Family History

Over the years I gathered some of the stories about our family history, ably assisted by my father, Oskar Prager. I’m going to bring these stories here in order to keep them in one accessible place.

Additional stories from other family branches and from David and Dad’s roots trip to Germany will be found under the sub-headings of this page.

The first and most important story was written mainly by my father on a blog I used to frequent. Here are his words:

My family history is really nothing special – there are many many worse tales, more heroic stories, more stories of outstanding courage and bravery. But this story may possibly give you an insight into how 2 average families escaped (more or less) and rebuilt their lives in another country.

Tonight begins Israel’s Independence Day so I thought this might be good timing to send the post to you, emphasising the rebirth of the Jewish People from the ashes of the Holocaust to Independence under their own flag after 2,000 years of exile.

My mother’s family:

My mother and her family lived in a small town called Michelstadt, not far from Frankfurt where my grandfather, Leopold Strauss, worked as the shochet (ritual slaughterer), teacher and mohel for the Jewish community. My grandfather was arrested on Kristallnacht in November 1938, along with thousands of other Jewish men, and sent to Buchenwald (as far as we know). Before that, my grandparents saw what was happening with the rise of Nazism and with great foresight arranged for their 3 sons Uri (aged 5), Herbert (7) and David (9) and my mother (Judith Hilde), aged 3 to go on a kindertransport to Holland where my grandfather had a cousin. However when it was actually time to go, my grandmother (Daja) changed her mind at the last moment and decided not to send my mother on the train, thinking that she was too young to be without her mother and the boys were too young to cope with a little 3 year old girl. This little act saved my mother’s life.

At that stage, the Nazis would release from the camps any person who had a visa to another country. You couldn’t get a visa without someone acting as guarantor, so my grandmother contacted her brother Herman who was living in London and asked him to be a guarantor for my grandfather. Of course he agreed to vouch for the entire family, and my grandfather was released after about 6 weeks in the camps. He had to leave Germany immediately, (this was January 1939) and my mother says her earliest memory is of my grandfather on the steps of the plane (it was very unusual in those days to travel by air) waving his kippah at them in a goodbye gesture.

Meanwhile my grandmother had to arrange an exit permit to London for my mother, since her exit permit was for Holland and the Germans do like things to be “alles in ordnung” (everything in order). This took another few nerve wracking-months, but by the spring the family were all together in London.

My mother says that there was contact for quite a while between them and the boys in Holland, and she remembers letters being exchanged between them, and particularly stories about their new little sister who was born in London. My grandparents tried to arrange visas and guarantors for the boys to join them in London but this was more or less impossible during wartime. In any event the family – 6 souls by now – was living in a single room, and they didn’t know where they would put 3 extra boys.

So the boys stayed, safely they thought, in Holland. However the Nazis eventually invaded Holland, and the Jews were deported. The boys were sent to Sobibor where they were killed, presumably some time in 1942-3.

When the war was over my grandfather went to Europe to hunt for the boys or for information about them. He discovered the sad truth while he was there, but on his travels he also discovered 2 nieces and a nephew (Odette, Margo and Paul) who had been hidden in a convent in Belgium all through the war. The nuns were reluctant to give up the children at first, and the children were also reluctant to come to a strange house and an alien way of life as Orthodox Jews. In the end, the nephew decided to stay in Belgium, and contact with him has been very scarce. The two daughters came to London and the younger one lived with my grandparents for a while as if she was another daughter. The elder girl was quite traumatised by the war as one can imagine, and although she came to London she did not live with my grandparents. Both girls eventually married Jewish men and set up their own homes around London. I was very close with one of my second cousins during my childhood, though contact dropped off as we grew up and I emigrated to Israel.

I don’t know how my grandparents stayed sane, but what I do remember is that my grandparents’ house was always full of laughter, and my grandfather had a tremendous sense of humour. I always feel humbled by them. My Mother’s theory is that first of all, everyone at that time lost someone so it was considered a “normal” situation. Also, the boys’ death wasn’t a sudden occurrence. There had been contact with the boys for several years at first, and by the time they died they had been out of the house for such a long time that it seemed to me, looking on as a child, that it wasn’t felt as traumatically.

