Towards the end of last year the Cape Town Holocaust Centre hosted a series of talks by descendants of German-Jewish refugees who came to South Africa fleeing Nazi Germany.
Jonathan Hayden gave a fascinating talk about his family and shared the story of how they recovered their history and the family treasures.
Jonathan’s family came from Göttingen, Germany, where they were well-respected and deeply entrenched in society. But as the Nazi threat gained traction, they found themselves increasingly isolated. They found no succour from former friends and colleagues, business associates and neighbours.
On Kristallnacht – 9 November 1938 – Jonathan’s grandfather Max Raphael Hahn was arrested and subsequently imprisoned for 9 months. During this time his prized collection of silver Judaica, begun by his father Raphael, was confiscated. Max fought with every fibre of his being to save this precious and irreplaceable art collection for posterity. Before he and his wife Gertrud were tragically deported in December 1941, he managed to send part of it out of the country.
Max’s son Rudi Hahn had fled to London in 1939 and eventually settled in South Africa in 1947 with his wife Ann. Rudi had served in the British Army during the war and had officially anglicised his name to Roger Hayden. After the war, armed with correspondence and documents, he embarked on a mission to find his parents. He made the tragic discovery that they, together with other members of the family, had been deported to their deaths. He then began a lifelong struggle to locate his father’s treasures and have them returned. After Roger’s passing, his sons Michael and Jonathan continued as custodians of the recovered collection and retained their connections with the city of Göttingen. Their quest to retrieve still more items continued. As recently as 2011 they discovered more treasures in the vaults of the city museum. In November 2014, Jonathan’s family was invited to a ceremony by the Göttingen Museum, in which 17 items from his grandparents’ home finally were returned to the family.
In honour of their Hayden/Hahn parents and grandparents, Jonathan, Maureen and Lisa Hayden have made an extremely generous donation to the Cape Town Holocaust Centre. This will help the Centre to continue its work of providing programmes for schools and teachers and support the study of the Holocaust in the National Curriculum, as well as the many public programmes that the Centre offers. The Hahn and Hayden Collections: A legacy of Loss, Courage and Renewal is available from the Jacob Gitlin Library.