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Klaus Hinrichsen

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
May/June 1939
Interview number:


Dr Anthony Grenville

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Klaus Hinrichsen’s family were from North Germany. On his father’s side the family dates back to the arrival of Jews from Portugal (Henriquez) in the 17th century. On the mother’s side, the family was solidly North German. Hinrichsen’s family was thoroughly assimilated L?beck patrician. His father attended the same school as Thomas Mann. 

Klaus was born in 1912, the oldest of four children. He was educated at Katharineum, L?beck. He had no experience of antisemitism. He studied at four universities and was able to complete his doctorate in Art History at Hamburg under the Nazi regime, but unfortunately had no prospect of obtaining a job in that field. He emigrated to Great Britain in 1939 to avoid military service. He was interned in 1940. He has detailed and very interesting memories of refugee artists on Isle of Man, especially Kurt Schwitters, Ernst Blensdorf and Erich Kahn. He married a Jewish refugee from Germany. His family (one daughter, one son) are now totally unreligious and very assimilated in British life. He set up Millgate Chemicals, supplying animal by-products for the pharmaceutical industry. He as written and lectured widely on artists in internment and is now an authority in the field. His parents survived the war unscathed thanks to friendly connections in L?beck. 


Full Interview


Professor of Art History Wilhelm Pinder, … was Hitler’s advisor on art. He was a brilliant lecturer, he was a brilliant man, but he rewrote the history of German art. Everything was German. And that of course went on in Hamburg later- The libraries were cleared, every book which had Jewish authors, there were book-burnings. And that was in ’33. The university was a shambles because all the time you had to listen to speeches and you had to parade around. But of the art historians, there were really no Nazis. We visited Berlin and chairman of the students of Art History, appeared and he was wearing an SS uniform, and we thought he was going to a fancy-dress party.

Then came the internment- They came, very early in the morning... In a Black Maria, to collect a German solicitor who was on the list. Anyway, so the landlady said, ‘But you took him yesterday’, so the policeman said, ‘Haven’t you got anybody else?’, so she said, ‘Yes, we have Mr. Hinrichsen’, so off I went.

First of all there was (Kurt) Schwitters- He arrived in Hutchinson and Richard Friedenthal, recognised him, and because I was in charge of the artists, he called me over and he said, ‘That is the notorious Kurt Schwitters’ and I knew of him, because of the degenerate art exhibition, …his abstracts, collages, were deliberately hung like this and they were in the section ‘Total Verrückt’. (‘Completely Insane’) And there’s a photo of Hitler standing in front of them, grinning inanely at this particular picture.

The windows were painted blue & the bulbs painted red. Some boffin had worked out that blue & red would be perfect blackout so we didn’t need any curtains. During the day we were sitting in an aquarium, at night in a brothel. Within minutes people started scratching the red paint off the bulbs, so there was no blackout whatsoever. And murder outside with the Manx population, who didn’t like it at all. We were already greeted with newspaper headlines: ‘The Huns steal our landladies’ houses!’. We were neither Huns nor was it our intention to steal anybody’s houses whatsoever. But these houses had all been relatively cheap boarding houses, they prided themselves to be continental, which means you didn’t have to be married to sign in. Well-equipped kitchens. It must have been the same boffin, who worked out that 3 people can sleep very well in 2 double beds. This being Germans, the first great battle was that somebody said, ‘I was an Officer in the German army. I cannot possibly share a bed with a Private’! All the Germans kept their titles, you were Herr Professor or Herr Doktor, you were Herr Kommerzienrat, this went on & on. Everybody was wearing hats, it was incredibly formal. Up to the bitter end I don’t think anyone ever called me Klaus - I was Herr Doktor Hinrichsen. Ja!

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