Of course this is not to belittle the tremendous tragedy that befell my grandparents. My mother’s aunt tells us that they were tormented by the loss of their sons for the rest of their lives. My brother David recently told me that towards the end of her life, as our grandmother became seriously ill, she would talk to David as if he were her son David, and not the grandson named in his memory.

However our grandparents never let their anguish be felt by us grandchildren, the Second Generation.  Their ability to hide their sorrow in front of us youngsters seems to me a sign of true heroism.

In the 60’s my grandfather arranged for a stained glass window to be put up in a synagogue at a kibbutz in their memory, and my mother and her sisters have filled in documents at Yad Vashem to memorialise their lost brothers. My elder brother and several cousins are all named after the lost boys.

My father’s family

My father’s family lived in Fuerth, Bavaria where my grandfather, Fritz Prager, was the principal of the Jewish school, teaching Jewish studies as well as his major subjects of Maths, Chemistry and Physics. My grandfather hadn’t thought the Jews were in any real danger until Kristallnacht, although many people had seen the danger ahead and had fled earlier. After witnessing the terror of Kristallnacht he tried frantically to get a visa to any country that would take them. The only place for which they could get a visa was Shanghai, China. However this involved days and weeks of travel by train, and my grandmother (Lina) refused to take on this journey with 4 small children, including baby twin girls.

At that stage Mr. Henry Pels from London who worked together with Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld (who was involved in the Kindertransport to London) in the Chief Rabbi’s Emergency Council came to the rescue. Somehow he had heard of my grandfather, and he contacted Mr. Yakob Rosenheim from the Agudah organisation who was arranging for visas for teachers to come to England. He was advised what to do, and Mr. Pels called my grandfather in Germany and told him that if he could arrange a guarantor in England, he could get a visa immediately.  My father’s grandmother had a cousin in Switzerland, Felix Guggenheim (yes, of THE Guggenheims, though a very distant relative). He was called, and he put down a guarantee in a bank in England the same day. Within 24 hours my grandparents had visas to England. My father remembers going to have his photo taken at the Gestapo in order to get his passport.

However the Germans would not issue an exit visa for my father’s grandmother, for no discernible reason. She died in the death camps.

The family travelled by train from Germany via the Hook of Holland to London, arriving there on 5th May 1939. My father’s cousin arrived from Germany on 31st August 1939 – the day before the outbreak of war and moved in with them too.

As official “enemy aliens” my grandparents were not allowed to work in England. However they made ends meet by baking and selling cakes (Lebkuchen) that my grandmother baked and they sold door to door. Soon the cakes were so successful that they were making them commercially and were looking to employ workers at the bakery. Because they could contribute to easing the unemployment which was rampant at that time in England they were then given work permits. Eventually they had to close down because they couldn’t get hold of the ingredients any more due to rationing. (I still remember the delicious taste of my grandmother’s Lebkuchen to this day!)

Around 1940 my grandfather was then interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man. (However that was still better than the alternative). In order to be released from the internment he volunteered for the British Pioneer Corps, which was the only unit accepting enemy aliens. However during training he contracted TB so he was released; thereafter he received a small pension from the British Army.

The children of the family were evacuated to the country during the Blitz but they hated it so much they preferred to stay in London during the bombing! My father has told me many times of running through the blackout during breaks between air raids as he went to his barmitzvah lessons.

And here is an interesting side-note. When my grandfather was finally allowed back to work he had to improve his English in order to go back to teaching. Through the army he was found a small job at lab of Alexander Fleming, inventor of penicillin.

Eventually he went back to teaching and remained as Jewish Studies and maths and science teacher at the Jewish Primary School in London until he retired.

41 Responses to Family History

  1. Chaim Freedman says:

    You should put all your parents memoirs into a book to preserve them for the ever expanding family of descendants. Trouble is you may need a Hebrew translation as well.

