Phil Emberly, Canada

Son of
Dieter Werner Eger, later Dennis Walter Emberley, born 1925 in Frankfurt am Main
Escape with the Kindertransport to Great Britain on 25 August 1939

Grandson of
Berthold Eger, born 1895 in Saarbrücken, merchant
Minna (Mina) Eger, née Hamburger, born 1891 in Frankfurt am Main
Deported to Lodz/Litzmannstadt on 19 October 1941, declared dead

Great-grandson of
Mathilde Hamburger, b. 1868 in Offenbach
Deported to Theresienstadt on 1 September 1942

Residential addresses of the family in Frankfurt am Main:
Gwinnerstraße 3, from 1939: Friedberger Anlage 15

Hessian State Archives Wiesbaden
Jewish Museum, Deportee Database
Yad Vashem: Shoa Victims Names
Arolsen Archives
Bundesarchiv, Online-Gedenkbuch
Institute for the History of the City of Frankfurt
Information from Phil Emberley: questionnaires, excerpts from his father’s diary, photos, correspondence
Ottawa Jewish E-Bulletin (retrieved on march 29th 2024)
Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES)
Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3, June 2022
(retrieved on march 29th 2024)

Photos from the visit to Frankfurt: Angelika Rieber
Family Archive

Text and research:
Angelika Rieber

The Eger family

“The coming week is the recurrence of deep sorrow …”

From Angelika Rieber

Phil Emberley visited Frankfurt in October 2023. His father Dieter Werner Eger was born there in 1925. On August 25, 1939, the 13-year-old boy was able to leave Germany on a Kindertransport. He never saw his parents again. They were deported to the Lodz/Litzmannstadt ghetto on October 19, 1941. Dieter Werner Eger, who later called himself Dennis Walter Emberley, did not talk much about the past. It was only through his diary that his sons learned more about their father’s traumatic experiences, his escape from Germany and the murder of their grandparents.

From Saarbrücken to Frankfurt

Berthold Eger was born in Saarbrücken in 1895 as the son of Jacob Eger and his wife Bertha Eger, née Ullmann. After completing his education at commercial college, he worked as a sales representative. During the First World War, he fought as a soldier in the German army in France and was seriously wounded, losing a kidney. His son Werner (Dieter’s customary name) recalled that his father had a box of war memorabilia, which he burned after the National Socialists came to power.

Berthold Eger moved to Frankfurt with his parents in 1920. There he married the accountant Minna (Mina) Eger, née Homburger. Their son Dieter Werner was born in Frankfurt on November 11, 1925. Berthold Eger worked as managing director of Gebrüder Krug GmbH until his dismissal in 1938, having been demoted and removed from his executive position as managing director.

The small family lived in modest circumstances at Gwinnerstraße 3 on the 3rd floor . The apartment was the center of the Homburger and Eger families. Dieter Werner’s grandmother Mathilde Homburger and her parents, Eduard and Clara Homburger, also lived there. After their deaths in 1929 and 1930, Berthold Eger’s mother Bertha and his brother Theodor moved to Gwinnerstraße.

Dieter Werner felt very loved by his parents and relatives. However, he did not have good memories of school. He felt ostracized and ridiculed there because of his Jewish background. He was particularly afraid of going to school because he was constantly afraid of being beaten up. He could no longer remember his classmates; their names and faces had been erased.

Mina Eger was very worried about her son. When he didn’t return on time from one of the few birthday parties he was invited to, his mother called and asked for him to be sent home immediately. She was worried about his safety on the way home. She had had to walk ten minutes to a public phone booth to make this call.

In his diary entries, Dennis Emberley reported an action contrary to the current laws affecting Jews that had become engraved in his memory. He once snuck into a soccer match with his father. For fear of being discovered, they gave the Hitler salute at the start of the game.

Nevertheless, there were neighbors and acquaintances who stuck by them, including the Hettler family. Dieter Werner Eger/Dennis Walter Emberley made contact with them again after the Second World War in the hope of finding out from them what had happened to his parents and grandmother.

November 11, 1938: Dieter Werner Eger’s 13th birthday

The November pogrom of 1938 was a turning point in Dieter Werner Eger’s life. At the beginning of November 1998, he wrote in his diary: “In the coming week, the deep sorrow that comes over me every year in memory of the terrible things that happened to my parents is repeated. It’s all so terrible that you simply can’t forget it or put it aside.” The tragic events have never left him.

