Pick Werner Rolf Theodor
Kurhausstraße 6 (older count - today 11)
November 1933 emigrated to UK
Werner Rolf Pick’s extraordinary biography will be described more thoroughly here as it mirrors the eventful times of the 20th century in an exemplary way. In this, the statements are mainly based on Werner Pick’s personal recollections he compiled in 2002 (Werner Pick, My Memoirs, August 2002).
Werner Pick was born in Bad Kissingen on August 25, 1913, as the second child of the sanatorium owner and doctor Dr Arthur Pick and his wife Bertha Pick, née Hammerstein. His parents came from Jewish families but both were baptized and members of the Protestant religious community. They also had their two children baptized and thus no longer had any connections with the Jewish religion and tradition. Werner Pick described the relationship of his family with Judaism in an article worth reading:Werner Pick, essay on the judaism of his family, 2002, 1863 KB
Since October 1908, the family lived in Bad Kissingen and Werner’s parents established an internationally acclaimed sanatorium for cardiovascular diseases as well as gastrointestinal diseases, nervous disorders and metabolic disorders and eating disorders. As its chief doctor, Dr Pick was responsible for the medical lead, Vera’s mother for the management of the house and the kitchen.
In spite of the war and the ensuing time of inflation, Werner and his sister Vera enjoyed a happy childhood. Though their parents, particularly their father, were rather strict, they were spoiled by the guests and the staff of the sanatorium and enjoyed the amenities and excellent service of the house. During the spa season they met their busy parents only for their meals. In the winter months, however, when the sanatorium was closed, the parents often rented an apartment in the Alps (Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberstdorf, Berchtesgaden), where they were able to lead a normal family life in simple but congenial surroundings. They could go tobogganing, a reduced sort of skiing - without any ski lifts – and walking.
Werner’s parents attached great importance to a solid education for their son. At the beginning, he was taught by private teachers. In April 1923 he entered class 1 of Bad Kissingen Realschule, a predecessor of what is now Jack-Steinberger-Gymnasium. He attended it for three years. All his reports show good and very good remarks. His class teacher attested a good disposition to the “small, healthy and lively boy, “a lot of interest into everything, an active participation in his lessons”, “diligence and a sense of duty” as well as a praiseworthy conduct. In conclusion, he characterized him as a very likeable boy” even though he occasionally tended “to high spirits” as he is well aware of his mental superiority over his fellow students” (student’s file, Jack-Steinberger-Gymnasium Bad Kissingen).
In April 1926, after passing the entrance examination, Werner Pick changed to the famous boarding school of Schulpforta near Naumburg (Sachsen-Anhalt – Saxony-Anhalt) which enjoyed a very high reputation for its classical education, and boasts a number of famous former scholars- including Klopstock, Nietzsche, Fichte. Werner Pick looked back on his school days at Schulpforta with great gratitude and wrote in his memoirs: “We were given an excellent universal education with emphasis on classical subjects, but science lessons were also compulsory, as were arts and music…. Our Abitur (final exam) opened doors to any university to us as it enjoyed an outstanding reputation” (Werner Pick, My Memoirs, Claygate 2002). Even though the rules were rather strict in this boarding school in the walls of the former Cistercian monastery and living conditions were fairly primitive, on the whole it was a happy time for Werner Pick. He enjoyed the excursions into the neighbourhood through the vineyards along the rivers of Saale and Unstrut. The yearly theatre performances for Martini particularly stayed in his memory for his whole life. He particularly enjoyed playing female parts such as the innkeeper (Wirtin) in ‘Das weiße Rössl’ or Viola in Shakespeare’s comedy ‘What you will’. He found a lot of acquaintances which outlasted his time in the boarding school for a long time. Among others he was friends with Wolf von Niebelschütz, a future writer.
Werner Pick spent his holidays with his parents in Bad Kissingen whose sanatorium got into economic troubles at the end of the 1920s (can be read in more detail in the biographies of his parents Arthur and Bertha Pick). When the sanatorium was put into administration by the banks in 1931/32, Werner who shared his parents’ worries tried to help wherever he could and took over jobs in the kitchen and the office. In the years before he had often enjoyed the holidays at home with friends. His memories offer insights into the social life of the spa town in those days: "We swam, biked, played tennis, and were often invited by motorized guests to go on excursions in the surrounding area. When I was older, I went to tea dances, and also dances in the evening - all harmless fun. Kissingen has a charming smallish theatre, which played mostly comedies and operettas and there is a very good concert hall where we had regular classical programmes, with quite good soloists. There was always a resident orchestra in summer which played “Palm Court” type in the Wandelhalle or in the Kurgarten in fine weather, to accompany the guests who were supposed to take gentle walks whilst sipping one of the various mineral spring waters which were the principal raison d'etre of the spa. The public was mixed - there were a few top class hotels and sanatoria.... My parents did not have much of a social life. At the end of the season there were a few dinner parties with other doctors, but during the season everybody was too busy for socialising." (ibid).
