My brother’s and my upbringing was unusual. Mine in particular, since as a child I attended the same boy’s school as Temple: Peterborough Lodge on Finchley Road in Hampstead. The headmaster’s daughter, Cynthia Linford, and I were the only girl pupils. I don’t know how her Father had been persuaded to take me but it was Temple who had insisted that I enjoy the same advantages as himself. As I remember, or was told later, he had found I was being very poorly taught at my girls’ school: “Memorizing the names of headlands on the West Coast of Scotland when she doesn’t know what a headland is,” had been his indignant comment.
When I was nine years old my father, who had contracted tuberculosis, was ordered to Switzerland and we all went with him to Arosa. There and in Italy for two years, we children had a wonderful time skating, skiing, and bobsledding in winter, climbing mountains and swimming in the lakes and sea in summer. We spent part of each spring and summer on the Italian lakes and Riviera, where we “discovered” Portofino, as yet barely known to tourists. There the fishermen’s wives and daughters sat outside their whitewashed houses on steep narrow streets in the bright sunlight making the exquisite laces my mother loved to buy. Also there was San Frutuosa, lost little town approachable only by sea. One glorious summer we spent two months in Corsica travelling about that wild, romantic island in a horse-drawn carriage, but spending most of the time at Ajaccio where Temple and I swam naked on a deserted beach to which we walked along a road lined by marble tombs.
Rapallo, Santa Margharita and Sestri Levanti. Genoa and Milan, Pisa and Livorno, Lugano, Como and Lake Maggiore; driving by carriage and walking long stretches over the Simplon Pass from Domedossela, whose hotel had, I thought, the unique name “Run to the Post” (courir a la Paste) but actually must have been Couriers of the Mail.
Bright unforgotten distant years of my most happy childhood spent in some of the loveliest places in the world, giving Temple and me lasting memories of beauty to carry with us the rest of our lives.
We attended no schools but were taught for an hour or two a day in winter by an old German-Swiss tutor in Arosa. Our father spending his days on a chaise lounge on the veranda was always there to answer our questions and impart knowledge which we could never have obtained from a formal education. We read books and we listened and learned from the talks and discussions of our parents with friends and acquaintances from many lands in the cosmopolitan atmosphere in which my multilingual internationally minded father fitted so well. Since we were never repressed but only taught good manners Temple and I had no inhibitions to make us feel awkward or shy and speechless in the presence of our elders.
Unforgettable among my father’s friends in Arosa were Herr Lockhoff, a jovial Dutch artist and the dainty fair and smiling Baroness von Klockner from Dresden, who herself resembled one of that city’s famous porcelain statuettes. Lockhoff whose tuberculosis was incurable was to die soon after we returned to England. Irene von Klockner lived long but disappeared without trace in the senseless Anglo-American bombing of the open city of Dresden in 1944 which burned alive more civilians than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Just before the Second World War Mother and I were to meet her for the last time in London.
In late summer Temple and I climbed quite high mountains alone with a Swiss guide, once reaching the peak of the Aguille de Tour, ten thousand feet above sea level.
In winter, besides skiing and skating and playing ice hockey, we took part with adults in the two and a half mile races on our bobsled named Mephistopheles, clad in white wool jerseys with red flannel devils on our chests and caps. Temple sometimes steered, but we won our notable victories when piloted by Mrs. Moreland, the sporting wife of a New Zealand doctor, with Temple and me as crew and a man called Bray as the “break.” I still have in my possession a silver beaker inscribed with our names on the memorable occasion when, in 1909, we won the Lucy Challenge Cup, to the amused surprise, friendly applause or outrage of the competing adult teams.
I cannot have made much, if any. contribution as “crew” to our triumphs, far out as I see myself leaning in an old photo as we rushed around the most dangerous corner of the course; or by energetically throwing my slight weight backward and forward to help accelerate speed on the straight. It was probably due to my brother’s insistence that I was permitted to participate in these races which actually filled me with a dread I never admitted to Temple, whose belief that anything he could do. I could do, too, spurred me on.
Writing to me a quarter of a century later from the Fiji Islands to congratulate me on the birth of my son in Moscow, Temple recalled my “winning that ice-axe for me” at Champex, where I had outraced the Swiss girls who competed in the two mile race around the Lake.
When my father was sufficiently cured to return to England Temple and I were left at school on the Lake of Geneva. The original intention had been to leave only Temple, but as usual I wanted to do whatever he did. As I recall, at Sestri Levanti on the Italian Riviera in 1909, I had become more and more restless, so that one evening after the usual happy day swimming and basking in the sun, I solemnly informed my parents that it was high time for me to go to school and start studying. Maybe it was the first stirrings of what my brother used to call my “Puritan conscience.” Or perhaps it was simply because the joyful, easy, carefree life we children had for so long enjoyed had begun to pall. As Swinburne wrote in Temple’s favorite poem, Faustine, “To feed a while on honeycomb is sweet,” but man tires of the repetition of accepted rhyme.
So, when eleven and a half years old, I became a pupil at La Combe, Rolle on the Lake of Geneva, with my brother at school half a mile away across the fields at the Chateau de Rosey. By special dispensation I had the run of this school where I went for fencing lessons as well as to visit my brother.
