Photo of Hans Neumeyer from the personal collection of Ruth Locke (nee Neumeyer). Courtesy of Ruth Locke.

D-B-S-G Duo for violin and viola (August 1940): 1 Allegretto 2 Andante moderato 3 Vivace. D-B refers to his friend and secretary Dela Blakmar. The work begins with the notes D, B [B flat], S [E flat] and G.

DBSG Duo for Violin and Viola, played and recorded by Chris Brierley. Courtesy of Chris Brierley and Ruth Locke.

From the age of fourteen, Hans Neumeyer, a composer and teacher of musical composition, was completely blind. He was born in Munich on 13 September 1887 and from 1911 to 1913 he studied at the Academy of Music in Munich. During this time he collaborated with Rudolf Louis on the writing of a harmonics textbook. In 1915, Hans Neumeyer and Valeria Cratina founded the Jaques-Dalcroze school in Munich, where he taught until 1925. In 1933 he published his ‘new modulated theory’ and was shortlisted for a post lecturing in acoustics at the Munich Academy of Music, which he was prevented from taking up because of his Jewish background.

In 1935, during a period in which it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to find work, he obtained the following reference from Jaques Dalcroze, then based in Geneva:

I have had the opportunity of following the work of Mr Hans Neumeyer who studied my method during several years in Hellerau, under my direction. I want to affirm that he is of very great musical and pedagogical qualities, that he is extraordinarily qualified to teach ‘solfège’ (development of the tonal instinct and the harmonic-one as well as of the faculty of hearing) and improvisation at the piano. He is really quite the person to play on the piano during the rhythmic-lessons.

Before the First World War he also taught acoustics and improvisation at the Jaques-Dalcroze School in Hellerau, near Dresden. There he met his future wife, Vera Ephraim, a eurhythmics teacher and the daughter of Jewish industrialist and patron of the arts Martin Ephraim, from Görlitz, and his Protestant wife Hildegarde Rauthe. Hans and Vera married in 1920 and lived in a house (still standing) in what is now Hermann-Stockmann Strasse in Dachau.

Vera Neumeyer and their two children, Ruth and Raimund, were baptised as Protestants: the children were scarcely aware of their Jewish origins until they experienced exclusion from school and loss of privileges such as swimming at the public baths. On one occasion in January 1938, they were performing a play to neighbours and guests in their house when police and Gestapo officials burst in telling the audience that they should be ashamed to be in the house of a Jew, taking their names and ordering them home.

On 8 November 1938, twenty four hours before Kristallnacht, the few Jewish families living in the town of Dachau were ordered to leave before sunrise, or risk imprisonment. Hans Neumeyer was at that time in Berlin learning to make flutes: he learnt of his family’s expulsion by telegram and only obtained permission to return to his house by insisting that he had to arrange his tax affairs. The Neumeyers initially found refuge with one of Vera’s eurythmics pupils, who concealed them in an attic in Munich; howeve,r they were obliged to move lodgings frequently.

In May 1939, the children were able to travel to England on one of the Kindertransport trains, sponsored by English friends whom Hans and Vera had met while at Hellerau. The couple intended to follow them to England; Hans had a permit to teach in a school for the blind, but for some reason never took it up. Vera was deported in July 1942 and was probably killed late in 1943 at Piaski or Majdanek camp in Poland. Hans, meanwhile, was deported to Theresienstadt on 4th June 1942 on a transport (no. II.76) consisting of sick and disabled people. There he survived until 19 May 1944, when he died of a lung disease, probably TB exacerbated by the poor living conditions. A drawing by the artist-inmate Leo Haas, among those displayed in the camp museum, appears to show Hans Neumeyer as he was in the camp.

Photograph of a drawing by Leo Haas believed to depict Hans Neumeyer (in dark glasses, centre top of picture) and other prisoners at Theresienstadt (Terezin). Terezin Ghetto Museum.

A Dr Hirschberg, another inmate of Theresienstadt and a friend of Hans Neumeyer’s father-in-law Martin Ephraim (also incarcerated), survived deportation to Auschwitz, where he acted as a public prosecutor after the war had ended. In a report on the fates of Martin Ephraim and Hans Neumeyer, he records that when he arrived in Theresienstadt in February 1944 Hans was unwell, but was being cared for in a hospital wing for those with lung diseases. He was able to discuss music with him on a few occasions before he became too weak.

