While the British remember the inconclusive naval Battle of Jutland and its 6000 dead , the French hang down their heads for the 400,000 lost in the Battle of Verdun which was fought throughout 1916. The road to Verdun became for the French ,Via Dolorosa. The huge losses led to a weakening of French national morale and were probably a factor in the collapse of France in 1940.
My family has a connection. Stepfather Hans’ father, Adolph Asch fought at Verdun. On the other side. He was in the horse artillery and like most assimilated German Jews was proud to do his patriotic chore. Despite being a well educated lawyer his religion was probably the reason he never rose above sergeant. Before the War Adolph founded an ultra patriotic Jewish student fraternity which challenged anyone who doubted their nationalism to a duel.
After the War he became a successful property lawyer rising to the judge’s bench. Very much part of the liberal haut bourgeoisie which dominated central Berlin. While son Hans skied and played ice hockey, daughter Gerda became a disciple of dancer Isadora Duncan.
With advent of the Nazis in 1933 things got progressively more difficult. Hans had to do his PhD in Turin, Gerda left for Brussels and Adolph’s practice became massively curtailed. By the end he couldn’t be paid, so clients paid him in classical (Rembrandt and Durer included)prints. These were sold ten years ago in London auction houses-for far less than we dreamed!
Adolph spent a few months in a concentration camp in 1937. Until then his line on the Nazis had been “let them march , they will get tired”. In 1938 Hans convinced his parents to leave ,with a mere fraction of their savings, and they spent the rest of their lives in exile. First in a small terrace in Manchester and from 1950 they lived in Hans and Joan’s large Wimbledon house, they never really learnt English.
My memories of him are of a stout man, cigar smoking, chess playing, face pressed to the TV as he was very deaf. As well as being supported by Hans, the German government paid him a pension.
Typically I remember once coming home from university with a friend. Ringing the bell,he came to an upstairs window. Grandpa , I cried,this is a friend from uni. Yes, he replied, but who are you?
One of the few highlights of his 30 year exile was his 50th wedding anniversary which was held in the early 1960s in Saas Fee ,Switzerland.
I once had a German girlfriend who said, just by the way they walked you could tell Adolph and his devoted Mutti were a German couple of a certain vintage. Like a box in the attic ,they reeked of a past dead, but not gone. Like Verdun, history now. But unlike Verdun there is no memorial for Adolph. For this couple their Via Dolorosa ended at 412 Wimbledon Park Road. Sad, but a better place than where many of their friends perished.