Leipzig: A Pilgrimage

My brother and I recently took a trip to Leipzig, Germany, the city in which our mother was born, back in 1935.  You can read here about the challenges presented by her dual/mixed heritage (Jewish father, Catholic mother in 1930’s pre-Holocaust Germany), and the important role she carved for herself in later years, before her death last May.

We’d always intended to make a trip at some point, but the opportunity came sooner than we expected, with an invitation from Edition Peters (the music publishing company, and our erstwhile family business), who were about to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their renowned Green Series.  We were asked if we’d like to attend some of the week-long series of events, in which our mother would most certainly have actively participated.

Contemporary design meets an historic brand, to great effect

My heritage might be immersed in the world of classical music (not only were my grandfather and great-grandfather proprietors of one of the world’s foremost classical musical publishers, and friends of Edvard Grieg and other composers, but my father sung for years in the New Philharmonia Chorus), but I’m more of a generalist when it comes to music. My tastes run from Abba to Zucchero, via classical, jazz, soft rock, ambient electronica, R&B and whole lot more. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to share in these celebrations.  We enjoyed a violin and piano concert in the Mendelssohn Haus (onetime home of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy), and attended an impressive Reception (including, of course, another delightful concert – this time, piano and voice).

There, we were introduced to Burkard Jung, Mayor of the City of Leipzig, who had written heartfelt and warmly appreciated letters to our mother when she fell ill. We met many more of our mother’s Leipzig friends – their close relationships formed over the 25 years during which our mother laboured unceasingly to re-establish her family’s name in the city’s cultural heritage, and through her talks, educate students on the Holocaust through her family’s traumatic story.  We watched the 20-minute film created by Edition Peters, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Grüne Reihe, and were immensely touched to see in its final shot, a photograph of our mother, and a commemoration of her life and contribution. It would have meant so much to her.

Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen with the ‘Chronik’

We went to the Edition Peters offices, met all the staff, and had the opportunity to present a treasured book to them, which we had found in our mother’s effects. This book, a one-off, hand-typed, beautifully bound tome, chronicled the history of the company from 1800 to the 1930’s, and had been given to our grandfather as eldest son. He brought it with him when he emigrated to England from Germany in 1937, thus escaping the fate which befell so many of his immediate and extended family. It seemed more than appropriate that, with the company’s headquarters restored to Leipzig in recent years, and our great-grandfather’s name re-established alongside all of his many social and cultural endeavours, we should return this extraordinary ‘Chronik’ to its origin.

In our private time, my brother and I soaked up the modern-day city, with its traditional and its supremely modern architecture sitting side-by-side.

Thomaskirche Leipzig, resting place of J S Bach
Statue to the man himself
Leipzig University Library, an intriguing absence of symmetry
The Gewandhaus concert hall, Leipzig

We visited the family’s memorial stone at the Südfriedhof Cemetery – the stone which came into being as a result of our mother’s work.

Hinrichsen memorial stone, Südfriedhof Cemetery

It stands right by the central avenue.

Hinrichsen memorial stone, by the central avenue, Südfriedhof Cemetery

We found the 4 Stolpersteine outside Talstraße 10 (the family’s original home and location of the business, now once again home to the business) – yes, you guessed it, those cobbles were there for us to stumble upon as a result of our mother’s mission.

Hinrichsen Stolpersteine – we should have brought a cloth

We stood in what was once the family apartment in the same building, in the room restored to its original formal state and now housing an exhibition to honour Edvard Grieg.

On the afternoon when the weight of emotional tension twisted my gut and forced me to rest, my brother took a long walk across the city and found Hinrichsenstraße, the street renamed after our great-grandfather – yet another of the many projects brought about due to our mother’s tireless campaigning.

“Henri Hinrichsen: 1868-1942 (Auschwitz); Publisher, in 1900 took over the publisher C.F. Peters; Founder, City Councillor, Honorary Doctor, University of Leipzig” (My brother, chilled to the bone.)

The one thing we didn’t manage to do was visit the Musikinstrument Museum, where our mother had unveiled a bust to her grandfather back in 2012. Turns out that whereas everywhere in Leipzig still closes on a Sunday, the Musikinstrument Museum is just about the only place that opens on a Sunday… but stands closed to visitors on Mondays.

It was an extraordinary three days; reflective, and very heartwarming indeed. We met friends everywhere; we were hosted to a wonderful ‘traditional dinner’ by a group of our mother’s friends who had entertained her in the same way every time she visited for 20 years. We learned how much she was respected – and loved – by those with whom she connected in the city of her birth. We felt very proud – and just a little inadequate too, truth be told.

