5th March 1931 – I wouldn’t forgive him, and I won’t

It was the end of the beginning. Jean, outraged at Karl-Heinz’s gate-crashing, and appalled and worn down by the complications of continuing the relationship in the face of such opposition from the Pension staff, had decided to obey Fraulein Scheunemann. Karl was banned from all contact. Jean resumed her conventional Pension life, but it would only last for a few months.

* * *

The day after the debacle, 5th March, was the quiet after the storm. The girls were tired and hungover, Jean was still upset at the scenes of the night before. Two of the cadets had crept upstairs during the party and stolen a silk vest from Jean’s room which they then used to tease her. “It’s parading around the Infantry School”, one of them told her. And to rub salt into the wound, when she and Marjorie popped into town for some errands, they bumped into Karl-Heinz and a group of his friends. She ignored him studiously: “I wouldn’t forgive him, and I won’t.” That evening she tried to focus on a concert by a Hungarian orchestra, but found her mind wandering back to the events of the previous night.

Meanwhile the Pension group was beginning to crumble. Uscha was leaving to go back to her estates in Poland, leaving a chatty, busy gap in their social life. Marjorie had decided to accept a job as a governess with a Jewish family, the Marons. 

4th March 1931 – he was livid because he loves me

But the stress of hiding her friendship with a Jew was beginning to tell. Karl was unable to telephone her freely at the Pension, visit her or even meet her openly. The teachers from the Pension decided to arrange a distraction and invited the soldiers from the Infantry School over to the Pension for a dinner and dance. It looked like a promising idea, but it ended up causing an emotional explosion. The Jews – Karl and his friend Irwin – were of course not invited.

That night, 4th March 1931, Jean sat at dinner between the smitten Ernst Barth and another officer, but she ignored Barth as far as possible. Across the table she flirted wildly with her old sparring partner, Werner von Köcheritz, and after dinner he managed to kiss her hair. Barth in desperation kissed her arm and then her neck, but she slipped free and went off to dance with Klaus von Below, an aristocrat from Pomerania, later Hitler’s air force adjutant, who would survive the assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944. Jean and von Below escaped to the kitchen where Klaus kissed her properly. Poor Barth came in and began to make a fuss. “He was livid because he loves me”. Barth had been writing and telephoning Jean for weeks and been ignored as concentrated on Karl-Heinz.

As though this scene were not fraught with enough drama, Karl and his friend Irwin walked in, having crashed the party, and made their way to the kitchen in search of Jean. Unhappy at having been excluded from the party in the first place, Karl was then outraged to find Jean locked in an embrace with von Below, with a distraught Barth remonstrating beside them. Jean, surrounded by four angry young men, in a panic ordered the Jewish boys to leave.

Hearing the noise, Mausi, the chaperone, entered the kitchen and, discovering the situation, joined in the commotion, ordering the uninvited Karl and Irwin to leave forthwith. The Jewish boys stomped off. Barth took advantage of briefly having Jean to himself to declare his love for her, but he also announced that everything was too sad for him. His devotion had been exploited. ”He was so cross that he said he would never see me again. I explained to him that I am also fond of him, and it is true, but he said that the woman he loves must not go with [any] others. He doesn’t understand that I’m only playing with von Below.” As the scales fell from his eyes, Barth left the party distraught. Von Below and von Köcheritz consoled themselves happily by finding other dance partners, and Jean “went straight to bed and cried because I will never see Barth again.” Marjorie came up and consoled her.

2nd March 1931 – hard to believe they were Jewish

They had arranged to go skiing together, so Marjorie and Jean set off the next morning for Oberbärenburg. Again they had lied to Mausi about meeting Karl-Heinz. Jean was touched to see that Karl had tied her handkerchief to his skis in the manner of a jousting knight tying his lady’s favours to his lance. He introduced his sister Liane, a stunning though diminutive copper-haired sixteen-year old, his parents, and his best friend Irwin Weinberg, another excellent skier, as well as Irwin’s parents. Looking back on it in the evening, Jean thought it had been “a lovely, lovely day, with lovely weather and companions.” She found them all so pleasant that it was hard to believe they were Jewish. “Karl’s parents are really very sweet, and Marjorie and I both wonder if one of them can be a Jew. They certainly don’t look like it. Both jolly, especially Herr Pobelik.”

