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Gunter Lawson

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
August 1939
Arrived by train just before war on Germany was declared.
Mode of Arrival:

Gunter Lawson (formerly Löwenstein), was born in Berlin in 1935, to parents from commercially successful middle class families. His father, Arthur, was a tie salesman (b. Posen, then a province of the Prussian Empire, 7 September 1904). His mother, Anuta Löwenstein (née Fromhold, b. Riga, 2 January 1904) had fled with her own widowed mother from St. Petersburg, due to the Russian revolution, joined maternal grandparents in Königsberg. Later they moved to Berlin and Anuta worked as a  secretary. Gunter’s parents married in 1928. Their marriage broke down because of debt Arthur had accumulated and not told Anuta about. She ultimately divorced Arthur, who saw her and Gunter off at the train station when they left for Britain in August 1939.This was the last time they saw each other and Gunter doesn’t know details about his father’s death.   When aged 18, Anuta had worked for a time as an apprentice in her Aunt Bertha’s London beauty parlour, learnt English and made invaluable friends. When Aunt Bertha later inexplicably declined to sponsor her application for a visa to enter Britain, Mina Green, a beauty parlour employee, obliged.

 

Anuta and (almost 4 year-old) son Gunter arrived in Britain just before war on Germany was declared. They were taken to the Green’s house in Ringwood, Hampshire, but early 1940 security regulations required all aliens to move away from the coast. With the Blitz, the refugees were evacuated from their north London hostel for Jewish refugees to Leicestershire, and thence taken by the caring Downing family to their home in Enderby.  Anuta worked as a machinist in Mr. Zeid’s Leicester workshop, making ladies’ coats. She learnt fast and was very efficient. She was able to earn a living and was proud of the fact. Anglo-Jewry did not assist her. Highly acculturated, when she moved to her own lodgings it was English co-workers who helped and provided necessary household items. Her social life comprised two separate groups: mainly widowed non-orthodox German Jewish refugees, or English work friends. She had little interaction with orthodox/acculturated British Jews. Gunter remembers his childhood as very happy. He settled very quickly and forgot his German fast. He doesn’t remember any discrimination because of his German- Jewish background and never felt as a refugee in fact.  His mother regarded the High Holidays but was not very religious. However, it was important to enroll Gunter at Cheder, which he resented but he reluctantly prepared for his Bar Mitzvah.

 

Education was important to Gunter’s mother and he entered a grammar school and finished A levels. After finishing his National Service, Gunter began reading Psychology, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford, but switched to law later. He finally qualified as an accountant and had a career as Planning Manager in the oil industry for 35 years (e.g. Ford Motors, Jet Petrol and Conoco). In 1960 he met Myra (née Aronowitz) at a Maccabi dance in Leicester. They were married in 1961 in Finsbury Park Synagogue. Myra was from an orthodox Anglo-Jewish family and her Continental mother-in-law felt totally alienated. His mother however became financially independent after an inheritance from Aunt Bertha. She started driving and enjoyed travelling the world. Despite being non-religious, Gunter accepted for the sake of his wife and her family a kosher life style and also attended with them the Finchley Progressive Synagogue.  

 

The family considered a name change together and finally  changed their name to Lawson in the 1970s. Having effectively grown up in the absence of a family, and saddened by losses in the Holocaust, family life is extremely important to Gunter Lawson. He followed meticulously leads regarding family and friends’ connections all over the world. He managed to find his mother’s best friend’s son who was adopted by a family in Wales and later emigrated to Israel. He also reconnected with his mother’s younger brother in California. However, visiting the city of his birth, Berlin, has not had any effect on him and he hasn’t done too much research into the Holocaust as he feels this is not part of his life.  

 

Additional Comments:  

Cites amazing coincidences and links that impacted on the refugees’ lives. Highlights how a lone divorced woman coped, bringing up her son in a foreign country. Contrasts acculturated Continental Jewry and orthodox Anglo-Jewry.

 

Correction: during the interview Lawson inadvertently stated that his mother, Anuta, died in 1983, instead of 1993.

 

Key words:   Anuta Fromhold; Aronowitz; ; evacuation; Horowitz; Kima; Königsberg; Löwenstein; RAF;  Zeid’s. Australia; Berlin; Enderby; Israel; Leicester; London; Maccabi; St. Petersburg .Posen (Poznan);

Well, I – I think it was… much harder than I gave Mum credit for until much later in life and realised what she’d had to put up with. [But if you’re going to compare it, you’ve got to compare it with a man with responsibility for a child… because that was the issue around.] She wasn’t just looking after herself, she had a responsibility for a child. So I should imagine there were difficulties, you know, problems and issues around to be overcome, but Mum…it was not easy at all. And…but, I never felt that. She never, you know, she didn’t moan to me about it.

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@ Refugee Voices 2019