I visited mummy on Rosh Hashanah afternoon. She was too ill to join us in shul in the morning but as ever she was interested to know what she had missed, and particularly what Rabbi Mark’s sermon had been about? So I told her about the new project for the coming year – the rabbis were hoping to meet as many members of the community as possible to ask them the simple but profound question, “What inspires you?”. I could see that mummy was thinking about this, and, knowing that any time in conversation with her was increasingly precious, I asked her what would be her answer. “Personal courage”, she said, “and loving kindness”, citing Janusz Korczak as the embodiment of these qualities. Korczak was a Polish author, social worker and pioneer in children’s education. He insisted on accompanying two hundred orphans in his care to Treblinka extermination camp, where he shared their death in 1942.
These qualities, which inspired her, seemed to resonate so deeply with our mother’s own life and experience…
Anne Loebl died at the age of eighty one on Friday afternoon, four months after she was diagnosed with an advanced, incurable cancer. She started life as Annalise Wertheimer, born in Prague on 20 December 1931 to parents Helena (Hella) and Jan. They already had a son, Franticek, who was five years old. They were a close, well-educated family. Her father was a lawyer. Anne’s first seven years were happy ones, and the essence of her character was clearly fully formed by the time the war was about to break out and her parents sent her to safety in England on one of Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport trains.
Only as a mother herself, then maybe perhaps even more so with the perspective as a grandmother did Anne fully appreciate the courage of her parents, and especially her mother. We understand there was an intention
Books became her escape from reality into the world of her imagination
for her brother to follow, but Anne’s train, in July 1939, was the last to leave Prague and Franticek, Hella and Jan were deported to Terezin and then murdered in Auschwitz.
Anne’s departure from her family and her survival were a hugely heavy legacy for her to bear and the trauma was a defining and formative part of her being. The years of childhood and adolescence which followed her arrival in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in a Jewish foster family were difficult and not happy. But Anne was a bright and spirited girl who shone at school, becoming the first refugee girl in the city to matriculate. In fact, she won a scholarship to read English Literature at Royal Holloway in London, although she did not take this up, as she met our father that summer. They were married on her nineteenth birthday and she went to Newcastle University instead.
I think making her own family was the ultimate justification for her life and her greatest joy. Her three children, seven grandchildren (Kate and Sam, Galit and Yoni, Daniel, Sarah and Joseph), and two great-grandchildren (Max and Theo), who she loved unconditionally, were her everything. She made few, if any, demands, but in return was truly loved and appreciated. We all have happy memories of her, singing Mozart arias or Schubert lieder (especially the terrifying “Earl King”). She loved all dancing, from the Scottish Gay Gordons to ballroom and Israeli folk. She loved talking to people, whether they were new-born babies, or strangers she met on her 268 bus ride from Belsize Park to Swiss Cottage Waitrose.
In her younger days, she communed with nature, wild-water swimming in the mountain pools in Northumberland, and then the murky waters of the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. Our children remember her playing coits with them in her Hillfield Court garden and drawing games on pieces of paper, and special outings to the Royal Academy.
Anne was artistic and creative, with a tremendous natural elegance and style. She was gentle and modest and always polite, with an amazing memory for people’s names. She was interested in the world and current affairs – what you might call a “news junkie”. Dignified, charming, intelligent, independent, and although not obviously robust, she had an inner strength that ensured her resilience from childhood right up to and including the horrible illness which crept up on her and took away her health and vitality in the last months of her life.
Anne was a teacher. When Naomi was small and there was not a local kindergarten, she set one up in our home. She later became a lecturer in higher education. But she really found her vocation after taking a diploma in “The uses of drama in education” with the legendary Dorothy Heathcote. Anne used her skills to further Holocaust education in schools, talking to young people from a personal perspective, which she pushed herself to do, despite the stress this involved.
Apart from her family, above all else, the central theme of Anne’s life was her devotion to literature. At a young age, her own reality had disappeared and her most important people could only live on in her imagination. Books became her escape from reality into the world of her imagination and her self-proclaimed anaesthetic. By the time of her death, Anne had exhausted the offerings of all the libraries in Camden and Westminster. In hospital and at home we did our best to feed this appetite for novels. She had a phenomenal memory for words, and could reel off screeds of obscure Anglo-Saxon text from university days, as well as charmingly quoting Christopher Marlow’s poetry and “The Owl and the Pussycat” from her sick-bed. Her main passions were for Dickens and Shakespeare. Anne’s eldest grandchild, Kate, fondly remembers them reciting passages of Shakespeare together, especially from Anne’s favourite play, “The Tempest”, and her favourite character, Caliban.