25th February 1931 – he danced marvellously

Karl-Heinz was busy with exams for the next few days and Jean took the chance to go on another trip with the Pension girls. They caught the early train to Kipsdorf, a small mountain resort some 35 kilometres south of Dresden, where they met up with Wilhelm Straub, the cadet that had fallen for Jean at the Infantry Ball, and Fräulein Lanke, the ski instructor. Conditions were tricky with ice beneath new snow, but the sun was warm on their backs and Jean was improving all the time. After lunch Thea and Jean went for an enormously long walk – “we went right into Moldau (Moldavia) in Czecho Slovakia […] Today we went 36km and that is equivalent to 23 miles. I never imagined that one could go so far, especially me!”

Over the next few days Marjorie and Uscha helped Jean to dodge the teachers whenever Karl telephoned. After he had finished his exams they arranged to go out together. Jean told Mausi she was meeting her English friend Russell, of whom the Pension chaperones approved, and Marjorie confirmed the lie. They met at 8pm and saw a Mickey Mouse film followed by a musical, Schubert’s Spring Dream (Frühlingstraum), a bio-pic about Franz Schubert. Karl explained any vocabulary she didn’t understand, and “was very sweet”. After the film they went on to the Piccadilly dance hall, and once again he danced “marvellously”. As they walked back together he kissed her three times. However, the door to the Pension was bolted and they had to wake Frida the maid to let Jean in. Karl must have left before she came to unbolt the door so that Jean would not be in trouble with the teachers.

21st February 1931- but he’s a Jew… it’s completely irrelevant to me

At the Pension a crisis meeting was called between Fräulein Scheunemann, Fräulein Heck, Mausi and Herr Schadinger, another of the teachers. Uscha overheard the discussions and reported back to Jean. Mausi was already prejudiced against Karl as she had decided that he had broken the piano. But now Fräulein Tahm reported back that he was a Jew. He was no longer welcome at the Pension. Jean didn’t understand the problem. “That is all completely irrelevant to me. I like him,” she stated.

As Hitler’s propaganda began to take effect, comments such as these were typical of the increasing anti-semitism that Jews were beginning to experience. Hitler, of course, had been saying that the Jews must be exterminated from as early as 1920, and the official Nazi party programme that was approved in February 1920 included denying Jews any civil rights and registering them as aliens.

In Dresden itself there were almost 5,000[1] Jews at this time, at every level of educated society, from medicine through law to business, the theatre and the cinema. Although open and vociferous anti-semitism was becoming the norm, the racial laws had not yet begun to make life officially unbearable for Jews and it was clearly still surprising for Karl to encounter the reactions that he met from the Pension teachers.

When he rang after supper Jean told him what had happened. “He was insanely furious,” she wrote. Then Fräulein Scheunemann stepped in to end the call, saying that she had spoken to him for too long. She called Jean into her room and tried to make her see the error of her ways. “But he’s a Jew,” she explained. “I know,” replied Jean. From now on, Jean tried to keep her friendship with Karl secret from the teachers. Meanwhile she and Uscha had an important appointment at the opera with the Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, so she excused herself from Mausi’s recriminations. The girls managed to avoid Wilhelm Straub and Ernst Barth in the interval, but afterwards the two officers accompanied them home.


[1] Viktor Klemperer – I shall bear witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-41, abridged and translated by Martin Chalmers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998. There were 4,675 Jews in Dresden in 1933. Barely a handful – literally – survived by 1945.


17th February 1931 – They must be Jews – I do hope not

The next morning everyone – including Jean herself – was astonished to see her emerge at 8.30am. She struggled through a History of Art lesson with Fräulein Scheunemann, but then retired to bed with “a devilish suffering stomach”. While she was in bed, Karl came to visit, but the maid told him Jean was lying in bed, so he left without seeing her. He was about to start his exams, he told her the next day on the phone, and would have to concentrate on his work for a few weeks. Jean was desperate: “That is far too long. I would so like to see him, but now I must wait two weeks, and perhaps for ever!” But there were other complications. At the Student Ball she had told him she was seventeen, but at the ski resort she had said she was eighteen. Would he notice the disparity? And, contrary to her experience with the unfortunate Barth, she was worried that she liked him more than he liked her. “Why do I like him so, and he has so many girlfriends that I’m sure he doesn’t like me that much.”

But far worse was to follow. She had discovered that his surname was an unromantic Pobelik. When the girls were discussing this together, Fräulein Tahm, the music teacher, immediately said in a tone of disgust, “They must be Jews.” “I do hope not”, wrote Jean worriedly.


