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Ralph Land

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
April 1939
Interview number:


Dr Jana Buresova

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Ralph (also Ralf) Land and his identical twin brother, Frank, were born on 24 October 1928, in Kaiserdamm, in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district. Louis, their Berlin-born father (1879-1967) manufactured air compressors; their Viennese mother, Sofia (née Weinberger, 15 November 1899-1999), was an artist. It was an assimilated, largely non-observant family; nevertheless, Ralph attended the Judische Schulverein elementary school in Kaiserdamm, and remembered a woman covered in blood running in during Kristallnacht in November 1938. He also remembered being forbidden to sit on benches in the park. The family lingered, hoping that the situation would improve, but the Nazis duly sequestered Louis Land’s business.


Travelling via the Hook of Holland and Harwich, Ralph and Frank arrived in London with their parents in April 1939, thanks to Louis’s older brother Frederick (also Friedrich), who had lived in Britain since the early 1930s and ‘provided a modest income  guarantee.’ First impressions of London were not favourable. The family had managed to bring some items from Berlin to Britain, but when they rented a small flat in Carlton Vale, Kilburn, found that their chandelier reached the floor! At the local primary school, the twins’ plus fours made them stand out, and ‘as Germans and Jews’ both boys experienced bullying, but they supported each other and soon learnt English. The family later lived in Ashford Court, Ashford Road, Cricklewood, where the residents were ‘mostly refugees’, Ralph recalled.


Two cousins, Peter and Miriam, also reached Britain (via the Kindertransport). Peter lodged with the twins, while Miriam stayed with Margaret, Louis’s older sister. With the onset of WWII, however, the boys were evacuated to Bedmond, near Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire – surprising their kindly hosts – a carpenter and his wife, who had expected girls! Leon was interned on the Isle of Man for 18 months, and although he had no direct communication with his sons, they cycled to London to visit their mother, thereby maintaining family contact.


To earn a living, Louis Land joined Printator, which made hair curlers then, frustrated, took on a company making broom handles. Meanwhile, his wife’s felt handbags were being successfully sold through West end and Mayfair shops, and Louis ultimately switched to helping with her dolls’ clothes project, organising the sales exclusively to Woolworths. The twins progressed from Willesden County Grammar School to the London School of Economics (LSE), taking the same course in economics, international trade, and transport, and became LSE research assistants before joining J. Lyons & Co.,  Frank first in 1952,  followed by Ralph. Both men were closely involved with LEO,  Ralph’s role being to run the LEO Computers service bureau.


Whereas the twin brothers’ trajectories had previously been virtually identical, their career pathways gradually diverged. Frank Land became Emeritus Professor of Information Systems at the LSE.  Ralph became an expert on trade in the then Soviet Union and Eastern Europe region.  He has worked for major companies such as Rank Xerox, and as a German speaker was Managing Director of ICL Germany. He has held numerous prominent positions, been called upon by e.g. the Department of Trade & Industry to lead trade missions, served on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Know How Fund advisory panel, and attended high-level functions at the Guildhall and 10 Downing Street. For ‘services to exports’, he was awarded an OBE in 1985, then a CBE in 1995.


Ralph Land’s interests and activities were not confined to business, however; they extended (inter alia) to politics and democracy, charitable works e.g. as President of the Rotary Club of London, and the arts e.g. as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Indeed, his wife Jacqueline (née Bourdin) from Tours, France, was an artist as well as a bilingual secretary. She was also a Catholic, though this was not an obstacle to their marriage in 1952/3.


Despite the émigré brothers’ success and many achievements, there was a sad facet of their lives: family members had been sent to Theresienstadt and concentration camps; their Uncle Robert survived a Nazi slave labour camp but committed suicide, and (his daughter), their depressed refugee cousin Miriam, did likewise. Whilst Frank has visited Germany and Ralph has lived and worked there, their parents did not wish to return. Efforts to secure compensation from Germany on behalf of Louis and the family for the loss of his business, pension, and his sons’ education, produced only minimal funds.


Significantly, although the twin brothers duly pursued different careers, developed their own interests, and married women with contrasting backgrounds, they have remained close.


Full Interview


They [the parents] tried not to show it [the struggle as a refugee] as far as we, we were concerned and so on. But it was a real struggle for them in a sense. But my mother showed her qualities in the sense because she could cope much more easily than my father. My father was a businessman, but she was an artist. And she made these- and she made these handbags. Brilliant things. She designed them… and… cut the cloth and, and so on. And then went out into the- into the fashion shops in, in, in Mayfair and in Regent Street and everywhere and showed them.

[ being evacuated to the countryside] The Women's Voluntary Service - the WVS - picked us up as we came- as all of us - the whole school. In a crocodile we walked up the village. And they knocked at each door and said, “I think you agreed you'd have two boys…” and, “you'd have two girls.” Nobody had agreed to have two German boys. Eh? So we were left right- right to the end. There was nobody else. Came to the last house of the village. And the- the husband was away. The wife… took the- took the risk on taking us. It was a brilliant success

And I think it's much better to be open and to be able to say things and explain. It really does widen the whole prospect of, of the whole issue of whether you're a refugee or a minority or something like that. I think we should be within the world, and not outside it. And, and - I think that’s hugely important. And, and we all see the fact that minorities… stick to themselves, feel the world is against them and so on. And that's very bad. You could open yourself to it.

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