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George Summerfield

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
27 August 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

George Summerfield was born Heinz Günther Sommerfeld in Berlin in June 1933 to parents Margot and Franz Sommerfeld. He is the twin of interviewee Peter Summerfield. His father Franz was a civil servant who lost his job shortly after Hitler came to power. The family depended on mother Margot, a haute couture dressmaker, to support the family. George and his twin were sent to a Jewish kindergarten. Their mother would take them there by tram. On the 10th of November 1938, on the way to the kindergarten, from the window of the tram, they saw the Fasanenstrasse synagogue burn. George recalls the sense of dread as they had recently been to the synagogue for an event for children at Simchat Torah.

His parents had tried to find ways to emigrate since 1935. In 1938 the family managed to register for a visa to the USA. They were sponsored by a distant relative. While preparing their belongings to send on a crate to the USA, a Gestapo man came to their flat to supervise the packing. Their visa came through in August 1939 and the family bought boat tickets to travel to the USA via the UK.

They were supposed to travel on the 30th of August but on Saturday the 26th, Peter’s grandmother came to their flat very early in the morning and urged them to leave sooner, as she had listened illegally to BBC radio and it was clear to her that war was imminent. Peter’s parents wanted to take her advice and leave earlier but could not afford the train tickets to the UK. When they asked the caretaker, Mr Schädler, if he could loan them money, he agreed and they boarded the train that Saturday evening.

On their arrival at Liverpool Street station, the Central British Fund picked the family up and put them in a hotel for two weeks. Shortly after, they moved to a room in Chiswick, where George and Peter were given places at Chiswick and Bedford Park High school. The family later moved to Eastbourne. From there, George’s father was arrested and interned on the Isle of Man. George, Peter and his mother moved back to London, as ‘enemy aliens’ were not allowed to stay on the coast. They lived in a room in Chalk Farm and spent every night in Tottenham Court Road Underground Station because of the Blitz. They boys first went to a local primary school where they were bullied as ‘Germans’ but then the Hall School in Swiss Cottage offered them two places for one school fee.

The family joined Belsize Square Synagogue. George and Peter were the only two children of that age in the community. They also started performing, singing and tap dancing for the synagogue, the Blue Danube Club and for American troops. George and Peter went to William Ellis Grammar School and received scholarships to study in Oxford. They completed their National Service and were sent on active duty to Egypt and Malta.

Their lives developed for a long time parallel to one another until George decided not work as a lawyer but to use his language skills to start a career in the tourism industry, and later as career consultant. He had two children with his first wife Giselle who died in 1991. George remarried Marion and enjoys spending time with her and his brother Peter and wife Marianne.

In 2021 George participated in a BBC film series called ‘Saved by a Stranger’ and was put in touch with the son of Rolf Schädler, the caretaker who saved their lives. George’s parents had been in touch with Rolf after the war and they repaid the money they owned him and send some care packages but then lost touch with the family. George was very pleased to be able to meet Rolf’s son on Zoom (Due to Covid-19).

Key words: Berlin. Transit Visa to UK. Visa for USA. Late escape from Berlin. Eastbourne. Twin Performers. Blue Danube. Belsize Square Synagogue. Swiss Cottage. The Hall School. William Ellis Grammar School. Military Service in Egypt. Oxford University. Career Analysts. BBC Saved by a Stranger. Memoirs.


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