16th February 1931 – I cried for Karl the whole time

Jean’s social life was in full flow and she must have been feeling tired. There were still lessons to attend to: German, history of art, music, French. It was only two days since the last party, and now an English friend, Russell, invited her to join his group for a Fancy Dress Ball at an exhibition. Thea’s costume was pressed into service once more and Jean set off, but this time the evening was disastrous. “I cried for Karl the whole time!” she wrote. Russell’s Norwegian girlfriend Eli had brought her brother, and Jean found him too short and too keen on her. A German friend of Russell’s, Wolf, kissed her – “a horrid sucking kiss” – and she pushed him off. She had quite a nice dance with an Italian, Enrico, though it wasn’t very exciting. Then, in spite of Eli’s presence, Russell kissed her too “and I liked his best.” The evening got worse: Enrico brought her home in a taxi at 3am, and he too kissed her “but with his tongue in my mouth, or at least tried. I hated it, and wouldn’t let him any more!” And then, when she finally got into her room at 4am, to cap an awful evening, “I found I had got the CURSE.”

15th February 1931 – an idyllic weekend

After a very short night – “only slept three hours!” – the girls were up again at 6.30 in the morning to get the bus to the mountains for a day of skiing. Karl met her there, but soon had to leave to meet his parents. But there had been enough affectionate teasing from him to keep Jean happy, and Karl shone to best advantage on skis. He could jump, he could turn somersaults over his ski poles, he was in his element. Jean was exhilarated. After he left, the girls saw a deer as they skied back down the hill. The views across the mountain tops and valleys were beautiful. It was an idyllic weekend.

14th February 1931 – he kissed her and both were aflame

The day of the Student Ball dawned. Jean had fallen out with Marjorie – “I don’t like her a bit now, she’s so stupid, and talks of nothing else but music and books. Music especially, also she snaps at me every time she sees me, and it is really most annoying. So I shall avoid speaking to her in future!” They had patched it up, but there was still some coolness between them, and the sophisticated Uscha was anyhow a better partner for mischief-making. The two girls rang Karl and arranged to meet at the ice rink. Jean had only learnt to skate two weeks before, but the Pension girls had all become very keen. After an hour’s skating, they went back to the Pension for tea, and Karl played jazz on the piano, while the girls read. He left before supper, and afterwards the girls got dressed in their party finery. Jean borrowed a costume from Thea and it fitted her like a dream.

getting ready for the ball

Marjorie, Lilo and Jean getting ready for the ball

Off they went to the Ball and Jean was besieged with partners. First came a very flirty student that they had met in the mountains. Then came a very neat and dapper young man, but he was a bit too short for the statuesque Jean, then another cheeky one with whom she drank lots of champagne, and then – at last – at 10.30, Karl turned up. From then on, she danced only with him. “He was wonderful.” He kissed her, and both were aflame. “An inferno,” wrote Jean. He was handsome, lithe and sporty, with curly light brown hair, a mobile face, a charming smile and a ready sense of humour. It was well after two in the morning before he accompanied her back to the door of the Pension.

12th February 1931 – oh what a boy!

The young officers from the Infantry School had competition, not only from Karl, but from the students that Marjorie had met in the mountains while the others were skiing. They invited the girls to the Student Ball on Valentine’s Day. The time had come to introduce Karl to the Pension teachers so they could vet the new friend over tea. The chaperones were familiar with the Infantry officers, but their approval was a necessary part of the conditions under which the girls were entrusted to the Pension by their parents. Karl warned Jean that he would play a joke on them, but she had no idea how far he would go. He arrived late, dressed in terrible clothes, and assumed a bumpkin accent as though he were the village idiot. When he was offered tea, he stumblingly demanded a glass of milk. The assembled company were aghast “thinking him a half-wit.” He announced loudly to everyone that he couldn’t play music because he was illiterate. Jean dissolved into giggles, and the others strained to remain courteous. Fräulein Heck left the room to warn Fräulein Scheunemann. Then suddenly, when all were completely horrified, “he became himself”, sat down at the piano and played jazz “marvellously” for them. Jean handed over the flowers he had brought for Fräulein Scheunemann, and they all sat and “ate toffee and listened to him!” Jean had to convince Fräulein Scheunemann that “he was really normal”, but at the end she laughed.

That night Jean wrote in her diary “Oh what a boy! Marvellous fun.” And it was an impressive performance, from a very confident and charismatic young man. It is hard to imagine any of the straight-laced young officers setting themselves up to convince the girls they hoped to impress and their chaperones that they were half-wits!