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The German Jews who came to Newbury to escape the Nazis before the Second World War in 1939





Two German Jews came to Newbury to escape the Nazis in a story echoing modern-day struggles for refugees.

“At school, I was always the ‘bloody Nazi’. I soon learnt to live with that,” said Newbury man, Eric Rein, aged 80.

Eric Rein inspecting the wealth of material left to him by his parents, both German-Jewish refugees
Eric Rein inspecting the wealth of material left to him by his parents, both German-Jewish refugees

As part of World Refugee Week (June 17 to 23), I spoke to Eric about his German-Jewish parents, who found sanctuary in Newbury after fleeing their homeland.

Eric, a retired electronic technician and senior design engineer, is not a practicing Jew.

“I haven’t been in a synagogue in my life,” he said. Nor were his parents.

A young Eric Rein. Credit: Eric Rein
A young Eric Rein. Credit: Eric Rein

But this mattered little to the Nazis, whose racist oppression against German and Austrian Jews reached unprecedented extremes in 1938.

From August that year, new anti-Semitic legislation required Jewish men and women to insert ‘Israel’ or ‘Sara’ into their names if their forenames did not appear on a list of state-approved Jewish names.

Passport issued in Nazi Germany. Credit: Eric Rein
Passport issued in Nazi Germany. Credit: Eric Rein
German Passport issued to Herbert Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein
German Passport issued to Herbert Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein

All German Jews carried identity cards and had their passports stamped with a red ‘J’.

The Nazis’ campaign of public alienation and discrimination culminated in a wave of street violence targeting Jewish homes and businesses, known as Kristallnacht – the ‘Night of the Broken Glass’.

Jewish Identity Card stamped ‘J’ for ‘Jude’. Credit: Eric Rein
Jewish Identity Card stamped ‘J’ for ‘Jude’. Credit: Eric Rein

Eric’s father, Herbert Rein, was born in 1903 in Marienwerder, West Prussia – part of Poland since 1945.

He moved to Berlin in 1905, where he worked as a women’s hairdresser and met his future wife, Wanda Czapski, born in 1911 to a wealthy tailoring family in west Berlin.

Herbert Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein
Wanda Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein
Wanda Rein in 1939. Credit: Eric Rein

Eric recalled how his parents once avoided a confrontation with some fascist thugs outside a tube station by engaging in a quick-thinking public display of affection.

Herbert and Wanda married in April 1939. But one month later, Herbert obtained a visa and fled to England.

Eric and Wanda Rein on their wedding day in Berlin in April 1939. Credit: Eric Rein
Eric and Wanda Rein on their wedding day in Berlin in April 1939. Credit: Eric Rein

“He had tickets to go to England,” Eric explained. “He had to be single, but he was getting married that Saturday.

“He paid a fee and left on Sunday on the ferry. My mother wouldn’t go as her mother had died young and she was very close to her father.”

Wanda with her father, Erich Czapski. Credit: Eric Rein
Wanda with her father, Erich Czapski. Credit: Eric Rein

Herbert arrived at Southampton on May 1, but it would be six years until he and his family could settle in Newbury.

He had entered the UK under an agricultural scheme organised by the Council for German Jewry, which placed young Jewish refugees on farms and in training hostels to prepare them for emigration to the British Colonies, America or Palestine – or at least, that was the intention.

He resided with at least 150 refugees at Tythrop House in Buckinghamshire – which previously hosted Jewish Kindertransport refugees and Basque children fleeing the Spanish Civil War.

He acted as an interpreter and resident barber for the whole establishment, and performed agricultural duties at nearby Foxhill Farm in Kingsey.

“He got my mother a visa, so she did eventually leave Berlin,” Eric added.

Wanda arrived in July 1939 at Harwich, travelling via Holland. She also came to Tythrop House as an agricultural trainee.

But the house and estate, owned by Magdalen College, was requisitioned by the War Office in 1940, ending its function as a refugee sanctuary.

British Certificate of Registration issued to foreign 'aliens' during the war. Credit: Eric Rein
British Certificate of Registration issued to foreign 'aliens' during the war. Credit: Eric Rein

That February, Herbert enlisted in the Pioneer Corps – the first in his community to do so.

But Herbert and Wanda were treated as ‘enemy aliens’ at first rather than as refugees.

“They didn’t know if they could trust them initially,” said Eric. “They didn’t know whether he was a spy.”

But his father’s service in HM Armed Forces exempted them both from the special restrictions and internment forced on thousands of ‘foreign enemy aliens’ across the UK under the Aliens Order 1920.

One of the largest internment camps was on the Isle of Man.

Wanda lived in a flat at Oxford, where her eldest daughter, Kathleen, was born in 1940.

She wrote to her father Erich Czapski – Eric’s namesake – to relay the news.

A letter Wanda Rein sent to her father via the British Red Cross in August 1940. It reads: “Dearest Father, our Kathleen (Eric’s elder sister) arrived on July 25. We are healthy and happy. How are you? Greetings, Children.” Credit: Eric Rein
A letter Wanda Rein sent to her father via the British Red Cross in August 1940. It reads: “Dearest Father, our Kathleen (Eric’s elder sister) arrived on July 25. We are healthy and happy. How are you? Greetings, Children.” Credit: Eric Rein

But they later learned her father had been murdered at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp around 1942.

