Charlotte Bondy, also known as Lotta, (CB) was born Agnes Adelheid Elisabeth Charlotte Schmidt in Munich on 28 September 1907. Her mother, Clara Schmidt-Oemler, born 7 May 1867, was a painter and had been one of the first female graduates of the Munich Akademie der bildenden Künste. CB’s father, Johannes (von?) Schmidt, born 13 April 1870-1947, was a architect who, from at least 1900 to 1912, joint-owned the architecture firm ‘Hessemer & Schmidt’ together with Fritz Hessemer.
CB’s brother, Rudolf Oemler-Schmidt, born 1 November 1902, was one of the earliest travel documentary filmmakers and he appears to have worked for some time in the film industry and wider cultural sector, including during the Third Reich. In 1932 he was working for Herbert Körösi’s film production company, ‘Industrie- und Kulturfilm h. Körösi’, for instance, and in 1944 he became secretary-general of the Mozarteum Foundation. After the war he was held in the Flak-Kaserne internment camp in Ludwigsburg where he faced a denazification court. On his release he was unemployed for a significant (but unknown) period of time.
CB (then Schmidt) left school in 1923 at the age of 16 as her family could not afford to support her further studies because of the desperate economic in Germany at that time. For a short time she was apprenticed to the architectural firm of Hans Grünzweig, where she specialised in interior design. In 1929 she trained as window dresser, and learned lettering, calligraphy and poster design.
In 1930 CB (then Schmidt) began work as a designer of product packaging at Breisgau Walzwerk GmbH Teningen, Baden, and she later transferred within the same company to the Aluminium Walzwerke in Singen. Her work at the company on aluminium foil wrappings for chocolates was pioneering. She also designed the firm’s publicity material and advertising designs.
While at Singen CB (then Schmidt) met Paul Peter Bondy (PPB), a senior manager in the company. She initially became friends with both PPB and his wife Else (Ilse) Bruck, but when their marriage broke down CB and PPB’s relationship grew closer. Probably due to his Jewish heritage, PPB was dismissed from the company in late 1933 and moved back to his parental home in Bremen, from where he corresponded with CB, who was still living and working in Singen. By the time that PPB’s divorce from Else Bruck was granted in July 1935, CB and PPB had decided to marry.
In 1935(?) PPB’s support for some of his anti-Nazi friends in Bremen attracted the attention of the Gestapo, who began to monitor and intercept the correspondence between CB (then Schmidt) and PPB. In a co-ordinated action by the Gestapo, on 10(?) September 1935 CB and PPB were arrested and imprisoned for around ten days in Radolfzell and Bremen respectively. According to the Gestapo their correspondence showed they had an anti-state attitude, and it also made clear the nature of their relationship, which was soon to become illegal under the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. The couple’s release was only granted on the condition that their relationship ended, and they were forced to write letters to each other to confirm this.
Soon after PPB’s release in Bremen, following a warning of further possible persecution by the Gestapo, he left Germany for the UK in October 1935. CB (then Schmidt) continued to work at AW Singen until July 1936 but managed to correspond with PPB during this time via a post office in Switzerland. In early August 1936 she left by train to Nuremberg and caught a plane to London, without her parents’ knowledge of the plan. She arrived in the UK on 6 August 1936 and married PPB on 12 August 1936 in Hendon. Their daughter Joanna was born on 23 June 1937.
The Bondys’ first years in UK were very difficult financially and they were frequently in debt. CB later described the difficulties they faced with the abrupt change in their circumstances: they were now displaced persons and stateless and they had to rapidly learn a new language to cope with everyday life in London. In June 1940 PPB was interned in Huyton Camp near Liverpool as an enemy alien for six months, leaving CB to cope with a small child in wartime London, and facing homelessness after their home in Cheyne Walk was bombed out. During this time CB worked tirelessly to secure her husband’s release, petitioning the authorities and securing the support of a number of influential British figures including George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. She later reflected that she had little time or energy at this time to attempt to re-establish her own career, although the records suggest she was in touch with the Craft Workers Association in Edinburgh as early as 1942.
