Charlotte Michaels

Charlotte Michaels

23 March 1917
Danzig, East Prussia, then Free City, then Germany, now Poland
20 January 2018
London, England
Words by
Leslie Michaels Son

I will speak about Omi’s history, Juliette will speak about Omi the person, and Tony, through Lawrence will talk about her relationship with her grandchildren.

Born Charlotte Anker in Danzig on 23 March 1917. Her 22 Anker cousins knew her as Charlottchen. Her English friends called her Charlot and to us and so many of you here, she was Omi.

In 1933 Danzig, which was an independent state, came under the control of the Nazi Party with its virulent anti-Semitism. Omi loved sport

Charlotte skied until she was almost 80, played tennis until she was 90 and played table tennis with grandchildren to 96.

and was an active member of Maccabi. When the Nazis closed down the Maccabi premises, Omi’s father provided the club with a basement in his warehouse. Charlotte skied until she was almost 80, played tennis until she was 90 and played table tennis with grandchildren to 96.

As a teenager she was a great gymnast and was selected to lead a group of Danzig girls at a major event. She trained hard but on the day one of the officials came up to her and asked if she was Jewish. When she said yes, she was told she would not be able to participate. The awful pettiness stayed with her all her life.

Her first visit to Palestine was in 1935 and she remained an ardent Zionist all her life. She came to England as a refugee later that year. Until she married she was a children’s nurse, a dressmaker and a youth leader at the Stepney Jewish Boys and Girls Club. These were skills she used to great effect in bringing up children and looking after grandchildren. My baby sister Juliette was the best dressed girl in North London: mum was always making her new clothes. Omi was a voracious knitter, all the grandchildren were given lots of sweaters and cardigans, some of which survive to this day. When Phil died he was wearing a red sweater with black stripes she made.

As a qualified baby nurse she added a real level of professionalism to her innate parenting skills. My granddaughter Leaf has lovely curly hair but always refused to let it be brushed. Last year when Leaf was at Danescroft Avenue we told Omi, who immediately instructed me to fetch her hair brush. I was nervous that Omi would be rebuffed by a very determined Leaf. But Omi had the answer. She gave Leaf the brush asking to have her hair brushed. Leaf duly brushed Omi’s hair. Omi then offered to brush Leaf’s hair: and she let her. When I asked her how she knew that trick, she said that she’d looked after enough children to know how to deal with them.

It was when working as a youth leader in the East End she first came face to face with deprivation and poverty, something which stayed with her all her life.

In 1941 she married fellow refugee Michael Michaels at Alyth Gardens Synagogue. She helped Michael in his business and nursed him through a number of long illnesses.

When Hendon Reform Synagogue was built in Danescroft Avenue in about 1950, she and Michael joined and immediately got deeply involved. Early Cheder classes were held in our lounge. After Michael died in 1986 she devoted her life to her family and Charitable works: Macmillan Cancer Charity, Council of Christians and Jews, Jewish Care, League of Jewish Women, Hendon Reform Synagogue and remedial English teaching at St John’s C of E School and many others. In 2008 she was awarded the MBE in the Birthday Honours List.

As she got older she had carers look after her. Debbie lived with her for the last two years and became a very special friend to her and all of us. And whilst Debbie was ill, Mariya took over and together they gave her so much love and affection. The family owes them a big debt of gratitude.

Omi’s Hebrew name is Shulamit: it is from the same root as Shalom. Whenever we had a drink, which was frequently, I would say “lechaim” — to life; and she would answer Shalom–peace.

Shalom mother.

Words by
Juliette Overlander Daughter

Together with my father, mummy gave us a warm, loving home stressing the values of family, Judaism, community and the importance of the world around us. We, her children have tried to pass these life living values on to our children. And they in turn have built homes that reflect the importance of family and Jewish community, and love and respect for one another and those around us.

Certainly, my mother has left a clear legacy to us all that we treasure and try to live our lives by.

I know I was very blessed to have had such a wonderful and loving relationship with my mother. In her later years when she spent most of her time at home, she recounted endless stories of her youth, her parents, her home in Danzig, her many cousins, her many, many boyfriends (she was very beautiful ) coming to England, life on Manor Farm during the war and early family years. Endless, endless stories that I will remember and treasure forever.

