To mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Clare George highlights a story from the IMLR archives of the young Czech-German refugee Herbert Löwit, and his role in the surrender of power to the Allied Forces at the end of the Siege of Dunkirk in May 1945.
When German forces finally capitulated, Löwit’s fluency in English, German and Czech was put to use when he was entrusted to act as the telephone link between the headquarters of the German troops and the Czech Independent Brigade, which had besieged the town for the Allies since October 1944.
Herbert Löwit generously donated his family papers to the Institute in 2009, three years before his death in 2012. They constitute a fascinating record of the families of Löwit and his wife Theresie (née Schneider) and their experiences as refugees from German-speaking Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s and 1940s. The trade unionist activities of Löwit’s father-in-law, Joseph Schneider, supporting his comrades in exile, are particularly well documented, but there are also records of the more personal aspects of exile life. These include exchanges with the Czech Refugee Trust Fund concerning Löwit’s maintenance and employment before he joined the Czech Independent Brigade on his 18th birthday in May 1941, and questionnaires completed by family members towards the end of the war as part of the repatriation process.
Earlier this year we were delighted that an oral history interview carried out with Löwit in 1998 was added to the collections by Dr Tony Grenville of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies. The interview records Löwit’s reflecting back over the path of his life from childhood in Czechoslovakia through his experiences in the army and to life in post-war UK. It includes a fascinating account of his role as a translator for the Allies in May 1945, and we hope to make it accessible through digitisation within the coming months. We are very grateful to Dr Grenville for the donation and to Löwit’s daughter Sylvia Daintrey, for her support and for the granting of copyright.
Further information about the archive can be found here.
Dr Clare George, Archivist (Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Trust), Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, IMLR