Jewish woman who escaped Nazi turmoil, dies aged 102 in Lewes

Trude Holmes
Trude Holmes

Trude Holmes, almost certainly the only person in Lewes to have remembered the death of the Austrian Emperor Franz-Josef in 1916, has died at the age of 102.

She was born Gertrud Edith Falk in 1911 in Vienna, then capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Her parents, born in what became Czechoslovakia, were middle class and non-religious but of Jewish extraction. Her father played chess in the Café Zentral also frequented by Trotsky, Freud and Lenin. Her mother sang with the Vienna state opera chorus. She spoke several languages, as did Trude.

Trude completed a doctorate in psychology at Vienna University in 1935. Her work was clearly well appreciated by the university and she was invited to join a team doing the first ever market research study in Austria – on why the Viennese  did not drink tea!

Her own research was on child development and she collaborated on a book with her supervisor Prof Charlotte Buehler, which is still available online. She was active in the socialist youth movement in Vienna. Secular as they were, her family was caught in the Nazi turmoil. Trude managed to get an exit visa to the UK and like so many others got a job as a nanny and a domestic servant. Her talents did not lie in these areas and at one point she phoned her mother to ask how to make Viennese coffee.

But, as letters dating from 1938 to 1941 reveal, her mother did not tell her how terrible life was becoming. Despite efforts to bring them out, Trude only discovered in 1947 that they had died in 1942 after deportation to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland. After the war she had a sucessful career as an educational psychologist in Essex. She had many friends from the same refugee circle, among them Rosl Holmes who died in 1974.

In 1975 Trude married widower Geoffrey Holmes. They had a rich and rewarding retirement together, travelling and seeing friends who included the Pankhurst family, descendants of the suffragette Sylvia, and the members of the great Lindsay String Quartet.

They moved to the haven of Greyfriars Court in Lewes in 2005. Geoffrey died in 2008 and for the first time Trude began to speak of her past. As a result of notes published about her in the Sussex Express and elsewhere on the occasion of her 100th birthday, her family got a message in 2012 revealing that she had had an Austrian half brother, unknown to her (b 1919 d 2010).

Sadly her remarkable memory – which had retained an image of praying for the deceased Kaiser in 1916 – began to fade, along with her eyesight and she died peacefully in her sleep at Greyfriars on Christmas Day. Her funeral was on Monday at Lewes Cemetery.