2C Text

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.

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.

2E Book

The Dresden ‘shaming’ exhibition of 1933 was just the start of what was to be the attempted wholesale destruction of German 20th century avant garde art. By 1937, the concept of ‘degeneracy’ was bureaucratically entrenched, and a six-man commission was authorised to confiscate from museums and art collections throughout Germany any remaining art considered modern, degenerate, or subversive.

The ‘Entartete Kunst’ exhibition (top) showed over 650 important paintings, sculptures, prints and books from the collections of 32 German museums. It opened in Munich in mid-July 1937 and remained on view until the end of November before travelling to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. During its four months in Munich it attracted over 3 million visitors and over the next years, a million more.

Only a small portion of what was confiscated was used in the exhibition. Otto Dix’s ‘War Cripples’ (centre) shows veterans of WW1 in fully military dress marching along, each one of them crippled or
damaged. This painting, which lays the blame on the army for ruining a generation, was far less contentious than some of Dix’s other work. Nonetheless it was confiscated, labelled ‘slander against the German heroes of World War I’, and has never been seen again, presumed destroyed. Ernst Barlach’s bronze statue ‘Christus and Johannes’ (Christ and John) (centre left) was judged by the committee to be ‘a mockery of the divine’ and was described as ‘the portrayal of two monkeys in
nightshirts’. By the time the work was due to travel to Nurnberg it had disappeared. Fortunately, other castings survived.

After the defamation and distress caused by the Dresden exhibition and the confiscation of 40 of his works Felixmuller and his family fled to Berlin. The authorities continued to pursue him and six works, including ‘First Steps’ (top right), were in the Munich exhibition. A total of 151 of Felixmüller’s works were confiscated, many of them disappeared or were destroyed by the Nazis.

The exhibition catalogue had the exhibition title, with the word ‘Kunst’ (meaning art), in scare quotes superimposed on an image of Otto Freundlich’s primitive inspired sculpture ‘Der Neue Mensch’ (the new man). It cost 30 pfennigs, highly affordable, less than the price of a loaf of rye bread. Inside it was like a lively magazine with images of the artwork often at jaunty angles accompanied by derogatory catchphrases and defamatory text.

The rooms of the exhibition were made of temporary partitions and intentionally chaotic, with pictures crowded together, sometimes unframed. The first rooms were grouped according to themes: religion; Jewish artists, the vilification of women, the military etc. The remainder were a composite of subject and styles that were anathema to the Nazi’s. Slogans were painted on the walls. (bottom left and right) such as:

‘Insolent mockery of the Divine’

‘Revelation of the Jewish racial soul’

‘Madness becomes method’

‘Deliberate sabotage of national defense’

Next to some works were details of the original acquisition cost to a collection. Acquired during Weimar hyperinflation of the early 1920s (when the cost of a kilogram loaf of bread reached 23 billion German marks), the prices of the paintings were grossly exaggerated. It was all part of the propaganda that the work of these artists was a conspiracy against ‘German decency’. This was frequently identified as Jewish Bolshevist collusion, although only 6 of the 112 artists included in the exhibition were Jewish. At the same time as ‘Entartete Kunst’ the regime opened ‘Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung’ the (Great German art exhibition). Held at the grand Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art). It showed the work of officially approved artists. ‘Entartete Kunst attracted almost four times the number of visitors as its Nazi counterpart’.

2F Book

The Nazis were not unusual in the history of looting except perhaps in their systematic and highly organised approach. Figures are unreliable but certainly hundreds of thousands of items remain
missing, many presumed destroyed, from the plunder of both Germany and occupied Europe. The painting ‘En Canot’ by Jean Metzinger (centre left) has not been seen since it was exhibited at
Munich ‘Entartete Kunst’ in 1937. The Nazis commandeered all manner of buildings to store objects and protect their ‘loot’ from allied bombing, from castles (top left) to caves and salt mines. Dramatised in films such as ‘The Monuments Men’, liberating soldiers emerged from buildings holding priceless works of art (top right).

Whether it’s called looting, plundering or pillaging, the forcible taking of goods has always occurred at times of conflict. The Kohinoor diamond, set in the Queen Mother’s Crown (bottom left), is one of the British monarchy’s most significant Crown Jewels, kept in the Tower of London. Mined in India around the 14th century it was ‘acquired’ in 1850 by the British. It is a subject of intense political disagreement with India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan and all have at different times demanded its return. There is no compromise in sight, the government insist it has been part of Britain’s heritage for more than 150 years and that the ownership is non-negotiable.

