The London family of a famous opera singer from Berlin who came to London as a refugee in 1939 have spoken about the “extraordinary honour” of attending two events profiling her life in the space of a month.
Edith Bach, a soprano who died in London in 1975, was known as the Nightingale of Konig Wusterhausen and was one of the first German women to be broadcast singing on the radio, but her singing career was cut short in 1934 because she was Jewish, and in 1939, six weeks before the war, she fled to the UK with her family, before being interned on the Isle of Man as an ‘enemy alien’ for ten months in 1940.
Now, her family has seen her honoured in two high-profile but unconnected events – a ceremony in Berlin, where a new university hall of residence has taken her name, and in the Isle of Man, at the launch of an exhibition on the women interned there.
Both events, which took place in July, heard of Edith’s life and phenomenal voice, with recordings from 1928, made at the height of her fame. But Edith, who escaped with her husband Martin Kaczinsky and her two sons, struggled to settle in the UK after the trauma of fleeing.
“She’d been a grande dame of Berlin, in high society, performing concerts all over the place, broadcasting, but she never really adapted to Britain,” said her grand-daughter Tania Kaczinsky, who attended the Berlin ceremony.
“I remember her as quite sad. She used to sing in the choir at Belsize Park shul, but she never sang professionally in England, even though she could have. Her heart wasn’t in it. I think she felt lost, as so many did.”
Brandenburg University picked up her story of her local connection last year, from ‘Fleeing from the Furher,’ a book written by her son William, in which Edith’s story is related. University officials contacted the family, saying they wanted to name a new campus building after her, in a ceremony attended by the German finance minister, which took place last month.
Three weeks later, the family were in the Isle of Man, where an exhibition on the women interned at Port Irene, the women-only camp, where she was held together with her young sons William and Edward, aged four and five respectively.
“Music was her life,” said William this week. “I remember her playing the piano, singing everything from arias to lullabies, as well as teaching people to sing. I remember taking her to the shul on a Saturday, and if she was in a good mood, she’d say ‘you’ll hear me today,’ and you would – she’d really throw her voice! With two ceremonies in the space of a month, in Berlin and the Isle of Man, it’s been an extraordinary honour.”