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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Margarete Hinrichsen was born on 21st October 1919 in Bad Polzin, Pomerania (Germany at the time and now Poland) as the third of four girls to affluent parents. She grew up in a stately home on the brink of the spa town and remembers a very happy childhood. Her father had a PhD in chemistry and ran the family estate and business comprised of factories, forests, sawmills, lime plant and farms. Her mother was trained in the Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus as a kindergarten teacher and ran a Jewish children’s holiday home in Norderney (in the Frisian Islands). Margarete remembers her mother subscribing to liberal women’s magazines. Although this wasn’t discussed, Margarete was aware that she came from wealthy background, growing up in a stately home with lots of servants – until the Nuremberg race laws in 1935 put an end to Christian staff in Jewish households. Her father was a devout Jew and the family lived kosher and attended the synagogue in Bad Polzin. The girls attended primary school and middle school in Bad Polzin, but for higher education (Gymnasium) her older sisters went to Stettin. Margarete wasn’t able to do so as the anti- Jewish laws by then prevented her from higher education. She went instead to a boarding Haushaltungsschule in Breslau. After finishing this school, she was sent to London (Regent’s Park School, run by a couple from Leipzig). Problems started when her father couldn’t send money anymore and Margarete’s visa didn’t allow her to work legally. The last time she went to Germany and saw her parents was in 1937 for their 25th wedding anniversary. Back in London she looked after the children of a Jewish family to earn money. She socialised exclusively with refugees in London and this is also how she met her husband, Klaus, at a concert on the eve of World War II. Klaus came from a mixed Jewish/Christian background in Lübeck and held a degree in art history. He had come to England to learn English. Although he wasn’t permitted to work either he was the cook in the Hampstead General Hospital and by then Margarete was a volunteer with the fire service.
Over the phone she received the devastating news from her mother in 1938 that her father had been killed. Her mother and her three sisters managed to emigrate to Israel. Her mother died in 1945 and Margarete never saw her again. However, she met her sisters later but didn’t reconnect with either of them. She is not religious, but her children were baptised Lutheran to make their life in England easier.
Margarete considers herself lucky to have met Klaus as a young girl without any family in a strange country. They were married in 1942. She has no relationship with Germany, but had to go for visits to her in-laws in Lübeck, where she had a strong psychosomatic reaction. She said she would never have been able to go back to Bad Polzin, the place of her idyllic childhood. She cherishes the memories of the beautiful landscapes of Pomeranin Switzerland. Her husband Klaus, felt lifelong resentment for Germany. In internment he got to know refugee artists and supported many of them later.
Her message is that one has to accept what life throws at us as one cannot mourn and struggle with destiny. She has met many younger Germans and talked with them about her life, as their parents were not able to face these difficult issues. They had a lot of questions which she openly answered. She feels that you cannot blame Germany’s past on the younger generations.
You accept what goes on in your life, really, in a way without questioning. And once Hitler came to power when I was thirteen...Well then everything changed in any case, you know. Friends from school, whom you walked in the break with, arm in arm, wouldn’t do that anymore. And you just didn’t know what hit you in a way, you know?
I was in this boarding house where I was working. And I had a telephone call from Germany, from my mother. And that was in 1938. And… she told me that my father was dead. He was… I said, “How come?” She said, “He was murdered.” But she didn’t say how. And I didn’t know. I didn’t know who could have murdered him because… well, I didn’t know all these stories.