Equally so, the Elgin Marbles (centre right). This priceless collection of architectural sculpture was acquired by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon in Athens around 1800 when the country was under Turkish occupation. Elgin sold them to the British government in 1816 and since then they have been on display at the British Museum in London. The Greeks argue they were taken illegally during the country’s Turkish occupation and should be returned. Contemporary British politicians are divided over this, with some firmly holding the status quo whilst others have vowed to return the Marbles to their ‘rightful owners’. The Great Colonnade of the main avenue of Apamea in Syria (bottom right), one of the world’s largest and best preserved Roman and Byzantine sites, has seen looting since 2009 on a systematic and industrial scale. Recent satellite images show the area scarred by more than 5,000 looting pits. The looting is attributed to all sides in the civil war and the treasure is sold off on a booming black market.

Perhaps the most problematic recent repercussions over looting have been about restitution cases of works of art acquired by the Nazis from Jewish owners. ‘Berlin Street Scene’ 1913 (centre) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was owned by the German-Jewish Hess family of Erfurt who remain the main loan owners of the current Leicester German Expressionism collection. Alfred Hess died in 1931. His family, when fleeing from the Nazis in 1933, sent parts of the collection to Switzerland. In 1936 seven paintings were sent back to Cologne for sale. The Kirchner was bought by a Frankfurt collector whose widow later gifted it to a former museum director. In 1980, the Brücke Museum in Berlin acquired the painting for $1.2 million. Anita Halpin, the granddaughter of Alfred Hess, petitioned for its return to the family as its rightful owners and started proceedings. The fundamental issue was, did the Hess family freely sell the painting or was the sale coerced? This lengthy and complex case resulted in the painting being returned. It was then sold at Christies in New York for $38.1 million to New York’s Neue Galerie, where it remains on display.

This restitution case and the sale caused ongoing and often furious debate in Germany. Recent changes mean that German museums must prove that works of art they acquired from 1933-45 were not bought under duress arising from Nazi persecution. This includes items sold by Jews in an effort to support themselves in Nazi Germany. Such documentation can be extremely hard to produce and ultimately as stated by the then German minister of culture on the return of the Kirchner to the Hess family, ‘moral considerations played a significant role in the decision’.

3A Text

On January 17, 1988, a group of human rights activists were arrested in East Berlin during the annual memorial march (top right) in honour of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who were murdered by right-wing street fighters in January 1919. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were socialists who formed the Spartacus League, a revolutionary and anti-war group in Berlin, in 1914. This led up to the November Revolution of 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser. The artist George Grosz made an ink and wash drawing ‘In the memory of Luxemburg and Liebknecht’ (bottom left), which commented on the brutality of their killing, with the ghost of justice draping a blood-spattered robe across their open coffins. My father Harry Petzal remembered seeing shooting during the November Revolution, at the age of 10, in the Tiergarten Park close to his home.

At the time of Harry’s birth in 1908 the mood was still optimistic, and Germans were not contemplating the end of the monarchy. A grandson of Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II (centre) had substantial aspirations for his country and his capital. The 18th century Brandenburger Tor (Brandenberg Gate) (centre right), had long symbolised the changing fortunes of imperial might. Atop the gate is ‘Quadriga’, a four-horse drawn chariot with the goddess Victoria. After Napoleon’s defeat of the Prussians in 1806, he looted the statue to Paris. After his subsequent defeat, Quadriga was restored to Berlin and, to reinforce her, equipped with a Prussian eagle and Iron Cross on her lance and a wreath of oak leaves. Wilhelm, who had inherited a unified Germany, wanted to add his own memorials to the city, commissioning the Evangelical Berliner Dom (cathedral) in 1905 to emulate St Peter’s in Rome.

Early 20th century Berlin was a sprawling metropolis of contradictions and contrasts, but also of power and innovation. The American writer Mark Twain wrote; ‘Berlin seems to be the most governed city in the world, but one must admit that it also seems to be the best governed. It has a rule for everything and puts the rule in force; puts it in force against the poor and powerful alike, without favor or prejudice’. Rules went hand in hand with a vast bureaucracy. With a methodical approach, the Germans counted and kept meticulous records. On one day in 1900, 87,266 crossed Potsdamer Platz; by 1908, the hourly traffic, now with cars, had risen to 174,000. Inevitably the police could not cope, so traffic lights were developed and installed, the first in Europe (top left).

