Holocaust Memorial Day 2019: “Torn From Home”
Imagine leaving your home for a new country to live with strangers and never knowing if you would see your family again. For many children and young people sent away to escape Nazi persecution In the 1930s and 1940s, Britain became their new home. Here they were cared for in homes, hostels and schools, often by dedicated teams of people who helped to give them a new life and new opportunities.
One of the schools in Surrey that provided a home for these children was Stoatley Rough in Haslemere. Opened in 1934 as a ‘German-English school’, it initially catered for children who, for political or racial reasons, could not be educated in their native country. The establishment of the school was mainly due to the efforts of three remarkable women: Marjorie Vernon, Bertha Bracey and Dr Hilde Lion.
Marjorie Vernon (1887-1961) was the daughter of Arthur Lewis Leon, a member of the London County Council and of the Surrey Education Committee. Her mother, Marion Grant, undertook social work and was treasurer of the Haslemere Liberal Association. In 1897, Stoatley Rough was built for the Leon family at the far end of Farnham Lane. Arthur Leon died in 1927 and, following Marion Leon’s death in 1933, Marjorie Vernon made Stoatley Rough available to the Society of Friends.
Since the end of the First World War, the Society of Friends in Britain had run an international Quaker relief programme in Germany. Bertha Lilian Bracey (1893-1989) had spent several years in the 1920s as a youth worker for the Friends in Nuremberg and Berlin, followed by two years as the British Friends’ representative in the International Secretariat in Berlin. When Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Miss Bracey became general secretary of the German Emergency Committee of the Society of Friends in Britain.
In December 1933, the Society of Friends was approached by Dr Hilde Lion (1893-1970) with plans to open a small school in England for German refugee children. Dr Lion, a Jewish academic, had been dismissed in May 1933, from her position as director of an academy for women’s studies in Berlin, and came to England in November of that year. Bertha Bracey introduced Dr Lion to Mrs Vernon and, following the fundraising of some £500, Stoatley Rough became the home for Dr Lion’s school. Mrs Vernon and Bertha Bracey remained closely involved with Stoatley Rough, serving on the of the school’s council, committee and board of governors.
Stoatley Rough School opened in April 1934, offering bilingual education, with the aim of improving the pupils’ English so that they could continue and complete an education that had been denied to them in Germany. Quaker educationalist, Isabel Fry, agreed to manage the school for the first few months, then continued to support the school as a committee member. Along with Dr Lion as principal, the school’s first teaching staff were Eleonore (Nore) Astfalck, who ran the household course and took on the role of housemother to the younger children, and Johanna (Hanna) Nacken, who taught the practical and handicraft subjects as well as being the school’s bookkeeper. Both women remained at Stoatley Rough until 1946 when they left to help with the post-war reconstruction of Germany. Deputy Head and friend of Dr Lion, Dr Emmy Wolff, joined Stoatley Rough in 1935 where she taught German language and literature.
Stoatley Rough School’s first pupils were two small refugee boys and five older refugee girls. The separation of brothers from sisters was considered detrimental and, consequently, the school operated as a co-educational establishment with a full age range. By spring 1936, following the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws the previous year, there were 31 pupils at the school. As the situation in Germany continued to deteriorate, many parents made the difficult decision to uproot their children from home to a safer place, unsure of whether they would see them again.
The Lindemayers, a German Christian family of Jewish origin, sent their three children to England, with their oldest daughter Edith attending Stoatley Rough School in 1937. The parents’ correspondence with their son and daughters was published as ‘A Thousand Kisses – the letters of Georg & Frieda Lindemayer to their children 1937-1941‘ (2006). Full of affection and concern, trying to understand their children’s new lives, they clung on to the hope that they would be reunited someday.
“It gives me more and more pleasure to get your letters. Very gradually I’m getting to know Stoatley Rough through them, and I’ve actually got quite a clear picture of much of the school. Don’t lose sleep over the fact that you can’t speak enough English yet. It will all suddenly fall into place!” (Frieda Lindemeyer in Dusseldorf, to her daughter Edith in England, 5 April 1937)
Georg and Frieda died in a concentration camp in Minsk in 1941.
In March 1938, Stoatley Rough School received an influx of refugee children from Austria following the country’s annexation. By 1939, pupil numbers had risen to 81 and, at the outbreak of war, there were 90 students, of whom 50 had left parents behind in Germany. A former pupil, Wolfgang Elston, described the school as ‘an island of sanity where children could go through all of the stresses of growing up in safety and security’.
Recognised by the Ministry of Education in 1940, Stoatley Rough continued as a school after the Second World War, its intake gradually changing to disadvantaged British children sent by local authorities. The school closed in 1960 on the retirement of Dr Lion, when it was purchased by The Ockenden Venture and renamed Quartermaine.