Dieter Werner was in the process of preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah, as his 13th birthday was coming up on November 11. No doubt this important event had been planned well in advance and Dieter had already practiced the prayers and the relevant section of the Torah well and familiarized himself with the ceremony. A final rehearsal was to take place on November 9. It is not yet known which synagogue the family belonged to. It is possible that they were members of the synagogue in the Friedberg complex, Phil Emberley suspects. The synagogue where Dieter Werner’s bar mitzvah was to take place was burned down like most other synagogues, his father Berthold was arrested and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp as a so-called “action Jew”. He was held there from November 13-30, 1938 under prisoner number 29853. Throughout his life, his son Dieter wondered why his father was part of the group of 30,000 Jews who were deported to a concentration camp during the November pogrom. “He didn’t belong to any political organization and wasn’t conspicuous in any other way. Because he was a front-line soldier, he was released after ten days.” We know today that he was arrested simply because he was Jewish.

Back from concentration camp imprisonment, Berthold Eger was unemployed. He eventually found work as a packer and storekeeper at the Jewish Cultural Association at Kronprinzenstraße 12 for a weekly wage of 45 Reichsmark. The Jewish Cultural Association in Germany was a self-help organization for Jewish artists who were banned from working and at the same time enabled Jews to attend cultural events during the National Socialist era. The Kulturbund was tolerated until 1941 and dissolved in the same year.

In September 1939, the family moved to a first floor apartment at Friedberger Anlage 15, possibly for economic reasons. In the 1941 address book, Berthold Eger is no longer listed as a merchant as before, but with the job title “warehouseman”.

With a heavy heart, Berthold and Minna Eger decided to send their son Dieter Werner on a Kindertransport to Great Britain. The 13-year-old boy left Germany on August 25, 1939. Like the other children, he thought he would soon see his parents again. A few days later, the Second World War began. This also put an end to the rescue transports of children to the kingdom. As the couple were no longer able to follow their son to England due to the start of the war, Minna and Berthold Eger planned their escape into exile in North America in June 1940.

They had already drawn up the necessary documents, such as a list of their belongings, and submitted a “clearance certificate”. In the application for removal goods submitted on May 14, 1940, Berthold Eger stated that he was also supporting his mother-in-law with his meagre income as a warehouseman and packer. How important his award from the First World War was to him can be seen from the fact that under no. 26 of the list of “personal effects”, the “Honorary Frontline Fighter Badge”, which he had received in 1935 for his service as a German soldier in the First World War, is listed. It is not clear from the available documents why the couple did not manage to escape.

Their son Dieter Werner Eger remained in contact with his parents via the International Red Cross in Switzerland until his deportation. Berthold and Minna Eger were deported from Frankfurt to Lodz in the first major deportation on October 19, 1941. The date and place of death are not yet known.

Phil Emberley’s maternal great-grandmother Mathilde Homburger was also a victim of the Holocaust. She was deported to Theresienstadt on September 1, 1942, where she died on December 14, 1943.

Escape at the last minute

His grandfather’s younger brother, Berthold Eger’s brother Theodor, was able to escape to the USA at the last minute. Theodor Eger, born in Saarbrücken in 1902, became a musician after completing his school education in Saarbrücken, attending the Klingerschule in Frankfurt and a conservatory in Frankfurt. To earn a living, he also worked in the food trade. In addition to engagements with various music bands, including in hotels and restaurants, Theodor Eger worked as a pianist at Gretel Hauck and Trude Auerbacher’s ballet school and other sports schools. He specialized in rhythmic accompaniment for gymnastics and sports, he explained in his application for restitution.

From 1938, he was employed as a temporary worker and gym teacher at the Philanthropin elementary school. During the November pogrom, he and his brother Berthold were arrested on November 12, 1938 as so-called “action Jews” and were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp until February 2.

Theodor Eger only realized his efforts to emigrate at the last minute. On April 25, 1940, he married the dancer Lucie Rosa Häfner, née Eisenheimer, with whom he lived at Große Wollgraben 20.

Lucie Eger left Frankfurt in June 1941, arranged by an uncle in the USA, and her husband followed two months later, on August 13, 1941. Before that, he was confronted with constant complaints from the “foreign currency office”. His application for removal goods also included a used accordion, a tuxedo and patent leather shoes, which were removed from the list by the authorities, although he had explained that these items were necessary for his profession.

Finally, at the end of August 1941, Theodor Eger fled to the USA at the last minute via Portugal on the ship Mouzinho. He reached New York on September 2, 1941, a few

Weeks before the ban on emigration decreed in October with the start of the deportations. (HHStAW)

“Enemy Alien”

Once in Great Britain, Theodor Eger’s nephew Werner was placed in a children’s home run by a retired British soldier. Werner soon began working on a farm for a low salary. It was strange for him, the refugee from Germany, that he was regarded as an “enemy alien” in England. “Is it any wonder that it was frightening to be classified as an ‘enemy’ as a 14-17-year-old? My only identification, by the way, was my birth certificate (which I still have), nothing more, nothing less,” he noted in his diary on December 13, 1998.