My mum was a good person. No, I mean it a really, really good soul. She loved people, always saw the best in everyone and always wanted to help others less fortunate than herself. Her MBE is a memorial to that.

We often laugh at the thought of my mother with her strong German accent teaching little English children

How proud we all are that a refugee from Danzig was awarded such an honour by her adopted country. My mum was a giver, not a taker. It was simply in her nature to reach out to others and offer them her hand. She did all this in her quiet, giving way simply giving what she could to others.

Every week for 10 years my mother was a helper at St John’s school in Hendon. Louise Fineberg, the class teacher was to become great friends with my mum. In a beautiful tribute she wrote to my mum: “Not only have you touched my life, but you have helped and touched the lives of so many children over the years”. Yes mummy, you have touched all our lives. We often laugh at the thought of my mother with her strong German accent teaching little English children. But they thought the world of her. Quoting from their little messages of love written for her 90th birthday they said “I know you will be proud of me now I know all my keywords” and “Thank you for teaching me to tie my shoelaces” and “Thank you for teaching me to sew Charlotte”.

Above all, the most important thing for my mother was us, her family. Her favourite times were visits by her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. Her grandchildren, the cousins, simply loved her and know how blessed they are to have had such a special loving relationship with her. They are all very sad now, but they know how lucky and privileged they have been to have had Omi in their lives.

he thought he would let Omi score a few points. He was clearly shocked when she won the game.

Every year since before our grandchildren were born, we have had our “OMI birthday weekend”. A most special 3 days together at Ashdown hotel and now Tylney Hall where we have eaten, played, chatted, laughed and walked together. In her younger years i.e. in her eighties, my mum was most active challenging us all to a game of tennis or table tennis. When Adam first came on the scene and took up the challenge, he thought he would let Omi score a few points. He was clearly shocked when she won the game. In more recent years, Omi enjoyed sitting back and watching us with a smile on her face. She loved the laughter, the noise, the energy, but mostly seeing the fun we had together.

Last March we celebrated my mummy’s 100th birthday. She had the most wonderful day. She looked beautiful, smiled all afternoon and just loved the great feeling of having all her special people with her. She has left us remembering happy times, great moments and wonderful, wonderful memories. She has certainly left an indelible footprint on all our lives and on the earth.

Diagonally opposite the back garden at Danescroft Avenue was an enormous beautiful and sprawling cedar tree. It was a part of the landscape of our home and of our young lives at Danescroft. Very sadly, ten days ago the owner of the house where the tree was, decided to cut it down. Throughout the last days, when my mother was in her bedroom facing the back garden, we heard the saw sawing of the tree coming down. Now, like my lovely mummy, it is no more. What is left are the long, strong and thick roots that will always be there just like the wonderful and loving memories we have of our Omi.

Yes she is gone but will be in our hearts forever.

Words by
Tony Michaels Son

After dad died mum got more involved in caring for others and spending lots of time with us and her grandchildren.

In the later years as the grandchildren grew up she would take them on holiday, a one to one experience.

These holidays would take place when they reached the age of 15. The holidays ranged from Nile cruises, India, China, swimming with dolphins, going to Alaska the see the icebergs and many more.

This and the love she showered on them gave mum and them a special relationship. My children and all the grandchildren have the most profound love for mum, one that is quite unique. One that I never had with my grandparents, I wish I had had. Even to her last days her eyes would light up at the thought of them coming to visit and see her. Mum joined us on many holidays. Italy in the sun and skiing. Skiing is the most memorable. The first time Mum came skiing with us she must have been around seventy, she hadn’t skied for 40 years but took to it like a duck to water. Even at the age of 80 she skied with us. On one occasion, walking in the woods, trees full of heavy snow, snow a metre thick on the ground, she stopped and said as a child she would do an angel in the snow . Then without warning she just let her body go back and hit the snow, leaving the body shape in the deep snow. We all got the fright of our lives.

Whisky at our weekends away. Mum, who loved her whisky, always arranged for the grandchildren to go to her room before we all went down to eat; it was a tradition that gave mum time on her own with her beloved grandchildren.

We are so lucky to have had a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother the best in every senses of the word.