Reunited with childhood friend whose family saved them from the Nazis: Moment Jewish brothers meet German neighbour whose father paid for tickets on last train out of Berlin so they could escape Hitler
- George and Peter Summerfield escaped with parents to Holland in August 1939
- Adolf Schädler, the caretaker of their Berlin apartment block, paid for train ticket
- George and Peter had played with the man’s sons, Rolf and Ronald
- In BBC documentary Saved by a Stranger, the pair reconnect with Rolf on Skype
Two Jewish brothers who fled Nazi Germany on the last train out of Berlin before World War II have been reunited with the son of the man who made their escape possible 81 years on.
Identical twins George and Peter Summerfield, 87, escaped with their parents to Holland in August 1939 – their possessions crammed into two suitcases.
But they were only able to afford the rail fare because of the kindness of family friend Adolf Schädler, the caretaker of their apartment block.
His son Rolf was the boys’ childhood playmate, and now, thanks to BBC Two documentary Saved by a Stranger, the Summerfields have reconnected with him after more than 80 years.
But in a bitterly ironic twist, they discovered that after helping their father, Adolf had been imprisoned in Oranienburg concentration camp – one of the first Nazi detention centres for political opponents of their barbaric regime.
He died in 1957 never having recovered from his ordeal.
‘My parents spoke about your family a lot,’ Peter, who lives in London, told Rolf.
Two Jewish brothers who fled Nazi Germany on the last train out of Berlin before World War II have been reunited with the son of the man who made their escape possible 81 years on
Identical twins George and Peter Summerfield, 87, escaped with their parents to Holland in August 1939 – their possessions crammed into two suitcases
‘And they’ve told us that if it wasn’t for your father we wouldn’t have left. As a Jewish family of course we would have been sent to a concentration camp.
‘Our father went to your father and asked him: ‘Can you please help us, we need money.’ He immediately said: ‘Yes, I’ll lend you the money.’ It was very dangerous for your father to help Jewish people at the time.
‘Between us we have 10 children and 20 grandchildren and they’re all grateful to your father. They wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your father.’
‘My father never told us much about this,’ Rolf, a father-of-two from Freiburg, Germany, told the twins.
Adolf and Anne Schadler
‘You know more than me. He was in a concentration camp for a week.
‘It was a very tough time for him and all of this wore him down. He died really young. You can only be grateful to find out that you’re the son of parents who acted so fantastically.’
The moving reunion, which took place on Zoom because of lockdown, was captured by BBC2 film makers for the new series Saved by a Stranger. The episode will be aired on Thursday night.
‘I’ve had a day here today which I will always remember,’ George, the older twin said afterwards.
‘It’s the end of the search but the beginning of a relationship,’ added Peter. ‘It would be rather marvellous if we could all get together for his (Rolf’s) 90th. Hopefully next time we meet it will be in England or Germany.’
Born in Berlin in 1933, six months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Summerfeld twins, as they were known then, grew up in the apartment block Heuelstrasse 29 with their parents Franz, a bank clerk, and Margot, a dressmaker.
After school they would play football in the courtyard of the block with the two sons of caretaker Adolf Schädler and his wife Anne – Rolf and Ronald, who died in 2017.
Mr Schadler’s son Rolf was the boys’ childhood playmate, and now, thanks to BBC Two documentary Saved by a Stranger, the Summerfields have reconnected with him after more than 80 years
The emotional moment the twins saw Rolf for the first time since the 1930s was shown on the programme
‘My parents were very happily ensconced in Berlin,’ recalled Peter. ‘It was a lovely place to be living in and although things were pretty bad after the First World War, life was beginning to improve.
‘Our mother was a qualified dressmaker. My father was working at a bank. So they had hope for the future, which was then, of course, never realised.’
But as the Nazi regime began persecuting the Jews, life for the family became intolerable. ‘Our father immediately lost his job,’ explained George, who lives in London with wife Marion.
George and Peter had fond memories of playing with Ronald (left) and Rolf, who are pictured above when they were young
Born in Berlin in 1933, six months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Summerfeld twins grew up in the apartment block Heuelstrasse 29 with their parents Franz, a bank clerk, and Margot, a dressmaker
‘He was thrown out for being Jewish. There were four of us and my father no longer had a job.
‘We were, I think at the time, the only Jewish family living in the block. We made very good friends with the children of the caretaker.
‘One day they came home and they were in tears. And we asked them: ‘Well, why are you crying?’ And they said: ‘Well, we’re crying because at school we were asked: ‘Do any of you play with Jewish children?’
‘And they answered: ‘Yes, we play with the Jewish children. We play with our twins, our friends who live right in the same block as we do.’
And they were told emphatically: ‘You are not allowed to play with them again. You are not allowed to play with Jewish children.’
That was last time we were able to actually join them in the courtyard. We were both in tears.’
When they were five years old, the twins witnessed the Nazi’s growing violence towards Jews on Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. Unbeknown to the twins, Mr Schädler hid their father Franz in the cellar.
‘On that day, they not only burnt to the ground, hundreds of synagogues they attacked houses, they attacked businesses, they murdered people on the street,’ said Peter.
‘Of course my parents tried to keep us away from all this terror, which they were feeling. It was customary for my father to come and give us a good night kiss. For a few days he didn’t come.’
In a bitterly ironic twist, they discovered that after helping their father, Adolf had been imprisoned in Oranienburg concentration camp. Pictured: Adolf Schadler with Rolf and Ronald
In a letter shared exclusively shared with MailOnline, Mr Schadler wrote to the twins after the virtual meeting to thank them for searching for him
It was in August 1939 that the family finally secured the right paperwork to leave the country.
They left on the last train out of Berlin with their possessions crammed into two suitcases.
But they were ordered off the train at the border – the train reversed, taking their luggage – and they spent the night on the floor of the station surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers.
The following morning, the first train to come into the station was destined for Holland and they all piled on.
‘I still remember very distinctly the moment that we arrived in Holland,’ said George. ‘What a difference it made, because all of a sudden you felt free.’
Saved by a Stranger is at 9pm on Thursday on BBC Two.
Saved by a Stranger is at 9pm on Thursday on BBC Two. Pictured: The pair with presenter Anita Rani
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