Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Remembering victims and
survivors of the Holocaust
who have lived in Ireland

The Nazis planned to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe, including 4,000 people in Ireland … an exhibition in Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January 2021), marking the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau on 27 January 1945, before the Holocaust and of World War II.

In Birkenau, a series of memorials in over 20 languages commemorates the victims of the Holocaust who were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz and Birkenau, representing the variety of languages spoken by and nationalities among the victims.

There is no plaque in Irish, but we should not think that the Holocaust was something that was a far distance from Ireland, for the Nazis were planning to extend their genocide to Ireland too. One exhibition in Auschwitz shows that the Nazis planned to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe, including 4,000 in Ireland.

Like many people, I watched the streaming of the Holocaust Memorial Service in Dublin on Sunday night (24 January 2021), which was addressed by the two Holocaust survivors still living in Ireland, Tomi Reichental who was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Suzi Diamond, who was born near Debrecen in Hungary.

Inside the Spanish Synagogue in Prague … Helen and Harry Lewis were married in Prague in 1947 before leaving for Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There were many other Holocaust survivors who lived in Ireland and who have died in recent years.

Helen Lewis (1916-2009) was born Helena Katz into a German-speaking Jewish family in Trutnov in Bohemia, 160 km north-east of Prague, now in the Czech Republic, close to the border with Poland.

In Prague, she studied dance in Prague, where she also studied philosophy and took lessons in French, and there she married Paul Hermann, from a Czech Jewish family, in June 1938.

Helen and Paul were sent to Terezín (Theresianstadt), 70 km north of Prague, in August 1942. There she worked in the children’s homes and spent months in the camp hospital.

Helena and Paul were separated in May 1944 when they were moved to Auschwitz and they never met again. He died on a forced march in April 1945.

She was among the remaining people forced to leave Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 and marched forcibly for weeks through the Polish winter. When she fell in the snow, she was abandoned, and when she reached her uncle’s house in Prague, she weighed only 30 kg.

She married Harry Lewis in in Prague in June 1947, and they left to begin new lives in Belfast, where he set up a handkerchief-making business and she returned to teaching dance and choreography, bring ‘a whole European dimension to dance in the theatre.’

Her memoir, A Time to Speak, became a bestseller, was translated into many languages, and was serialised by RTÉ and the BBC. Helen died at her home in Belfast on 31 December 2009, aged 93.

Geoffrey Phillips from Germany escaped on the Kindertransports to England in 1938. He came to Ireland in 1951 and died in 2011.

Rosel Siev escaped from Germany to England, but nearly all her family died in the Holocaust. When she was a widow, Rosel married a widowed Irish solicitor, Stanley Siev, and they lived in Rathgar, Dublin, until 2012 when they moved to Manchester. Stanley died in 2014. One of Rosel’s sisters, Laura, was saved by Oskar Schindler and is included on the scroll of names at the end of the movie Schindler’s List.

Inge Radford (1936-2016), who was born in Vienna, escaped to England on the Kindertransports in 1939. Her widowed mother and five of her brothers were murdered in the Holocaust.

Inge was a social worker, a probation officer, and worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Her husband, Professor Colin Buchanan Radford, was a French academic and dean of the Faculty of Arts at Queen’s University Belfast. Inge lived in Northern Ireland with her husband Colin, until she died in 2016.

Edith Sekules (née Mendel) was born in Vienna in 1916. She spoke of her experiences at Women’s Institutes and in schools, and spoke at the first two years of Holocaust Memorial Day in Northern Ireland. She later lived in Kilkeel, Co Down, and died in 2008. According to her obituary in the Jewish Chronicle, she attributed her survival to her determination to save her family.

Edith Zinn-Collis was brought to Ireland in 1946 with her brother Zoltan by Dr Bob Collis. She lived in Wicklow and died in 2012.