Without any greater efforts Werner Pick passed his Abitur (final exam) in Schulpforta in February 1932 and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and study medicine. He started his studies in Freiburg/ Breisgau and changed to Munich after his 2nd semester spring 1933. In his time in Freiburg, when Hitler came to power, many of his Jewish friends already thought about emigrating: “Already in Freiburg when Hitler came to power, many of my Jewish friends discussed the possibility of emigrating, and several of them chose England as their destination. At that time, I was not so definite about my emigrating too… When I saw the students in Munich burning the books of which they did not approve, I finally made up my mind that I would try to get abroad as soon as possible, and England was the natural choice, where we had a number of friends and other connections that were willing to help as far as they could.” (Memoirs). The fact that my parents had lost our house contributed to my decision to seek my fortune abroad, particularly as I was convinced that we would have a war if Hitler stayed in power. It was also obvious to me that the persecution of Jews and 'non-Aryans' would intensify, although my family and I did not consider ourselves threatened as much as the members of the Jewish religion. In any case, I had nothing to lose by exploring my prospects abroad, although I was fairly certain that I had to give up my medical studies for lack of funds. A small number of wealthy patients of Vati in Holland and England were prepared to assist me financially, but I soon gave up the hope of becoming a doctor, and was looking for another career. (ibid.)
At the age of 20 and equipped with money for just six months, he said good-bye to family and friends at the end of 1933 and left his country in order to start a new life in Great Britain. On a dull day in November 1933, he arrived at Harwich Harbour. In February 1934 in London, he found – without a working permit – an unofficial job as an English-German translator for a small trading firm that was owned by Walter Fischer, a Jew from Vienna. He supported the young immigrant like a paternal friend who admittedly was far from being enthusiastic when Werner fell in love with his daughter Margaret and a lasting relationship between the two of them started to form.
Margaret had grown up in England. Although her parents moved almost exclusively in circles of Continental origin, Margaret was given a traditional English education. She attended Streatham Hill High School, one of the Girls' Public Day School Trust schools, which had and still has a high reputation. Although Catholic and Jewish girls were admitted and received separate religious tuition if requested, the girls attended morning prayers and other religious functions on Church of England lines. Margaret attended these and was never taken to the synagogue, or received any tuition in the Jewish religion. Nearly all her school friends were non-Jewish and religion played no part in the Fischer household (see ibid). After graduating from high school in 1929, she took a typing and shorthand course and worked as a stenotypist and German correspondent.
Though he personally valued Werner Pick Walter Fischer initially didn’t regard the young immigrant without any means and prospects who had neither a working permit nor an English passport as an appropriate husband for his daughter. Because of that, Walter Fischer didn’t keep him in his firm as a translator any longer but helped him nevertheless to find a new job in the firm of Dr Cornelius that had specialized in trading with animal and plant fat and oils as well as chemicals and other raw materials between London and Vienna.
But soon Walter Fischer accepted Margaret’s relationship with Werner and finally gladly gave his consent for their marriage. The engagement was in September 1936 and Walter Fischer got along with Werner’s parents who had come to visit right from the start. But he was not to experience the marriage in September 1937 as he had died in November 1936.
After his emigration Werner Pick remained to be in close contact with his family in Germany. At Christmas 1935, he visited his parents in Berlin, and they travelled to London to visit him several times. In the summer of 1934, he helped his sister Vera to emigrate to England. And as the situation for Jewish citizens in Germany grew increasingly dangerous, he influenced his parents to emigrate to England as well. When a war seemed to be immediately imminent during the Sudeten Crisis in 1938, they were just visiting him. At last, he persuaded them to leave Germany. Arthur didn’t return to Germany and after the closure of her guest house in Berlin at the beginning of 1939, Bertha also went to London.
After the emigration, health reasons prevented Arthur Pick to continue practicing his job. On the other hand, Werner’s mother opened a Boarding House in London with her furniture from Berlin, which served as the first point of contact for German-speaking immigrants from the German Reich, the former states of Austria and Czechoslovakia and other countries that had been occupied by Nazi-Germany.
In June 1939, Werner and Margaret Pick’s daughter Diana was born. The peaceful life of the young family was abruptly stopped after German troops invaded France in 1940 and the Allied Forces couldn’t stop the advance of the Germans. When the danger of an invasion of German troops into England became a real possibility, the British government ordered the internment of so-called “enemy aliens” (persons of German or Austrian nationality). In the early morning hours of the June 25, the police knocked at the door and gave Werner half an hour for packing his belongings for the transfer to the Isle of Man where the “enemy aliens” were interned. His father who was nearly 70 and his sister Vera were also held prisoners as “enemy aliens” for several months.