The ‘traditional dinner’ with new ‘old friends’

For both of us, the trip to Leipzig was far more than a tick-in-the-box, a part of the process of saying goodbye to our mother. It gave us valuable time and a place for reflection – together; it affirmed to us everything that our mother held so dear about family and her heritage – our heritage; it opened a window into her second home (I strongly suspect she felt more at home there in Leipzig than she did in London) and the close ties she enjoyed with friends and associates. And it has enabled us to push forward with what remains of the sorting-out of her life, with renewed love and understanding.

Now, it’s onward to 2018, and my sincerest hope that I can begin to re-establish my own life again, after this troubled and very sad year.

A timely look at two incredible narratives

The occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this week offers me an opportunity I cannot pass by, to give a shameless but, I hope, entirely understandable promotion to two books which are very close to my heart.

My mother is an inspiration to me. At a time of life when most people have their feet up in front of the fire, she wrote and published these two books. It was her depth of commitment and passion that inspired me to try this writing-a-book thing for myself – although what I produced (a hopefully gripping psychological novel – contemporary mainstream fiction) is about as far removed from these well-researched, factual and historically significant books as it’s possible to get.

Music Publishing and Patronage – C. F. Peters: 1800 to the Holocaust – By Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen

2015-01-28 11.23.25“..this book will provide enlightening reading not only to all people associated with music, but also to the general reader who wants to know how destiny and history impinge on the human being” Yehudi Menuhin

If you love classical music; if you yearn to get under the skin of some of the most influential composers of their time; if the history of Germany and the Holocaust fascinates you; or if the lives of generous, dedicated, passionate people of culture inspire you, then this book is for you. Within its pages is a wealth of real life stories which bring history, culture and remarkable personalities alive.

The book is an account of the Hinrichsen family’s music publishing business, the world-renowned brand Edition Peters. It charts the relationships between C. F. Peters and many great composers and other matters of fascination to the music lover. Over and above a tapestry of musical, social and commercial history runs the family history; an account concluding with the horrendous fate meted out to numerous family members, including Henri Hinrichsen – my great-grandfather – who met his end in Auschwitz at the age of 74.

Five Hundred Years to Auschwitz – A family odyssey from the Inquisition to the Present – By Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen

2015-01-28 11.27.34This is an objective yet dramatic historical account of the journey of one dynasty – the author’s Sephardic Jewish paternal family – through 500 years of European turmoil. It tells of how politics and turbulent times shaped the family’s passage from the Inquisition to the Holocaust and beyond and graphically illustrates the dark reality of history coming ‘full circle’. It’s a human story set within a historical context, a fascinating account of achievement, emigration, persecution, horror and ultimately, survival.

The Henriques/Hinrichsens were not passive observers, but enterprising protagonists who left their mark on commerce and society. The family migrated from Spain to Portugal and then to Germany. In businesses as diverse as shipping, finance, tobacco, ladies corsetry and ultimately music publishing, the family were fully engaged in commercial enterprise. Their commitment to politics and civic society led to some becoming Court Jews – financiers to the rulers; another was a High Court Judge and President of the Senate in Hamburg; yet another worked tirelessly towards the emancipation of the Jews. A commitment to music, culture and philanthropy gave rise to generous bequests to the city of Leipzig in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The narrative weaves the political, commercial, social and personal experiences of the generations together with the often brutal events of their time; the Inquisition, the 30 years war, the Great War, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era, Kristallnacht, Aryanization, Auschwitz and beyond, to the aftermath, Russian occupation of Eastern Germany and the creation of the GDR, taking the reader to the USA and to London, England and the modern day.

It is from here that my mother, inspired by the challenges and achievements of her father and grandfather, returned to Leipzig to seek out her roots and resurrect the memories of a dynasty.

* * *

I was born in the UK and am just one-quarter Jewish via my mother and grandfather. Nevertheless the connection I feel to the horrors of the Holocaust, especially since my mother provided us with such a comprehensive account of the family’s struggles, is very strong.

These two books have been in publication for several years and for anyone interested, they are now available to buy from the Edition Peters Group website – see Featured Publications in the right-hand column.

(By the way, excuse the dodgy images; they are photos of my actual copies of both books, complete with wonky edges and dodgy shadows. I’m a writer not a photographer!)