Tuesday 31 March 2015

Bertha Bracey

Bertha Bracey (1893-1989) was a Quaker who did a lot to help German Jews. She came from Birmingham and worked as a teacher.

In 1921 she went to Nuremberg and set up several clubs for young people. She helped with relief work and also helped with reconstruction work at the Quaker centre.  The Quaker aim was to create centres of reconciliation and peace. She also worked in Berlin and eventually returned to London in 1929.
When problems began for the Jews in 1933, she became the secretary of the Germany Emergency Committee. She organised Quaker help for Jews persecuted by the Nazis in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and destitute Jewish refugees in Paris. She helped them to flee these countries and found work and accommodation for them in Britain. She spoke fluent German, had a large network of useful contacts. All Jewish aid organisations were  brought together under one roof in Bloomsbury House and Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens moved into 25 rooms there with 80 staff and 14,000 case files.
In 1934 she helped to establish a Quaker school in Holland for 100 Jewish children. The school provided employment for Jewish and Quaker teachers. She also helped to establish Stoatley  Rough School in Surrey in the same year. This school catered for Jewish refugees.   

After the Kistallnacht, Jewish parents were desperate to get their children to safety. It was too dangerous for British Jews to go to Germany, so six Quakers were sent out to report on the situation. On 21 November Bertha Bracey joined a delegation to the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, and Hoare obtained the consent of Parliament to the admission of the children. The first group arrived on 2 December.
In 1945 just before the end of the war three hundred orphans were found alive in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia and with the assistance of RAF Bomber Command she had them flown to a reception camp by Lake Windermere.

In 1942 Bertha Bracey received the OBE for her work for refugees. In 1946 she was appointed by the Allied Control Commission in Germany to handle refugee affairs, and was later put in charge of women’s affairs in the British and American Zones, and there she remained until she retired in 1953 at the age of 60.
The importance of what she did, in particular in her help in organising the Kindertransport was honoured in 2010 by Gordon Brown.  

Saturday 7 March 2015

Clara Lehrs

Clara Lehrs, nee Loewenthal, was born on 7 October 1871 in Schwerin in Mecklenburg. Her parents were Jewish. He father was a corn merchant. Her mother was an immigrant from Holland. She had eight siblings.
In 1892 she married Ernst Julius Lehrs. Her first child Leopold Edgar, was born in 1894. Katharina Theresa was born in 1896 and Rudolph in 1901. Her husband Ernst worked in sales in industry. They converted to Christianity so that they could enjoy contemporary society.
Ernst was very badly injured in World War I and had to stop working. He died in 1918, aged 56.
Her son Leopold Edgar served in World War I and became an officer. He returned from the war convinced that society had to change. He became interested in the work of Rudolph Steiner and converted to anthroposophy. Much to Clara’s disappointment, he gave up a career as a scientist to become a teacher at the newly founded Waldorf School in Stuttgart in 1921. At about the same time, he started calling himself Ernst  
Although Clara had a very close relationship with her oldest son and although they shared a love of humanity and culture, she wasn’t entirely convinced about the teachings of Steiner and actually found the man himself rather strange.  
By 1927, Clara was determined to return to Berlin. Ernst junior managed to persuade her to set up house with him. They built a house together in 1928, at number 20 Schellberg Street. In order to finance the building, Clara sold some of her jewellery and borrowed money from her brother and from a friend of the family. The house was used not just as their home but also as a place where Waldorf School pupils might board and where meetings were held for the Anthroposophy Organisation.
Clara gained a reputation as a very cheerful, caring person. She became reconciled to anthroposophy and found a new purpose in life looking after her students. It was because she cared about them so much that she continuously put off leaving Germany. Her sons found refuge in England and America and her daughter and granddaughter in England. Clara left it too late. However, before the Nazi regime caught up with her, she made many more contributions to humanity. 
In the school year 1921 / 1922 a Special Class was created for severely disabled children by Karl Schubert. From 24 April 1934 he was allowed to run this as a private class within the Waldorf School. The Waldorf School was closed by the Nazis in 1938. Clara Lehrs offered her home as a place for the class. No one is quite sure how, but this class was tolerated throughout the war and beyond.
In 1939 Clara was forced to sell the house on Schellberg Street for 30,000 Reich marks to Emil Kühn, a friend of the family and the president of Waldorf School Association. Jews were not allowed to own property anymore and anyway she had to pay various debts to the authorities and to various Jewish societies. She was able to rent a room in the house on Schellberg Street for a little while longer. By 1941, she was registered as Klara Sarah Lehrs – the authorities gave her first name German spelling and gave her the second name Sarah – all Jews who did not possess an obviously Jewish name were given an extra name of Sarah or Israel to show that they were Jewish.
In 1942, just like all other elderly Jewish people, she was ordered to live in one of the ghettoes in Württemberg. She actually lived for a short while in Rexingen, with other Jews in one of the oldest Jewish communities in the area. Again, here she gained a reputation for being generous of spirit.  
Her time in Rexingen was short. On 22 August 1942 she was transported to Theriesenstadt. From there she was transported on 29 September to Treblinka, where she was murdered. Towards this transport and the promised home in the east she had to pay out her last 6246- Reich marks.  
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