Meta Neumann (1859-1943)

This biography was produced by Rivka Nessim from two eulogies written independently by Fritz Majer-Leonhard and Karin Schimmelpfennig. The earlier of these was published in German in ‘Christuszeugen aus Israel’ (1955). The copyright in that work is held by the Evangelisher Missionsverlag GmbH Stuttgart. 

When Meta was a child, she passed by a crucifix and asked her mother who he was, “that man on the cross.” She was told: “My child, he was a criminal. You must not look at the cross!” So young Meta learned to cover her eyes with her hands whenever she passed by. But sometimes she peeked through her fingers, feeling herself somehow drawn to the one on the cross.

A rabbi in her Polish hometown of Inowraslaw explained the superscription to her: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The ten year old child pondered this and concluded: “he could not have been a criminal.”

Meta grew up in a respected Jewish family. Two of her brothers emigrated to America, and a sister married the writer Julius Pederzani, a former Catholic priest. While the males in her family became successful in business, the women were educated in literature and the arts and become known as poets, literary translators, painters and singers.

Meta wanted to be a teacher and took all the necessary exams.  But the entire family insisted that she train as a singer  because of her remarkable musical talent.  So she travelled in 1892 to Paris, where she was taught by the famous Pauline Viardot. During this time her father died, and her widowed mother moved to Dresden. Meta rejoined her mother when she finished her studies.

In search of a quiet spa for her holidays, Meta was referred to the Christian Raemismuehle Hospice in Zurich. There she attended a series of studies conducted by the  Rev. Georg Steinberger on the Letter to the Hebrews. This was all new for the young Jewess. At first she wanted to leave, but a friend convinced her to stay. Soon the epistle caught her interest, and eventually the 8th and 9th chapters convinced her of the truth and she came to faith in her Messiah. She was baptised in 1899 and received the 84th Psalm as her commemoration text.

Soon after this her pious Jewish mother visited her. When they met at the train station she asked Meta: “What is happening with you?  Why are you shining so?”  Her daughter told her of her faith and baptism. A while later God answered the daughter’s prayers, and the elderly mother came to faith also.

After her mother’s death, Meta moved to Stuttgart where she lived with her friend, the painter Elfriede Griseinger, and her widowed brother-in-law Pederzani. In Stuttgart, Meta was a living witness to Jesus, particularly through the example she set for others. Here she lived a lovely life until the Third Reich began its persecution of Jews. Now the eighty-year old was subjected to house searches, and her valuables were taken away. She was forbidden to shop at her usual stores and forced to travel to the other end of the city where specially designated “Jewish stores” were found.

Together with the suffering of those days, she was also able to experience the joy of seeing how gladly women continued to attend her Tuesday bible studies, gathering together in her living room around the Word of God. Her eyes would shine, as she testified of her beloved Lord. At the end of the lesson the participants were required to share what they had learned. As a parting encouragement, she would sing to them in her beautiful voice.

One day a new member appeared among the regular visitors. It was clear from the way her hair was done and her fingernails, that she placed great store on outward appearances. Others may have had something to say – a word of reproof – but sister Neumann was only warm and friendly, held her Bible study and sang “I will not leave until you bless me”.  This had such an effect on the newcomer that she decided that very night to live henceforth as a believing Christian. When they went walking together, Meta would urge her new companion: “Please, pray with me, one can also pray while walking!” Then a person would be named, and they would both pray.

While it always pleased Meta that she was of the tribe of Levi, and that her ancestor Miriam was also a singer and musician, her Jewish identity brought her much suffering in her last years. In 1942 she was eventually banished from Stuttgart to Buttenhausen, a town in one of the so-called “Jewish zones”.  In Buttenhausen she found a small home, which she could share with her faithful friend. Even there in her own hour of need she was able to comfort and support others, and even held a bible study now and then at the Girls’ Home. Soon she was ordered to move into the local Rabbinic Council building with the few remaining Jews. At this, she fell ill and was taken back to Stuttgart by ambulance on 15 April 1943. On the same day she was able to write to her friend:

“Again and again I have the need or the longing to speak with you again.  Please pray that my separation from you and all my loved ones will not lay so unspeakably heavily on me! I do not wish to grieve you, but it is so terribly hard to go into the unknown, amongst strangers, to remain where every familiar thing is missing.  I feel so alone and forsaken, despite the firm conviction that my beloved Saviour is leading me … The Lord will certainly bring me to the right room and to the right people. I cannot say what I have to do to make sure my bedding remains there for me. I must desire to be there entirely for the Lord, then I will have peace.”

Her friend, pastor Staebler of Buttenhausen, and his family, did all they could to save her from deportation, but to no avail. Meta Neumann was deported from Stuttgart with Transport XIII/2 to Theresienstadt, at the age of 82. The pastor’s daughter later wrote: “Aunt Neumann was a small, very refined, impressive personality with a beautiful voice…. I will never forget the almost joyous serenity with which she prepared for deportation to the concentration camp.”

At first the only news received was that the train had arrived safely and that no room had been allocated to her. She was forced to find lodging in the barracks with stacked bunks. (This news came through a third party, as she herself was not permitted to write of that.)  In her last postcard of 7 October she wrote: “The Lord is close to me. You know from experience what that means. Please, please continue to think of me!”

At Theresienstadt elderly people wasted away; and were either sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, or died in the horrible, inhumane conditions of starvation and disease. After seven months in the concentration camp, Meta was called home on 24 November 1943.

In the year 2000 the singer-songwriter Thomas Felder launched a campaign to remember the Jews deported from Buttenhausen. Their 109 names were etched onto 109 poles, which lined the road to the Jewish cemetery. Later, when a railway line was laid down the poles were placed inside the cemetery, where they still bear witness to the 109 lives lost, including that of Meta Neumann.

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