Right on cue at 3pm on Thursday, 19 July 2007, torrential
rain gave way to bright sunshine to greet guests arriving at
historic Bunce Court, Otterden.
They had come to see the return of the original bell for a
school once located at Bunce Court and the unveiling of a plaque
to recall a former resident, Anna Essinger, who died there in
The house was not just her home. From 1933 to 1940 and again
from 1945 to 1948 it was where she ran a school, among whose
many distinguished pupils were Frank Auerbach, one of Britain's
finest living painters, and the late Gerard Hoffnung, the humorist
famous for his comic London concerts.
Born in Ulm, Germany, in 1879, Anna, a non-practising Jew,
went to live with an aunt in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1899.
In 1919, at the end of the first World War and not long after
graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she was asked by
the American Society of Friends to organise Quaker post-War
relief for children in the south of Germany.
Teaching turned out to be her real vocation. In 1927 she started
a progressive co-educational boarding school at Herrlingen,
near Ulm. To the pupils, many of them Jewish, she was not 'Miss',
but 'Tante Anna' (aunt Anna).
When Hitler came to power in 1933 she realised there would
be no place for such a school in his scheme of things. With
the help of British Quakers she moved the school - lock, stock
and barrel - to Bunce Court.
At first the official education inspectors were not impressed
- everything was makeshift, and hand-to-mouth. But within a
year or two new buildings had been added, and a replica Greek
theatre even built in the grounds. The Whitehall hawks now recognised
that they had a treasure on their hands.
In November 1938 came 'Kristallnacht' (the night of broken
glass), when Nazi thugs terrorised Germany's Jews, setting fire
to hundreds of synagogues. Anna, now regarded as a safe pair
of hands, was asked to organise a reception camp at Dovercourt
for 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany - the 'kindertransports'.
Their parents stayed behind, and most later died in concentration
camps as a result of Hitler's 'Final Solution'. Dozens of the
children she had rescued, effectively orphans, joined her 'New
Herrlingen School' at Bunce Court.
The buildings were requisitioned by the military in June 1940
and the school found a new haven at Trench Hall, at Wem, Shropshire.
It returned in 1945 but closed in 1948 because it had fulfilled
Guests at the unveiling ceremony were mostly 'O.B.C.s' (Old
Bunce Courtians). Several had come specially from the USA. Some
had not seen Bunce Court since they left it over 60 years ago.
Among non-O.B.C.s present was Hansjörg Greimel, from the
school in Ulm now named after Anna Essinger, with four of his
Julia Miller and Graham Galer welcomed guests on behalf of
the present residents at Bunce Court. Guest of honour was Ernst
Weinberg, very much the inspiration behind the event arranging
for the return of the bell from his home in California, where
it had been for 25 years.
The plaque and the school bell were unveiled by Hans Meyer,
a former member of school staff who lives in Doddington.