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       Sigi and Lilo Weber

     

    Sigi WEBER

     

    Sigmund (known to everybody as Sigi) Weber was born on the 18th December 1921 in Augsburg, Germany. He lived up to the age of 11 years old in Augsburg and then was sent to a boarding school from 1933-1936 in Burg Prebach a Yeshiva School also in Germany.  After this, he came back home and then attended a commercial high school in Augsburg but was later kicked out of the school because he was Jewish. In the afternoons after school, his father David Weber used to teach Sigi tailoring. 

     

    In December 1938 Sigi boarded the boat THE PRETORIA and arrived in Cape Town and from there went to Salisbury where his sister Leni and her husband Richard Mendelsohn lived.  In September 1939 when Sigi arrived in Rhodesia, he volunteered to serve in the military as did most of the German Jews, but, they were not taken into the army as they had German passports and the Rhodesian authorities were doubtful about them, and so instead, the Rhodesians made them guard the various internment camps which included camps for German internees and also a group of Iraqis who had made a revolution which had collapsed and they had been arrested. He was placed in Norton which is situated outside Salisbury. In 1946 Sigi left the military and his rank at the time was warrant officer first class.  He then worked in Gwelo for a year and then travelled for his brothers Arthur and Willi Weber (who lived in Cape Town) selling mens clothing. Then in 1950, Sigi moved to Gatooma where he opened up a mens outfitting shop called Elite Outfitters.

     

    During this time, he met Lieselotte Boettigheimer (known to everybody as Lilo) in Bulawayo September 1950, and within four months married her and brought her to Gatooma.

     

    Sigi was one of the few people that kept the Gatooma Shul going and at Purim time Sigi would read the megillah either at the Gatooma Shul or at a Salisbury Shul.

    It was here that Sigi started his hobby of film making in 1952-1953.

    Sigi and Lilo had two children Sophie and David (named after Sigi's parents Sophie and David Weber) and in January 1968 the family moved to Cape Town to start a new life. They left because the Rhodesian political situation was starting to flare up and they wanted their children to have a jewish upbringing.

    Lilo Weber's Story

    The History of My Life 20th November, 2001 

    (This text is from a speech she gave in Cape Town to Bnoth Zion.)

    I was the youngest of five children, but the age gaps were very big between us. Coming from a good middle class family, I was quite spoilt and never short of anything. My father and uncle were together in business running a hardware shop in our home. My mother ran the house and looked after the family. We lived in a double storey building - our home was upstairs and downstairs was the business. We lived in a small town called Speyer, which is situated on the River Rhine near the big city of Mannheim.

    At the age of six I started government school but it was not very long after that when all the Jewish children were asked to leave. Our Jewish congregation organized a Jewish Male teacher to come to our town so that he could teach the Jewish junior school pupils who were being denied an education by the state. He taught us a wide variety of subjects that included Maths, German, Hebrew, History, Geography and Jewish Studies. This informal school was set up in one of the boardrooms of our Shul and recreational activities were held in the yard.

    By this time a number of our congregants started to immigrate to countries like Israel and America. From 60 families, by the end of the wave of emigration, only 30 children were left to attend the school. The children were of mixed age groups. A number of these Jewish children came from the nearby villages. Our teacher soon moved to Speyer from his hometown. I would often spend time with his family and go for Friday nights.

    In order to supplement my education, my parents organised private extra lessons including English lessons. Most of the children of Speyer kept Shabbath. Every Shabbos afternoon all the Jewish youth met for an oneg at the Shul, plus we celebrated all the chaigim like Tu Bishvat and Lag BaOmer, Purim and Chanukah with special outings and traditional foods. This is how our Jewish life was spent until Kristalnacht, 10th November 1938. On that day our Shul was burnt to the ground and early that morning the Gestapo came and took my father and uncle Wolf away. My uncle, my father's brother, was unmarried and lived with us. He was sent home, perhaps because of his old age. My father was sent to Dachau.

    My eldest brother Berthold was also arrested and taken to Dachau. He also lived in Speyer but had married out of the Jewish faith many years before. Because of this, my parents did not allow him to come home. I used to visit him without their knowledge. Once I was caught visiting Berthold and I was severely punished for it. Berthold was always very good to me and paid the ice-cream shop monthly so I could go whenever I pleased to get myself an ice cream.

    In Dachau my father and brother were placed next to one another in the barrack. There they made peace with one another after a period of five years not having seen or spoken to each other. My father was released after about six weeks and my brother was there for longer.

    Later in the day of the 10th November, my mother, sister Berthel and myself were told to leave our home and province by midnight. The other members of my family, my sister Hilda and brother Sally had already immigrated to South Africa. November was wintertime and night came in early.