Her brother, Zoltan Zinn-Collis was born around 1940 in Czechoslovakia and was sent to Ravensbruck and Bergen Belsen with his sister and brothers. He was brought to Ireland in 1946 by Dr Bob Collis with his sister Edith. He died in 2012.

Doris Segal from Czechoslovakia came to Ireland with her parents in the 1930s, and later lived in Dublin. She died in 2018, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day.

Jan Kaminski was born in Poland in 1932. At the age of 10, he escaped a round-up of the Jews, fled into the forests and spent the war on the run. He survived but his entire family perished. He later lived in Dublin, and died in 2019.

Ludwig Hopf moved to Dublin on 17 July 1939 (Photograph: Deutsches Museum, München / Sommerfeld Sammlung)

Professor Ludwig Hopf (1884-1939), a German Jewish refugee who escaped the Holocaust when he fled to Dublin in the weeks immediately before the outbreak of World War II, lived and died at No 65 Kenilworth Square, Rathgar.

He was a theoretical physicist who had been the first assistant to Albert Einstein, and he introduced Einstein to the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. As a theoretical physicist, Hopf made contributions to mathematics, special relativity, hydrodynamics and aerodynamics.

He was dismissed from position as professor of applied mathematics in Aachen on racist, anti-Semitic grounds soon after the Nazis seized power. After Krtistallnacht on the night of 9/10 November 1938, he escaped arrest at the hands of the SS and in early February 1939, he received a research grant in Cambridge. The Hopf family moved to Dublin on 17 July 1939 when Ludwig was offered a specially created professorship of mathematics at Trinity College Dublin, and they moved to No 65 Kenilworth Square.

However, became seriously ill and died at 65 Kenilworth Square on the evening of 21 December 1939. The speakers at his funeral in Mount Jerome were two fellow refugee, Hans Sachs and Erwin Schrödinger.

Dr Ernst Scheyer (1890-1958), who lived at No 67 Kenilworth Square, was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. He was born in Oppeln in Upper Silesia in 1890, was decorated for his bravery in the Germany army in World War I, and later earned a PhD in Breslau (Wroclaw). Later, he was a practising lawyer and a respected member of the Jewish community in Liegnitz, Silesia. He married Marie Margareta (Mieze) Epstein, who was five years younger than him and was born in Breslau.

He was rounded up after Krtistallnacht and spent almost a month in Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp near Berlin. He arrived in Dublin on 14 January 1939, and the Scheyer family made their home at 67 Kenilworth Square. He later taught German at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, and in Trinity College Dublin. When he died in 1958, he was buried in the Progressive Jewish community’s cemetery in Woodtown, Rathfarnham.

His daughter Renate married another refugee, Robert Weil (1924-1989), in 1948. It was the first wedding in the newly-established Progressive Jewish Synagogue. Robert Weil had arrived in Ireland in 1939 as a young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. He went to school at Newtown in Waterford, studied at TCD, and became a teacher of modern languages, especially German, in Belfast.

In her biography, Renate Weil recalls that both sides of her family had been non-Orthodox Jews for generations but remained Jewish. ‘Our family proved that assimilation did not mean the loss of Judaism. We were German Jews and proud of it.’

Dr Marianne Neuman (1913-2008) was born Marianne Heilfron in Berlin in 1913, the daughter of Curt Solomon Heilfron. During her medical studies in Berlin in the 1930s, it became dangerous to continue living in Germany as a Jew. She left in August 1936 and later arrived in London, where she married another German Jewish refugee doctor, Dr Rudi Neuman.

Rudi travelled to Edinburgh to pass his British medical exams, with the hope of settling in Ireland. They found a large house on Upper Rathmines Road, in which they lived and practised. Both were active and committed founder members of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation.

Dr Rudi Neuman died suddenly in the synagogue at the end of the Yom Kippur service in October 1965. Dr Marianne Neuman chaired the board of management of the Dublin Jewish Burial Society for many years, and was elected honorary life president on her 80th birthday in 1993.

