan 5 in Hilversum, close to Amsterdam, where they lived until February 1942. They became close friends with the Hummeling Family; Werner and Wilhelm Hummeling ‘secretly listened to English broadcasters and discussed political situations’. The family stayed longer than they intended due to the charitable instincts of Hummeling, as Fanni was pregnant with her first child. Bernard Wolfgang was born on 20th February 1941. The family remained in Hilversum until 13th February 1942 when they were forcibly taken by the Dutch police and sent to the camp at Westerbork. I only know all this from the family’s dossiers held by the Dutch government, which I obtained after a lengthy process. They contain a long letter from Hummeling written in 1966, which in part described the time he spent sheltering the family.