My object is a late nineteenth-century jam dish, made by the famous Rosenthal porcelain manufacturers, which was probably originally a sugar bowl. It’s not particularly beautiful. Indeed, as Rosenthal goes, it’s rather hideous. But it has an extraordinary story attached to it. When my Jewish grandmother finally- reluctantly- left her home town of Heilbronn in Germany a few days before war broke out, taking virtually nothing with her, as doing so was forbidden, it appears that some of the men who had been in prisoner of war camp in France with my grandfather during World War I went into the apartment. Instead of ransacking it, they packed everything up very carefully, sent it in containers across the Rhine into France, and then forwarded it on to my grandparents in England. They were living in one large room in a refugee hostel in Wimbledon, and every piece of furniture, every piece of china, every picture and every ornament arrived. My grandparents lived on top of all this stuff for six years!
But the dish and its lid were special- they had been especially carefully wrapped. And the reason my grandparents became convinced it was my grandfather’s former fellow prisoners who had sent all the stuff- for there was no message attached- was that this particular dish was wrapped in sheets of the ‘newspaper’ produced by the prisoners in France in 1916! It was a clue. So this dish has made the journey from Heilbronn to London via France, been in my grandparents’ house and then my parents’ house in the Isle of Wight. Later, it lived in their London flat, and now it is in our holiday home in Ireland, used for jam or marmalade at every breakfast time. It has no financial value at all- its gilt is rubbing off. But every time I use it I think of its journey and am incredibly grateful both that my mother and her parents escaped Nazi Germany, and that those anonymous people – probably friends of my grandfather’s – rescued all their possessions, and sent them on. Their action gave my grandparents great comfort.
The daughter of a refugee mother from Nazi Germany, Rabbi the Baroness Neuberger DBE studied at Newnham College, Cambridge before training to become a rabbi. She was the first female rabbi to be in charge of her own synagogue, South London Liberal Synagogue (1977 to 1989) and has recently been Senior Rabbi of the UK’s oldest Reform Synagogue, WestLondon Synagogue (2011 to 2020). She entered the House of Lords in 2004, is a Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council, and recently took up the post of Chair of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Having undertaken a large number of voluntary and philanthropic roles, her career has spanned health care, the charitable sector and politics including: being Chair of Camden and Islington Community Health Services NHS Trust, Chief Executive of the King’s Fund, SDP candidate for Tooting in the 1983 general election and Chair of the Review of the Liverpool Care Pathway for Dying Patients. She has written many books including The Moral State We’re In (2005) Antisemitism, What it is, What it Isn’t, Why it Matters (2019) and she appears regularly on BBC radio and sits in the House of Lords on the crossbenches (independent).