Our mother did not have an easy life, and in many ways, she remained obsessed by the Holocaust and her need to make some sort of sense of what had happened. She may have had her private struggles, but she was not a gloomy person. Not long before her illness became evident, I remember her saying that she felt very lucky and that she had had a good life.
Our mother told us that she did not believe in God. Judaism to her meant community and continuity. Having and bringing up her own Jewish children was a response to the attempted annihilation and ensured Hitler was not victorious. But she was a truly spiritual woman. The prayer which probably meant the most to her was Hashkiveinu in the daily evening service. This speaks of being sheltered in the shadow of God’s wings, being guarded when we go out and when we come in to enjoy life and peace both now and forever. I think mummy yearned for the protection of her parents, since leaving them as a seven year old child. Despite having to manage without them her life was full of personal courage and loving kindness, which will continue to influence and inspire us all.
We pray that now she will find an everlasting place of safety and peace in the shadow of God’s wings.
Think of an hourglass, the simplest and most beautiful of clocks, with fine sand emptying steadily and smoothly. At first, the reservoir seems to empty slowly, apparently accelerating as the channel of grains streams through the narrow opening. If you are swift and watchful, you can turn the glass just before the clock stops, and begin time again.
To my brother Sam and I, and to her great-grandsons Max and Theo, she was Granpuss. To our cousins Yonatan and Galit, she was Grandma Anne. To Daniel, Sarah and Joseph she was Grandee. To Naomi she was Ma, to Robert she was Mother, and to Miriam she was Mummy. To her husband Herbert, and to her son-in-laws David and Stephen and daughter-in-law Nina, and to many of you, she was Anne, very occasionally teased as Annie. To others she was Mrs Loebl. As a teenager she was Anna. And at the start she was Annalise, daughter of Jan and Helena Wertheimer, sister of Frantisek, who lived at number 29 Schnellova, in Prague.
From the tiny number of photographs, we guess that she was an energetic, cheeky, clever, imaginative, kind, brave and bold child, our guesses in part shaped by our knowledge of the person she was to become. She remembered the smell of lilac in springtime, ice-skating on the frozen River Vlatava, family holidays by the sea, and skiing in the mountains – all things she continued to love in later decades. One of the pieces of music I associate with Granpuss is MaVlast, by Smetana, the deeply patriotic musical journey of the river from its origin as a stream in the Carpathian mountains, through her country and her
I don’t know when she knew that she would never see her parents or her brother again
city, toward the sea. If you do not know MaVlast, or haven’t heard it for a while, maybe listen to a recording while you are thinking of Anne.
By 1939, Prague was no longer a safe home, and Annalise’s parents managed to obtain a visa for her to travel across Germany by train and then across the sea to England on a Kindertransport. The visa was issued on 18 July, was valid for only four days, and on 20 July her papers were stamped at Harwich with the grand words “Leave to Land Granted”– she had made her escape, seven years-old and alone, on the last of such trains to leave Czechoslovakia. I do not know when she knew that she would never see her parents or her brother again. There must have been years of waiting and worrying, hope perhaps never quite disappearing even when all possible evidence indicated that they had not survived. The sand in the hourglass of her family had almost run out, alongside so many others, and with it everything that Anna’s world had comprised. Just in time, her glass was upended and Anna carried life forward into an entirely different universe where memories and imagination mingled with reality.
The new world was colder, quite grey and usually damp Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where she was fostered, later being evacuated to Carlisle. Her new home, in a deeper sense, was the English language. Granpuss had a wonderful voice, in tone, vocabulary and phrase, for thoughtful and interesting conversation, for reciting poetry and her beloved Shakespeare, and a warm clear alto for singing operatic arias and folk songs. Not a trace of an accent, either Czech or Geordie, but with no rehearsed affectation either – just a unique, gentle, lilting communication that was a joy to listen to and to share. Through her teenage years she must somehow have found this voice, using it in friendships, on the stage, and on the written page. She was a gifted pupil, putting herself forward for a university education and working hard to win a scholarship to study English in London. What a triumph for a refugee child with no family support, only intelligence, creativity and determination.
