New project delves into hidden history of Newmarket's Palace House when it was a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis
Newmarket’s Palace House is now the home to the National Horseracing Museum, but more than 80 years ago it was a safe haven for Jewish families fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany.
Now the Suffolk Archives and the National Horseracing Museum have combined for a joint project which aims to delve deeper into this forgotten piece of the town’s history.
The project has been inspired by the memoir of one of these refugees, Fritz Ball, who with his wife, Eva, was among 25 Jewish refugees living at Palace House Stables which, at the time, were owned by Anthony de Rothschild who had personally committed significant resources to helping Jewish refugees from Europe.
Fritz wrote a memoir of his time in Newmarket, a copy of which has recently been deposited with Suffolk Archives by his granddaughter, Sandra Ball, who now lives in The Netherlands.
“My grandfather died years before I received this manuscript from my aunt,” she said. “With no one left to ask, I turned to internet and to archives for the answers to questions I couldn’t ask my grandfather anymore. The attention given to Fritz’s story by Suffolk Archives and the National Horseracing Museum is important to our family.”
Fritz and Eva were among 25 Jewish refugees living at the stables in September 1939 which at the time were leased from the Rothschild family by trainer, Jack Jarvis, as an overspill for his main yard at nearby Park Lodge.
My wife is crying; she is suffering terribly. The wounds from Germany are still too fresh.
They had come from Berlin, where Fritz had worked as a lawyer until Jews were barred from the profession by the Nazi government in 1935.
Fritz had been arrested the day after Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi’s paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Germany in November 1938.
He spent time in the notorious Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the first of its kind to be established following the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as the chief of the German Police in July 1936 and where initially the internees were predominantly German citizens.
Desperate to get their family out of the country, Fritz and Eva managed to send their eldest son to live with an aunt in New York in 1938 and the following year their two younger children left Germany on the Kindertransport.
Finally, in May 1939, Fritz and Eva left their homeland with two suitcases and two of Fritz’s cellos. After a few days in London, they arrived in Newmarket and their new accommodation at Palace House Stables.
Fritz’s memoir gives a fascinating insight into the life of the Newmarket refugees highlighting the kindness they initially experienced from the locals and how this changed with the outbreak of war.
Some of the initial friendliness with which the refugees had been treaded abruptly stopped. The men were interned as potential enemy aliens and Fritz was sent to a camp on the Isle of Man.
“To be interned twice because one is viewed to be a Jew and not a German and then to come here and to be interned because you are a German is too much for us,” wrote Fritz in his memoir, adding: “My wife is crying; she is suffering terribly. The wounds from Germany are still too fresh.”
He returned to Newmarket after four months and he and Eva remained in the town until 1942, when they moved to Cambridge where they spent four years before, with their two younger sons, they left to start a new life in the United States.
After all we experienced in Germany we appreciate the friendliness they show us.
The period between May and September of 1939 was described by Fritz as ‘an oasis in the desert of years of bleak life’. And he added: “After all we experienced in Germany we appreciate the friendliness they show us.”
However he also recalled: “My most terrible memory is the eternal misunderstanding about the cups of tea I want to drink. I’m invited to tea and I’ve already drunk two big cups. People ask me if I want another cup and I say ‘thank you’ by which I mean thank you for the tea, but I don’t need any more. But that is incorrect, so they pour me a new cup of tea, which out of courtesy, I can’t refuse. How many cups of tea did I have to drink in the first months of my stay in England until I learn to say ‘no thank you’ when I no longer wanted tea?”
In January 1940 a report in the Journal of a concert given by the refugees in All Saints’ hall reflected how they were taking their place in the community.
“Among the refugees are some musicians of high repute on the Continent,” it read, referring to Dr Ball (Fritz) as the ‘finest cellist heard in Newmarket for many a day’.
He was playing the cello he had succeeded in bringing with him on the long journey to Newmarket from Berlin and that instrument, along with his memoir, is one of his granddaughter’s most treasured possessions.
Hannah Salisbury, community and learning Officer for Suffolk Archives, said: “When we first read Fritz’s memoir of his time in Newmarket, we knew we had to share it more widely and find out more about his life as a refugee in the town.
“We’ve been amazed at how much our project researchers have found out already, and we are really hoping there will be people who have memories or stories which have been passed on to them about the refugees being in Newmarket.
“The fact that music is such a strong theme throughout the memoir provides some really exciting possibilities for how we can interpret and share the story.”
The wartime history of the current museum site and the contribution the Rothschild family made in providing homes for Jewish refugees is a little-known but important chapter in Newmarket’s history.
And in addition to uncovering more of Fritz’s story, research so far has also shown that there were several unaccompanied child refugees placed in households around Newmarket at this time and the project team are keen to learn more about this aspect too. Research is also being carried out into how local people supported the arriving refugees.
“The National Horseracing Museum is very excited to be part of this project,” said Dr Alexandra Fletcher, Packard curator.
“The wartime history of the current museum site and the contribution the Rothschild family made in providing homes for Jewish refugees is a little-known but important chapter in Newmarket’s history. The Palace House Stables as they were known provided a home for several families and the museum is looking forward to working with our project partners to discover and tell their stories.”
Do you or any members of your family have any information about any of the Jewish refugees who came to Newmarket? Get in touch on 01638 564104 or email email@example.com