Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Jewish Love Story


 This is an emerald and diamond ring worn by my mother Nina Foord. In this photo her hands are still a bit "raw", a side-effect of the chemotherapy she has just completed after a successful operation on bowel cancer. It has not been my mother's best year but she has pushed through it with dignity and determination.

The ring was made by my great-great-grandfather who was a Prussian Jew and jeweller to the crown Prince of Prussia.

This ring was made as an engagement ring for my great-great-grandmother. It was lost during the holocaust, then somehow (we don't really know how) it made its way back to my grandmother after the war.

My maternal grandparents were German Jews who escaped Berlin to the UK just before the Second World War started. Jewish lineage is inherited through the mother, which makes me, along with Kate Biddlestone and David Foord, Jewish. This is part of our story.

Almost all of my grandparents' family were murdered by the Nazis during the war, except for a handful who escaped and scattered across the world.

My grandfather first proposed to my grandmother when he was 12 and she was 9, but they weren't to marry until after the war.

The engagement photo of Manfred and Else, taken in Berlin in 1938/9.
They grew up in a Prussian town called Königsberg. There was a big Jewish population in Königsberg, as it was the end of the train line for Jews escaping the Russian pogroms. Many Jews used the sea port of the Baltic coast (where as children Manfred and Else would watch the waves freeze in winter) to escape to America. However, many felt safe enough in Prussia to settle there. After the war Königsberg was annexed by Russia and renamed Kaliningrad. All the previous inhabitants were expelled and it became a military town, so Manfred and Else were never able to return. Manfred and Else attended the local boys' and girls' grammar schools and sang together in the combined choir. Else was in the same class as Manfred's sister Masie.

My grandfather (Opa) came to Edinburgh on a student visa and my grandmother (Oma) came to the south coast to work as a maid. Domestic servants were the only women the UK would take at the time, quite a challenge for a fiercely intelligent woman like my grandmother. Jewish women were only accepted from Germany into the UK if they had a specific job to go to. So someone we don't know saved my grandmother by providing a Jewish woman with a job.

Manfred's sister Masie escaped to America, but unfortunately died when my mother was young.

At this point Manfred and Else were engaged to be married, but separated by circumstance.

When the war started my grandfather was interned by the British on the Isle of Man as an enemy national. All the internees were then transferred to internment camps in Canada. The sea voyage was extremely perilous due to German U-boats, and as they'd lost touch Else spent the whole war not knowing if Manfred was even alive.

On his return to the UK Manfred had to track Else down. He eventually found her, still in service, in Aylesbury. They married in Aylesbury with literally only sixpence (6d) and a battered saucepan to their name.

Else Aron, my grandmother's maiden name, is a descendant of Moses' brother Aaron. Apparently this was "traceable" but the details are lost. She was the first cousin of Hannah Arendt, the famous Jewish political philosopher who wrote about totalitarianism. Hannah's works have understandably become more "popular" in recent days and the royalties my mother receives have been steadily increasing (although her share is still relatively small).

My grandmother is one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. Her gentle love was a strong formative influence throughout my childhood.

My grandfather's ancestry is traced to the tribe of Benjamin, after whom my son is named.

Before the war, in Berlin, Opa was a top concert pianist taught by Otto Klemperer's sister. After the war, he couldn't afford a piano, and by the time he could have bought one he had completely lost the heart to play. He was delighted to have a musical granddaughter (my sister Kate) and encouraged her musical education.

Manfred educated himself to a high level in Canada learning Latin and Greek, but the only work he could find initially was as a coil winder in a munitions factor in Aylesbury. He then got a job as an editor for the publisher Faber and Faber and they moved to London where my mother was born in 1947. His next job was in Cambridge working for the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments, working with Nikolaus Pevsner who is a famous art historian. Their job was investigating historical buildings to decide which should have preservation orders. Manfred Bräude is named as a contributor in some of Nickolaus' publications.

Whilst working for the Royal Commission Manfred started delivering extramural lectures for Cambridge university on art history, specialising in Roman art in Britain. The university recognised that he was a gifted teacher and he took on a position filling in for someone on sabbatical for the classics faculty at Cambridge university, specialising in Greek and Roman art. The university wanted to employ him permanently but he had never completed his degree due to his internment. Their solution was to give him an honorary degree.

Manfred remained a classics lecturer at Cambridge university until his retirement. He frequently won the student vote for best lecturer in the classics faculty and he claimed to have never given the same lecture twice.



Taken during the celebration of their golden wedding anniversary. Already ill with cancer, this was just a few months before Oma died at the age of 75. Opa lived for four more years, but was utterly miserable without her.

Written by Michael and Nina Foord. December 2016.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Many thanks! Helga

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