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Apr 2008 Journal

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Carl Franz Flesch (obituary)

The passing of Carl Flesch, who died on 11 February 2008, has taken from us one of our last links with the great heritage of German Jewry. Carl had to emerge from the shadow of a famous father, then as a young man to flee the Nazis and build a new life from next to nothing in Britain. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him can testify to his success in meeting those challenges.

Carl Flesch was born on 23 June 1910 in Rindbach, Austria, where his family spent their summer holidays; he was brought up in Berlin. His father was the celebrated violin maestro Carl Flesch, one of the greatest virtuosi of his era, who also developed methods of teaching the instrument that have kept his name alive to this day. His mother, Bertha Josephus, was from a well-known Amsterdam Jewish family. The Flesch family was highly assimilated. Carl was baptised as a baby – he used to joke that he had been a ‘Liegegoy’ – but re-established his links with Judaism. He was educated at the famous boarding school Salem, where he was friendly with Thomas Mann’s son Golo. In Berlin, the Flesch household was familiar with the most famous names in music such as Kreisler, Schnabel and Furtwängler.

Carl studied law, but Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 put an end to his career. He left for Holland in 1933, moving on to Britain the following year. His first years in London were typically difficult. Nevertheless, it was in the late 1930s that he established himself as an insurance broker. In 1937 he married Ruth Seligsohn, a partnership that lasted until her death, almost 49 years later. Their son Michael was born in 1940, followed in 1946 by their daughter Carol. After the war, Carl’s insurance broking business, Leroi, Flesch & Co, prospered. Though he regretted not having practised law, his intelligence, ability and capacity for work made him a successful businessman. He had no compunction in re-entering the labour market at the age of 70, enjoying eight further successful years advising on insurance in Germany.

Carl organised the annual concerts of Self-Aid of Refugees, one of the contributions to the life of the refugee community for which he will be most gratefully remembered. The concerts, which the AJR subsequently took over, were one of the highlights of the refugee calendar. In 1964 he was appointed to the AJR’s Board and in 1965 to its Executive. He also served on the management committee of the Old Age Homes that the AJR ran with the Central British Fund, and was a member of the committee that organised the ‘Thank-You Britain’ Fund, which raised over £90,000 in the mid-1960s as a token of gratitude to the refugees’ adopted homeland.

In retirement, he turned to writing, publishing four books after reaching the age of 80. His family memoir And Do You Also Play the Violin? appeared in 1990, followed by Where Do You Come From? (2001) and Who’s Not Who and Other Matters (2006), books that mix memoirs with reflections on the refugee experience in Britain. He also published a book on the insurance industry. His great hobby in his later years was bridge; his flat in West Hampstead became the centre of a circle of bridge-playing friends, held together largely by affection for him.
Carl Flesch always remained conscious of his German-Jewish background and its proud artistic heritage; his flat was filled with memorabilia recalling a century of the great names and events of European musical history. He was a devoted family man, though sadly he suffered great losses: after the death of his first wife, he married Sheila, who also predeceased him, and he lost his daughter Carol to cancer. He is survived by his son Michael, whose career as a lawyer must have more than fulfilled his father’s own ambitions, by Michael’s and Carol’s children - Carl’s grandchildren - and by his great-grandchildren.

 

Anthony Grenville

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