Between 1935 and 1961 CB wrote and illustrated diaries of her life in UK, initially for the information of her family in Germany, and subsequently to compensate for the lack employment opportunities outside the home. (The diaries are in the V&A Archive.) During the war she also began making soft toys on a private basis for friends, but from 1946 when industry was beginning to gear up to peacetime production, CB began to take on a small number of private design commissions including applique cloth children’s books, toy animals, children’s clothes, and handpainted boxes for Fortnum and Mason. Sadly none of these initiatives were particularly successful commercially, despite CB pursuing them for more than a decade.
From 1946 until 1950 CB acted as the UK agent for the Büchergilde Gutenberg, a left-wing book club that was then still operating from Swiss exile in Zurich. The organisation provided literature to German-speaking exiles in Britain, but also, from 1946-1948, to German prisoners of war, with whom CB corresponded directly.
The early post-war years saw CB return to Germany to see her mother after the death of her father in the spring of 1947. The following year, in March 1948, the Bondys gained British citizenship. A few years later, in the early 1950s they nevertheless considered returning to Germany but ultimately decided to remain in the UK due to family circumstances.
In August 1978 at the age of 70, CB was recognised by the West German authorities as a victim of Nazi persecution, meaning that at least for the last eight years of her life she could claim a retirement pension. During her last years she provided significant support to the Austrian exile painter, Marie Louise von Motesiczky, in her compilation of 60 handmade books of her family history.
CB died in London on 27 August 1986.
Paul Peter Bondy (PPB) was born in Soest (now in North Rhine-Westphalia) in Germany on 30 April 1900 to parents Salomon (later known as Friedrich) and Helene Bondy (née Marcus). Both parents were of Jewish heritage but PPB was christened (evangelisch) in Bremen on 14 March 1912, and (at least during his years in the UK) he had strong connections with the German Lutheran Church including figures in the anti-Nazi Bekennende Kirche.
PPB’s father Salomon Friedrich Bondy was born in Soest on 17 September 1872, to a family of (at least) four other children, one of whom was known to PPB as Tante Helene Ebertsheim (née Bondy), who died in Zurich in 1941. Salomon Friedrich Bondy’s parents were Jewish, but he and other close relatives left Judaism and joined Protestant church in 1918. Salomon Friedrich Bondy was a businessman. He died in Germany in February 1936, four months after PPB had emigrated to the UK.
Helene Bondy (HB), née Marcus, was born 31 July 1870 in Unna (also in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia). Her siblings included Hedwig, Eugen and Emil Marcus. Emil emigrated to Argentina after his textile company was seized by the Nazis in 1937. After her husband’s death in February 1936, HB lived with relatives in Wuppertal-Elberfeld (Hedwig Ganz née Marcus, and Hilde), until they left Germany for the UK. HB then stayed with her daughter Lotte Löbbe (née Bondy) and Max Löbbe in Berlin-Spandau from December 1938 until March 1939. In March 1939 HB was issued with a visa and passport, arranged for her by the German Jewish Aid Committee following PPB’s application to the Home Office. HB died in London November 1950, aged 80.
PPB’s younger brother Erich (Eric) Bondy was born in 1901 in Soest. He and his wife Eunice left Germany from Bremen on the ‘City of Norfolk’ for Detroit in 1936. Erich died in 1968. PPB’s younger sister Lotte married Max Löbbe, and the couple lived in Berlin-Spandau, where Max Löbbe worked an advisor for the Reichsbank. Lotte died in 1948.
PPB was married twice, first in December 1924 to Else (Ilse) Bruck, who was of Jewish heritage and a Social Democratic Party supporter. In 1933 Bruck moved to Positano in Italy, where a number of exile artists and others from Nazi Germany settled in the 1930s. Their divorce came through in July 1935 and Bruck remained in Positano until her death in 1980. She had a son, Michele Theile, born 1935, with the photographer Harald Theile.
PPB’s second marriage was to Charlotte (Lotta) Schmidt (CS), a graphic designer (who was considered ‘Aryan’ by the Nazis). They met at the Singen aluminium works where they both worked in the early 1930s and they were married on 12 August 1936 in London, where their daughter Joanna was born on 23 June 1937. Schmidt died on 13 November 1980. Joanna worked as an art teacher and artist in the 1960s and 1970s. She died in 2015.
PPB attended the Neues Gymnasium in Bremen from Easter 1909 to October 1917 when he left to serve as a volunteer in the Nachrichtentruppe (Signal Corps). In 1919 he was a member of the Freicorps Caspari, an anti-communist paramilitary unit which attacked and suppressed left-wing revolutionaries in Bremen. At the end of the First World War he enrolled on a special course in preparation for the Kriegsreifepruefung. He went on to study in Münster, Münich, Erlangen and Hamburg. He completed a PhD, ‘Das Problem der Gesellschaft bei Franz von Baader’, at Erlangen University in 1922.
PPB was a member of Bund Neue Hochschule, which campaigned for educational reform in Germany after the First World War, and the Freideutsche Jugend, part of the German youth movement, from 1919 to 1923. He was also an active member of the Kant Society 1919 to 1930.
From 1923 to 1933 PPB worked in the German aluminium industry as a factory manager and export manager. From January 1923 to June 1924 he worked for the Francke Werke in Bremen, where he trained for six months and then managed the purchasing department. From May 1924 PPB worked in the exports section of L.J. Ettlinger in Karlsruhe, which owned 50% of the Breisgau aluminium factory in Teningen, Baden. In 1926 L.J. Ettlinger shares in the Breisgau-Walzwerk Teningen were sold to the Aluminium-Walzwerke Aktiengesellschaft in Schaffhausen, which also owned the aluminium works in Singen. PBB moved to Singen to lead the exports department under Hans Constantin Paulssen and stayed there until Dec 1933. In his capacity as exports manager in Karlsruhe and Singen he travelled frequently to UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the Balkans, Greece, Canada, USA, Mexico and Cuba. He had an excellent command of English and French and also spoke some Italian and Spanish.
In December 1933 PPB was dismissed from his post at the aluminium works in Singen, presumably due to Jewish heritage although this reason does not appear to have been clearly stated. He drove by car to Positano in Italy, where his (by then estranged) wife Ilse Bruck had settled and where he attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate a position with the Italian of the Aluminium Company of America. He returned to Germany to his parents’ house in Bremen in March 1934 and over the following year applied for numerous positions and proposed various projects but none materialised. On mention of his Jewish background ‘negotiations were dropped’, he wrote in October 1938.
PPB’s return to Bremen was in part to help wind up the Bondy family firm, which was prevented from trading by anti-Jewish legislation. He remained in Bremen until October 1935 and during this time he also came to the attention of the Gestapo after a clash with an official at a Nazi ‘Volksgericht’ trial, which he attended in support of some friends accused of anti-Nazi activities. This incident led to his correspondence being opened and monitored, including the letters he was exchanging with Charlotte Schmidt, who was then still working in Singen. By this time their relationship was very close and they were planning to marry once PPB’s divorce from his first wife had come through. In September 1935 PPB and Schmidt
were arrested simultaneously and imprisoned, PPB in Bremen, Schmidt in Radolfzell near Singen. Lawyers Kurt Mueller and Arno C. Kunath helped to secure their release a few days later on condition that they end their relationship which they had to prove by writing each other an ‘Abschiedsbriefe’ (goodbye letter). The Nuremberg Laws passed a short time after their arrest made it impossible for them to marry.
Soon after his release PPB was tipped off by his lawyers that the Gestapo were planning to confiscate his passport. He left Germany as quickly as could be arranged, travelling via the Hoek van Holland and arriving in Harwich in October 1935, where he claimed to be on a business trip. There are few records of where his early months in the UK, except that he was contracted the aluminium manufacturing company Fisher’s Foils Ltd in Wembley to manage a restructuring project.
From November 1935 he was receiving frequent letters from his parents in Bremen, and it was by telegram in February 1936 that PPB learnt of the death of his father. With help of German friends of the Quaker Joan Mary Fry he also managed to maintain contact with Schmidt in Singen. On 6 August 1936 Schmidt joined PPB in the UK and they were married CB in Hendon on 12 August 1936. Their daughter Jo was born in June 1937.
The Bondys’ first years in UK were difficult financially and they were frequently in debt. From March 1936 until the outbreak of war in 1939, PPB worked for the Swiss businessman George Pape, who arranged the renewal of PPB’s permit to remain in the UK. Pape was connected the Star Aluminium Company Limited, the French aluminium company, Pechiney Rhenalu à Froges Production, and another (unidentified) Czech aluminium manufacturing company. The records indicate that there was a dispute between PPB and Pape over the latter’s failure to pay a considerable sum of money which PPB said he was owed for this work.
In common with most refugees in the UK at this time, PPB lost his job on outbreak of war and, despite sustained efforts to find work, he remained unemployed until the end of 1941. This was a particularly challenging time for the family. At an ‘Enemy Aliens’ Tribunal on 10 October 1939 PPB had been recognised as a Category ‘C’ refugee from Nazi oppression (i.e. posing no security risk). However with mass internment so-called enemy aliens eight months later, he was arrested on 26 June 1940, detained at Kempton Park for two days and then sent to Huyton Alien Internment Camp near Liverpool, where he remained until December 1940. While PPB was interned, this wife and three-year-old daughter were bombed out of the house in 1940 and the family were made homeless and reliant on friends for help for many months.
After his release from Huyton, PPB worked for release of other exiles who had similar political views and who were still interned, such as Kurt Hiller. Throughout the rest of the war years and beyond PPB was connected with the London-based German Social Democratic Party and various associated or splinter groups. These included the Union of German Socialist Organisations, Willi Eichler’s ‘Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund’ and Kurt Hiller’s ‘Freiheitsbund Deutscher Sozialisten’. PPB was also associated with the ‘Landesgruppe deutscher Gewerkschafter in Großbritannien', led by Hans Gottfurcht, with whom he had been interned in Huyton.
From late 1941 until early 1945 PPB worked for US news agency the [British] United Press Radio Monitor, alongside Otto Brill and Oscar Pollak. During this time (1942-1944) PPE also collaborated with the Indian journalist Dr. N. Gangulee on writing a series of special articles on Germany and Japan for publication in the Indian press.
From April 1945 to December 1945 PPB worked for the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services under Major John Langdon Caskey. Working mainly in southern Germany, his role appears to have been to gather intelligence on German public opinion on a wide range of issues from the Church, opposition to the Allies, ongoing allegiance to Nazism, trade unions and democracy (and many others). In March 1946 the unit was disbanded and he was disappointed to be told that he would not be able to complete the work as he had envisaged and to put his experience to use in Germany.
On his return to the UK PPB faced another period of unemployment until October 1946, when he was engaged as lecturer to work in German POW camps in the UK, a scheme run by the Control Office for Germany and Austria at the British Foreign Office. This work reflected his strong interest in the role of education in rebuilding democracy in Germany, an issue which he had written about and campaigned on from the early years of his exile. This interest led to his involvement from 1946 in the organisation German Educational Reconstruction in 1946. He became a member of the Advisory Committee in October 1946 and from October 1946 to 1958 was the editor of German Educational Reconstruction Bulletin.
In the early 1950s the Bondys considered returning to Germany but PPB ultimately decided to decline the offer of a journalist post in Frankfurt am Main due to family circumstances. The Bondys gained British citizienship in March 1948.
As well as editing the Bulletin, PPB pursued various other journalistic activities in the post-war years, included writing for Far Eastern Economic Review (1962-65) and translating articles from European newspapers from German to English for Socialist International (1962-63). However his main efforts appear to have been focused on trying to re-establish the career in business and industry he had followed prior to 1933, although this is less well documented that some other periods of his life.
In 1957 he began process of claiming the right to a pension and ‘compensation’ and for the hardship he had suffered via the West German ‘Wiedergutmachung’ scheme. However this proved to be extremely challenging as it was difficult to find evidence of the persecution he had faced in Germany. The treatment of case appears to have extended over several decades. It is not clear whether he was ultimately successful in his attempt
PPB suffered a heart attack in 1964. He died on 13 September 1980 in London.