Rudi Leavor came to Bradford with his parents and younger sister Winnie as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1937 aged 11, having been raised in Berlin. He spent his career as a dentist having a successful practice in Heckmondwike, near Batley. He was made President and Chairman of the Bradford Synagogue in 1975. He lives in Bradford with his wife Marianne.
In the Spring of 2013, aged 86, he secured funding for urgent repairs to the Grade II listed 1881 built Synagogue with the help of the local Muslim Community through the Bradford Council for Mosques and other businesses and groups in the area.
Rudi recounts how he and his family fled their home in Berlin, in Nazi Germany, to Bradford and how they adapted to their new life in a foreign country…
“I want to relate three stories which happened before and after our emigration and one or two other stories”
Attending the Grosse Hamburgerstr. School I had to take the Stadtbahn from Hohenzollerndamm station to Börse. The trains at my disposal left at 8.08, 8.18 or 8.28. On this particular morning I had missed the 8.18 train and had to take the later one which would make me run all the way from Börse to the school still to arrive on time. One of our religion teachers was Herr Amolsky who was terribly crippled, so much so that he had to take a taxi from his home to school. On this day he arrived just before me and started to climb the stairs hauling himself up laboriously by the banister and helping himself with his stick. I rushed through the main doors and started ascending the stairs two at a time when I saw him. I could easily have over-taken him: as going to take the first lesson and therefore take the register; I was late and would have got a bad mark for lateness. But I just could not bring myself to overtake him and thereby avoid a ‘late mark’, but stopped and helped him as best I could, thus ensuring that I would be late (because he was late). I suspect that he did not award me this late mark.
He once said that he did not consider himself worthy to blow the shofar (because in the eyes of God he was too deformed to perform this mitzvah). I thought at the time, but did not dare to contradict him, that God would not look askance on a deformed body in this way and of course I still hold that view.
In my elementary school, 13. Volkschule Schmargendorf, now called Judith Kerr Schule, which I attended 1932 — 1936, Jewish religion classes were held by Frau Schlesinger and Frl. Loewenthal in a classroom half way between main floors where the stairs had a corner. One day I went by mistake to a classroom at a different level, found the door locked and proceeded to the lower level. At that precise moment the deputy head Herr Sy came up the stairs leading a long group of children. Seeing me all alone and possibly a bit confused he naturally stopped the procession and asked me in a typical German gruff voice what my name was and where I was going. As I was able to tell him the truth, I was outwardly calm and collected, so I told him that I had
missed the correct floor to attend the Jewish religion class; but inside me I was expecting a backpfeife. But he instantly mellowed, patted me on the head and told me in very kind tones to go on to my class.
After I had changed schools from the elementary school to the Jewish Grosse Hamburgerstr. School I happened to be in the vicinity of the earlier school and by chance met my erstwhile class-teacher Herr Albert Butzke. He had always been kind to the four Jewish boys in his class and we stopped to chat for a few minutes. As we did so a friend of his passed and gave the Hitler salute, as was obligatory, but Butzke without raising his arm or hand merely said ‘Guten Tag’, obviously so as not to offend me.
This story concerns a visit by my father and myself to Leeds, a larger town than Bradford about 15 km away, to visit a dental depot. Afterwards, as a special treat, we went to a cafe and ordered some coffee and cakes. The waitress brought a plate of small cakes which, she said, cost 4 pence. We always had to ask for any shopping how much anything cost as money was in very short supply. We each took a cake and when I had eaten it, helped myself to another, then another. My father had already looked at me in surprise when I took the second piece, but I did not know why. But when I took the third he remonstrated with me, saying that he did not have so much money. Highly embarrassed I told him that I thought that whole plateful, consisting of about 10 pieces of cake, cost 4 pence, but he said it was 4 pence each. I quickly put the third piece back. This episode was often referred to in later life, as it illustrated the scarcity of money in the early days.
