Darwen’s Link to Anne Frank

It started with a book  I was reading. In it was a photograph of an elderly man playing the piano and the caption said, “Grandfather Rudolf at the piano in a pub in Darwen (sic), Lancashire 1943”.

The book was, ‘The Promise’ by Eva Schloss and Barbara Powers. The book tells Eva’s story and how she survived Auschwitz. Along with another book, Eva’s Story by Eva Schloss and Evelyn Kent I have been able to piece

Rudolf’s story together and along the way discovered a link to Anne Frank.

Rudolf and Helene Markovits lived a comfortable life in Vienna, Austria with their two daughters, Elfriede (known as Fritzi) and Sylvi. They were an ordinary Jewish family who eventually had to leave Austria when life became too difficult and harsh for Jews. Fritzi and her husband, Erich, moved to Holland with their children Heinz and Eva (of Eva’s Story). In 1938 Sylvi and her husband Otto Grunwald moved to Darwen, Lancashire. Otto was an expert in a new process called Bakelite and persuaded the Government he could be of some use in the development of a new product called Perspex. Consequently he settled in Darwen and subsequently changed the family name to Greenwood.

In 1939 Otto and Sylvi were able to send for Rudolf and Helene. The whole family settled in Earnsdale Avenue. I believe that Helene was a dressmaker, Sylvi possibly ran a snack bar, Rudolf played the piano and Otto continued his work in plastics.

Meanwhile in Holland Eva’s family didn’t fare as well. The family lived in Amsterdam and were contempories of Anne Frank and her family. Like the Frank family, Eva also had to go into hiding to escape Nazi arrest. Also like the Franks, they were discovered and in May 1944 ended up in Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. In her book Eva tells of the horrors she and her mother suffered. But they did survive and made their way back to Amsterdam to await news of Erich and Heinz. Otto Frank did the same and small groups of Jewish survivors waited together for news. As we know, Otto was the only survivor of his family. Eva’s father and brother failed to survive.

In Eva’s book she talks of visiting Rudolf and Helene in England. A friend of mine who lived opposite the Greenwoods in Earnsdale Avenue remembers the day they moved in and also remembers Fritzi’s visit.

Back in Amsterdam Otto Frank and Fritzi, Eva’s mother, become close and in 1953 they married. They spent the rest of their lives telling the world the story of Anne Frank and her diary.

Eva married and settled in North London, but didn’t tell her family her story until 1986.

So there we have it – Rudolf and Helene Markovits’ son-in-law was Otto Frank and so they were, posthumously, step-Grandparents to Anne Frank.

Rudolf and Helen are buried in the Eastern Cemetery in Darwen. I have been informed that the family possibly left Darwen after Helene’s death in 1963, but I don’t know much more. Otto and Sylvi’s sons, Tom and Jimmy have both died but Tom did have children, Caroline and Johnny.

I have located Rudolf’s and Helene’s grave and paid my respects to them.

What started with a photo ended up being a fascinating story and a snapshot of bygone times.

Helen Thomas April 2012