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History hunt for girl who fled Nazis and found a home in Ayr

AN ART gallery is looking for help to fill in details in the story of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who found a home in Scotland in the 1930s.

FAIRYTALE: Suzanne Schaefer   enjoyed comfort in Ayrshire.
FAIRYTALE: Suzanne Schaefer enjoyed comfort in Ayrshire.

The curators of the Maclaurin Gallery in the grounds of Rozelle House in Ayr are staging a show highlighting the influence on Scottish painters of Jewish artists.

It brings together works by Josef Herman, Jankel Adler, Benno Schotz, Hannah Frank and their contemporaries as well as work by Scottish artists such as Robert Colquhoun, Robert McBryde and Joan Eardley, who were inspired by them.

However the curators of the show, when planning the exhibition, had no idea that Rozelle House had its own Jewish wartime story to tell.

Now the curators are looking for anyone in Ayr or beyond who knew Suzanne Schaefer, a Jewish refugee who spent years in Ayr.

It was May 1939 when she became one of the many Jewish children who left Germany in the Kindertransport.

Suzanne, the daughter of artists Albert and Steffie Schaefer, came from Berlin to Ayr and was fostered for five years by Colonel Claud Hamilton and his wife Veronica, at Rozelle House.

Her father, well known in Germany as an illustrator and cartoonist, was targeted in the early 1930s by the Nazi party because his wife was Jewish, and to be able to continue working, the couple were forced to divorce.

The divided family's living conditions became "austere in the extreme". That changed for Suzanne when she came to Scotland.

Of her time of living at Rozelle House, she said: "I soon got used to my palatial surroundings, the four-poster bed, butler, cook, chauffeur and even a live-in dressmaker.

"It was like a fairytale, beautiful rooms, wonderful meals and a posh private school right on the seafront." That "posh private school" was Wellington, at the time an all-girls school.

Ms Schaefer then went to Ayr Academy and left school in 1944 to move to London to be with her mother, Steffie, who was a "registered alien."

Ms Schaefer studied dressmaking, still supported by the Hamilton family.

After the end of the Second World War, Albert Schaefer found himself in East Germany, and his wife and daughter were only able to see him once before he died in September 1951 aged 61.

In 1954 Ms Schaefer married journalist John Buck.

They had two sons and lived in London and Hastings.

She died in London on March 27 2002 aged 75.

Her widower and one of her sons and his wife are coming to the opening of the exhibition.

A spokeswoman for the Maclaurin Gallery and Rozelle House said: "Did you attend school in Ayr during the Second World War? Does the following ring any bells?

"Almost certainly there are people in Ayr who remember Suzanne from her time attending Wellington School and Ayr Academy.

"The Curators of the Maclaurin Trust would be thrilled to hear your stories and welcome you to the exhibition."

Cultural Connections runs until September 22.

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Arts and Entertainment

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