With the help of a Catholic priest, the family escape from Germany.
W.G: My father was released and came home and so then we immediately made an effort to get out of Germany, and to get out of Germany it was not feasible to use public transportation because it was too dangerous and with two kids you would be held up all over the place as we were at the border, so my father’s First World War friend, who he was with right through the four years at the French Front, Franz Grosse-Wietfeld, he drove us to the border. He was able to do this because he was a Catholic priest and he was Papal Nuncio to Westphalia, which meant he was a fairly high-ranking individual.
He was the Vatican’s representative to Westphalia, Münster being a largely Catholic area, and most people there were Catholic. Archbishop von Galen, who was a very interesting individual, was Archbishop at the time but Franz Grosse-Wietfeld didn’t have the okay of the Catholic Church at the time.
The Catholic church were having trouble with some of their own priests like Franz Grosse-Wietfeld who were helping political prisoners who were unjustly being put under pressure and Jews as well, so, but just for the record, the Rabbi [Dr Julius Voos] in Münster who had been there for some years, after Kristallnacht went to seek an audience with Archbishop von Galenabout the pressures that Jews were being put under and being put to death and so on and the Archbishop’s reply was, essentially, ‘You brought it on yourselves. You didn’t accept Christ’.
You can check that out with the book and that was the general attitude. But the fact that people were people – well, Jews apparently weren’t people, even though Jesus was a Jew. But nevertheless I have to emphasise that a Catholic priest – Franz Grosse-Wietfeld, saved my life.No doubt about it because when we got to the border…
I spoke to Uncle Franz in 1951 when I was back in with my mother and I said, ‘What exactly happened at the border’. He said, ‘Well, you know, we went to the border and Franz was a big guy and his nickname was Kürbiskopf, which meant cabbage head [pumpkin head], amongst his friends and clerical colleagues.
He was a big guy, and this little SS guy was trying to give my father problems even though all the papers were in order. He was saying, ‘You have to do this and this’ and so on. Franz walked in front of my father, right in front of this little guy whose nose made it all the way up to the middle of his chest and he said in German ‘Tu mir was’ or as Clint Eastwood would say, ‘Make my day’.
He may hit me but Franz Grosse-Wietfeld would have knocked him really but he had to have the first and then he waved my father and my mother and us over the border and gave him papers and Franz Grosse-Wietfeld said it was that simple.
And he didn’t do himself much good because as a result of his attitude he was put under considerable pressure during the war. All sorts of things like phoning him up at two o’clock in the morning and no one would be on the phone, but he had to answer the phone because as a priest he had to say Last Rights and so on so he couldn’t just say, ‘To hell with the phone!’ so there were all sorts of ways of putting pressure on people.
INT: Did he survive the war?
WG: Yes he did. He actually died in a train accident in 1961 but he survived the war.
INT: Was he arrested or put in a concentration camp?
WG: No, no he wasn’t; no they couldn’t. Münster was pretty solidly Catholic and Von Galen’s attitude was rabidly anti-Nazi, completely.
Now he had a reason because he was actually Graf von Galen.He was landed aristocracy and he gave his title to his younger brother so he wasn’t just an archbishop, he was really somebody, nobility so to speak, and had fantastic sway so even the Nazis couldn’t quite grab this guy; they couldn’t do it. They never went in the Dom, which is the cathedral, so he was an absolute German patriot.
The German aristocracy really weren’t Nazis; they wouldn’t lower themselves to become members of the Nazi Party to start with. That doesn’t mean to say they weren’t financiers of the Nazi Party but I spoke to some of them after the war. It’s interesting.
INT: So you’re in Holland with no car. How did you get…?
WG: Well we were picked up in the morning by my mother’s uncle. My grandfather had three brothers and a sister and one of them lived in Holland. I believe they’d moved there before 1930. His wife was Dutch, I guess, and they didn’t survive the war, though, but that’s another one and we were there a week.
So a week before the outbreak of the Second World War, a week before the end of August, we went to Britain. We moved to Britain.
My father had managed to get a transit visa to Britain. He wanted actually to get a complete visa for the whole bunch to Britain but couldn’t, but he got a three months transit visa through a cousin of his who was already in Britain, who went in 1933.
INT: So he managed to get you visas?
WG: He got us transit visas for three months so we were in Britain and so after a week in Britain the war broke out and all transportation was stopped.
Then we were actually in London with the cousin of my mother’s, my mother’s aunt, and then all Jews that were illegal aliens, which we were, weren’t allowed to stay there because it was a strategic area and they figured there would be an invasion and why would they need German spies there, which we were considered to be – what do they know about us – so we had to get out of there so we went to Manchester en route to Glasgow.