The Nazis took power in early 1933, and their anti-Semitism soon affected the daily life of all German Jews. Government decrees limited Jews’ ability to work professionally and to use public facilities. On the 1st of April 1933 the Nazis declared a boycott of Jewish businesses, tradesmen, craftsmen, lawyers and doctors. This was the beginning of a process whereby Jews were squeezed out of the economy, excluded from society, persecuted and ultimately destroyed. As a part of this, the wider German population was subjected to intensive anti-Semitic propaganda. The Jews were blamed for the run-away inflation of the Weimar Republic and for Germany’s defeat in WW1 and the ensuing humiliation. It was claimed that only by eradicating Jews could Germany rise again.
My mother Lore wanted to become a doctor but by the time she passed her School Leaving Certificate in Easter 1933 all Jewish students were forbidden to enter university. Her talent for languages offered another possible career and she sought help from Victor Klemperer to become a translator, but this too was disallowed for Jewish students. She would later become a translator in England. Concerned for her safety, my grandparents sent her abroad for more education and
she travelled to Montpelier in southern France where she studied French language and literature. By the time she returned to Dresden, Lore had become proficient enough in French to offer tuition from home.
Lore’s uncle, Sofie’s brother, was also a dental surgeon and lived only a few houses away Whilst she had been in France, he had taken his wife and young child to settle in Palestine. This was partly because in 1933 the Nazi regime and the Jewish League had concluded the Haavara Agreement, under the terms of which German Jews were encouraged to settle there, able to take their money and belongings. By the end of 1933, of the 600,000 Jews in Germany, 100,000 had emigrated to Palestine. My grandparents waivered at length over this option and Erich found a willing buyer for his practice. However, as Victor Klemperer wrote: ’He (Isakowitz) has been considering emigration to Palestine for some time. An Aryan has long wanted to buy his practice from him for 15,000M. He at last decides on this sale – with the heaviest of hearts, because in Palestine there is said to be at least one doctor in every house – when at the last moment such sales of Jewish practices are forbidden…’ The regime then further discouraged emigration by restricting the amount of money Jews could take from German banks and imposing high emigration taxes.
My mother used to tell me that I was like her mother, my grandmother. I had the same reddish hair, the same squint and the same ruthless determination to get my own way. It was my grandmother Sofie (centre, next to the car, with a seated Eva Klemperer) who effectively enabled her family to find refuge in England. From late 1934 Sophie petitioned the Home Office (top right) for permission for Erich to practice as a dental surgeon in London. They gathered together numerous letters of recommendation to counter the highly protectionist British professional regulations. Ultimately, she went to London in person to petition for Erich to be able to practice without having to take examinations. I suspect that her former British manfriend helped with this, as did her fluent English, elegance and forthright manner. She succeeded.
In order to leave Dresden, the Nazi regime demanded a shocking amount of both meticulous paperwork and payments. The family had to make a list of absolutely everything they possessed, from the Bauhaus coffee table (top right) to wine glasses (bottom right) and soup tureens (bottom left). Every item in the Werderstrasse flat and the dental practice was valued and charged for. They had to sell Erich’s practice and many possessions to raise the money. Somewhere between April and June 1936 (both Klemperer and I am a little unclear here) the Isakowitz family took leave of their beloved Dresden and fled Nazi Germany for life in Britain.