TRAVERSE CITY — Erika Stefanie (Turkl) Neumann, 85, passed away on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, at Cherry Hill Haven for Dementia Care in Traverse City.
Erika was born Sept. 19, 1928, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, to the late Armin and Herta (Stern) Turkl. She had a wonderful childhood growing up in the countryside of Brno, playing with her cousins and friends, attending school and celebrating holidays with relatives. Her family owned a textile factory that is still in operation, and Erika and her sister would sometimes skate to school on the river that ran through the factory grounds.
Erika was very athletic and an accomplished tennis player. She and her cousins learned the sport on the family’s tennis court, where her parents and other relatives played at every opportunity. This idyllic life came to an abrupt halt in 1939 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.
Armin and Herta were Jewish and in the months preceding the start of the World War II, no country would allow Jews to immigrate. There was only a small window of time when the borders of Nazi occupied countries remained open and Hitler allowed Jewish children to leave. Fortunately, Britain opened its borders and allowed the Jewish children to enter. Armin and Herta made the extremely difficult decision to place Erika and her sister, Suzanne, on a train to London, England, where they were met by relatives who escaped Nazi occupied Vienna. Erika and Suzanne were part of the Kindertransport rescue movement and were sent to England to await the end of the war. Sadly, their parents were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
Nicholas Winton, a compassionate, 26-year-old British stock broker, was responsible for raising the funds and making the arrangements for the Kindertransport of 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children. Similar to other Kindertransports in Germany, Austria and Poland, the Czech children had to travel without their parents or adult chaperones. Approximately 10,000 children were sent to England in 1939 and the vast majority of their parents, who remained in their Nazi occupied countries, were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.