Charity funeral for refugee who fled Nazis

Man found dead in St John’s Wood flat is given Jewish burial as police search for details of his life

THE mystery of a German refugee who was evacuated to Britain days before the start of the Second World War has been revealed after his body was found in his St John’s Wood flat.

Franz Joseph Nebel, 87, was found in Randolph Avenue in October after his neighbour reported him missing and was believed to have died of a heart attack a month earlier.

Police failed to find any relatives to contact but they came across a newspaper article in the flat about a group called the ORT Leeds Old Boys who embarked on a reunion trip to Berlin in 1989.

The trip marked the 50th anniversary of the evacuation of 104 German Jewish pupils from Jewish education charity British ORT’s Berlin school to England.

Mr Nebel, who was born in September 1923 in Oppeln, was one of the pupils who attended the school, which had been set up for children who were banned from mainstream education because of Nazi persecution.

Three days before the outbreak of the war in 1939, British ORT chairman Lord Rothschild asked lieutenant colonel Joseph Levey of the British army for help arranging for the whole ORT school in Berlin to be relocated to Leeds.

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The first group, containing Mr Nebel and his brother Kurt, made the move but the second group due to leave a week later never managed to leave because of the start of the war.

British ORT events manager Muriel Stempel said: “The police got in touch with us because they found paperwork relating to the reunion trip to Berlin.

“He was one of those who made the move to England and on the 50th anniversary there was a reunion which he took part in.

“The police wondered if we were in contact with any other Leeds Old Boys so we got in touch with all those we knew but only one of them remembered him.

“British ORT decided to try to arrange for a Jewish burial because otherwise he would have been cremated. The United Synagogue provided a Jewish funeral for him.”

Bert Goldsmith lived with Mr Nebel after they left the Leeds ORT school and he attended his funeral, which was held on December 26 at Waltham Abbey Jewish Cemetery.

“The last time I saw him was in 1943,” he said.

“The school closed in the early 1940s and all the boys went their different ways. Quite a few of us stayed in Leeds and we went into engineering.

“We split up and Franz and I and one other boy went into lodging together. Then he joined the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers with his brother in 1943.

“Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have any family left and no friends seem to have appeared anywhere.

“We were friends in our youth and I don’t think it’s right that anybody should be buried on their own.”

After the Second World War Mr Nebel joined the postal service and married. He outlived his wife and brother and didn’t have any children.