A city of electricity and light, of tramways and underground railways. The industrialist and engineer Werner Siemens and his sons created Siemens Stadt, an entire district of north west Berlin devoted to the giant electrical company. In 1913 there numbered 7,000 people in one factory, 3,000 in the electric-motor works and 3,000 people in the cable works. Women were also becoming essential to the Berlin economy, in the factories as well as working from home. This vibrant pre-war economy was also culturally rich and diverse. Expressionist art and architecture were at their height. The composer Richard Strauss was running the Berlin Opera House, Claerchens, famous dance hall
was packed nightly, there were cinemas, popular music, concert halls, cafes; every form of entertainment. Cabarets (bottom right) first opened in 1901, although censorship meant they did not flourish until the Weimar Republic.

In November 1911 Auguste Bebel, a Marxist politician and colleague of Liebknecht and Luxembourg, issued a prescient warning to the German parliament; ‘There will be a catastrophe. 16 to 18 million men, the flower of different nations, will march against each other, equipped with lethal weapons. I am convinced that this great march will be followed by the great collapse’. His colleagues laughed.

3B Text

My father Harry Petzal was born in Charlottenburg, Berlin, in September 1908. His brother Werner was two years older (top left and center right, each with Harry on the left and Werner on the right). Their parents Hermann and Selma Petzal (nee Hirschberg) (top right) lived at 13 Tile-Wardenberg Strasse (centre and bottom left), close to the Zoologischer Garten (the Zoo park) and the River Spree. In this solid, middle-class, area, the Petzals had a first-floor apartment in an ornately decorated mansion block, with art deco doors (bottom left).

My father and I visited the building on a restitution visit to Berlin in 1986. The building, although unscathed by the allied bombing, had been stripped of all its exterior decoration. Painted a dull yellow, it looked down at heel, though it still retained its interesting wood and glass entrance with rounded arch doors. Inside, a generous stone staircase with decorative handrails led to the upper floors. On a later visit I asked to view a flat, which still retained the original polished parquet floors and tall windows facing out onto the balcony. By my father’s account the flat was spacious. It was substantially furnished, with a table seating 12, a Bluthner grand piano, cabinets of silver cutlery, vases, pictures, table lamps and of course there was a room for the housemaid (bottom centre).

The Petzals were a large and gregarious bourgeois Jewish family. Hermann was one of ten siblings and Selma one of five. My father recalled that there was a cousin’s birthday party most weeks. Hermann and Selma, however, were not at the prosperous end of the Petzal family. Hermann, although described as a banker, was probably a small businessman and went bankrupt in 1932. He was, as my father used to say, ‘more German than the Germans’, interested in hunting, shooting, fishing and a glass of wine. He looms large in the Petzal family photo albums, full of convivial outings to the country, sailing, swimming on North Sea beaches, skiing and some European travel. Sadly, none of the photos are annotated.

Hermann served in World War 1; we know virtually nothing about his service, but he was awarded the Iron Cross. Most German Jews supported the war out of patriotism; it was never in question.

The Petzals were cultural rather than practicing Jews. Nonetheless, in keeping with family traditions, my father, reluctantly by his account, had a Barmitzvah aged 13 at the Fasanenstrasse synagogue (bottom right). A liberal Jewish synagogue, close by in Charlottenburg, it had opened in August 1912. The monumental structure held a congregation of 1,720 worshippers and also included a religious school. Incorporating features of mediaeval German architecture, the synagogue was intended as a visible statement of German Jewish emancipation and integration. Rabbi Leo Baeck, the notable scholar and theologian, served at Fasanenstrasse as the leader of German Reform Judaism.

Many years later, in December 1938, when Harry was preparing to empty the flat in Tile -Wardenberg Strasse, he was compelled to make out detailed valuation lists for the regime. From these I know more of how he and his parents lived, and they correlate with what I inherited after my parent’s death: delicate gold rimmed Rosenthal plates decorated with paintings of fruit and ornate clear crystal champagne glasses. Unlike my Dresden grandparents, who loved contemporary painting, Bauhaus furniture and clean modern lines, my Berlin family were traditionalists.