In February 1941, Werner Pick was also released, and the family moved to Wargrave in Berkshire County in the West of London in order to be safe from the bomb raids of the German squadrons on the area of London. There they lived till shortly before the end of the war, Werner Pick commuting to his job in London in the morning and returning to Wargrave in the evening. Their second child, Robert, was born in neighboring Maidenhead in June 1942. Werner Pick wrote in his memoirs about this time, "Our stay in Wargrave from 1941 to 1945 was a happy one – apart from commuting to London during the bombing, we were pretty safe and were able to live a fairly normal life in very pleasant surroundings. In the summer we could hire punts to go on the river when the weather was fine, and we occasionally went to see my parents in Adamson Road, where we were showered with food and enjoyed the comfort of being waited upon" (ibid).
In April 1945, the family moved to Claygate, a wealthy suburb in the Southwest of London where they bought a beautiful house with a big garden, in which Werner Pick lived till his death. He became a very successful businessman who rose to the chairman and main shareholder of the Cornelius Group. The high esteem for his performance in the business is also shown by his election to the president of the association of the Oil, Seed and Fat Association (FOSFA) a worldwide trade association and the “British Commandities Trades Association”. Letting his employees share in the profits of his business was typical of his social attitude.
Werner Picks’s father Arthur died in London in 1956 at the age of 84, his mother Bertha was able to witness the birth of her great grandson and died in July 1963. Werner Pick reached the amazing age of 103. He died in June 2017, two months before his 104thbirthday.
His descendants got back their German citizenship in 2021 according to Art. 116 Abs. 2 Grundgesetz (German Constitution).
His son Robert emphasized in his eulogy for his deceased father: “My father was blessed with a sound health into old age. I am sure that his mental activity added to that. By being interested into everything and everybody – family, garden, music, art, the landscape, economy, and politics. Travelling and holidays were important to him, with wife and children, grandchildren as well and even great grandchildren… His favorite place was Zermatt. His great ambition was to go skiing with his grandchildren and he was enthusiastic that he managed to do that. And I will never forget his joy during a helicopter flight: We took him to the summit of the Matterhorn for his 95thbirthday. In his own words: “Zermatt is the place closest to heaven” (quoted from: Werner Rolf Theodor Pick in memoriam, in: Die Pforte, Schulpforta Nachrichten. Zeitschrift des Pförtner Bundes e.V. Nr. 70. Pp. 67-71),
In 2002, at the age of 98, Werner Pick looked back at a fulfilled, eventful and all in all happy life:
"I was extremely fortunate that I decided to make my fortune in England, which became my home. I was able to help my sister, parents, and even uncle and aunt with their children to come to England... Our near family was fortunate in escaping the fate of many families who perished in the gas chambers.
I am anxious that my children and the younger generation should know, or be made aware of, their background and never forget it, nor be ashamed of it.
The Jewish religion formed no part in our life, as most of us, especially on the Pick side, were brought up in the Christian faith. Most of us were baptised shortly after birth, but none of us were regular churchgoers, except for me during my days in Schulpforta where attendance at prayers and church services were compulsory.
We had many Jewish friends, but in the liberal society in which we lived religious beliefs were considered to be private decisions, which were always respected but never discussed…
As I have made clear on many occasions, I am proud of my ancestry, and I do not wish my family to be ashamed of their origin, but I am perfectly happy if future generations grow up with Christianity or any other religion or philosophy of their choice. What matters in my eyes that they should be tolerant and make useful members of the community in which they live…
It is my firm belief that tolerance, consideration for others and humility are the greatest virtues in life and I hope I have been able to some extent to practise what I believe. I know that I have been extremely lucky all my life, even if there were problems on the way, and that I can die in peace when the day comes. I hope that my survivors will have happy memories of me and will not mourn my death, but let me live on in their thoughts.“
Meldeakten Stadt Bad Kissingen (Meldekarten, Familienbogen, Hausakte)
StAWü, WB IV JR 3442 Pick Bertha (früher JRSO)
Werner Pick, Memoirs, Claygate, August 2000 (The source was kindly provided by the Pick family)
Werner Pick, Aufsatz zum Verhältnis der Familie zum Judentum (The source was kindly provided by the Pick family)
Werner Rolf Theodor Pick in memoriam in: Die Pforte, Schulpforta Nachrichten Zeitschrift des Pförtner Bundes e.V., Nr. 70, S. 67 -71
Nachruf Werner Rolf Theodor Pick, The Times, 16.06.2017
© Robert Pick