Two stories of how people got money out of Germany. A man ascertained that the
Fliegende Holländer express train from Berlin Bahnhof Zoo to Hoek van Holland
Over-took a local train crossing the border at Venlo. Having got himself a duplicate key to the little box containing electrical fuses located in the toilet he boarded the local train on the German side of the border and deposited valuables in the fuse box. He alighted shortly before the border where he knew the express train would also stop and allowed the local train to depart and eventually cross the border. He waited for the express train which he boarded and which overtook the local train. He alighted well inside the Netherlands and waited for the local train which he boarded and thus was able to retrieve the valuables.
Another man bought a car — an unusual thing in pre-war Germany — and had the number plates made of platinum. He then exported the car to a neighbouring country and converted the platinum into money.
When it was still possible to cross into another country without too much difficulty a businessman had cheated a little with the income tax authorities and when an inspector called to look at his books, the man invited him to do just that, but asked the inspector if he could in the mean time go out to get his hair cut. The inspector agreed and the man, once outside his office, telephoned his family to meet him at the station with passports and he would get tickets to emigrate there and then.
From Germany, Entry and First Years in England
We belonged to an orthodox Synagogue based in Grunewald, a suburb of Berlin. My parents would go to Synagogue when they could, but my father worked in his dental surgery on Saturday mornings. I went frequently instead. Both my grandfathers were very orthodox and were leaders in their respective communities, my paternal one in Inowrazlaw in the Polish Corridor, my maternal one in Frankfurt/Main. We kept a kosher household with separate cutlery and with no bread at Passover time. There was no smoking on Shabbat, but transport would be used. One incident remains vividly in my memory: Opeps Schwab, my mother’s father, emigrated from Frankfurt to Palestine in ca. 1934 and called on us in Berlin on the way there. It was my mother’s birthday during his stay with us and I had learnt a new piece to play on the piano for her as a present. After lunch I proudly played it for her and my grandfather was very cross as it happened to be Shabbat. He remonstrated with my mother for allowing me to play the piano on Shabbat, she made excuses on my behalf and there was a bit of an argument. Both realised that neither could ‘win’ and after a while my grandfather stormed out of the room saying (and I can hear his voice now):”ihr könnt machen was ihr wollt; ich halte meinen Sabbat!”
I can relate a little story which happened in Synagogue. The ‘leining’ (chanting) by Cantor Caspar from the Torah during the Sabbath morning service stopped abruptly and he, the presiding officer and person who had been called up huddled over the Torah and Rabbi Emil Bernard Kohn was called into the conference. Presently one of the four looked towards me, then the others and I felt myself uncomfortably to be object of their attention. One of them beckoned to me and I wondered if I was dreaming all this, but the beckoning persisted, joined in by the others and at last there could be no doubt but that they really wanted me to come to the bimah. I was only 8 years old or so and would not normally be called up to the bimah. I was positioned before the open Torah and the silver ‘yad’ (hand-pointer) pointed to a particular
letter and I was asked what I thought it was. It looked like a ‘dallet’ (a ‘D’) and said so. I was figuratively speaking patted on the head and sent back to my seat. The Torah was rolled up, dressed and replaced in the ark and another one taken out. The corresponding place in the new one was found and the leining continued.
After the service the Rabbi took me to one side and explained that the letter which was pointed out to me should have been a ‘he’ (a H), but the little separate vertical stroke on the left side had chipped away, making it look like a dallet. It needed someone who could read Hebrew, but who would not necessarily know exactly what the letter or word should be, to say ‘childlike’ what he thought the damaged letter looked like. This I appeared to have done very well. The first Torah was pronounced ‘posul’ until the offending letter could be repaired.
I have never come across a similar episode again.
The spark which caused my parents to emigrate was lit when early one morning I and 1935 or 1936 when our maid Erna Bansemer, she who gave me the red encased
India-rubber imprinted with the word Berlin when she left our employment because of the Nuremberg Laws forbidding, inter alia, non-Jewish girls to work for Jewish families, got me ready for school. The doorbell rang unexpectedly, she opened it and two men in civilian clothes entered and demanded to be shown to my parents’ bedroom. Erna had no choice but to do so and as they came along the corridor I happened to be passing in the opposite direction. Being well brought up and certainly not knowing who they were nor what they wanted I said ‘Guten Morgen’ and offered my hand in greeting, as was the custom, which they took in accepting the greeting.