Hans Goldmeier (1928-2002)
Hans Goldmeier was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on 20 July 1928. In April 1939, he and his brother Rolf were sent to England where a cousin had arranged for the brothers to be cared for by a Jewish family in Sunderland. Later that year, Hans’s parents, Isidor and Erna, were also able to come to England and settled in London where Erna worked as a nursemaid. On the outbreak of war, Hans and Rolf were evacuated to Bellerby, a small village in the Yorkshire Dales, where they lived with the Scotts, a farming family.
In April 1941, Isidor died of a heart attack. Erna secured work in Guildford and successfully applied for a place at Stoatley Rough School for her younger son, Hans, so that he could be nearer to her. The older son, Rolf, attended an ORT (Jewish education and vocational training) school in Leeds. Hans stayed at Stoatley Rough until he passed his School Certificate with Matriculation in 1944.
A year later, in February 1945, Hans, his mother Erna and brother Rolf emigrated to the USA. Before he left England, Hans wrote to Dr Lion:
On one hand I’m very much looking forward to being in U.S.A., but on the other I’m very sorry to leave a place which has been my home for nearly 3½ years. It took me a long time to get used to Stoatley Rough, but when I did, I liked it very much. The good education I received will benefit me for the rest of my life and I shall always remember the place where I got it. I must thank you and all the other teachers very much indeed for all the trouble you have taken over me.
Once in the USA, Hans became John Goldmeier, qualified as a social worker and spent most of his career at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
John’s papers were donated by his daughter to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington DC which has kindly provided Surrey History Centre with digital copies of the collection. The collection includes Hans’s Stoatley Rough school reports, his written essay, ‘D-Day in a School in the South of England’, correspondence from Hans and his mother Erna to Dr Lion, photograph albums, a typescript autobiography and ‘Stoatley Roughians’ newsletters. The records are available to view on CD at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref Z/635).
Stoatley Rough website
Since the end of 2018, we have been fortunate to host the content of the Stoatley Rough Historical Trust website on our Exploring Surrey’s Past site. The website was originally created by Peter Neivert for a ‘Stoatley Roughians’ reunion in Haslemere in 2004; Mr Neivert’s mother, Ilse Kaiser, was a pupil at the school from 1939 to 1944.
The website offers a fascinating and thorough insight into life at Stoatley Rough and the people who worked and studied at the school. As well as an illustrated history of the school, there are photographs of pupils and staff, film footage of the school taken in c.1938, the memories of Hans Loeser, a pupil at the school from 1937 to 1939, and photographs of the school reunion, 2004.
A further collection of photographs of Stoatley Rough School staff, pupils and buildings will be added to the Exploring Surrey’s Past website at a later date.
Other records and bibliography
The main archive of Stoatley Rough School, 1923-2000, is held at the London School of Economics Library. The records were held by Dr Lion after the school closed, with the intention to produce a history of the School, but it was never written. After Dr Lion’s death in 1970, her colleague Louise Leven deposited the records in the LSE library.
Other related records held at Surrey History Centre
Papers relating to the closure of Stoatley Rough School and its subsequent lease to Ockenden. Includes Ockenden Venture correspondence with St Mary’s Convent and Dr Hilde Lion. Also correspondence concerning the organisation of a work camp to prepare the building for use, 1959-1964 (SHC ref 7155/5/13/1)
Correspondence with Dr Margot Kogut regarding reunion of former Stoatley Rough pupils (‘Stoatley Roughians’) and unveiling of plaque at Quartermaine, 10 Nov 1990. Includes news cutting. Also letter from former pupil researching history of school (SHC ref 7155/5/13/10)
Papers relating to Stoatley Rough School, Haslemere: signed visitors’ book on the occasion of the ‘Stoatley Roughians’ reunion in Haslemere, Nov 1990. Correspondence between Ailsa Moore and Michael Johnson of Reigate concerning the Stoatley Rough reunions, 2011 (SHC ref 9642/27)
Photograph taken At the Stoatley Rough School reunion and plaque unveiling: Nov 1990 (SHC ref 9642/51)
DVD of reunion of former pupils of Stoatley Rough, produced by Patricia Ellis of Wizard Video Productions, whose husband was a pupil at Stoatley Rough. 45 minutes, Oct 2004 (SHC ref Z/560/3)
Stoatley Rough School newsletter, number 20, 2000 (SHC ref Z/560/4)
GOLD, Michele M. Memories that won’t go away : a tribute to the children of the Kindertransport. Kotrim, 2014.
LEVERTON, Bertha and LOWENSOHN, Shmuel. I came alone : the stories of the Kindertransports. Book Guild,1990.
LOESER, Hans F. Hans’s story. iUniverse, 2007.
MOSKOVITZ, Sarah. Love despite hate : child survivors of the Holocaust and their adult lives. Schocken Books, 1983.
MOSS, Christophe (ed). A Thousand Kisses : the letters of Georg and Frieda Lindemeyer to their children, 1937-1941. Bloomsbury, 2006.
WOLFENDEN, Barbara. Little Holocaust survivors and the English school that saved them. Greenwood World, 2008.