One of a handful of surviving Holocaust survivors, my grandmother Alice Fraser arrived in this country under distressing circumstances. Despite this, she found the resilience to build a life and a large family and remained alert right to the end.
Like many survivors Alice rarely spoke about her past until one of her grandchildren asked her to come to talk to the school. Having now broken her silence, Alice continued to give several talks, always emphasising that “her life was not special”.
Alice would have been 104 years old this month. A great-grandmother of 11, she fled Germany in 1939 and was interned on the Isle of Man before eventually settling in Southend and, in later life, London.
Alice was born in 1919 in Merzig in the Saarland, later absorbed into Germany. She was the youngest child of Sarah and Julius Frenkel, a horse trader who had served in the German army during the First World War. She had an older sister, Hannah, but her brother Max died as an infant.
During Kristallnacht her father was arrested and was later sent to Dachau. He returned a changed man after six weeks and the family decided to leave for Luxembourg in late March 1939.
Too old to be evacuated by the Kindertransport, Alice and Hannah travelled to Britain on domestic visas while their parents stayed in Luxembourg. Alice was interned on the Isle of Man as an “enemy alien” in 1941. Her parents were taken by the Germans and sent to Poland.
We later found out that they were sent to Auschwitz where they died. Released from internment, the sisters went to Manchester later in 1941 to work for a Jewish family.
On eventually returning to London, Alice began work in an ammunition factory and soon after met her future husband, Ralph Feibusch, who was a refugee from Konigsberg, and they married in Sutton Synagogue in 1943.
At the time Ralph was in the pioneer Corps and had been told by his company commander that he would be sent to Germany as an interpreter and that for their own safety those men with German-sounding names should change their names in case they were captured.
Ralph went into a telephone box and looked up a common British-sounding name and came up with Fraser.
Thus Alice changed her name three times in one month, from Frenkel to Feibusch and then to Fraser.
My father Ronnie was born in 1947 and the family moved to Southend. She went on to work as a cleaner and school dinner lady. Ralph and Alice were married for 71 years up until his death at the age of 93 eight years ago.
The perpetrators of the Holocaust may have been brought before the courts and served their sentences, but this brought very little comfort to Alice. For the last 78 years she had to live with the pain and sorrow of the murder of her parents as well as not knowing where and when they had died.
She also felt guilty that she had survived and her parents hadn’t.
This terrible burden weighed on her throughout her life and she would tell the story of her father’s last words to her just before she and Hannah left for England in April 1939. They were: “Look after your sister Hannah.”
She followed his instructions all her life and the sisters were almost inseparable up until Hannah’s death in 2006.
Nothing made her more proud than seeing her grandchildren and great-grandchildren prosper. She particularly enjoyed seeing seven of her great-grandchildren achieve their bar and bat mitzvahs, most recently her great-grandson Nathan earlier this year.
In 2005, Alice and Ralph moved to London to be closer to Ronnie and his wife Lola, their four grandsons and future great-grandchildren.
Although reticent to talk about her experiences for many years, in later life Alice spoke to several groups and schools about her life and formative years in Germany.
Her voice and testimony lives on through the work of the AJR, who captured Alice’s testimony for their Refugee Voices project.
As a family we have been touched by the tributes paid to grandma since her passing. She was a Holocaust survivor who arrived in this country under distressing circumstances, building a life and family for herself.
She was a remarkable woman. We’ve seen her go viral on social media for her story of survival and courage and that’s a vital story to tell. But to us she was Mum, Grandma, Great-Grandma Alice. We miss her greatly and may God bless her memory.
She is survived by her son Ronnie Fraser, and his daughter-in-law Lola; grandchildren Julian and his wife Johanna, Richard and his wife Dalia, myself, David and my wife Gemma, Ben and his wife Jo, and 11 great-grandchildren.
Alice Fraser: born September 11, 1919. Died June 10, 2023