Ronald Roberts: personal papers and correspondence

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection comprises the personal papers of Ronnie Roberts (1921-2001), a mixed race Barbadian/German from Mainz who was imprisoned at various civilian internment and labour camps in Germany during the Second World War. After being subjected to racism in Nazi Germany he emigrated to England in 1938/1939 where he failed to make a life for himself. He returned to Germany and after the outbreak of the war was imprisoned at internment camps due to his British subject status (his father was of British nationality). The collection is fascinating for the rarity of the subject content, the quality of the photographic and documentary materials and for the extraordinary narrative.

Included are his autobiographical account; his letters from internment camps addressed to his mother, Alma Roberts; registration documents; school reports; work references; family register; family photographs; notebook containing recipes for cocktails and press cuttings relating to Roberts. Also included are some of Alma Roberts' registration documents and certificate of Austrian citizenship.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ronald 'Ronnie' Roberts (John Beauclerc Wendworth Ronaldevan Roberts) was born of Barbadian/German mixed descent in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate. His father, Evandale Roberts (born 1887), arrived in Rostock from his home in Barbados in 1911 on a scholarship to study music. He married Alma Karbach (born 1890) in 1913. She ran a milliner's business in Rostock. During the First World War Evandale was interned as enemy alien on account of being a British subject. He spent the war in Ruhleben camp outside Berlin. Shortly after his release in 1918 he formed a large band which toured the top night spots in Europe. He became very rich acquiring a villa in Wiesbaden and employing servants. Ronnie and his older sister, Beryl (born 1919 in London) grew up in luxury and changed school frequently due to their father touring Europe. When Evandale suddenly walked out on the family, Alma and her two children started experiencing the hardships of poverty and racism.

With the increasing popularity of the Nazis, Ronnie joined the local branch of the Deutsches Jungvolk. He was stripped of his role as standard bearer in the parade to celebrate Hitler's seizure of power on account of his apparent 'racial impurity'. He was subsequently taken out of music school and forced to join the labour force building the motorways. Accused of racial defilement ('Rassenschande') he was summoned by the Gestapo and threatened with castration. He spent the next few years pursuing a quasi-fugitive existence on the periphery of society, obtaining work where he could as a musician or 'living doll' at carnivals and fairs in Switzerland and Germany. Having again got into trouble with the Gestapo after a fight with Hitler Youth members he fled to Vienna where his sister, Beryl, was married to the owner of a night club.

On his return to his mother's in Wiesbaden he resolved to flee to England. He spent a miserable few months in London, where he was not able to join the army as he did not speak English and where he was forced to resort to hustling, petty crime and busking just to exist. He managed to save enough cash to return to Germany.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War he was imprisoned at various hard-labour and civilian internee camps in Germany including Wuelzburg, Bavaria, on account of his British status. He also spent some time in solitary confinement due to several attempts to escape. He was working at a local farm when he fell in love with a young woman, Elizabeth, whom he promised to marry after the war. He was imprisoned for the duration of the Second World War.

After the war he spent a short period of time working as an interpreter in various DP camps in Austria. He contacted his mother in Wiesbaden but did not hear from Elizabeth. He returned to his sister in Vienna and met her friend, Hermine, who he married in 1946. Whilst in Vienna he embarked on his planned career as a cocktail waiter, eventually securing the prestigious position at Hotel Sacher in 1946-1947. Ronnie's Bar became one of the most popular spots amongst the Viennese night clubbing public. He also worked at Moulin-Rouge Kabarett Bar between 1949 and 1950.

Ronnie and Hermine, having managed to acquire a repossessed apartment in Vienna, emigrated with the capital they made on the property to London. Within a few years they were the owners of five properties in London. In 1956, Ronnie discovered that his first love, Elizabeth, had given birth to their daughter, Monika, who was 12 years old and living with her stepfather near Detmold, Germany. (Elizabeth had died in 1943). Ronnie and Hermine officially adopted her. Unfortunately, Ronnie's marriage did not last and Hermine returned to Vienna.

Eventually Ronnie met and married Carol. They bought a hotel together in Devon and had two children.

Arrangement

Chronological

Conditions Governing Access

Acquisition Information

Donated by Carol Roberts

Note

2008/29