    A non-Jewish friend of the family came after dark to help us pack. At that time we still had a car and employed a driver, as my father could not drive. He was willing to take us in the car across the Rhine to another province called Baden, where my mother had family and where we could stay. At this stage we had no news of my father and brother nor did we know if we could return to our home. Whilst we were away in Baden our business and part of our apartment were taken over by an Aryan Germans. After about three weeks we were allowed to go back to our home.

    But soon thereafter, we were forced to sell it as no German business was allowed to be in a Jewish house. We also had to sell our car and certain commodities, which Jews were no longer allowed to possess. My father came back to us soon after our return and then my brother Berthold's wife Helene moved into our home with us. We all made peace with Helene. 

    Berthold was still in Dachau, but soon afterwards, he was also released and came home. Helene, being non-Jewish, was a great help to all of us.

    In the beginning of 1939, my second sister Berthel left Speyer for South Africa and we all hoped to be able to follow her shortly thereafter. Because we could not leave my uncle behind, it was impossible for us to immigrate to South Africa and so we carried on living under difficult conditions. I did not realize the seriousness of the situation until the day we were deported to France, on the 22nd October 1940. I was 13 years old.

    Early in the morning, the Gestapo came and told us to pack what we can carry and we would be picked up within one hour. Because of the many air raids, we had suitcases already packed. My parents, uncle and brother Berthold were collected by the Gestapo and taken to a nearby town where all the Jews from the South of Germany were assembled. Helene managed to get my brother Berthold freed and brought him back to Speyer. During this time she was hassled at work for being married to a Jew. A year later my brother went into hiding.

    During this time, Helene was not aware of his whereabouts. Eight Christian families kept him hidden and looked after his welfare until the liberation.

    During that time, train took us to the South of France to a place called Pau, which is situated in the Pyrennes. Then lorries transported us to Camp Du Gurs. When we arrived in Gurs, the men were separated from the women and children and allocated to living blocks. The blocks contained twenty-five barracks surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with rifles.

    My mother and I were sent to a barrack together. The barrack had no windows, only flaps to let in air. We slept on a bed of straw and a blanket. This was to be our home for six months. 

    We were about fifty people per barrack. This part of the Pyrennes was very wet and muddy. People often became stuck in the knee-deep mud and needed help. Our daily rations were coffee in the morning, watery soup with a few pieces of turnips at lunchtime and the same soup in the evening. We received a ration of bread daily and three times a week we had a thimble of meat in our soup. In a short time, people became sick with dysentery. Every day we saw the lorries leaving with the dead bodies piled in the back. 

    The toilets were a distance away from the barracks. There was also only one barrack with running water where we could wash ourselves. Whilst at Gurs, I used to get permission from the office to visit my father and uncle. 

    Without prior warning, one day, we were told to get ready as we were being moved to another camp. Within a few days we were transported in lorries to a camp called Rivesaltes, which too was in the Pyrennes. My uncle had to stay behind in Gurs where he died a few months later. We arrived at the brick faced barracks. The sleeping areas were like shelves and we called them rabbit hutches.

    The climate in Rivesaltes was better that Gurs. It was not so wet and muddy but dry and barren. Once again, men and women were separated but could meet each other at the assembly place. 

    Everyday a few women were assigned kitchen duty. They would collect the peels of the vegetables for extra food. We made little stoves from old tins in which we cooked the peels to supplement our daily nutrition. After a few months most of the children were taken out of the camps by the American distribution board and O.S.E. They opened up children’s homes in all the unoccupied parts of France. From there they often managed to send them to Switzerland and placed them with families or relatives. At the time that I left camp, only about seven girls remained. We were taken to a new home, which was an old hotel in the Cantal District. It was a very lovely little town in the mountains with lots of farms around. Cantal is very well known for their cheeses. 

    The place where I stayed was called Vic Sur Cere. At first we had a Jewish director and his wife. Two Christian ladies replaced them. I was 1942. We were told that if ever the police should come to the door; we must jump over the fence at the back of the home and run up the hill to the farmhouses and hide. We had a special whistle to tell us when we could come back. For quite a while things were without incident. We did our own cooking and became a big close family. During this time, my parents who were still in Camp Rivesaltes. Despite numerous transports, with the help of Hashem, they were not on any of the lists and were not transferred to another camp. My parents were asked if they had any children here in France and they gave the police my address. Immediately they came to collect me. Two policemen accompanied me back to camp by train. I managed to trace my parents the next day. On that day the inmates were called to go on parade and many people were called out to go on another transport. Nobody knew what happened to these people or where they were being taken. After a few days back in the camp, the Joint Distribution Board called me in plus three more younger children (two brothers and a sister) and we were schlepped off to a Christian Youth Hostel high up in the mountains near the Spanish borders. The nearest town was Prado. The three children were taken to Switzerland and I was left here for a few more weeks and then I managed to go back to the home in Vic Sur Cere.

