Hana was born in March 1933 in the beautiful city of Prague, not long after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor in Germany.
Both Hana, and George, who arrived when Hana was two, were blond haired and blue eyed. They saw lots of our mother’s parents and our father’s mother in Bohemia. It became a tradition that for the grandmothers’ birthdays, a professional photo was taken of George and Hana. One of these photos, showing the children dressed in traditional lederhosen, was on display in the fashion photographer’s window and when the Nazis arrived, it is said that an officer spotted this photo and the following day it appeared in the Prague newspaper with the caption, “This is what good Aryan children should look like.”
In late 1938, after the Czech army was disbanded as a result of the terrible Munich Agreement, our father came home and said that they had to get away. He and two friends flew to London and started to set up homes and businesses and to get visas for their families. Eventually, visas were obtained and our mother and the two children left Prague in late August 1939, on the very last train allowed to travel through Germany. They arrived in Harwich just a day or two before war was declared.
Hana never really talked about the impact of her abrupt departure from Prague and from her beloved grandparents. We now know that over one hundred of our relatives were murdered in the Shoah.
The war years were certainly very tough for the family; they moved home several times, ending up in Finchley. After the war our parents wanted to move back to Prague, but the arrival of the Russians put paid to that idea.
she became very actively involved in looking after me
In 1948 I arrived. Hana was fifteen at the time and she became very actively involved in looking after me. In 1949, a summer holiday in Switzerland was planned and the whole family set off in a small Morris 8, with Hana and George in the back seat and me in a cot resting on their laps, and a string across the car carrying an array of drying nappies.
When Hana finished school, she had to go out to work and not to art college as she really wanted. She worked with a dress design business. Our mother became ill and Hana again had to be my carer, a role she tried to maintain for the next sixty plus years. It was only about ten years ago that I graduated from ‘baby brother’ to just ‘brother’!
She became very involved with the Reform Jewish youth movement where she made many life-long friends, including Hugo Gryn and of course Jeoff Samson, a larger than life character. Jeoff and Hana married in 1955. Tragically, just six months later, a car accident killed our mother. This was a catastrophic event for us all and meant that Hana moved home for a while to help look after me once again.
Hana and Jeoff moved homes several times and Hana made good friends wherever they went. She was an immensely loyal friend and would go out of her way to help and support anyone she cared about. She became an excellent cook and produced many fabulous dinner parties to support Jeoff’s developing career.
dual careers as sculptress and magistrate
Hana’s dual careers as sculptress and magistrate only really emerged when they finally moved back into London in the 1970s. Her attractive stone sculptures, made with feeling and emotion, touched many people.
Her skill as a magistrate in the family courts was greatly appreciated, though she held very strong views and sometimes listening to and understanding the views of others was hard for her.
Hana hugely resented having to step down from the bench at the age of seventy. Her hands and fingers were severely affected by arthritis, and that brought her creative art to an end as well.
Following Czechoslovakia’s liberation from the Former Soviet Union, Hana made many visits to her very favourite city, Prague, including four trips with me, the last one in 2019. She especially loved to walk the streets of the old town. Her spoken Czech remained very good, despite her accent and vocabulary being stuck in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, Hana suffered from several different cancers and fought them all off with great determination. She was not going to be defeated by a mere illness.
Hana took great delight and pleasure in the growth and successes of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The last few years were undoubtedly tough for Hana. Her family provided amazing support for her.
As an independent, self-driven woman, the loss of that independence and her increasing reliance on others for care was deeply frustrating for her. But she did still enjoy dining out, family events, concerts and elegant clothes until the last few weeks.
Although she will be sorely missed, it is comforting to know that she is at peace at last.