But the hourglass turned one hundred and eighty degrees, at an exciting dance party in Newcastle when she was eighteen years old. Beautiful, spirited Anna attracted the attention of tall, witty, handsome and ambitious Herbert, a German boy eight years her senior. They were married on her nineteenth birthday, and moved into the attic of her mother-in-law Marie’s house (not quite what Anne had anticipated as the next page of the fairy story). Herbert’s burgeoning business later enabled them to establish a home, furnished to her stylish and modern taste. Of course I cannot describe Loebl life in the 1950s and 1960s – but I imagine it as somewhat chaotic, colourful and difficult. Anne managed family life and pursued her own interests, establishing a kindergarden in her home, later teaching English to adults and becoming a specialist in drama education; still finding time to read novels in the morning, dry her hair in rollers, and entertain business contacts of Herbert’s in the evenings.
She loved the outdoors, swimming and games, but weekends at the family bungalow in Northumberland were a mixed blessing as Anne could easily feel trapped and isolated. By the end of the 1970s, the romance had dissolved. Anne seized the hourglass and turned it over herself, departing to London and beginning the next three decades of her life in Belsize Park as an independent, cosmopolitan woman, enjoying the freedom she so valued.
grilled gruyere with paprika on rye bread, and salty cucumber salad with dill, and orange cake
Each of Anne’s grandchildren has a rich tapestry of experiences we were lucky enough to share with her over these years. For Sam and I, art gallery visits with Granpuss were a highlight of every school holiday. I particularly remember visiting a Lucien Freud retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery with her when we were really quite young, and relishing with Granpuss the flesh of every huge portrait, both ugly and beautiful. We submerged ourselves in the murky pond on Hampstead Heath, appreciating the sensuous properties of silky cold water and duckweed between our feet. Lunch at Hillfield Court meant grilled gruyere with paprika on rye bread, and salty cucumber salad with dill, and orange cake – smells and tastes I have tried but so far failed to accurately recreate. Granpuss was delighted, of course, by every one of our achievements – Sam’s paintings, Daniel’s entrepreneurial and political endeavours, Joe’s incredible talent on the stage and his new-found green fingers, Galit’s skills as a translator and writer, Yoni’s dedication as a paramedic in the Israeli army, Sarah’s singing and her recent First Class degree in Hebrew studies which combined Anne’s love of literature and her evolving attachment to Jewish culture. Granpuss bought the scholars gown that Sarah and I shared at Oxford, and we know that she could have worn it herself.
Life continued quietly, until June this year when her advanced cancer diagnosis revealed itself, almost like a silly magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, so surprising to us all that she had only a short time left, not the years we had foolishly anticipated. As Granpuss said whilst she rapidly adjusted to the news “but I’m a very healthy person”! In this final turn, the hourglass sand ran quickly, her energy reducing week by week, and the urgency with which she needed to read through the Booker longlist and revisit old favourite novels accelerating in parallel. She showed no fear, in part because Naomi and Miriam were entirely dedicated to meeting her needs through these difficult weeks, with support from carers, doctors, district nurses and the outreach team from the North London hospice. She had, in the end, a good death, never losing her dignity or her humour to pain or anxiety.
Think of an hourglass, the simplest and most beautiful of clocks, with fine sand emptying steadily and smoothly. If you are swift and watchful, you can turn the glass just before the clock stops, and begin time again until at some point the last of infinite grains does fall, and there is stillness.
‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1
Miriam and I would like to welcome you here to remember Mummy, and to say thank you for coming to support us as you did during the course of her illness, and as you have continued to do in the months after her death.
We miss Robert and his family and they send you all their love from Jerusalem.
It is a year ago to the day that Mummy was told that she had cancer, and she died barely four months later on 4 October. We never imagined that she would leave us so soon and we often heard her say ‘but I’m a very healthy person’.
People liked her and she liked them.
Every day, we miss her deeply. It still feels as if she is with us and yet we know she is not. We remember comical things and sadness too. We miss being able to discuss daily events and momentous world issues. We cannot share our feelings – love, indignation, laughter.
As we re-read the cards and letters sent to us after she died, we have been touched by the words used to describe her – charming, elegant, vibrant, enthusiastic ,energetic, creative, intelligent, dignified, warm, modest, independent, strong and of course never to be forgotten, her big dark glasses. How apt these are. In her own quiet way, Mummy made a big impression. People liked her and she liked them.