Professor Thomas H Mandl (1926–2007) – who went on to become an author, concert violinist, professor of music, philosopher, inventor and lecturer – was one of Neumeyer’s composition pupils. Following the publication of articles in the Süddeutsche Zeitung detailing journalist Hans Holzhaider’s research on the deported families of Dachau, he wrote some moving recollections of Hans Neumeyer for the newspaper Landkreis Dachau (21-22 July 1984):

The 16-year-old Mandl, an aspiring virtuoso violinist, along with his 17-year-old friend Hans Ries, knew Neumeyer in Theresienstadt from the summer of 1942 and became his pupils, paying for lessons in soup or bread when they had it.  According to Mandl's account, Hans Neumeyer, known to his pupils as 'The Professor', gave an impression of sharp wit and intelligence, and was a very good listener, asking questions that were concise and to the point.  Mandl sometimes glimpsed the strain on his face when he saw his teacher trying to read in crowded conditions before he registered his pupil’s arrival – but then he would always smile, put down his braille book and give him his delicate, sensitive hand.

Mandl’s lessons covered basic four- and eight-part harmony exercises, eight-beat physical exercises, ‘intonation’ and rhythmic exercises. Unusually for the time, Neumeyer taught harmony and counterpoint together, in parallel rather than as separate disciplines with harmony coming first. They were soon working in different keys and going onto modulations and contrapuntal exercises.  Mandl did his homework very conscientiously, using his violin.  When he brought his work to the lesson he would play each line horizontally in separate parts, then each chord vertically.  Mandl was impressed that he had to do this only once. Neumeyer would comment very precisely on individual notes and chords, identifying shortcomings and asking Mandl to suggest how the composition could be improved.

The camp had a huge library – part of its role as a ‘show camp’ to display to the likes of the Red Cross – and Neumeyer’s braille reading included higher mathematics and Aristotle in the original.  Sometimes Mandl visited just to talk: Neumeyer was very well informed about the political as well as the cultural events in the ghetto such as plays, concerts, talks and reading.

Towards the end of 1943, Neumeyer became sick with TB and was moved to a small TB section. Mandl visited him in his bed from where he encouraged all his visitors to be strong:

Dear Herr Mandl, the seasons will come again and we shall forever be part of the seasons, but here in Theresienstadt this isn’t happening.

Mandl last saw him in the block washroom and was shocked at his expression of utter dejection.  Hans Neumeyer died whilst incarcerated in Theriesienstadt concentration camp on 19 May 1944.

Mandl heard of Neumeyer’s death, and enquired about the day of the funeral.  It was a sunny day: three of Neumeyer’s pupils were among those who saw his crudely made coffin placed among the others on a truck, and they followed it to the barrier on the edge of the camp, which was as far as they were allowed to go. The barrier came down: ‘that was the way our dead left us’.

The only known surviving compositions of Hans Neumeyer are:

String trio in A minor (1939–40): 1 Serioso 2 Allegro moderato 3 Tranquillo cantabile 4 Allegro

Two duets for recorder – Kuckucks-Duett für Ruthi [manuscript now on display in the Imperial War Museum, London] and Kanon in der Prime, sent to his daughter Ruth in England before he was deported.

By Tim Locke, grandson of Hans Neumeyer.

Sources

Vor Sonnenaufgang: Das Schicksal der jüdischen Bürger Dachaus, by Hans Holzhaider (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1984).

Article by Professor Thomas H Mandl in Landkreis Dachau, 21/22 July 1984, translated by Anne Locke.

Report of 1945[?] from Dr Hirschberg, public prosecutor, inmate of Theresienstadt concentration camp from February 1944 to May 1945, on the fates of Martin Ephraim and Hans Neumeyer in Theresienstadt, translated by Philip Goddard.

Personal communications of Ruth Locke (Ruth Neumeyer), London.

Research by and personal communications of Raymond Newland (Raimund Neumeyer), St Albans, England; unpublished report by Tobias Newland, November 1996.