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Margaret Oakfield’s son, Ralph, grew up in Leicester before moving to Israel where he is now known as Ralph Alon. Two years ago he had an amazing experience that he would like to share with you and so the following story is written by Ralph Alon (Oakfield), of Moshav May Ami, Israel.
Several years ago, I received a letter from an old friend in Leicester telling me that someone from The 12 Apostles Parish Church, Berlin, was searching for me. I discovered that a woman named Renate Gaedicke wanted a memorial stone laid for my maternal grandparents who had been murdered in the Holocaust. When Renate was 9-years old and living in her family flat in Berlin, she befriended an elderly (in her eyes) Jewish couple who lived in the next-door flat. In 1942, Julius and Elfriede Berg were taken away by the Nazis and never seen again. They were my grandparents, who like many others, just before the war started, sent their only child (Margaret, my late mother) via the Kindertransport to England, where she survived the war.
The local Berlin parish church agreed to help Renate lay memorial stones in their memory. First, they approached the German artist Gunter Demnig, who designed the Stolperstein memorial brass plaques for Holocaust victims but then they needed to obtain the agreement of a family member or prove that there were no surviving relatives. They traced my family to Leicester but their letters came back unanswered. As a last resort, they wrote to someone in the Leicester community and I was at last alerted to their searching.
It had taken them two years to find me. With the help of an English translator, I gave my agreement for the plaques to be laid. A date was fixed for the ceremony. I provided a photo of my grandparents from around 1938, which was included in their flyers and magazine. The whole process took three years. I travelled with my cousin to Berlin for the ceremony and was gratified by the great effort made by the church committee members during our visit.
The Memorial Service
The ceremony took place on Friday, September 25th, 2015 at 9.15 in the morning, in the street by number 16 Nollendorfstrasse, Berlin. This had been my grandparents’ last address before they were deported to a concentration camp in Poland. Many members of the church attended, as well as residents from number 16 and passers-by.
The ceremony included speeches in German, short pieces of classical oboe music and the laying of flowers. I recited Kaddish in Ivrit and the pastor read it in German. I also spoke briefly in English both about my family and to thank all those involved in this memorial project. Finally, my cousin read in German lines from the last postcard my grandparents ever sent, mailed the day before their deportation. It had been intended for my mother but they could not send letters to England during the war, so the card was sent to my cousin’s mother in Switzerland. It eventually came to me, some 30 years ago. The circle had now very nearly been closed – but not quite. Renate, who is well into her 80s, called me over. With my cousin’s interpreting, she shared one final part of her story.
The Silver Dish
Some months after my grandparents had been deported, during an air raid on Berlin, a bomb destroyed half of the building where my grandparents had lived. A few weeks later, while the young Renate was playing in the rubble, she stumbled on a small silver dish. She showed this to her parents who said that it had belonged to Julius and Elfriede. Renate saved the dish for 72 long years in the hope of one day being able to return it. Once she found out that I would be attending the ceremony, she carefully polished the dish. She was thrilled finally to be able to hand it to a family member.