She died at the age of 94 on 17 March 2008 and was buried in Woodtown. Four members of the Heilfron family who were murdered in Minsk in 1941 during the Holocaust are remembered by Stolpersteine or stumbling stones in Berlin.

Hans Borchardt was the son of a Jewish dentist in Berlin Charlottenburg. He was working with a business specialising in surgical and dental instruments when it was ‘Aryanised’ in 1934. He fled to England in September 1934, became a British citizen, and was an agent for a firm importing gloves from Ireland when he chose to make his home in Ireland in 1939. He died in Dublin in 1986, and was also buried in Woodtown.

Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien (1860-1960), was a writer and Irish nationalist, and although she converted to Christianity shortly before her wedding in 1890, she continued to insist on her Jewish identity, and later survived the Holocaust in France.

Sophie Raffalovich was born in the Black Sea port in Odessa. She was a daughter of Herman Raffalovich (1828-1893) and his wife Marie Raffalovich (1832-1891).

The Raffalovich family was Jewish with rabbinical ancestry. When Sophie was four, the family moved in 1864 to France in 1864 to escape to pressure to convert to Christianity.

She first met the Irish Home Rule politician and journalist, William O’Brien, from Mallow, Co Cork, in Paris in 1889. To her father’s dismay, Sophie converted to Catholicism before her marriage in 1890. But, while, she gave up the Judaism of her childhood, she never abandoned her Jewish identity, and suffered attacks from French and Irish anti-Semites.

William died in 1928, and Sophie moved back to France in 1938 to live near Amiens with Fernande and Lucie Guilmart, sisters who had been pupils in the orphanage and school she had supported all her life.

When World War II began and Germany invaded France, the sisters helped her to escape with them to a region near the Pyrenees. While Sophie was living in semi-hiding under the Vichy regime and in Nazi-occupied France, she refused to change her name or to disavow her Jewish identity. Two members of the Raffalovich family – a nephew and a cousin – died in Nazi concentration camps.

By the end of the war, Sophie was extremely impoverished. She died at Neuilly on 8 January 1960, a week before her 100th birthday.

No 65 Kenilworth Square … home of Ludwig Hopf, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, in 1939 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

At least five Irish citizens were murdered in the Holocaust: Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon died in Auschwitz; Ephrem and Lena Saks from Dublin were murdered in Auschwitz; and Isaac Shishi from Dublin and his family were murdered by the Nazis in Lithuania

The Steinberg family moved to Ireland in the 1920s and lived at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin. The seven Steinberg children went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue.

Ettie married Vogtjeck Gluck, originally from Belgium, in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road on 22 July 1937. They later moved to Antwerp. As World War II was looming, they moved to Paris, where their son Leon was born on 28 March 1939. By 1942 they were living in an hotel in Toulouse.

When the Vichy puppet regime began rounding up Jews in southern France at the behest of Nazi Germany, Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon were arrested. Back in Ireland, her family in Dublin secured visas that would allow the Gluck family to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late. Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.

Ettie, her husband and their son were taken first to Drancy, a transit camp outside Paris. The Glucks were then deported from Drancy on 2 September 1942 and arrived in Auschwitz two days later, on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.

Isaac Shishi, whose family came to Ireland from Lithuania, was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. He was murdered along with his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.

Ephrem and Lena Saks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim Sacks was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942. Lena was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.

Some years ago, I was chilled when I realised that a direct descendant of the Comerford family of Cork, and through that line a descendant of the Comerfords of Co Wexford, suffered horribly with her husband after the German invasion of France and that both died in the Holocaust – one in Ravensbrück and the other in Dachau.

Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944) and her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945) of Château Vaudricourt, were French aristocrats and did not bear the Comerford family name. Nevertheless, they are part of my own family tree, no matter how distant a branch. Their fate brought home to me how even today we are all close to the evils of racism and its destructive force across Europe and in North America, and we must never forget that.

May their memories be a blessing, זצ״ל



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