Exhibition details how Newmarket's Palace House offered sanctuary to Jews fleeing Hitler
As millions of Ukrainians, desperate to escape the Russian onslaught, seek sanctuary in Europe an exhibition opening in Newmarket this weekend tells the story of how, more than 80 years ago, the town became a safe haven for another group of refugees, Jewish families fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany.
The exhibition, We Have to Move On, is at the National Horseracing Museum at Palace House which, in 1939, was owned by Anthony de Rothschild, a racehorse owner, who used his wealth and influence to help Jews fleeing Hitler’s tyranny, and was where 25 refugees were housed.
Among them was Fritz Ball and his wife, Eva. The exhibition has been inspired by Fritz’s memoir, a copy of which, translated from German into English, is now in the Suffolk Archive, thanks to his granddaughter Sandra Ball, who lives in The Netherlands.
“My grandfather died years before I received this manuscript from my aunt,” said Sandra.
“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.”
In January, Sandra and her husband Leo, visited Newmarket for the first time and went to Palace House, where her grandparents, and the other refugees, had stayed in a hostel at the stables.
The couple were also the special guests at a concert on January 27, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and echoing a similar performance given by the refugees, including Fritz, who was an accomplished cellist, in January 1940.
It was performed by musicians from Britten Sinfonia and students from Newmarket Academy.
Fritz had worked in Berlin as a lawyer until Jews were barred from the profession by the Nazi government in 1935 and he was forced to take up a new profession selling soap.
The day after Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi’s paramilitary forces, and civilians, throughout Germany on November 9, and 10, 1938, Fritz had been arrested.
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 had managed to send their 14-year-old son Peter, to live with an aunt in New York in 1938 and the following year their two younger children, Dieter and Thomas, left Germany for Britain on the Kindertransport.
It would not be until after the war in 1946 that the family would finally be re-united in the United States.
Finally, in May 1939, Fritz and Eva left their homeland with just 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.
Those joining them included a doctor, a pianist, an opera singer, an oil factory owner, a retired judge, and the youngest a four-year-old boy.
Research by members of the Suffolk Archive project has revealed there were also several unaccompanied child refugees placed in households around Newmarket at this time and research into them is ongoing.
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 when some of the initial friendliness with which the refugees had been treated 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,” Fritz wrote in his memoir, adding: “My wife is crying; she is suffering terribly. The wounds from Germany are still too fresh.”
He was able to return 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.
Featuring in the exhibition, which runs until August 7, will be archive copies of the Newmarket Journal from 1939 and from January 1940 which contained a report of the concert given by the refugees in All Saints’ hall and reflected how they were taking their place in the community.
“Among the refugees are some musicians of high repute on the Continent,” it said, 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, remains 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.”
Dr Alexandra Fletcher, Packard curator at the museum, said “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.”