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.

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.

3E Text

Westerbork is best known as the transit camp where Anne Frank and her family were sent prior to their deportation to Auschwitz. I went to Westerbork in the summer of 2017 after many years of avoiding such a visit. Set in a wooded area in the north of Holland, 50 kms south of Groningen, there is virtually nothing left of the camp, apart from the bizarre spectacle of the commandant’s house, which, encased in a vast glasshouse, is slowly decaying. The other strange feature is that the Dutch have chosen the site for a linear array of 14 massive radio telescopes. On arrival, I asked at the small museum information desk if they had an archivist and an elderly man appeared. I told him that my family had been deported from Westerbork and he asked me to write down their names and wait. I was not expecting anything. He reappeared a few minutes later and gave me two photographs; one (top right) is of my uncle Werner, his wife Fanni and my grandmother Selma emerging from what looks like a railway station. The other (top left) is of Werner with a camera and Fanni holding their first baby. I was shocked and remain so to this day. I still have no idea who took the photographs and why they were held in the camp archive.

Westerbork was intended to look like a model camp and the Nazis made a propaganda film showing the facilities. There were courses to follow, sports to play, a kindergarten and school. On Tuesday nights there were revues, concerts and plays in the registration barrack. However, the camp had a ‘double life’. Whilst there was a semi-permanent population, most inmates were held for only a short time before being deported to the death camps. These about 2,000 more permanent camp occupants were mostly German Jews. They were Jewish council members, camp employees and others, all temporarily exempt from deportation and Werner and his family were part of this group. In her diaries, Etty Hillesum says that ‘Dr. Werner Petzal led the so called ‘application centre’ from July 1942 which provided new arrivals with information about the possibilities of postponing transport elsewhere’. Werner also features in a book with drawings of the camp by Leo Kok (bottom right). There was a hospital with decent medical care in Westerbork and it was here on 10th August 1943 that Fanni gave birth to twins, Robert and Elisabeth. As so many Jews in the camp were surgeons, doctors or dentists and a job in the hospital so coveted (delaying transportation) highly skilled staff were easily found. At one time, the hospital had 1,725 beds, 120 doctors and 1,000 staff members.

From October 1942, the organisation of Camp Westerbork was in the hands of SS-Obersturmführer Gemmeker. Outwardly calm, polite and correct, Gemmeker was skilled at flawlessly implementing Nazi plans. His overriding concern was to meet the quota for the number of Jews deported each week. A Jewish police unit kept order and assisted with the transportations. From July 1942 until September 3rd, 1944, 93 trains (train sign, bottom left; train ramp, centre right) departed Camp Westerbork in the direction of the camps in Eastern Europe, taking 97,776 Jews to almost certain death. In the end, most of the permanent inmates were also sent to the concentration and death camps.

Werner was on Transport 24/4, no. 526 on 26th February 1944 from Westerbork to the transit camp at Theresienstadt. He is listed as being part of what was known as ‘The University over the Abyss,’ an extraordinary phenomenon of intellectual and cultural practice within the camp. He was moved again on 16th October 1944 and died at Furstengrube on 27th January 1945. My father was told that as the Germans were retreating from the camp in the face of the advancing Russians, they threw grenades. The grenade that killed his brother Werner blew off the fingers of the man who later told him this story. Selma, Fanni and the babies were on the same transport as Werner to Theresienstadt and were deported again on the same day, 16th October 1944, to Auschwitz. They were all murdered two days later on 18th October 1944. When I was at Westerbork, wild blue lupins were flowering. I picked some seed heads and took them home, carefully propagated them and they now grow and bloom in my garden as my own personal memorial (centre left).

3F Text

In 2016, after many years of objecting, I visited Auschwitz. My logic had been that I did not want to define myself by what happened to my family and that seeing it would bring it all too close. This was of course mistaken as I had in fact always been defined by this knowledge. I found the experience chilling and came away relieved that my grandmother, her daughter-in-law and the three babies who were murdered in the gas chambers spent virtually no time in this dark place. I took the photograph of the tablet (below).

The pages of testimony were made by Fanni’s brother Jacob who survived and went to Palestine. These records, like millions of others, are held at Yad Vashem; the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem.

I remember my grandfather Erich, always the armchair philosopher, quoting Hegel to me in his strong German accent: ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’