Richard Ullmann found a new spiritual home with the Quakers
by Angelika Rieber
“For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
Richard Ullmann was born into a Jewish family residing in Frankfurt since the 16th Century. The Ullmanns were very involved with their Christian surroundings and liberal in religious questions. The parents enrolled Richard Ullmann and his brother Franz for Protestant religious education in school, because they found knowledge of the New Testament to be an important educational asset. Disagreements between various factions led the parents leave the Jewish community and have their children baptized.
Richard Ullmann’s confirmation verse was an omen: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). He dealt with this issue throughout his life and was conscious of his Jewish origins.
While studying German philology, Ullmann met his future wife, Helene Gotthard, a non-Jew. They married in 1927. After spending four years as a lecturer in China, Richard and his family moved to Oberursel.
The Nazi takeover became an inner tragedy
Hitler’s inauguration stunted the young father’s career. He was not able to finish his habilitation at Frankfurt’s university. This affected his psyche and he “became more and more self-conscious”.
In the “Reich Association of Non-Aryan Christians”, he met people who shared his fate. The November Pogrom on November 9, 1938 shattered the family. Richard Ullmann was arrested right away, as a so-called Aktionsjude and deported to Buchenwald. He only returned on February 19, 1939, shaven bald, starved and traumatized.
Now nothing could hold him in Germany. The Quakers helped Richard Ullmann escape to England. He found a new spiritual home in this community. After the war started, the forced emigrant, again felt marginalized. He was interned as an “enemy alien” and deported to Australia.
The Quakers succeeded in getting him back to England, because he was needed to prepare aid services after the end of the war. This lifted him into the category of “friendly alien”. Working for the Quakers, he looked at the psychological effects of the Nazi regime on the people and for possibilities to support them after the war.
Dismissed from school
Helene Ullmann and her two daughters stayed in Oberursel. They felt no significant changes until 1942, just after Dia’s 14th birthday. “Half-Jewish” children were excluded from secondary schools by a ministerial ordinance. Just before the end of the war the “worst shock” of Dia Ullmann experienced the worst shock of her life. She was ordered to appear for “labor duty in Theresienstadt”. However, her group was released from the remand prison after brief incarceration.
The two girls will always remember the end of the war. Christel’s confirmation at Christuskirche was in the week before the liberation. On Good Friday, the American troops came in. A priest of the “Confessing Church” held a sermon “which made the walls tremble. Outside you could hear the tanks roll in, inside an incomparable sermon of penitence,” remembers Dia.
In 1946, Richard Ullmann was able to enter Germany for the Quaker Service Committee for one year. Shocked by the reality of the bombed cities and the post-war misery, and by the murder and deportation of his brother Franz, he could not find his way back home and therefore returned to England. His family followed half a year later.
Richard Ullmann wrote down his moving impressions and experiences in a diary and published it as “Sentimental Journey” in England. The former Oberursel resident worked for the Quakers’ international peace services until his death in 1963.
Biographical notes to follow
Rieber, A. (2004): Wir bleiben hier. Lebenswege Oberurseler Familien jüdischer HerkunftUllmann, H. (1965): Der Mut zur reinen Tat. Richard Ullmann, sein Leben und sein Werk, Bad Pyrmont • Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden • Private information and documents by Christel Ullmann and Paul Richter
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