I was born in 1935 in Vienna and lived in a village called Traisen in Lower Austria. I have no personal memory of my early years in Austria, although I was subsequently able to revisit on a number of occasions after the war. My parents ran a General Store in the village, selling everything from food to bicycles. Life was settled and happy before the Anschluss with Germany when the Nazi regime took control.
In November 1938, on Kristallnacht, my father was arrested and became a prisoner in Dachau concentration camp. Our home and shop were pillaged and ‘aryanised’ – and my mother joined the queue outside the Gestapo headquarters every day from very early in the morning in order to plead for my father’s release. At that time, the SS still seemed to be open to bribery, and so my father was released on the condition that he left the country within two weeks. Easier said than done because of the difficulty in obtaining sponsorship and visas. We wanted to immigrate to Shanghai, as did many other Jews, because a visa was not required there. An old schoolfriend of my mother, who was a resident in England, provided the requisite sponsorship, and we moved to England.
The difficulties did not end there because my father was taken to internment on the Isle of Man as an ‘enemy alien’. While he was there, we shared a rented house in Sandwich with my father’s sister and her daughter. My mother and my aunt enterprisingly set up a small business baking and selling Viennese pastries from the house.
After my father returned from the Isle of Man, my parents obtained employment in an hotel in Maida Vale as a waitress and a porter. Eventually, they managed to save enough money and once again become shopkeepers. They remained eternally grateful to the UK to have been given the opportunity rebuild their lives, to see their son qualify as a doctor and to be granted UK citizenship.
They were the lucky ones. After the war ended, they learnt that my mother’s four sisters and most of their families had perished, as did their parents and almost all of their entire families. One cousin, Walter Fantl, was a true survivor – surviving Theresienstadt, 18 months in Auschwitz and the death march.
I was happily married for almost 50 years before my late wife, Daphne, died, who gave us three successful sons: Keith (a paediatrician), Ian (a lawyer) and Neil (a caterer). I have six grandchildren: Serena, Thomas, Ben, Oliver, Lucy and Toby. I have been retired since 2000, having had a fulfilling career as a doctor in General Practice for 40 years. I was honoured to become a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
When I was in Berlin with my eldest grand-daughter, Serena (a lawyer), for our portrait with WE! ARE! HERE!, we visited the Wannsee Conference House Memorial Site. It remains beyond belief that an educated, sophisticated and intelligent group of individuals were able to devise such cruel, genocidal plans, in particular while enjoying a holiday atmosphere, with food and Cognac in such idyllic surroundings. One can imagine the fun and laughter around the table while the wickedness evolved. Sadly, the conference was to a very large extent successful – but: WE! ARE! HERE! The black shroud that hangs over Wannsee will forever taint its beauty and must never be forgotten.