Meta Neumann 1859-1943
When Meta was a very young child, walking in town with her mother, she passed by a cross and innocently asked who the man on that cross was. “My child, he was a criminal. You must not look at the cross!” was the answer she received. So Meta learned to cover her eyes with her hands whenever she passed by a cross. Sometimes, though, she would peek through her fingers, curious and strangely drawn to the figure on the cross.
A rabbi in her hometown of Inowraslaw (Poland) – translated the superscription for her: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The ten year old child pondered that and reached the conclusion that 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 male members of the large family group became successful in business, the women were educated in literature and the arts and become well-known poets, literary translators, painters and singers.
Meta wanted to be a teacher and went as far as to write the examinations. But the entire family insisted that she should be trained as a singer because of her remarkable musical talent. So they travelled in 1892 to Paris, where she was trained by the famous Pauline Viardot. In the course of her years of study her father died, and her widowed mother moved to Dresden. Meta rejoined her there after concluding her studies. Later she moved to Stutgart, where she lived with her friend, the painter Elfriede Griseinger and her widowed brother-in-law Pederzani.
In search of a quiet spa for her holidays, Meta was referred to the Christian Raemismuehle Hospice in Zurich. There she listened to the Bible Hours taught by Rev. Georg Steinberger on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This was all new for her, and she must have felt rather uncomfortable because she began speaking of leaving. A friend, however, convinced her to stay a while longer and so she continued to listen to the regular Bible teachings. 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.
Soon after this, Neta’s pious mother visited her. When they met at the train station her mother noticed something different about her and asked: “What is happening with you? Why are you shining so?” Neta 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 the death of her mother, Meta returned to Stuttgart where she spent the years of the first world war. She was a living witness to Jesus, particularly through her exemplary life. Following this she spent a few years in Switzerland, and then eventually returned again to Stuttgart.
She had lived many lovely years there, until the persecutions of the Jews by the Third Reich turned life into a living nightmare. The eighty-year old was obliged to undergo house searches. Her valuables were confiscated and she was forbidden to shop in her usual stores. She was obliged to travel to the other end of the city where there were specifically designated “Jewish shops”.
So the days went by, with much suffering but also with the joy she was allowed to experience, in seeing how gladly women came to 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 hour the participants shared what they had learned, and then she would sing a song in her beautiful voice to encourage the hearts of her listeners.
One day a new member appeared among the regular participants. By the way her hair was groomed and her fingernails done, it was clear to the other women that she placed great store on outward appearance. Some may have felt a word of reproof to be justified, but Neta was as warm and friendly as always, held her Bible hour and sang “I will not leave until you bless me”. This struck a chord in the heart of the new visitor, and the following night she made the decision to live as a believing Christian. Neta’s loving example had a powerful affect on her
When Neta went for a walk, she would urge her companion: “Please, pray with me, one can also pray while walking!” They would name a person and pray together for him or her.
Neta was proud to belong to the tribe of Levi, and often recalled her ancestor Miriam, who was also a singer and musician. But her Jewish identity brought her much suffering in her last years. In 1942 she was banished from Stuttgart to Buttenhausen, an area of town set up as one of the so-called “Jewish zones”. In Buttenhausen she found a small home which she could share with a faithful friend who stuck by her. Even there in her own hour of need she was able to comfort and support the suffering wife of the pastor who was terminally ill, and even managed to hold a Bible hour now and then at the Girls’ Home. Before long she was ordered to move into the Jewish religious building with the rest of the remaining Jews. But there she fell ill and was returned to Stuttgart by ambulance on 15 April 1943:
While still in Stuttgart 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 would 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 stay in a place 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 can not say what I have to do to make sure my bedding will be kept for me there. 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 Neta from deportation, but to no avail. 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 transport to the concentration camp”. Meta Neumann was deported on Transport XIII/2 to Theresienstadt, at the age of 83. It was a place where elderly people wasted away; and were either deported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, or died of starvation and disease in the horrible, inhumane conditions that prevailed there.
At first the only news received by her friends was that the train had arrived safely and that there had been no room waiting for her. She had been obliged to find lodging in the barracks with stacked bunks. She herself was not allowed to write of that. In her last card of 7. October she wrote: “The Lord is close to me. You know from experience what that means. Please, please think of me!”
After seven months in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt she was called home on November 24, 1943 aged 84.
In the year 2000 the singer-songwriter Thomas Fields launched an impressive campaign to remember the Jews deported from Buttenhaus. The 109 names were etched onto 109 pillars, which were placed along the road to the Jewish cemetery. When a railway was laid down the pillars were removed to the Jewish cemetery, where they bear testimony to the 109 lives lost, including that of Meta Neumann.
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=134 retrieved 26/8/2010
Fields, Thomas: http//www.thomas-felder.de retrieved 26/8/2010
Mayer-Leonhard, “Christuszeugen aus Israel” . Evang. Missionsverl.ein. 1955.