Couple made new lives in Norfolk after escaping Nazi Europe
- Credit: Dunsby/Ablett family
He played the violin at a restaurant in Cromer while she did the washing-up. Derek James looks at the life and times of a couple who escaped the hell and horror of war
There is little doubt they would have been killed…Erhart and Trudi were Jewish and living in their homeland of Czechoslavakia in the late 1930s when the Nazis were on the march.
They never spoke much about their escape from Hitler’s henchmen but we know that Erhart Robitschek, a barrister in his homeland, and his wife Trudi, arrived in Norfolk penniless in 1938.
And we should be thankful they did….Erhart became a history and current affairs teacher at Earlham Boys’ School in Norwich, while Trudi worked as a librarian, telephonist and copy typist with us – the Norfolk News Company in those days.
Erhart was also a lecturer with the Workers Educational Association and taught languages and music while Trudi, who also worked at the BBC in Norwich, served with the Red Cross and worked as a volunteer at the Castle Museum.
One person who did know them was Thomas Dunsby who met them when a young boy…and has never forgotten them.
“My sister and I would often visit my grandfather’s house when we were young and there would usually be a couple in the house that spoke in a very strange way,” he said.
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As he grew older, he was told they were Jewish refugees from a country called Czechoslovakia and that his grandparents had offered them sanctuary in their home.
“This meant very little to me at the time but sounded quite romantic,” said Thomas.
“Now of course I look back and realise what Trudi and Erhart must have gone through when they fled in 1938 and arrived in Norfolk. I also admire my grandparents for taking them in to their home in Norwich and later Thorpe End.”
Erhart was a man of much standing, being a doctor of law in Prague and by profession a barrister.
Mystery still surrounds their escape from Hitler’s “mad dogs”, but it was our former editor Tom Copeman who came across them in the restaurant at Cromer.
With the outbreak of war, Erhart joined the British Army. He served in the Pioneer Corps and later became an interpreter in the Foreign Office. As a Russian speaker he was much sought after. He would interrogate Germans and other prisoners.
Trudi volunteered to work in hospitals while working as our librarian.
Following the end of the war the couple settled down to a new, peaceful life, in Norwich – enjoying all the city had to offer. Its theatres, galleries and museums. They were a popular pair with many friends.
Thomas says: “They were eventually naturalised as British citizens and were very proud to be accepted into the country. One of the beautifully restored cottages in Gildencroft became their home and I can remember visiting the house many times with my mother.
“I always had to be on my best behaviour whilst having tea and biscuits as the house was full of interesting items, added Thomas. Sadly, this story has no happy ending.
Erhart died in 1966 aged 61 and Trudi took her own life in 1974.
“I believe they were both much liked and admired and maybe at the end of Trudis’ life the past was too much to cope with without Erhart by her side,” said Thomas.