    Yashar Koakh


    • anneinpt says:

      Hi Chaim, thank you for your comment. We’ve played around with the idea of doing as you say but I don’t think we have enough to fill a book. A small booklet perhaps. But there’s so much missing – although I suppose that proves the point of the necessity of a book. That’s why I posted these stories on the internet in the first place: for posterity.

      We do have a huge family tree on my father’s maternal side which has been compiled by a 3rd cousin of his. We also have a family tree on my father’s father’s side although it’s smaller. On my mother’s side, one of her uncles used to be the official “keeper of the family tree”. After he died it was passed to my cousin but I’m not sure he has kept it up. We really ought to check.

  2. Roxymuzak says:

    Charming but tragic tale of your family. Well done.

  3. says:

    What a wonderful account, I am from the Horowitz / Dym faimly family . my zeida settled in England also detained in the I of man, they went to Leeds and Reading, settled back in London

  4. says:

    If you want I can be Annede I use this a lot as there is a broadcaster called Anne Diamond I use my second name a lot Anne Denise,not to get muddled.

    • anneinpt says:

      LOL, there’s no need Anne. I post as anneinpt anyway and you’ve been posting as annediamond so we can tell the difference. I’d been wondering if you were connected to the broadcaster. Thanks for explaining.

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  8. Naftali says:

    Thank you Annie. This is what binds is, but our generation will NEVER go quietly onto cattle cars.

    I grew up in Montreal, the son of an Auschwitz survivor from Hungary. We all know that Hungarian Jews were shipped to the camps in around 1943-44, when the Nazis were in a frenzy of killing, and they eliminated most of my extended family.

    My Mother was so traumatized by these events, she would get nervous breakdowns and I recall seeing her tied down to a hospital bed ranting in Hungarian, till they sedated her. I heard they used to use shock as well. This might be a reason why my Dad disappeared when I was 1.5, my older sister 8 and my Mother pregnant with my younger sister. This was around 1957 and he’s never been heard from since. My Mother had to give us up to foster homes. I cannot imagine her pain when she visited us, kids don’t understand, and we didn’t then.

    She NEVER talked about her experience, but I know it was brutal.

    In Montreal, not a week went by where we did not get taunted as Dirty Jews, Christ Killers etc. the neighborhood kids used to chase us with their dogs and paint swastikas on our driveway. Gangs armed with chains and baseball bats used to attack our school. (Some of the older people set an ambush for them and beat them up, they never came back)

    I know nothing about my family, where my Mother and Father were from in Hungary. I recall she had a brother in Australia, but I don’t even know his name. If he’s alive he would be well into his 90s.

    The Six Day War had a huge influence on me, It made me realize that we Jews no longer needed to be victims.

    In 1974, I made Aliyah, and within 6 months, I joined the Tzanchanim.

    Today, what sickens me the most is so-called Jews who aid and support our enemies against us. Our youth today is too busy assimilating to fight back.

    Thank you Annie for what you do.

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your very moving comment Naftali. Your family history sounds terribly traumatic. It makes me realize how lucky my family was in being able to escape Germany – and I use the word lucky advisedly even though my mother’s brothers were killed. It’s all a matter of degree.

      I’m sure your mother would be proud of you today in what you have accomplished and what you have made of yourself, especially considering your extremely difficult and traumatic childhood. Kol hakavod to you for not letting yourself be victimised, and for pulling yourself out of your difficulties.

      Isn’t it strange that today Canada is probably Israel’s strongest friend, and yet you suffered such antisemitism as a child. How the wheel turns!

      If you want to trace your family the Yad Vashem archives would be a good place to start. The Joint and the Red Cross also have tracing systems, and you never know, you might discover new members of your family.

      Thank you for your encouragement and support.

