Wednesday 29 July 2015

Käthe Edler

Käthe Edler, nee Lehrs, was born on 21 November 1896. She was the middle of three siblings. Older brother Leopold Edgar, who later took on the name Ernst, was born in 1894 and her younger brother Rudolph was born in 1901.
The Lehrs family converted to the German Lutheran religion when the children were very small. It was already clear that it was not prudent to hold on to their Jews nationality.  
Katharina’s father died in 1918, partly because of wounds he had sustained in World War 1.
Käthe enjoyed quite a comfortable middle-class life until the Nuremberg race laws were created in 1935 and the general difficulties that faced Jews during the 1930s in Germany. 
Unusually for a woman, she went to university and even more unusually she studied science. She actually received lectures form Albert Einstein and Max Planck was Dean of the University of Berlin at the time. He still lectured in physics. Unfortunately she was not able to complete her degree. She fell in love with one of the young lecturers, Hans Edler, who was only two years older than her.  This type of relationship between a lecturer and a student would not be tolerated then so she left the course. She and Hans married on 19 May 1923 at the Berlin Wilmersdorf registry office. Their only daughter Klara Renate Edler was born on 5 July 1925.
The marriage was reasonably happy to start with. Käthe carried on showing a pioneering streak. She was the first woman in Munich to obtain her driving license. She astounded her husband by driving to meet him from the airport in the dark. She astounded the taxi-drivers at the airport even more by opening the bonnet and cleaning the sparking plugs. “Well,” she said, “the engine was misfiring and I knew the sparkling-plugs must have been vey unsparkling.”
Her husband had a cousin who worked for the government. He warned the couple that life was about to become dangerous for Käthe and Renate. Whilst she was at the county hall in Nuremberg obtaining some papers that later made her emigration to England easier, she was asked to wait in a small room. Another door was opened and she had a full view of Adolf Hitler, just a few feet from her. Later, she remembered that she had a small pistol in her handbag and it would have been easy to shoot him.
She came to England in March 1939. Her brothers Ernst and Rudolf were already in England and had found her daughter Renate a foster home with a certain Smith family. The same family offered Käthe a job as housekeeper.
On 27 January 1942 Hans Edler petitioned for divorce. It was all done in the name of the German folk and it was probably an enforced divorce. On the petition she is named Katharina Sarah Lehrs. Her second name was really Theresa. All Jews were assigned the name Sarah or Israel if their names were not particularly Jewish.
Käthe and Hans were never reconciled and Hans remarried.
Käthe took on British nationality of 21 September 1948. She lived in London until she died in 1977. She made many English and Jewish friends and in her spare time gave English lessons to other refugees. She understood only too well the difficulties faced by people suddenly thrown into a new culture in a country where they didn’t speak the language. She worked at Saatchi and Saatchi until two weeks before she died. For several years she shared her home with her friend, Eva Kaiser, also a German Jewess.