Tuesday, August 3, 2021

3 AUGUST, 2021

Dear Harry,

I did not know this at the time, nor would I have understood, I think, but I later learned that an important member of our household in those war years came over to England via the now well-known Kindertransport—the trains that left Germany and Austria between 1938 and 1940 filled with children, mostly Jewish, who were sent off by desperate parents so that they, at least, might find shelter from the impending Nazi storm.

Ernst must have been about twelve or thirteen years old when he arrived in England—older than us by a few years. He seemed to Flora and myself a strange boy who lived up to his name: earnest. A part of that strangeness was the marked accent with which he struggled, initially, with the English language. He kept a good part of that accent until his recent death, more than seventy years later, in his adopted city of Chicago. Reunited with his parents in the United States after the war, he had lived with them for many years in Omaha, Nebraska, where I can only imagine how hard it would have been for this family of Viennese Jewish refugees to adapt to a city deep in the American Midwest.

For several years after the war we would receive regular care packages from the Schnabls. They were more than welcome at a time when food was still scarce in post-war England and ration books still required for grocery shopping. Amongst the many gifts in those exotic packages from America, there were two that stand out forever in my memory: huge cans of salty, memorably delicious ham… and jars of peanut butter. The latter was something hitherto unknown in England, at least by us, a treat that Peggy packed into my tuck box to take to school with me, where it made me the envy of my school mates.

Until the day he died, already in his nineties, Ernst remained whole-heartedly devoted to you, Harry, and to Peggy. And to Flora and myself. He did not, he told me much later, have a good relationship with his own father, and I suspect that you became a kind of substitute. For a while, indeed, he was a part of our family, never quite a brother to Flora and myself, but always in our midst. He went to school in Bedford, where he received a good start in his education. And in transatlantic correspondence and occasional visits, he remained in close touch with you throughout his life.

Importantly, with your guidance—though surely without your insistence?—he found in Christianity a refuge from the confusion of his own cultural roots. He remained deeply appreciative of your mentorship. A devout Christian in his adult life, he married a church organist and was devastated, in later years, by her loss. He was, though, a stubborn traditionalist, resistant to change—perhaps a consequence of the disruption in his early life. He was outraged, for example, when his daughter Emily, brought up by himself in the Episcopal tradition, decided to take Holy Orders—given his disapproval of women priests. Happily, they were reconciled in due course.

I was in touch with Ernst several times by telephone and US mail—not email!—in the years before his death. He was a gentle soul, loyal to a fault, and his gratitude to you personally and to our family was touching. This was one person, among many I’m sure, whose life you helped to change with your own special wisdom and compassion.

With respectful thoughts, then, your son, Peter  

1 comment:

  1. We've been away so just catching up. You capture him very well. For the record, Dad wasn't raised much of anything. My Opa was Jewish but not practicing, and my Oma was raised RC. They had my father baptized around age 5 so he could go to a good school in Vienna, which I believe was Lutheran. But he absolutely did find a religious home in the C of E and then the Episcopal Church.

    I do think Omaha was difficult (he was really shocked when David and I moved here last year!) but he loved Chicago and ultimately the suburbs we moved to. And he spoke often of your parents and his affection for them.

    ReplyDelete

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