Wembley grandmother who fled the Nazis now writing her fifth book of short stories
- Credit: Archant
Every day, after her carer has left, Helga Wolff settles down to write what will be her fifth book.
Helga is 95 years old – and has no plans to retire any time soon.
“I’m so full of stories,” she said. “My brain is like a spider’s web, and like a spider keeps spinning more and more and more.
“They are fictional tales based on what I’ve lived through. I was once told never to write something I don’t know.
“The background is what I’ve experienced and then the imagination takes over.”
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The former language teacher came to Britain on the Kinderstransport in 1939 aged 15. She believes if she hadn’t been given a place she would have been murdered by the Nazis.
Born in Frankfurt in 1923, life became extremely difficult for Helga and her family under the Third Reich.
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Her parents Richard and Margot Kohn made the heartbreaking choice to send her to Paris to live with her aunt Wally as persecution by the Nazis intensified.
“It was terrible,” she said. “The persecution was terrible. We weren’t allowed to go to schools with Christians. I was frightened when I saw a policeman.
“My father had a university bookshop but in 1933 Hitler ordered that no Jew was allowed to sell German books. All they could sell was old books from other countries. My father tried that but he went bankrupt.
“My parents were terrified. That’s they sent me to Paris to go to my relations there.”
At the station, her father was “feverishly trying to find someone” who might look after his 14-year-old daughter.
Helga said: “And then somebody looked out – and it was a man wearing the swastika badge. My father looked worried but the man said: ‘Don’t worry –I wear the badge but I can see what’s happening. I’ll make sure your child is safe and can find her relations in the Gard du Nord.’
“So many people, in all fairness, were against the Nazis.”
She spent a year in the French capital, chronicled fictionally 80 years later in her fourth book, My Love Affair With Paris.
Here she studied at the Alliance Francaise, perfecting her French.
She got passage on the Kindertransport, a nine-hour train journey to the UK where she was asked to look after young children, aged two and three.
She was quickly placed in a hostel but when the Blitz started, she moved and got lodgings in a “knocking shop”.
In 1946 she started teaching French and German, a career she followed until her 60s.
“My parents were murdered in the Holocaust,” she said. “I got a letter from the Red Cross – it must have been after the war. Both my parents had been gassed in Auschwitz. My brother Kurt survived.
“A talent scout came into the camp and he was selected to go with them to Bolivia.”
In 1951 she set out to Montevideo in Uruguay where Kurt was now working and finally saw him again. She got work in a boarding school where she said the “morals of the young girls were terrible”.
Kurt wanted her to stay longer but back in the UK she’d met fashion photographer George Wolff, who, on their second date, had proposed to her and it was to him that she returned.
They married in 1952 and had a daughter Denise, who now has a son Matthew – Helga’s treasured grandson.
Helga and George lived in West Hampstead for many years and she taught at a school for handicapped children in Swiss Cottage.
“It was my most rewarding time as a teacher,” she added.
She started writing when she was 64. In 1995, she published her autobiography, No Longer Strangers, with a second edition printed in 2015.
Backdrop London and Other Stories in 2013 was followed by My Sister Bella three years later and A Fairy Tale in 2017.
On a typical day, her carer comes to her Wembley home between 7am and 9am. When she leaves, Helga starts writing in her notepad or she’ll transcribe work onto her computer, stopping at 12.30pm for lunch. “At 5pm I make sure I finish so I can spend an hour reading,” she said. Favoured authors include Fay Weldon and Philip Roth.
“I want to learn from other writers,” she explained. “I’ve noted how my style is improving all the time. I’m on my fifth book now and my stories keep coming and coming inspired by all the people I’ve met.”
Helga Wolff’s books are available on Amazon.