    In all those years I always tried to respect Shabbat or any other yontovim. I also always had a Siddur hidden with me and used to doven whenever I had the opportunity.

    After having been back at the home in Vic Sur Cere, the rumor came around that the Razzia was coming to collect us. The Razzia were the French soldiers under German command. In no time young kids were brought to the home and us bigger girls were given false I.D. cards and placed into families to do housework. This was done as the Razzia were not after small kids, but after older girls. I was 16 at the time The Jewish Underground was well informed of all the happenings and had prepared to save as many people as possible. Already a number of good French people had volunteered to take us into their homes. Two of my friends, Hannelore and Lore and myself were placed with some very high-class families in Lyon. My name became Lucienne Berger. 

    It was necessary for some reason for our real initials to be the same as our new identity. 

    According to my cover, I was born in Muhlhause in Elsass where German is spoken. My French was very poor but in no time I picked up the language. My rescuing family was the Ogier family, a wealthy upper class family that had a huge country house just outside Lyon where they spent the summer as well as another chalet near Grenoble for the winter months. I was well treated. 

    I worked for them as a domestic worker so that nobody would ever find out my true identity. They also had an extra charwoman to help me. From my weekly rations, I managed to save some food and send it to my parents who in the meantime had moved to another camp. Somehow my parents and I managed to receive news from each other. I always wrote to my parents without a sender's name. 

    Nobody ever found out about these food parcels. For the remainder of the war my real Jewish identity was kept a secret and I worked as a maid for the Family Ogier.

    The Americans liberated Lyon in 1945. As the Germans left, they blew up all the bridges around the town. Lyon is situated between the Rhone and the Soane Rivers and the town is in the centre isle. That morning, while I was queuing outside a bakery for bread, a big red-hot glowing stone, which came from an exploding bridge, fell in front of my feet. I have kept this stone as a memoir to this day. 

    Very soon after the liberation, I was in contact with the director of the home who had left for Limoges to run a home for abandoned babies. Hannelore, Lore and myself went from Lyon to Limoges, received some nursing training and worked with the babies.

    I am still in contact with the family in Lyon, which saved me from deportation. I also visited them some year’s back with my late husband. Three years ago Yad Vashem honored them amongst the righteous gentiles.

    Following the liberation, the camp where my parents were was no more under guard and the O.S.E took over the running of the camp until other accommodation was available. After sometime, I joined my parents and worked at the sickbay with the doctor-in-charge. Soon thereafter an old age home was opened near Toulouse and all the people from the camp were taken there. 

    I also worked there with the sick until my parents heard and received their permits to go to South Africa. They left via Lisbon in 1947 by boat. By that time I had become very friendly with the Jewish man who was in charge of the O.S.E. He was transferred to Marseilles to be in charge of all the doctors and nursing staff of the transit camps for people leaving for Israel on the illegal Aliya Bet boats. They came from Morroco, Tunis and all African countries. A lot of them were sick or pregnant and they all were treated in order to be in good health on arrival in Israel.

    My last station was in Marseilles where all the O.S.E. people worked together and became a close family. 

    In 1949 I was unable to get a visa to come to South Africa. Some friends of my family worked out a scheme whereby I would marry a certain man they knew in order to enter the country, and then divorce him shortly afterwards. After considering the proposal, this man turned down the offer. 

    In the year 1950 I managed to get a visa for South Africa. I arrived via England by boat in Cape Town on the 1st May 1950 where I then went to my sister Hilda and my parents in Johannesburg.

    I later went to visit my other brother Sally and sister Berthel in Bulawayo. I met the man I was to marry in September 1950. We were married in January 1951. It turned out that that man who had refused the marriage of convenience previously was in fact Sigi Weber, my new husband.

    I would like to end by saying that Speyer has the oldest mikvah in Germany and has been recently restored as a memorial to the Jews of Speyer.

    I thank Hashem every day for having saved my family and allowing me to have survived this life ordeal. I would like to thank you all for your attention and for allowing me to tell my life story for the first time.

    _________________________________

    Sophie (daughter to Sigi and Lilo) adds  - Lilo  was born on the 4th February 1927 in Speyer, Germany and now lives in Sea Point, Cape Town. My mum has a very good memory of things that happened, names of people, etc.
     
    My name is Sophie Miriam (nee Weber) and married to Neville Raoul Codron (who grew up in Macheke!) and I have a brother David married to Ingrid (nee Kropman) in Johannesburg.

     

      


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