They made straight for the bedroom door and entered, my parents still being asleep, or at any rate not yet risen. Erna hustled me out of the flat quickly realising that trouble lay ahead. The Gestapo men, for that is what they were, ordered my parents to get dressed and come with them. The were taken by car to the headquarters of the Akiba Eger Lodge at Kleiststrasse 10, the meeting place for several Lodges, where many people were already assembled, all Lodge members. They were all ordered to stand without moving or able to take nourishment. When someone wanted to attend to calls of nature they had to ask for permission which sometimes was granted, sometimes not. Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck happened to have been one of those ‘arrested’. My father was the current President of the Lodge, my mother the hon. Treasurer of the Ladies’ Lodge and she had been ordered to bring any cash she held with her. She now had to hand this over — an amount corresponding to today’s money of ca. £30.00 – but had the courageous presence of mind to ask for a receipt, which she got. In the afternoon the Lodges were dissolved there and then and all were released and ordered to go home without assembling outside.
My parents decided to emigrate to England (this is what the country was called then; now we know it is called United Kingdom). My father went to England five times, my mother three times before they got Home Office permission to come legally. Illegal entry was not contemplated and would in any case scarcely have been possible as England was surrounded by water. My father also sought permission from the Dental Board to exercise his profession of dentistry. When the clerk told him that he had got it my father asked where he could work. The clerk said: ‘Anywhere except London and Manchester’. My father asked where, then? The clerk metaphorically stuck a pin into a map of England and as Bradford was fairly centrally placed, it landed there and told my father to ‘go to Bradford’.
My father jumped on the next train to Bradford where fortunately there was a distant relative of my mother Michael Rosenmann, who introduced him to Harry Kramrisch. He was the Vice-Consul for Yugoslavia in Bradford, through his connections in the wool-trade and had access to diplomatic bags. He arranged for my father to take money to the Yugoslav embassy in Berlin to be placed in a diplomatic bag which was sent to London, where the money was transferred to someone for safe keeping until my father’s next visit. His frequent visits did not please his patients, who complained that he was away from his practice so often, his nurse Martha Giersberg-Neumann told him.
A rigorous programme of learning English was begun from a non-Jewish man called Schindler (no relation to Oskar). A group of 8 or so pupils would meet in each others’ flats for weekly lessons. Schindler proposed a trip to England ostensibly to learn English even better with him as tour organiser and leader. Going through emigration at the border he put in his lapel the German badge of belonging to the Nazi party (of which he was not a member, but he had acquired a badge anyway), gave the Heil Hitler greeting to the officers and said in typically brusque German fashion that he was taking these pupils to England to learn English and he vouched for their propriety. They were all processed without further formality, but each carried monetary contraband to be deposited in England. It was a dangerous thing to do, but
necessity was the order of the day.
It was only a few weeks before the date of our emigration on 10 November 1937 that, when we were assembled at my grandmothers and her sisters for Sunday afternoon ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’, that my father with some slight embarrassment (I don’t know why) leant over me and whispered in my ear that, ‘Wir fahren nach England’. Although the expression ‘fahren’ was ambivalent — was it a holiday? – I knew instinctively what it meant and all sorts of thoughts raced through my mind. Journey to safety and security, having to speak English (which I had learnt for 1 ½ years), leaving our relatives behind, etc. were the criteria on which I based my thinking.
On the last day of school I had to write my new address on the blackboard, as previous emigrating boys had done. When our belongings were packed into large wooden crates called ‘lifts’ a customs official was present to check that no contraband was packed. He said to my father: ‘Wenn ick (Berlin slang for ich) Jude ware, würde ick auch auswandern.’ We made the rounds of saying good-byes to friends, including one particular set of relatives with whom my parents had fallen out, probably over some triviality. This was fortunate because tragically he, his daughter, her husband and 4-year old child Daniel were later murdered in Auschwitz. The closest relatives, mostly elderly, were persuaded not to come to the station. Farewells to four aunts and grandmother were said in the flat and we were to see only one of these again — Tante
Hulda (Gembitzky). Many friends, however, came to the station Lehrter Bahnhof, to wave us off. My father as a very special treat had taken 2nd class tickets. The group of friends were in a cluster near the compartment, but as the train drew out of the station one small family stood at the very end of the platform away from the larger group so that they could be the last to wave us good-bye. They were the Radziejewskys. All of them ended in Auschwitz and only one survived.
