Jewish couple survived Holocaust and started life together in England
Both featured in the new photography exhibition, Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors, opening at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday.
Mr Lachs was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1926 and lived a normal life until November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, a Nazi pogrom, killing Jews and destroying Jewish property.
He said: “I went out to go to school as normal, I remember coming along one street and saw smoke in the distance…went on to school, got to the entrance…I saw furniture strewn all over the schoolyard.
“I was 12 years old. I had no idea what was going on because Cologne was a fairly easy place to live, it wasn’t the worst as far as antisemitism was concerned, I led a normal life, all this came completely out of the blue.”
His father lost his job and the family home as Adolph Hitler’s persecution of Jews gathered pace, but it took three years to get a permit to go to America.
Mr Lachs, now aged 96, said: “Then it’s where the miracle came in. One Sunday morning, you got post in Germany on Sundays, a letter from Berlin, the British Passport Office, please send your passports for a visa to go to England. How come? We don’t know. Back come four visas.
“In June 1939, we left for England.”
Two months later, the Second World War began and many of Mr Lachs’ relatives left in Germany did not survive the Holocaust.
Fifty years later, Mr Lachs discovered his family escaped thanks to a man named Frank Foley, who worked undercover in the British Embassy passport office in Berlin.
But he was really an MI6 spy, issuing passports to Jews, “no questions asked”.
His wife Ruth was born in Hamburg on March 7, 1936, and her family fled to Holland after Kristallnacht.
Mrs Lachs said: “My parents prepared us very well and said, ‘Listen, there’s a war on, but it won’t last so long.’ Nobody knew how long it would last.
“We were hidden with a couple who were childless and treated us like their own.
“One morning, a knock at the door and the police stood in front, somebody must have given us away or suspected.”
Mrs Lachs, then aged six, was taken to a collection point in Amsterdam before transport to a transit camp.
She was put in a creche while awaiting transit and knew a nurse who had worked for her family, who hid her in a sandpit when Nazis came.
But her brother Karel, three years younger, was taken to Auschwitz and did not survive.
Mr Lachs was helped by the “Underground Workers” group and remained hidden until after the war when she was reunited with her parents and settled in England.
Ruth and Werner were married in 1962 and now have nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Werner worked in clothing manufacturing over 50 years and Ruth for the NHS.
In 2019, Mrs Lachs received a British Empire Medal for her services to Holocaust Education.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox