Guenther had an idyllic childhood living in Loebau, Saxon Germany until 1934. He fondly remembers playing with friends in their large garden, with the abundance of fruit trees to climb and fruit to be eaten, cherries, apples and more; his Father Georg entertaining all the children. In Loebau the family home was in the centre of town opposite the Town Hall. The garden was eventually taken over by the Nazis and turned into a park.
Perhaps because he was already in his late teens and toward the end of his schooling – Guenther does not recall being harassed at school. He does recall the Hitler youth movement social events and was actually somewhat envious of not being able to join in. But he knew that this was not for him. At school he learnt English and Latin – both languages were to serve him well in the coming years.
With the guidance of his father Guenther made an important decision that was to help him hide from the Nazi’s and have the opportunity to leave Germany with a trade. Georg Brauer told Guenther that it would be good for him to learn a skill that would enable him to escape Germany and survive. So his secondary education was interrupted in 1934 and Guenther went to work first for a Jewish engineering firm in Zittau, making parts for weaving machines, 30 kilometres away from home.
The following year he started an apprenticeship with another firm in Breslau but this time had to travel by train for three hours each day both ways, often leaving home at 4 o’clock in the morning and not retuning until 8 o’clock that night.
Once he took on his apprenticeship and was working in Breslau, Guenther witnessed much of the growing anti-Semitism and violence of the Nazis. In his words he said he felt “terrible at not being able to intervene.” His non- Jewish work mates and his boss protected him as much as they could. After Kristallancht – they said to him not to hide but to put on his overalls and come to work – that it would be better for him to be part of the crowd than to be found in hiding. This was one of the first of many strategies as well as other chance moments of luck that would save him.
From 1938-39,the Nazis were interning men into the “work camps”; Guenther and his father went into hiding in Breslau, in an apartment with other Jewish men. They had some loyal non- Jewish friends who did not betray them and were lucky on a number of occasions to avoid capture.
Guenther was the eldest of two boys, his brother Hans was in hospital for a year and died age 13, of a heart condition on the 26th February 1939, just two days before his Mother’s birthday. Geunther was a member of the Jewish youth group – Habonim, and was accepted for Aliya (the right of return). So the plan was that he would go to Palestine (later Israel) to live permanently and work on a kibbutz. This plan changed however once his brother died and they returned home to find a letter to say he had been accepted by a Jewish engineering firm in Glasgow Scotland. Within a few days his parents took him to the train station and he was off, not knowing if he would see his parents again. At the same time many of his extended family members were making arrangements to emigrate to Chile.
Guenther arrived in the UK a day before his 18th birthday in 1939, having travelled to Bremerhafen, boarding a luxury liner (the Europa) to South Hampton and taking a train to London. His employment was organised through Bloomsbury House in London. He boarded with and worked for a family run business – D. Tobias & Sons, (the family were originally from Poland). His work was classified as a reserve occupation, making parts for tanks and planes.
Guenther settled in well, joined the Scout movement and made good friends. However in 1940, all men aged 18-65 in the UK, who were from Germany, were interned as enemy aliens. First taken to an estate and then to the Isle of Man, Guenther was interned for 9 months. He would have been able to send a postcard to his parents, but he did not have an address of where to send one. So for quite some time he had no idea how his parents had faired. His cousin Margot who had also arrived in Glasgow joined the Land Army in 1941. Once released Guenter wanted to volunteer for the RAF, but was put again in a reserve occupation.
Guenther eventually made contact with his parents by the end of the war - they were then living in Puerto Montt, Southern Chile. Only a few Jewish families lived in this remote part of Chile, the other closest Jewish settlement was 112kms north in Osomo. Guenther’s Mother (Rose) was not well and Guenther felt a sense of duty to go and be with his parents; even though, at this time he did not want to leave Scotland where he was very happy.
In 1947 he travelled by ship from France (on the Campana), via Argentina where he transferred to train and travelled over the Andes to Santiago, Chile. His father met him at the train station. A year later his mother passed away in 1948. Guenther joined his father in his clothes wear business. He’d begun to studying for his pilot’s license and eventually was flying Cessna’s solo and also began to ride horses. There weren’t many young Jewish people to socialise with. Guenther met Ilse Dore Goldschmidt whose family also ran a clothing business. They both shared a love of horse-riding and it was whilst riding horseback together one day that Guenther proposed. They were married and had three children – Ronald, Steffi and Ralf. Life once again was idyllic in Puerto Montt. The family owned their own home, had a lovely garden and were able to employ two maids and a gardener.
Guenther’s paternal Grandmother had originally refused to leave Germany – believing that nothing was going to happen to her. She survived the war years in Theresienstadt concentration camp. The Red Cross re-united her with her son Georg and family in Chile, in 1947. Guenter remembered the stories she told and the tears shed as she recalled the horror she had witnessed; including the death of her own sister. She passed away in Chile aged 93yrs.
Things were to change once again for the Brauers, first with the biggest earthquake ever to hit the world in 1960 but then with the rise of the Allende dictatorship in 1971. Guenter and Isle were now “once bitten twice shy” and believed they had to leave. Guenther travelled to Spain, North Africa and the USA, meeting with prospective employers or business partners - but to no avail, could not find anything suitable. Ilse suggested that he would need to explore further afield, like Australia and New Zealand. In 1972 Guenther arrived in NZ and met up with friends Lionel and Ray Albert who he had met in Chile. Loving NZ he stayed on and made arrangements for Ilse and the children to follow him. Ronald their eldest son was already studying in Switzerland and so Ilse and the other two chiildren arrived in Auckland, February 1973.
“The honesty, the openness, the people – I loved the Maoris, they were so easy going, so pleasant. I got on fine with them, you could talk with them, and there was just no barrier, whatsoever. The climate was ideal. At that time I couldn’t have said there was a single thing that I disliked.”
His Father Georg Brauer left Chile soon after and returned to a now divided Germany. He returned to his birthplace of Loebau in the East; and to the family home. There he lived for one year in the same house in which he was born, until his death in 1975.
Guenther was interviewed by the Jewish Oral History group in 2001. This podcast is sourced from that interview.
Image header (above:) Guenther Brauer. Reproduced with permission by the Brauer Family © JoM