We over-nighted in Hamburg and took the boat train to Bremerhaven the next morning. On that short trip customs and passport control came through the train. My father was taken away but we did not know where. The train stopped at a station, then proceeded and I was obviously afraid that he had been taken off the train and left behind. I voiced my fears to my mother who inevitably had the same thought, but, though her soul was in tumoil, she reassured me that everything would be fine and that he would be on the train. Presently he returned to the compartment and told us that he had ‘merely’ been searched for contraband, e.g. money, but by that time any money which we had exported had long since been whisked across the border earlier. We embarked on the Hamburg-Amerika Line steamer ‘Deutschland’ and as we entered the dining-room for dinner the band struck up ‘Dornröschen’s Brautfahrt’ by Max Rhode, one of only two piano pieces for four hands which my father and I often played, he the bass part, I the treble. The next morning my father ceremoniously threw the keys to the flat which we had left behind into the sea across the stern of the ship. The ship anchored in Southampton Water for a tender to transport us to the quay. We overheard two young ladies making some very derogatory remarks about Germany and my father reminded them that they were still technically on German ground (and could have been arrested). Southampton railway station was dark, wet and cold as we boarded the train to London where we overnighted at a small hotel near Lancaster Gate.
Next day we took the train to Bradford where we made our way to the Cartwright Hotel on Manningham Lane. The day after, we took a tram to the house which my parents intended to buy. They had arranged with the current owner to have the house vacant by the time of our arrival. Whether a deposit had in fact been paid, I do not know, but at any rate the owners were still in full residence with no preparation for moving out. My parents were beside themselves at this unnecessary delay. It meant staying in the hotel for as many days it would take the owners to move out, incidentally eating up what little money there was and paying for the storage of the lifts (large wooden crates) in which our furniture had been transported. On top of all this my mother contracted a very painful middle ear infection. Fortunately we were given the details of a refugee doctor who, without the help of as yet undiscovered antibiotics, helped.
Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Thompson moved out and we moved in to a cold, bare house. Every home comfort under normal circumstances is arranged under control in good time, but now a family of four were dumped without heating, food, language difficulties in a potentially hostile environment (we were ‘Germans’) with no income and few friends to help and give advice. There were a handful of refugees who were already established and we were invited round for ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ and to discuss arrangements for the future.
One of the first matters my parents attended to was to enter me into Bradford Grammar School. My mother took me for interview with the headmaster together with Mrs. Israelstam, the rabbi’s wife. Mr. E. Percival Smith took me on his knee and we showed him my leaving reports. The German system of awarding marks was 1 to 5, 1 being the best. My marks were consistently 1/2 and 2. Unfortunately the music teacher, who later told one of my great-aunts whom he met on holiday, that I was his best pupil, only awarded me 1/2. The English system was marks out of 10, so that 1 would be a very low mark indeed.
We explained this to Mr. Smith who must have accepted it and allowed me to start in January 1938 at a fee of £7 per term, an enormous sum especially, when there was as yet no income and a mountain of debts. Still in Berlin my parents were made aware that a particular set of trousers were called knickerbockers, obviously an English word and they thought that that is what boys wore in England. So on my first day at school I wore these knickerbockers which had been specially bought. During break virtually the whole school followed me round the playground laughing. I was the only boy wearing these trousers. The headmaster called me to his office and told me that knickerbockers were not the custom for boys to wear, also nforming my mother. My sister Winnie, who had learnt no English at all, being 4 years younger than myself, was entered into the local primary school, where the headmaster Mr. Wilfred B. Tapp was kindness personified and within a few weeks she spoke English like a native. Mr. Tapp was an amateur painter and we still have some of his paintings in our home. I must have made good progress at school, for when the end of the school year came I was advised to skip the next class and move to one higher to embark on a classical education learning Latin and Greek, which I hugely enjoyed.
