lady painting

 

Dec 2002 Journal

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Anne’ll fix it (profile)

Anne Marx is a ‘doer’. You sense it right away. Others may talk, but she gets on with it. At the same time, there’s a splendidly bashful side to her: ‘Don’t make a big thing about this profile, will you - not too much space!’, she asked earnestly.

Anne was born 77 years ago in a large family house in Nuremberg. The family hop business employed some 25 people. When in the early 1930s the notorious antisemite Julius Streicher became Gauleiter of Franconia, the family, feeling under severe threat, left for Garmisch, returning briefly to Nuremberg when Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend the local school.

By the mid-1930s Anne’s father had taken the first step towards living in England by joining the Kohnstamm family leather business and opening a new factory for them on the Treforest estate in Wales. In 1937 Anne, her mother and two sisters fled the Nazi regime to join him, making their home in Penarth outside Cardiff. For several weeks the girls were placed in a boarding school to learn sufficient English to enter a day school. Anne remembers her mother looking after other refugees arriving in Cardiff, welcoming them and finding them accommodation - acting almost as a sort of estate agent. In this atmosphere charitable work seemed the most natural thing in the world.

When the war broke out refugees were not permitted to live on the coast, so the family moved to Abergavenny, at first living on a farm and later in a big house. They became fully integrated into the local society, and only English was spoken at home.

Despite passing with ease School and Higher Certificates - the equivalent of today’s GCSE and A Level examinations - Anne was prevented by a lack of financial resources from pursuing her mathematical studies at university. Deciding instead to study to be an actuary, she moved to London in 1943 and took a job as a trainee with Sun Life. She passed the first two stages of the actuarial exams - only to be rewarded with a letter stating that the Institute of Actuaries did not admit women to membership in the profession! For this reason, in 1946 Anne started a statistical department with a West End firm which owned several mills in Lancashire.

Once settled in London, the Kohnstamm family joined the West London Synagogue. Following the suggestion of its senior rabbi, Dr Harold Reinhart, Anne began voluntary work at the Oxford-St George’s Settlement in the East End under the guidance of Sir Basil Henriques. Later she joined Richard Hauser (the husband of Hephzibah Menuhin) as a lay member of the social psychiatric team he had started at Woodberry Down.

In 1948 Anne married Theo, a fellow refugee. His father had been a board member of the AJR from its inception in 1941 and, following his father’s death, Theo was invited to take his place. He eventually served as chairman for many years and remains to this day a member of the AJR’s Charitable Trust.

A turning point in Anne’s life was a meeting with Vera Levy, a powerful personality in the synagogue who was involved in the creation of a new old age home, Hammerson House, to be opened in The Bishops Avenue in north London. She asked Anne to become its admissions and welfare officer. The offer came at a time when Anne, having worked for some years with problem children and in schools in the East End, felt some difficulty - even conflict - between that and bringing up her own three children. She therefore readily accepted the opportunity of working with the elderly. She has done so ever since the home opened more than 40 years ago and has performed the whole gamut of jobs - from matron to chef to launderer to whatever else needed doing at the time.

In 1987, when the AJR’s Day Centre opened in West Hampstead, Anne became a volunteer. In 1995 she set up the monthly Luncheon Club, which has gone from strength to strength. To date, the Club has had 54 different speakers, to name but a few: Ralph Blumenau, Leon Pilpel, Sir Sidney Samuelson, Sister Margaret Sheppard, and a number of rabbis.

Anne’s life, as is evident, has been devoted both to her family and to communal and charitable work. Although some 50 members of her continental family perished in the Holocaust, there are currently some 3,600 names on her family tree, including large branches in Holland, Switzerland and the United States.

Anne says she has lived the life she wanted to live and is the first to admit it has been a fortunate one. She continues to do everything she can to help those less fortunate.
Howard Spier

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