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  16. Shirlee Finn says:

    Reading this makes me more aware that I must try to find my family in Israel, to tie up with what I already have

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  18. Jeff Polaski says:

    I know so little about my family’s history; it only goes back less than a handful of generations. You can tell by my last name that assimilation in America was important. My given Hebrew name if Yosef Laib. My grandmother, Eva, looks at me from a photograph across this room, a photo made in the Ukraine, possibly in 1905.The six women of her family are dressed in Shabbat best. At age 16, it is impossible not to instantly recognize Eva. Her grandmother is seated and probably died of what comes with age. Eva emigrated to Philadelphia at 16, worked and sent for her younger sister, Lily. The other three no doubt perished at the hands of the Nazis. My grandmother Eva looks at me now from this one photograph, but never spoke of her life.
    Thank you, Anne, for your story, and permit me to make it part of mine, because I do not know my family’s story. I made promises to that 16-year-old Eva, and I know they were good promises, but they are so very hard.

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you Jeff. It is good that you still preserve something of your family’s history. The archives in Yad Vashem are enormous. I would highly recommend you come to Israel and visit the archives (as well as tour Israel of course!), and if you cannot find any information about your family you can leave a “testimony page” with their names and any other information you have (dates of birth, places of birth and dwelling etc.) and your contact information, so that if some other distant relative of yours comes looking one day, they will be able to contact you. And they may have important information about your family too. And you might find information has already been filed there anyway.

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  25. Jonathan Rubinstein says:

    I write this note because 2 days before Kristalnacht my father, living in Berlin with his wife Fania and her two sons who would be my brothers, received a phonecall from a Colonel in the Gestapo who had been his buddy in the Great War. They had last spoken in 1921.Leon was the son and grandson of professional soldiers in the Russian Imperial Army.. He had been sent to Berlin in 1912 from the Ukraine to prepare for University. He was 16. He joined the Prussian Army the day the war began and he served every day. He won the Iron Cross with Diamonds, the German version of the Medal of Honor. The Colonel said, Leon, leave the country right now. He hung up. My mother who was from Lituania had been pleading to leave from the day Hitler seized power. He took a train to Kaunus immediately. My mother followed with my brothers several weeks later. In January she became pregnant with what became me. By a series of marvelous accidents they were able to get Visas which was easy since nobody was going to America from Eastern Europe. Under the 1924 Immigratiion Act you could not enter America unless you had 8,000 dollars. A small fortune in 1924.

    They had no money. A man who I came to know as Uncle Harry was visiting his sister-in-law in the Bronx. On her kitchen table was a letter in German from Leon asking for help. She was the daughter of an aunt, Leon’s Mother’s twin sister. My grandmother had died in 1901! I do not know either of their names. When she told him she had done nothing he took the letter, got it translated and took it to a man named Israel Friendlander who owned a department store in Boston called Kennedy’s. He was a customer of Uncle Harry. Izzy put up the money which allowed us to live. My parents and bothers traveled in a sealed train guarded by armed Gestspo agents from Kaunus to Amsterdam. . They traveled by steamship arriving in New York in mid-July, met by Uncle Harry who took them to Boston where I was born and lived for several decades. When I was 8 I began working for Izzy and continued working at Kennedy’s on and off until I was 17. Thank you Adolf, thank you Uncle Harry.

    • anneinpt says:

      What an amazing family story! Thank you for sharing this piece of your family history. Col. Leon was a chasid umot ha’olam, a righteous man amongst the nations, to have intervened on your parents’ behalf. It is so important that thse details are documented for future generations.

    • annediamond1 says:

      Anne i am sorry but i not sure if this for me. Hope you are keeping well best wishes from

      Anne Denise Diamond

      • anneinpt says:

        I’m not sure what you mean Anne. The writer above was simply relating his family history.

        I edited your comment to remove your phone number. It’s not wise to put personal information on the internet.

        Be well.

        • annediamond1 says:

          Thanks my telephone nos is my mobile i have been in politics for mant years and my telephone nos is a way of communicating .

          My second reason i am involved in my family research from many all over the world.
          On of those we would be interested is the Horowitz family.
          Thank it is nice to touch base

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  28. Erin Eldridge says:

    Thank you for sharing your remarkable family story. Bless you all.

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