My father had installed his surgery, fixed a plate to the wall and a white lamp on it with the words ‘Dental Surgeon’ in black letters. Someone, probably another dentist, objected that the lettering was ‘advertising’ (though the white lamp was obligatory), so a new white lamp was fixed without any lettering. And he waited. Meanwhile his family of four had to be fed and clothed and the house heated on overdraft. The firstpatient came and then another.
Where many English people thought the best way to overcome dental disabilities was to have some or all teeth extracted and dentures made which would hopefully last a lifetime and keep trouble away, my father put more emphasis on conserving teeth with fillings and crowns. My mother had taken a dental mechanics course in Germany with view to helping to make dentures and crowns, so as well as being my father’s receptionist, she was his technician. Working
thus full time, she still had a household to lead with the help of a maid called Daisy Little. Maids were a normal fact of life in Germany and though in England it is only normal in very affluent households in the 21 century, in mid-20 century it was still nothing too unusual. But Daisy did not take kindly to my mother’s strong views and left. She was followed by a succession of maids, some staying a year or more. The dining-room doubled as waiting room, so the table for dinner could not be laid until the last patient had gone into the surgery. Clients soon became more plentiful and my father worked long hours.
As soon as he was able my father made application to the Home Office for relatives tocome to England, but he had to guarantee their stay. Younger ones would have to come as domestic servants (which many others did), the only way they would get permits to come. The first one to get a permit was my grandmother, but she said she would not come unless the others (her sisters) would get permits as well. By the time these applications were made or were granted war broke out. The younger ones had said they would not come as domestic servants. All these relatives ended up in concentration camps where one survived and subsequently came to live with us for some years, viz. Tante Hulda.
My mother, perhaps in order to curry favour with the authorities, to whom we were ‘enemy aliens’ when war broke out, joined a voluntary auxiliary nursing organisation, but after a few months she was told that her services were no longer required. Many refugee men were interned on the Isle of Man. The national authorities decided that amongst the refugees there might lurk a German spy and Prime Minister Chamberlain (others say it was in fact Churchhill) said ‘intern the lot’. What the criteria for internment were no one knew, for some people were interned, others not. The only other refugee dentist in Bradford was interned and my father went up to his practice twice a week to see to his patients.
At school I joined the cadet corps, also perhaps to prove to whatever authorities would listen, that I supported England. I eventually rose to the rank of sergeant. Music had always played a big part in our lives and fortunately Bradford had had for very many years a series of subscription concerts by one of the best orchestras in the country, the Halle Orchestra, in addition to concerts by soloists when the best artistes used to come and we found comfort in being able to support our craving for culture in this way. Voluntary amateur musicians would give concerts to raise money for ‘comforts for the soldiers’ and we would attend these as and when we could.
The English scene was at first fairly alien to us. Heating in houses was predominantly by open coal fires, not by central heating. This caused smoke which would blacken the walls in the rooms over the year and every spring there would be extensive ‘spring cleaning’ by using a rubber-like substance to move over the walls to collect the dirt. Because of the smoke there would be frequent fogs which were sometimes so thick that one could not see more than a meter ahead. Many people died from respiratory troubles. We had to get used to English food or lack of food to which we had been accustomed in Germany. Hake was unobtainable, so ‘gefüllte Hecht’ was missing and was a frequent subject for discussion. Good coffee was a rarity, whereas tea was now the normal hot drink. We were careful not to speak German in the street for fear of being held for Germans. English people did not shake hands when greeting each
other. Only when two people were introduced to each other would they shake hands and say ‘How do you do?’ which was not a question of enquiry after the person’s health, one would have to say ‘How are you?’ Tea parties would be conducted without a table and one would have to balance cup of tea and saucer and a plate for cake on one’s knees. These customs would be learnt over time.