Despite all the trauma of her early life Mummy had tremendous determination. I have a strong personal memory of her pulling a little me on a sledge to collect coal for our open fire, only to find that on the return journey the snow had melted.
Unable to drive in her early married years and with three young children, all ingenuity was needed. On one occasion I remember Mummy borrowing the village policeman’s daughter’s bike to cycle from our country cottage in Whittingham to the nearest town Alnwick, up and down hills, nearly 10 miles there and back. She had only previously done the journey by car or bus and it turned out be a greater challenge than she had expected. She returned triumphant but did not repeat the adventure.
As a young woman she painted and wrote poetry and we have a few of her bright paintings.
Mummy loved music. Her favourite composers were Haydn, Mozart and Schubert and her beloved Smetana. Together, she and I would do a splendid rendering of the Queen of the Night’s famous aria from The Magic Flute. We warbled until collapsing in laughter. When she was very ill, Robert, Miriam and I continued to sing her favourite tunes. We were never quite sure if she heard us but I hope she did. Her home in the North of England brought her close to the music and dance of Scotland and she would have so enjoyed dancing the Gay Gordons at Kate and Andy’s wedding in April. We know how proud she would have been of Sarah as she embarks on her cantorial training in Jerusalem and New York.
Mummy was the archetypal technophobe, followed closely by her elder daughter. But she had an infinite thirst for knowledge and she loved it each weekend when David brought the iPad and could answer any question she might have about a person or place or piece of music; but when it came to correct spelling of words she would always turn to her beloved Chambers Dictionary. She was lost without having several books on the go at the same time, sourced from at least three different libraries and often read them from back to front.
Mummy was a fierce Zionist and was very proud all those years ago when Robert decided to make Aliyah. She loved her visits to Jerusalem with its vitality and golden light. I think that in another world, Israel might well have been a natural home for her.
For her, each season brought memories. In the winter, she remembered snowy holidays with her parents and brother, and in the summer she loved flowers and pine forests and bubbling brooks. Here in London she had no garden but Miriam took her weekly flowers and Mummy had a magical way of filling her small living room with joy. In her last weeks, she took great comfort from the beautiful sweet peas which Tessa brought from her garden.
As we dedicate this stone, we thank God for her life and the extra time she was given to grow up, embrace life and create her own family.
Yesterday on Shabbat we heard about the spies who went through the land of Israel to see if it was a good and fruitful place but also to see if it was possible for the people to live there among strange peoples. The answers were contradictory-all agreeing that it was a land of milk and honey but all but two saying that it was such a fierce and violent place that the Israelites could never survive.If only that confidence had been heard, a whole generation could have made it to the Promised Land. At Anne’s funeral on 6 October, just after the cycle of the Tishri festivals had been completed, we heard from Miriam about Anne’s own experiences in a new and terrifying land for a seven year old to enter on her own on the Kindertransport. Anne had the strength and courage of Joshua and Caleb as Anne made this land a fruitful land building a life for herself with her husband of her youth Herbert z”l.
inspired by the qualities of personal courage and loving kindness
The proudest harvest of her life was her children Naomi,Robert and Miriam, her grandchildren Kate and Sam, Galit and Yoni, Daniel,Sarah and Joseph, and her great grandchildren, Max and Theo. She was able to imbue them all with her love of literature and culture, the intellectual fruits of this land and Europe.She was able to sustain them with the values. of inner strength and dignity which enabled her to rebuild her life after setbacks which might have crushed others.
We heard at her funeral that Anne felt inspired by the qualities of personal courage and loving kindness of great people such as Janusz. Korczak and she tried to love up to those qualities, trying too to live with hope despite the Shoah which had cast such a shadow over her life.But redeeming her from that shadow, that tzel, was her spirituality and sense of the value of continued, thriving Jewish community.
On her stone we will read forever “u’vtzel canfecha tastireha”-an adaptation of the words from the evening prayer which meant a great deal to her-meaning under the shadow of your wings, protect her. The shadow of the Shoah is removed by the fruitfulness of Anne’s life meaning that there will be a Jewish future both here and in the land of Israel because of Anne’s contribution to life-and it is replaced by the Divine shadowing wings of protection, care and nurture for her soul.May Anne’s soul be bound up in the gathering of life.