Renate Edler was born on 25 July 1925 in a thunderstorm at Jena. She was premature and she was not expected to live. The local priest was sent for straight away so that she might be christened. He was a little drunk. He named her Klara Renate although her family had wanted her to be Renata, spelt the Italian way with Clara, with a C, as a second name and in honour of her two grandmothers. She always claimed that the priest’s mistake helped to save her life.
The family moved from Jena to Nuremberg. Renate then went to the Wilhelm Löhe School. This was a school for girls run according to Lutheran principles. Renate had no idea that she was Jewish but all of the teachers who knew about her helped her family to keep this a secret from her and from the authorities. Nuremberg was possibly the worst place for a young Jewish girl to live in the 1930s. The huge rallies were held there and the prolematice race laws were created there.
She had the opportunity to go on a school trip to Italy. For this she needed a passport. Her father took her to the office where children’s passports were issued. He had a fearsome row with the officious young man there. Her father wanted her correct name on her passport. Naturally, she had to have her name as on her birth certificate. They were sent round the corner to get an adult passport as she was already old enough. When she needed to leave Germany in 1939, she already had a passport though an identity card would have been enough. However, there was much confusion about this and having the passport already possibly made processing paperwork quicker.
Her school in Nuremberg was threatened with closure – already it had stopped admitting younger girls. There was some tension between her parents. It was agreed that after Christmas 1938 she and her mother would stay in Stuttgart. She would attend the Waldorf School her best friend went to. Her grandmother, Clara Lehrs and her uncle, Ernst Lehrs, were already involved with the Waldorf Schools.
She only found out half an hour before she set off to Stuttgart in December 1938 with her mother that they were Jewish. There wasn’t really a problem between her parents. Most of the tension had come about because of the worry about Renate and her mother being classed as Jewish. According to the Blutschutzgesetz, her mother was completely Jewish and she was a Mischling of the first degree. The Waldorf School in Stuttgart was also being closed. However, her parents were not being completely dishonest with her – she would be going to a Steiner school in England.
We can only assume that the family was galvanised into action because of the Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass). Renate set off for England on 28 January 1939, which is in fact one of the earlier Kindertransports. She always says she came privately but we have assumed that meant that the family paid the £50.00 sponsor money themselves and her two uncles found the foster family for her. She stayed with a family called Smith that was very kind to her. In later life she lost touch with them and never told the rest of the family that much about them, but she said they were always kind.
She was very seasick on the journey.
When she first started at the Michael Hall Steiner School, then based in Streatham, she didn’t speak a word of English. She soon learned, making friends easily and doing well in her schoolwork. She also learned not to be embarrassed about making mistakes when she assumed that a dredger would be a “bagger” and mispronounced it slightly so that it sounded like a rude word. She and her mother were invited on a camping holiday in the summer of 1939 and managed to have a good time despite the fear of war hanging over them.
Renate was one of only 5% of children who came on the Kinderstransport that were reconciled with their parents. Her mother was also employed by the Smith family and was able to join her in March 1939. She met up with her father again after the war. Sadly, by this time, her parents had gone through an enforced Nazi divorce (the petition was filed on 27 January 1942 – almost exactly three years after Renate had left for England) and her father had remarried. Her father was not allowed to leave Germany- he worked in the defence industry. However, we can assume that he was not completely enamoured of the Nazi regime. He constantly greeted people with “Heil Edler!” instead of “Heil Hitler!”.
The Michael Hall School in Streatham was evacuated to Minehead on 1 September 1939. The Smiths decided to go to Gloucester instead. Renate now had to get to know a new foster family. However, her mother continued to be employed by the Smiths, though remained in London. Renate enjoyed the time at Minehead – she lived inland but the school was by the sea so she had the best of both worlds.
However, as the war got going, she was constantly fearful about her mother being bombed in London and her father being bombed in Nuremberg. On her sixteenth birthday, she became an “enemy alien class B” and had to report to the police station frequently, she had a curfew and she had to get special permission to be more than ten miles from home and to be near the sea. This was a little tricky: her school was near the sea and her home was more than ten miles from the police station. She found that the local officials usually had a common sense attitude to this problem and all was well.
The worry about her parents and her general uncertainty about her identity - was she German, Jewish or English? – caused her to have a breakdown. Fortunately, both of her parents survived the war unscathed. However, a few valuable items that her mother had managed to bring form Germany and which they had kept in storage were destroyed by an incendiary bomb.
Renate did well at school but did not get to university. The war and her status got in the way. She and her mother took on British nationality in 1947. Renate worked as a laboratory assistant and lived at one time with her mother and her mother’s friend in a flat in West Hampstead. It was at last a place they could call their own after years of living in other people’s homes.
Also in 1947 Renate was allowed to travel to Germany as she was attending a conference to do with her work. Whilst there she tried to find out what happened to her grandmother. Much later she found out that her grandmother had been transported to Theriesenstadt and then to Auschwitz. We have since found out more exact details about Clara Lehrs.
On this same visit, she was reconciled with her father and met her stepmother. She was delighted to find that she got on very well with both of them.
Renate married a scientist who had an interest in music and politics in 1949. She had one son and two grandchildren. She worked as a freelance needlewoman and simultaneous translator. She and her husband eventually settled in Wales.
In 1979, Renate received a mysterious package in the post. It had come from Germany. She didn’t recognise the name on the package nor on the letter that came with it. Then, as she began to read she started to recognise some names mentioned in the letter. Slowly she remembered the Wilhelm Löhe School Some of the girls in Renate’s class decided to write letters in an exercise book when the school closed just after Renate had left it. They included their class teacher, Hanna Braun, in the “Rundbrief” (literally “round letter”.) Each girl wrote her letter in the book and then posted it to the next on the list. Three volumes were written in total and one volume with letters dating from May 1942 to November 1944 had been found in the loft by one of the “girls”. That girl made it her duty to track down every single member of the class and invite them to a school reunion in June 1980. Renate and her friends were able to tell each other their stories.Renate died of cancer in 1986, aged just 61.