Every theatre, concert or film performance would be preceded or followed by the national anthem when everybody would stand to attention.
We joined the orthodox Synagogue in which I became bar mitzvah in 1939, but in the early 1950′s for various reasons, not all of them religious, we changed to the Reform synagogue where my father and I became chairmen and presidents and my mother became the first chairman of the northern association of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (RSGB) and the first chairman of the RSGB music committee, compiling an index of all the most frequently sung pieces of music in reform synagogues. My father had joined the Continental Dental Association, a group of refugee dentists which held bi-annual meetings in London for scientific purposes. I later became its hon. secretary.
When we arrived in England, even though there were tremendous difficulties of various kinds — and we were lucky in that we travelled under control, were able to bring at least some resources with us and our possession — and though we still had German nationality, we considered ourselves to be part of England. We had cut ourselves off from Germany. After the war when the horrors of the Holocaust became known, we were careful not to buy any goods made in Germany and this antipathy lasted for many years. As the generation which had perpetrated the crimes or at least condoned them died out and Germany tried to make amends by restitution this antipathy waned.
British naturalisation papers were taken out as soon it was possible to do so and today we regard ourselves as British. Fortunately none of us, i.e. the present generation, have a foreign accent, so amongst the general population we are accepted as ‘English’. But if acquaintances become friends we don’t hide our heritage. I have a certain limited nostalgia for the town in which I was born — Berlin, which was fortified by the establishment there of the Jewish Museum in 2001. I had previously instituted a world-wide fund to raise money to clean up at least part of the Jewish Weissensee Cemetery, difficult as it was, in East Berlin before the Wall came down. So in that capacity and to visit relatives before then I had visited Berlin many times, have spent holidays in and travelled through Germany many times.
When Chancellor Adenauer instituted a system of monetary restitution to victims of Nazi oppression my mother submitted the receipt she had obtained for the money she had had to hand over to the Germans from the Lodge and she duly received reimbursement which she handed over to the recently founded Leo Baeck Lodge in London.
I would like to relate a little anecdote though it has little bearing on the theme of this essay. After qualifying as a dentist I had to spend two years in the army, part of which was spent in Austria. Travel there was by train which inevitably ran through Germany and this was the first time I had set foot in Germany since before the war. Remembering that we hated all things German, in an illogical sort of way, I comforted myself knowing that it was only the train wheels which touched German soil, not my feet. The train made a comfort pause in München and standing at a platform for a few minutes by chance, a local train standing next to ours had its destination board right opposite my window. It said ‘Dachau’ and when I saw it, it went through me like an electric shock. Inside people were sitting reading the newspaper, smoking, talking, laughing …I thought how could they act normally when they were going in the direction of that atrocity.
It is a cliche that the world does not learn from history, otherwise there would not be so much evil after the lessons of the Holocaust. After the scourge of Nazism and Communism have been erased in the 20th century, one had hoped for better times. Unfortunately that has turned out not to be. We can only hope and pray that better times will eventually come.
I have omitted a short story from my experiences. In Berlin we used to go to the open air swimming area of the Wannsee Lake. We duly arrived there one Sunday in 1936/7 to find a board by the entrance which said: ‘Hunde und Juden nicht erlaubt!’ ‘Dogs and Jews are not allowed in!’ That Jews were prohibited from entering was no great surprise, but what was interesting was the order of precedence of prohibited entrants.
Rudi Leavor – Lämmchen Klein (Chad Gadya in German) - Article about Rudi from ‘Reflections: Jewish Musical Journeys.’
Rudi secures Synagogue funds from Bradford’s Muslim Community, a story which had global impact in March 2013:
Main Article Source: http://www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/bradford/stories/c-693/exodus/
Consecration service for the rescued scroll from Czecho-Slovakia:
Photograph taken by Benjamin Dunn. Original in the Stroud Room at Bradford Synagogue.
Rudi lighting a Yarhzeit memorial candle on Holocaust Remembrance Day:
Rudi and his parents Hansa and Luise Librowicz and his wife Marianne: