The Gerson Family

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The Gerson Family

Press Cuttings of the Leyens Family, Erkelenz

Testimony of Heinz Samuel

Birth Certificate of Laura Leyens

Friendship Book of Laura Leyens

A Photograph Album

Brana Thorn (based on an interview with Hilda Laskey, nee Samuel, c. 1980)

Erna Leyens, nee Gerson, my grandmother, was one of six children. There were four girls and two boys. The eldest daughter was Hilda's mother, who married a Mr Samuels, and had four children: Hilda, Werner, Heinz and Helga. The family lived at Hüls, near Krefeld. Hilda was sent by her parents to England as a young woman in her 20s in order to find work and a home for herself, and her two brothers. She managed to find work for Heinz, the elder of the two sons, but their mother forbad him to come to England, because she did not want the two boys to be separated. In fact they were both captured and sent to a concentration camp where, because of their strength and youth, they were able to survive. Heinz met his wife in the Camp, and married her when they were liberated by the Russians before the end of the war, and sent to Sweden. Werner met his love in the Camp, and lived with her and her two sisters in Sweden after they were liberated. Their relationship was ended by the intervention of Hilda who quickly realised what the situation was going to be for her younger brother. Werner's fiancee was responsible for her two younger twin sisters, and so Werner was having to work extremely hard to support his fiancee and her sisters. They were also using Werner as a way to get themselves out of Sweden and into Israel.

Hilda was employed by the Laskey/Blum family and spent time caring for the old woman, and when she died, she told Hymie, her son, that he should either marry her, or she would go to Australia, to be with her brothers. She had to lend him some money at the Register office to pay for the stamp.

Werner and Heinz had been separated in the Camp, and neither knew if the other had survived. They were reunited completely by chance. Heinz was put in an isolation hospital in Sweden with tuberculosis, and when he was discharged, the person who was moved into his bed was Werner, who also had tuberculosis.

 

Jeni and Erna Gerson

Jenni Gerson married, and has two sons: Hors (George) and Albert, who live in America. Albert De Vries was a cattle dealer with a farm near San Francisco. He had two daughters. Hors lives in Los Angeles, and plays the piano. He is married with three sons: Gerry (married with children), Bobby (the youngest) and Danny.

 

Tante Jenni

Another sister, Zelma, married Otto Strauss, and lived in São Paolo, Brazil. Their son Werner died young, He died young of a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro. A son was involved in coffee planting, Their other son Helmut was killed in Holland, at the time of the Arnhem bombings. Their daughter Elsa is married with a daughter, Ruth. Ruth has two sons, who are said to be very intelligent.

Zelma Strauss, nee Gerson, and her husband Otto

Erna Leyens was the youngest, and the most beautiful and vivaceous of the sisters.

One brother, Felix, married Anna and they had three children. Before the war they moved to Holland. (There is a photograph of them outside their house in Holland with their servants.) They all died in the

The other brother, Georg, married and had two children. They all died in the war.

Georg and Felix Gerson

There are two pictures of their father, my great grandfather, in which he appears to be a very smart and upright man. Hilda confirms this. Erna, Mummy and I look like him.

Josef Gerson as a young man

 

Jenni, Karoline nee Kaufmann, Josef and Erna Gerson

Erna Leyens was a beautiful, strong woman who never ceased to amaze people with her energy and joyfulness. Hilda and Werner said that Mummy becomes more like Erna as she gets older. She was engaged to be married to max, the brother of Jenni's husband (two sisters were to marry two brothers). Max was wounded in combat, and lost his leg. Erna's father forbad her to marry Max as he was no longer respectable [presumably this made it difficult for him to work]. Max was heartbroken at the loss of his love, and quickly disintegrated. He took to drink and stealing. He eventually married an older woman, but never completely recovered, and was always down and out.

Jeni and Erna Leyens with a soldier friend

Erna was always stunning people. Hilda was 12 when Erna was to marry Leo Leyens, and was her chaperone before the wedding. The two had a warm, close relationship, and were never parted, more like sisters than aunt and niece. Hilda cried when Erna married, because she didn't want to lose her. The Leyens family were very well known, and much respected family in the area, and far more religious than the Gersons. Hilda says that Erna changed Leo's life in that respect. Leo had inherited the family business, cattle dealers, and also a large drapery business. Before they were married Erna used to run the drapery business, and lived in the house with Leo for a while, which was why Hilda was her chaperone. The house they lived in was enormous. There is a picture of Erna and her daughter, Mummy, outside the big house with the servant girls. There was a blue room, a pink room, a green room and so on. Hilda can remember going out with Erna on business to the wholesalers to buy stock for the drapers. She recalls how all the people were happy when in Erna's company, and Hilda was treated with great respect by all. Once they went into a patisserie and were invited by a male stranger to join him for coffee and cakes. Hilda never mentioned anything afterwards, because it was not 'right' - Erna was engaged, and was being chatted up. The man bought Hilda an enormous Easter egg.


 

Karoline Gerson, nee Kaufmann, Erna's mother

Hier ruht meine innigstgeliebte Gattin unsere unvergessliche gute Mutter

Frau Karoline Gerson geb. Kaufmann

geb. 2.7.1854

gest. 2.11.1919

und unser unvergesslicher guter Vater

Herr Josef Gerson

geb. 22.12.1851

gest. 4.8.24


Erna and Leo were married in 1923 [?], and Mummy was born on November 30th, 1924. They lived in the big house for a couple of years, and then the troubles for the Jews commenced. They were forced to leave their big house because of the circumstances. (Not, as Elsa Metzger, commented, because Leo was not a good businessman, like his father, and had let the family business run down.) The rise of Nazism forced them to move, to a smaller house, but circumstances continued to grow worse for them, so that they moved again, to an even smaller house, which they had to share with another family. [In fact, they lived wuth Alfred Rubens, the widower husband of Helene Leyens, half-sister of Leo's father Gottschalk.] Mummy remembers the Nazis coming and smashing their shutters, and taking away her father. Mummy and Gerry made one unsuccessful attempt to leave Germany at night, but were unable to get out to Holland. Eventually, in April 1939, Mummy and Gerry escaped to England. Mummy's certificate from Nazi Germany has the swastika on it, and she is named Hanna Leonora, with the addendum that she has the forename Sara, added by the Nazi race laws.

I asked Hilda why the rich relations on Leo's side of the family did not help, people like Marta and Max. She said that they were difficult times for everyone, and that everybody had to fight so hard for themselves and their immediate family. The others were too distant, and also had no real power to help. Hilda fought desperately to get her two brothers, her younger sister and her parents out. Her parents and younger sister died.


Leo Leyens: the last photograph