Lives Remembered: Tania England
Tuesday 03 November 2009
My wife Tania England (née Reichenbach) was born in Berlin in 1922. Her mother was Jewish, but Tania was not aware of her Jewishness until she learned that her schoolfriends had been told by their parents not to play with her. Her father was co-founder of the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD) – not the family background of choice in Germany in the early 1930s. Tania recalled several visits by the Gestapo to her home while she was a young girl.
On one such occasion her quick thinking probably saved her family, but she was always modest about her vital role. Her father stored anti-Nazi literature in the bathroom and, at the age of 12, Tania was told that if the Gestapo called, she was to flush it away. When she needed to act, she found that there was too much and so put the leaflets in her knickers. When she came out of the bathroom, the Gestapo official asked why she had been there so long, but accepted her mother's answer that Tania had diarrhoea.
Looking back, Tania often said that despite the difficult political situation she had had a very happy childhood because she, her elder brother Hanno and her parents were such a close-knit family with a common enemy. Nevertheless, her father was forced to leave Germany in 1935. He came to England, followed by Tania and her mother a year later. Tania was 13 and spent the next few years at Forest School, a progressive boarding school in the New Forest, which offered a free place to a refugee child. She went on to study Economic History at the London School of Economics, at that time evacuated to Cambridge, followed by a year at the London Institute of Education.
In 1942, when she was 20, we married, and while I was abroad in the Army she qualified as a psychiatric social worker. Tania worked in child guidance and later with the families of patients at Barrow Hospital near Bristol. We had two daughters, Gillian and Janet, and she gained great pleasure from being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
From her early 20s she was a health food enthusiast, enjoyed walking and the countryside. She and I were founder members of the Social Democratic Party and active party workers.
In her seventies and eighties, Tania regularly talked to sixth formers at the local comprehensive about her life in Germany. She was not used to speaking to groups, yet with only a few notes she held the teenagers' interest for an hour. She particularly enjoyed answering the students' questions.
Until recently, she ran a U3A (University of the Third Age) German conversation group in her home and actively participated in philosophy and current affairs groups. Having lived with Lewy Body Dementia for two years, Tania died peacefully at home among her family on 15 October. Characteristically, she donated her brain for medical research.
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