Sep 2008 Journal

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My beloved Quaker school

My beloved Quaker school
I had always thought that although I experienced some family tragedies, my life during the Nazi period was not worth recording in this journal, compared with the heart-breaking and horrendous memoirs written by others.

I come from Berlin and I thought that my only claim to fame was that I daily rode on the tram that Emil and the Detectives used! However, I was prompted to write something after reading the very moving article on the Quakers in the July issue of the journal.

I began my ‘education’ in the Volksschule - a fairly nasty experience. Luckily, most of my memories have been blotted out.

I next went to the local Rudolf Steiner school, which was wonderful. The teachers did their best to protect the Jewish children from the horrors that were going on around us and to make us feel part of the class. I remember a tearful occasion though, when it transpired that Jewish children were not allowed to join the Ausflug into the country. I think the teachers were more upset than the children!

All schools had a quota of Jewish children which they were not allowed to exceed. Our teachers regularly broke this rule and many other rules too. Most of them ended up in prison. A brave and exceptional group of people.

My elder sister, Beate Ruhm von Oppen (inter alia editor and translator of James von Moltke’s Briefe an Freya), was by then living in England with a Quaker family. She herself had been to the Eerde Quaker School and she urged my parents, who were still stuck in Germany, to send me there as well. I then spent the next year in Eerde, which I loved most dearly. Eerde made the wrench from home and family not only bearable, but turned it into a beautiful, educationally inspiring, exciting and maturing experience. I think all of us children who survived felt this in some measure. This was due mainly to the loving and intuitive staff. We were the lucky ones. I knew Ernst-Rudolf Reiss and Klaus Seckel and all the others, of course (see below), and mourn them deeply.

In the Christmas holidays in 1938 I was unable to go back to Germany from Holland to be with my parents. The Quakers arranged for me to spend this vacation with an English family in Surrey. We have been close friends ever since.

My parents managed to get to England in February 1939. I visited them from Eerde for my summer holidays in July 1939. At that time, Holland was still neutral and I was clamouring to go back to my beloved Eerde, but fortunately my parents decided to keep me in England. It is quite possible I wouldn’t now be writing this if I had gone back.

Some years ago, I went to a reunion of Old Eerdeners, which was sad because of many absent faces. But it was wonderful to see my beloved music teacher, Billy Hillsley (Hildesheimer), who had inspired me to take up music professionally.

The school is now an ordinary boarding school. In its grounds there is a memorial for the children who died. I wrote to the headmaster as I thought it would be good for the children to know about this period, but he didn’t reply.

There is an excellent book by Hans A. Schmitt, himself an old Eerdener, entitled Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997). It contains sections on Eerde and a lovely photo of Klaus Seckerl.

The 14 Eerde children murdered because of their ethnic origin, by date of death

Kurt Rosenthal 25 July 1941 Mauthausen (1)

Otto-Edgar Rosenstern 18 September 1941 Mauthausen (1)

Steffi Pinner 23 July 1943 Sobibor (1)

Ursula-Lore Bein 24 September 1943 Auschwitz (2)

Bernd Leffmann 24 September 1943 Auschwitz (2)

Rosemarie Oppenheimer 24 September 1943 Auschwitz (2)

Klaus Metz 5 December 1943 Auschwitz (2)

Walter Vohssen 8 January 1944 Auschwitz (2)

Ernst Binswanger 7 February 1944 Auschwitz (2)

Klaus Herzberg 1 October 1944 Auschwitz (3)

Hermann Isaak 21 January 1945 on Auschwitz-Gleiwitz transport (2)

Klaus Seckel Date unknown on march from Auschwitz (2)

Ernst-Rudolf Reiss 26 January 1945 shot during evacuation of Auschwitz (2)

Ulrich Sanders 10 July 1945 in Enschede hospital following ill-treatment (4)

(1) Had gone from school to parents or relatives, captured in round-up or similar
(2) Had gone to Vught Camp from De Esch in accordance with order of occupying power
(3) Accompanied his parents to Westerbork in good faith
(4) Beaten almost to death after twice escaping from prison


Delia Walker (née Ruhm)

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