“She found talking about the war impossible,” Eric added. “She never forgave herself for leaving. But she had to leave, or she would have been killed.

“Unlike most Jewish people who came over during the war, they didn’t want to live in a Jewish cluster in London, because they didn’t know who was going to win the war.

“If it was Germany, they wanted to be lost in the countryside.”

The Rein family. Credit: Eric Rein
The Rein family. Credit: Eric Rein

And so, Herbert and his family moved to Newbury, where Eric was born at Sandleford Hospital in 1944.

Herbert was discharged from the Army in August 1945.

The family changed addresses multiple times, reporting their movements to the Berkshire Constabulary.

Failure to do so could result in a £100 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

Eric and Kathleen Rein, wearing her Shaw House school uniform, in 1952. Kathleen now lives in Banbury. Credit: Eric Rein
Eric and Kathleen Rein, wearing her Shaw House school uniform, in 1952. Kathleen now lives in Banbury. Credit: Eric Rein

“Most of them changed their names to English names, but they decided they didn’t want to,” said Eric.

They initially considered converting to Catholicism. Instead, the whole family decided to be christened at St Nicolas Church by the Rev Bertram Russell when Eric was 11.

RP Bradshaw Hairdresser in Bartholomew Street, by St Nicolas Church. Credit: Jim Bradshaw
RP Bradshaw Hairdresser in Bartholomew Street, by St Nicolas Church. Credit: Jim Bradshaw

Herbert joined RP Bradshaw Hairdresser in Bartholomew Street as a men’s hairdresser in September 1945, where he worked until his retirement.

RP Bradshaw Hairdresser in Bartholomew Street — now La La Vintage. Credit: Jim Bradshaw
RP Bradshaw Hairdresser in Bartholomew Street — now La La Vintage. Credit: Jim Bradshaw

He appeared to be close to his employer, Robert Percy Bradshaw, who described him as an “honest, willing, reliable and conscientious worker.”

Robert Percy Bradshaw and his wife stood centre with their workers. Credit: Jim Bradshaw
Robert Percy Bradshaw and his wife stood centre with their workers. Credit: Jim Bradshaw

In February 1947, Herbert successfully applied to the Home Office to become a naturalised British citizen.

He signed an oath of allegiance, which was countersigned by Mayor and Justice of the Peace for Newbury, Albert Victor Bradshaw – Robert Percy’s elder brother.

As his wife, Wanda was also made a naturalised British citizen.

Herbert Rein in 1947. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert Rein in 1947. Credit: Eric Rein

The Reins visited Germany after the war, including Wanda’s late father’s flat, but chose not to return.

“West Germany made it very attractive for people who had been expelled to return,” said Eric.

“They would have been given a house and other benefits. But they thought they would be resented by the [German] locals and dismissed the idea.”

Herbert received compensation and his pension. But Wanda was never compensated for the loss of her family business.

Citizenship could be restored to German Jews who had fled abroad under Article 116, section 2 of the Basic Law. But Herbert and Wanda never applied for this.

Herbert mixed in German circles in Newbury where he inevitably met former German POWs like Eugen Clemens, whose story featured in the NWN Thursday, February 23, 2023 issue.

The Rein family in 1957. Credit: Eric Rein
The Rein family in 1957. Credit: Eric Rein

“They were part of a German group that met up,” Eric added. “I never remember any animosity. I used to go with them most of the time.”

The Rein family outside The Gun pub in Wash Common. Credit: Eric Rein
The Rein family outside The Gun pub in Wash Common. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert and Eric Rein, wearing his Park House School uniform, in 1960. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert and Eric Rein, wearing his Park House School uniform, in 1960. Credit: Eric Rein

Wanda died at her Wash Common home in 1963. Herbert remarried in 1965 and died two years later at Newbury District Hospital.

“They both loved Newbury and never considered moving anywhere else,” Eric said of his parents.

Herbert Rein in 1975. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert Rein in 1975. Credit: Eric Rein
Eric Rein, 80, now lives in Byron Close, Newbury with his wife Sheila
Eric Rein, 80, now lives in Byron Close, Newbury with his wife Sheila

Speaking about early life in Newbury, Eric added: “They didn’t want me to speak German.

“They couldn’t speak English, but they didn’t want me to learn German, because they couldn’t have me running around the streets speaking German just after the war.”

Eric gained his German citizenship in 2022.

Eric holding his German Passport he obtained in 2022
Eric holding his German Passport he obtained in 2022

“There was a big ceremony at the German Embassy,” he said. “I went on my own. It was all very formal.”

Herbert and Eric in Russell Road, Newbury in 1948. Credit: Eric Rein
Herbert and Eric in Russell Road, Newbury in 1948. Credit: Eric Rein

Eric lives in Newbury with his wife, Sheila. They have two children and six grandchildren.



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