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Born in Berlin in 1928, Tom Jacobs enjoyed both Chanukah and Christmas tree candle-lights; but his early memories also include firemen allowing a Jewish school to burn (spraying instead nearby flats not on fire), and being restricted to yellow benches in the park for Jews. He has no memory, however, of his non-Jewish father Heinrich Stoltenhoff, a psychiatrist and director of a clinic in Dresden, whom Susanne Stoltenhoff (née Meyer) had divorced soon after Tom’s birth. She decided independently to emigrate in 1936/7 and make a home for Tom in London; English-speaking she could work as a secretary.
In May 1938 his grandparents saw him off at Berlin’s main railway station; ‘I was entrusted to a couple of strangers to bring me to England’. However, an incident en route forced them to take the next train via Harwich, while Tom’s distressed mother waiting for him at Liverpool Street Station feared never seeing him again.
Jacobs became a boarder at Randolph Caldecott Community School* in Maidstone, Kent, where the headmaster only employed women. Although there were several Jewish boys/girls, Jacobs was ‘seen as an enemy alien by other children so was desperate to be seen as British’. When evacuated to Oxford he attended Chipping Norton Grammar School for boys, and later Holloway School in Camden. He was ‘tremendously patriotic and has never forgotten Berlin’, but wanted to become naturalised as soon as possible’ – achieved in 1943. Consequently, he was called up in 1947 for military service and ‘was proud to be there because of the war’. He served in the Royal Signals, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars regiment, which in 1948 was deployed in Malaya and ‘fought terrorists’. He went on to read physics at Chelsea College of Science and Technology (University of London). In the meantime, his mother married Heinrich (Heini) Jacobs, a German refugee lawyer (interned on the Isle of Man during WWII). He officially adopted Tom.
Keen to ‘serve the country as best as possible’ Tom joined Mullard Ltd** research laboratory, then the technical, commercial and management department. He recalled feeling ‘scared initially’ when visiting Germany on business. Later, he joined MAC Consultants, and when aged 50 took a 1-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) teacher training course, and taught science in a Pimlico School.
After the death of Tom Jacob’s first wife, Evelyn Segal, with whom he had three children, he married Joyce in 1987, a non-Jewish civil servant. On his blood father’s side, contact was initially made by Christine (aided by Tom’s maternal uncle Hans Meyer) when preparing a book about the Stoltenhoff family. Tom is glad that he met his paternal family and stayed in contact. However, Tom’s grandmother, uncle Uli, aunt Anne Marie and cousin Michael perished in Auschwitz; Tom remains ‘constantly appalled’ by the atrocities.
*Named after Randolph Caldecott, a well-known 19th century artist, and illustrator of children’s books.
** Part of Dutch N V Philips
Anne Marie, Christine, Evelyn, Hans, Heini, Heinrich, Jacobs, Joyce, Michael, Meyer, Segal, Stoltenhoff, Suaanne, Tom, Uli. de Sélincourt, Oxford. Stolpersteine.
Auschwitz, Berlin, Dresden, evacuation, Germany, internment, Isle of Man, London, Malaya, military service, PGCE. Randolph Caldecott Community School. Chipping Norton Grammar School. Royal Signals, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. Chelsea College of Science and Technology
And many other secondary inferences that the Nazis were in charge, were part of my childhood. My grandfather had a- a shield on the fence, and they defaced it with an arrow and ‘Jude’ on the pavement. The nearest shop around the corner, an ice cream shop was similarly defaced. I couldn't in the park sit on benches. I had to sit on yellow benches, which were especially- for Jews only. So without understanding what was going on, I was after all, a real youngster, I was conscious that all was not well in our community.
My grandfather sought to teach me [English]. And there's a photo somewhere here, of me sitting on his lap, and he, using his textbook: a copy of The Times. It's not the best vehicle to teach in- a kid the language but he did his best. He was a lovely man, and he did his best.
So, quite suddenly, I was told I was going to be taken to London. Packed a little suitcase, was taken to the Hauptbahnhof, the main station in Berlin. And I remember my carers, an uncle and a grandparent, walking up and down the platform, saying to the people who were going on that train, “Fahren Sie nach London? Fahren Sie nach London? Fahren Sie nach London?” And in the end, they found a couple who not only were travelling to London, but were willing to take me with them. And so I said to my family, on the platform of the Hauptbahnhof, and of course, I never saw them again
They [the people he was travelling with from Berlin to London ] were photographers. And on the frontier with Holland, the Germans instituted a thing called “Eine Stichprobe”. It was a [random] sample- search of people who they thought might be smuggling, who were taken off the train. The train departed without us, so I - because I was in their care - was held back on the frontier while they went through a twenty-four hour search procedure. So I actually got onto the train on the following day. But being held back by the Nazis was, even for an eight-year-old, pretty scary.
I’m constantly, now, never not appalled at what the Germans did to the Jews. Appalled. I think it is inexplicably dreadful. And… immensely painful. I’m still very much a refugee. But nobody who worked in a concentration camp can be allowed- can be alive anymore. They’re all dead. And you can’t- I can’t carry my dismay and hatred of what went on. I don’t carry my dismay and hatred at what went on to the next generation. And I have perfectly sound, friendly, loving affectionate German relatives who are Aryans. And you can’t- I can’t run my life any other way. That’s just me. I’m very Jewish when anybody’s being anti-Semitic. And I love being in Jewish company.