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Ralph Steiner

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


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Ralph Steiner was born in December 1934 in Berlin. His mother’s family company, A&S Segall, were Berlin-based furriers. She had attended finishing school in the 1920s in London, a connection which later helped her find a guarantor when they wanted to emigrate to London.

In 1938 Ralph's mother saw that the situation for Jews in Germany was untenable. She sent Ralph and his nanny to Switzerland to organise the family’s emigration to the UK. Ralph’s teddy bear was stuffed with money for the stay and it was so well disguised that the German border guard didn’t find it. His father, meanwhile, was interned in Dachau but Ralph’s mother managed to get him out. His parents managed to get to Switzerland and flew from Zurich to London.

Ralph attended nursery school in Hampstead Garden Suburb. The family managed financially as their fur company had a branch in London: Hermann Wolff& Co, in Upper Thames Street. His father worked in the company, and was also briefly involved with the MI9, a splinter group of military intelligence which assisted British spies abroad. His clothes, shoes and underwear were used as templates for agent clothing, and their labels redeployed for spies operating on the Continent. His typewriter was used to produce false documents. Ralph still has the typewriter. Ralph remembers taking shelter from the Blitz and collecting shrapnel with his friend. He was evacuated to North Wales as the V1 and V2 attacks were taking place. Ralph wasn’t traumatised but remembers it rather as exciting times for a boy. In 1943 his brother was born.

After primary school, Ralph had his bar mitzvah and went to a boarding school, Badingham College in Surrey. After finishing school, he joined the Royal Air Force where he trained as a navigator. He enjoyed his technical training, which became the foundation for his later commercial activities. After leaving the RAF, he studied at the College of Aeronautical and Automobile Engineering. He turned his life-long passion for motor cars and aeroplanes into a business, Tungsten Automobile Developments. He remembers many wonderful customers, among them Roger Moore with his Saint car and Peter Sellars with his Mini. He married his first Swedish wife in 1954 and raised a family in Arkley. Peter got his flying licence, bought his first aircraft and enjoyed flying to many places, such as Switzerland and Sweden. With his second wife he enjoys family life and his message to us is: “You need discipline and respect, otherwise a society can’t work. And be happy. Make happy. It’s positive. Don’t look at the negatives. Don’t waste your valuable time ‘cos lives are short.”

Additional Comments:

Key words: Berlin. Ulm. MI9. Blitz. Badingham College in Surrey.RAF. A&S Segall. Hermann Wolff& Co. Adolf Galland- ace pilot of the Luftwaffe.


Full Interview


My father was involved with MI9. Now MI9 was an organisation splinter group of military intelligence for avoidance and evasion of being captured on the continent, to help the pilots and people escape back to England. Very interesting history on its own. And one day some gentlemen turned up at my – in Belvedere Court and they discussed with my father all the German connections he had. They took his clothes, some clothes away, they took some of his shoes away, they took his underwear away. Wherever there were labels and indications of how the suits and how the Germans made the shoes. The shoelaces were different. The buttonholes apparently in a German suit were different to a British suit. So, they learnt all that from my father who helped them out, and then he had a German typewriter which they said, ‘Can it be used to do false documentations?’ And he was then involved in going to Marylebone Hotel, the grand hotel there, where MI9 was operating and he was making documents with one of his colleagues, false documents, with this German typewriter which I’ve still got here incidentally.

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