Dieter Werner began to deny his origins. “I suppose I was also always ashamed and afraid to mention my original religious background. As a result, I never mentioned it to anyone, maybe half a dozen people around the world at most.” He joined the British Army at the age of 17, became a British citizen, joined the Anglican Church and changed his name to Dennis Walter Emberley in 1947.

Dennis Walter Emberley became a career officer in the British Army. For several years he was stationed as a UN officer in the Gaza Strip and in Lahr in Germany. He was awarded the Canadian Order of Military Merit for his services and was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1990 for his services to the British Commonwealth, one of the few Canadians to receive both awards.

During one of his visits to Germany in 1953, Dennis met his future wife Ursula Warmbier, a non-Jewish German who was employed at the US embassy. They married and emigrated to Canada in 1955.

The former Frankfurt resident hesitated for a long time before applying for compensation. When he finally decided to do so, it was too late. In his explanation to the compensation authority as to why he was unable to submit the application in time, his bitterness about the fate of his family was clearly expressed.

After a successful career, Dennis Walter Emberley suffered a nervous breakdown in 1977. It was only in this context that his two sons found out about his escape on the Kindertransport and the fate of his grandparents Berthold and Minna Eger and great-grandmother Mathilde Homburger. Nevertheless, the former Frankfurter was unable to communicate directly with his two sons. Only through the diary entries of their father, who died in 2006, they learned more about their father’s traumatic experiences after his death.

After his retirement, Dennis Emberley became a volunteer and worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Victim Support Unit. He wondered in his diary how psychologists would evaluate this commitment. “Is it perhaps a reversal of the feelings I had towards the Gestapo and the German police early in my life, although there was no reason to feel that way as a child other than general fear?

I sometimes seriously wonder what happened later in life to all the people who belonged to Nazi organizations and obviously couldn’t all be brought to justice and punished. Yes, I know, they changed sides (changed their allegiance).”

The diary shows how intensively Dennis Emberley dealt with his past and reflected on how his traumatic experiences influenced his actions.

Through Their Eyes

His father’s story has left a lasting impression on Phil Emberley, who later felt his father’s deep grief more than when he was young and therefore feels obliged to tell his family’s story. As the father of a teenager, he repeatedly asks himself whether he could bring himself to put his son on a train without knowing whether he would ever see him again?

Phil serves on the board of the Center of Holocaust Education and Scholarship in Ottawa and is a member of a group of descendants who speak in schools and at public events about their parents’ experiences.

In Ottawa, he is supporting the “Through Their Eyes” project. In Canada, as in Germany, remembrance work is facing new challenges. How can the Holocaust be remembered when the contemporary witnesses of the Nazi era are no longer around? Similar to the Jewish Life in Frankfurt project, the descendants of Holocaust survivors play a central role in the work of the Canadian project Through Their Eyes. The descendants may not have had the same experiences as the contemporary witnesses of National Socialism, but they have grown up with the after-effects of their parents’ traumatic experiences and have been shaped by them. The “second witnesses” can pass on their family’s history to younger people and tell them about the dangers, losses, grief, hopes, despair, but also the resilience of those persecuted. In this sense, the biographies and family stories can not only contribute to a better understanding of the aftermath of the Holocaust, but also to the consequences of the Holocaust.

Raising awareness of injustice wherever it happens. The Through Their Eyes project supports the descendants of survivors in researching, writing and processing their stories with the aim of producing documents, texts or films for educational work.

In 2023, Phil Emberley and his wife visited Frankfurt, the city where his father was born, in search of clues. A few years earlier, he had visited Frankfurt and Dachau with his son. Back then, he was particularly impressed by the memorial wall on Börneplatz. During his visit in 2023, he was drawn not only to Frankfurt but also to Lahr in the Black Forest. Phil had spent several years of his childhood there. During his visit in 2023, he was impressed by the orphan carousel, the memorial commemorating the Kindertransports that rescued Phil’s father.

He is grateful for the research in the Hessian State Archives and other archives, which provided him with important information and additions to his father’s diary entries. Phil’s brief visit to Frankfurt coincided with the day on which his grandparents were deported to Lodz 82 years ago. He gratefully accepted the offer to take part in a memorial event organized by the City of Frankfurt in St. Paul’s Church to commemorate the first deportation from Frankfurt on October 19, 1941, and was deeply moved. His grandparents were among the deportees at the time.

Phil Emberley is looking forward to speaking to pupils in Frankfurt on his next visit to his father’s former home.