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Fred Jonas

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1957 from Berlin
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Fred Jonas was born in Leipzig to German Jewish parents. His father had British nationality after living in South Africa for a number of years during the Boer War. His parents married in 1911 and lived in Bremerhaven and then Leipzig in Nordvierter – Kleiststrasse. Fred was the second of 3 boys and was brought up in a liberal Jewish household. He belonged to the scouts and the Kamaraden. His older brother joined the Socialists and Fred also became involved with them. Then his brother joined the Communist Party for which he was eventually imprisoned in 1935 and later sent to Concentration Camp. The family moved to a ground floor flat on Hallischestrasse. The family kept Jewish and non Jewish customs and they attended the Great Synagogue on a Friday night. He attended state schools, a private school and an Art School and began working as a display artist in a large department store. When he was dismissed from the job in 1934 he appealed in court and was given a position in another store. He was then transferred to a smaller store in Bautzen near the Czech border. He belonged to the Association of Display Artists and in 1935/6 was sent a letter stating Jews could not belong to this organization. He decided to emigrate and a Jewish Organisation in Leipzig helped him find somewhere in South Africa. He emigrated in October 1936 and his mother’s brother lived there and gave him some help. He went to Johannesburg and began sign writing in a small town called Germiston, and then he began window dressing there and rented a room there. He was successful and he brought over his parents in Sept 1938. His younger brother would not leave until his older brother was released from prison. 

The family went to live in Germiston and his father worked as his collector. He then started in stage design and joined a left club and then the Communist Party. He helped to produce propaganda for the party and the group leader, Dr Dadoo helped him set up a studio and he started silk screen printing. Eventually Fred moved into his own flat. He met Ann a nurse in the army, whose family were originally from Lithuania and they married in 1946. In 1947 Gerald was born and in 1949 Vicki. Since there was no suitable nursery school available Fred and Ann started a Montessori Nursery School and this grew to over 100 children. Then Fred contracted polio and they had to sell the school. They decided to go to Germany to visit Horst, the older brother who survived and they settled there. Horst was a police chief in the Russian sector. Fred got a job in the same department store doing screen printing but due to opposition he gave this up and became an interpreter. However he was expected to take tours to one of the concentration camps and he found this too much. He stayed in Germany 2½ years and then they came to England to London where he joined a signwriter studio and joined CND. He worked in Harrods in the display dept. He also received restitution money at this time. His parents came to visit Horst in Germany and Fred’s father fell ill. They went to West Germany and Fred and family went to live there to help them. Fred sold Encyclopaedia Britannica and worked for the Foreign Office bookkeeping and bar duty. Then Ann and Fred set up a school of English in West Berlin, called GB English. They employed 3 teachers and a secretary and organized flights to England for finishing courses. Their school fed English Schools. After a while they decided to open their own school in England and they purchased a large house, Laneswood, in spacious grounds near Reading where Queen Wilhemina had lived during the war. It cost £65,000 and they received help from the bank. This was about 1960. They organized for students to come from Berlin and they lived there. They stayed there for 5-6 years and then sold the property to a developer. They bought a flat in London for their daughter and rented a house in Cheadle Hulme, where a cousin of Fred’s lived. They stayed there whilst looking for somewhere to buy and eventually bought their present house in Macclesfield. 


Full Interview


Nationality? I am an internationalist. Obviously. That’s the short answer. I am not proud or ashamed of any, except of course when the Germans said, ‘you are no longer German now, you are a Jew therefore you are not a German’. I was born there, my parents were born there, my grandparents were born there - for all I know my great-grandparents.

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