The Reitmeyers

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This heart-warming photo was part of a “blind” photo lot I purchased on German eBay. The back of the photo says, “Senta and Esther Reitmeyer, Christmas 1930”. The photo was taken in Bayreuth, Germany.

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My quick search on the German genealogy platforms came back with nothing. I had to broaden my search and turned to good old Google. I came across a photo from the Australian War Memorial website of German internees at No. 1A Camp, Tatura Internment Group in Australia from December 1943. What a discovery – the whole family Reitmeyer was in Australia of all places during WWII – mother Senta, daughter Esther and father Heinrich!

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Source: Australian War Memorial 

Another photo from the same source shows the same families in 1945 in Camp no. 3 of the same internee camp.

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Source: Australian War Memorial

Honestly, I didn’t even know there were prisoner of war camps of WWII in Australia! I had to learn more. I came across this document on the internet: “Tatura, German Heritage Trail” which gave me some more insight into the camp life. I would like to quote this paper:

Before the outbreak of war, Britain was temporary or permament home to approximately 73,000 persons from Germany and Austria who had left those countries due to the rise of the Nazi regime. When the British Army suffered defeat in France and was evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940, it was believed that some of these refugees were enemy agents who would assist the German army when it invaded Britain. (..) In the Tatura region, land suitable for the seven camps was commandered from the farmer-owners (..).

Camp 1 was the first camp set up. It held 1,000 German and Italian men, most of them already living in Australia, in two separate compounds. (..)

Camp 3 was a family camp and held 1,000 people in four compounds. (..)”

Apparently Esther and her peers attended school at the camp and formed study groups. Here is another photo from the No. 1A Camp, Tatura, collection at the Australian War Memorial archive.

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Source: Australian War Memorial

According to the paper “Tatura, German Heritage Trail” the school was established in Camp 3 in 1941 in order to “occupy the young people interned constructively and to ensure the continuation of their education“. But there were neither a suitable building nor qualified teachers nor text books. So internees with skills and knowledge in their subject matter would teach at the school, using their own private books they had brought to the camp. The school council faced further challenges as more internees arrived at the camp in the following years and the classroom sizes grew. But despite those challenges, the paper says that “the students were taught at a very high standard. In addition, advanced education courses were established at Camp 3. These consisted of a trade course for boys and a home economics course for girls.”

“Tatura, German Heritage Trail” gives a really good overview of the camp and the life of the internee families, how they lived and how they spent their time. I’ve borrowed this picture of Camp 3 from the authors of the paper.

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Source: “Tatura, German Heritage Trail”

Now I was really curious about how this German family ended up in Australia, especially as internees and how their lives turned out in Down Under!

I tried my luck with the National Archives of Australia website. I found records of the family members’ with their full names:

– Reitmeyer, Heinrich Franz Anton, Date of birth  03 August 1896;
– Reitmeyer, Senta Eva Constanze, 22 January 1902;
– Reitmeyer, Esther, (born 1929/1930)

The family arrived in Australia in 1931 and then again in 1939.

Source: National Archives of Australia

Looks like upon their arrival in 1939, Heinrich was detained as prisoner of war and put to live in the Tatura internees camp.

Source: National Archives of Australia

I can read in these documents that Heinrich was born in Constantinople in today’s Turkey to a father Reitmeyer and an Italian mother Antoinette de Paviro, living in Dolo, Venice in Italy at the time of Heinrich’s arrest. Heinrich’s occupation was manager and in some other documents he is referred to with a PhD. title. The record also shows his service as a Commissioned Officer in the German Army during WWI. At the time of his arrest, he had been a resident of Australia for 9 years.

Senta was detained in 1942, and I wonder if that was perhaps voluntary since she had been separated from her husband for more than 3 years by then, raising their teenage daughter alone.

Senta Eva Constanze née Hohf was born on 22 January 1902 to parents Rudolf Hohf and Maria née Aussem in Mönchengladbach, Germany. CLICK to see her birth certificate available on Ancestry. Her parents married in 1898 in Amsterdam. Accoding to the information available on Ancestry, Senta had 4 siblings: Antonie Hohf (1899-1984), Rudolf Hohf (1908-1980), Hanna Hohf and Esther Hohf (1904-1927) (CLICK).

So what happened to the family after WWII?

Unfortunately Heinrich passed away in 1949. He was buried at the Mona Vale (Turimetta) Cemetery in New South Wales, Australia. I found his gravestone on Billion Graves site.

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Source: Billion Graves

Looks like Senta returned to Germany after Heinrich’s death. She is listed in the Münich address books from 1952 till 1980. She travels to New York from Bremerhaven, Germany, alone in 1958. I wonder whom she visited? The birth certificate of Senta has a remark that she passed away in March 1981.

Esther did her leaving certificate at the Sacred Heart College in Shepparton, Australia, and majored in English and German.

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Source: Shepparton Advertiser, 31 January 1947, available on MyHeritage

But did Esther accompany her mother to Germany or did she perhaps stay in Australia or move to America? Did she marry and change her surname? There are no available records on Esther after 1947. If she was born in 1929/30, she might still be alive today!

If you recognise the Reitmeyers, please let me know!

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