Peter Needham (previously Niethammer), was born in May 1934 in Teplice, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia). His Lutheran lawyer father, Fritz, was born in Aachen, Germany, on 6 February 1900; his assimilated Jewish mother Anna (nee Bergman), an economic research worker, was born in Most (previously Brux) on 5 November 1910. However, following the September 1938 Munich Agreement ceding the Sudetenland region to Nazi Germany, they divorced, and Anna took Peter to her wealthy parents’ home in Radic, near Prague, of which he retains happy memories.
Jews, though, were not entirely safe. After Anna’s discussion with German clergyman, Wilhelm (William) Wallner, The Barbican Mission to the Jews helped fly Peter, aged 4, from Prague to Croydon Airport, London, on 12 January 1939 with some 20 other children. She escaped soon after, then her parents on 31 March 1939. Peter’s uncles Hans and Seppl also escaped. Germany invaded and occupied rump Czechoslovakia mid-March 1939; a relative subsequently perished in the Holocaust.
Peter spent some 5 months in a Chislehurst refuge run by the zealous Rev. Davidson and his wife, before boarding at Winterdyne School, totally accepting the Christian education he received. He went on to St Paul’s School in London, read Classics at Oriel College, University of Oxford, become a Master at Eton College, teaching classics.
Educated and effectively brought up ‘as an English gentleman’, Peter feels British. He married British non-Jewish Nicola in 1971. Their children Ruth and Rupert are familiar with his background, but not notably interested in it, and he prefers not to discuss it with ‘an 8 year-old grandchild who does not understand it’.
Anna Needham died in 1993; Peter regrets destroying her personal memorabilia, and in 2000 returned to the Czech Republic to the visit the family home in Radic. He has since met Sir Nicholas Winton, become involved with the Kindertransport, and supported Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines’ memorial in Prague’s central station to the parents (especially the mothers) left behind.
Key words: (mentioned in the interview but not cited in the summary) Maternal grandfather: Josef Spitz; maternal grandmother: Friedericke Spitz (nee Heller); Hansi Beck; Isle Ryder (nee Stein).