The first summer of our separation from our parents I spent three weeks with Temple and the boys of his school in the Swiss Alps, dressed in boy’s clothes and climbing the same mountains as teenage youths. Mixing with English, German, French, Swiss, Italian, and other nationalities, soon learning to speak French fluently and German fairly well, I was little aware of national barriers. I acquired an international outlook which neither my father’s influence nor theoretical socialist teaching alone could have given me.
So long ago and far away and yet so well remembered, the two years I spent at school in French Switzerland were one of the happiest periods of my life.
At first I was the only English girl at La Combe and later one of two. I was also the youngest. The majority of the pupils were German girls in their middle or late teens “finishing” their education by studying the French language, literature and culture. The atmosphere was not unlike that of my home environment; studious, tolerant, kindly and with equal emphasis on study and physical fitness.
We skated in winter, swam and rowed on the Lake of Geneva in summer; bicycled and went for long walks, picked narcissi in the fields near Montreux on spring expeditions to such historic sites as the Chateau de Chillon. For a fortnight each year the whole school moved to the Alps, where we climbed mountains and trod the lovely green valleys studded with flowers between the mountain peaks, picking Edelwiss on the few occasions we found this rare flower and chanting French songs. Indelibly imprinted on my mind is a vision of the glories of an Alpine sunset as I stood shyly among my new companions somewhere in the mountains, on the first evening of this happy holiday tentatively attempting to join in the singing.
Sport at La Combe was regarded as a pleasure, not a duty, and study—really hard study—was expected of us all ensured mainly by pride in achievement. Most of the girls came from middle-class German Rheinland and Ruhr families which had made sacrifices to give them their year or two of “finishing school” in Switzerland. In contrast to the English school where I went later, it was considered shameful at La Combe not to work hard and take advantage of the opportunity afforded us to learn all we could from teachers who loved to teach and whom one hated to disappoint.
The headmistress of La Combe, Mademoiselle Marthe Dédie, was a cousin of Monsieur Henri Carnal, the headmaster of my brother’s school, and everyone expected them to marry. A handsome woman, I remember her best for the marvel of her long, lustrous and luxuriant black hair which reached almost to her feet and which she braided in thick coils in a crown on top of her head. Perhaps she was too strong-minded and independent for Monsieur Henri who was himself as handsome as a movie star and eventually married an American heiress.
The Chateau de Rosey in later years was to become a favorite school for gilded youth from all over the world, including the present Shah of Iran and other royal personages, besides sons of wealthy American families. In my day it had only one American pupil, a youth of about seventeen whose name I have forgotten, but whom I remembered because of the various troubles he got me into. He took me riding in his newly acquired automobile and promptly ran us into a stone wall. On another occasion he so outraged me by kissing me that I seized his best Panama hat and doused it in the fountain in the Chateau de Rosey courtyard. Once he induced me by the bribe of a carton of Nestle’s Swiss chocolate bars to carry a note from him to one of the girls at my school.
This shameful episode is the more inexcusable because, when Temple and I were first left at school in Switzerland, our parents arranged credit for us at the grocery store in Rolle. Unlike Temple, I had refused this opportunity to buy chocolates or anything else, not wishing to enjoy special privileges denied to the other girls at my school. Yet in my second year I succumbed to the lure of a dozen large chocolate bars as the price for delivering a love note, or maybe an invitation to an assignation, to one of my classmates from a rich, young American. I never really liked him but he tempted me and I fell.
This incident is one of the most painful recollections of my childhood because of the feeling of guilt it gave me for long afterwards. I realized that I had betrayed the trust reposed in me by Madamoiselle Marthe who, because my brother was there, permitted me, unlike the other girls at La Combe, to visit the Chateau de Rosey whenever I wished.
My favorite among Temple’s classmates was Jimmy Reiss, an intelligent witty and sophisticated Jewish boy from Manchester who was to remain my friend for many years. I still have a photo of him in a Chateau de Rosey performance of “Le Chapeau dePaille d’Italie” -a musical farce, two lines from which I was to remember all my life when enjoying myself too much. “Mon cher mais c’est atroce/Nous faisons rouses Les jours la noce.” Which roughly translated means: My dear it’s terrible, we’re having a ball every day!
A decade and a half after our school days in Rolle, I was tempted to marry Jimmy because I was very fond of him and he was well-to-do, while I by that time was exceedingly poor. Temple used to say how nice it would be to have a brother-in-law with a wine cellar, and Jimmy and I had much in common. But in the 20’s in London I had not given up my hope of romantic love. Besides, Jimmy seemed too “bourgeois” for me much as I enjoyed his company. He never did marry and probably had grave reservations in courting me since he thoroughly enjoyed his foot-loose life. But he was to give me help and comfort when I returned from Russia in 1936 with my political hopes and personal life alike shattered.
La Combe today, although still a more modest establishment than the Chateau de Rosey, has likewise become a fashionable modern school, as I found when I briefly revisited it in 1953 when driving through Switzerland from Germany to Italy with my son. The bedrooms now have running water and there are plenty of bathrooms, whereas in my day we each of us took our turn once a week for a hot bath in a cold outhouse. But the same solidly constructed, cream-colored, two-story, many windowed building still stands looking out upon the same distant view of the Lake of Geneva shimmering in the sunlight. The same sentier leads along the railroad line to the Chateau de Rosey along which I trod or bicycled so often.
There is the same tinkling of pianos in practice rooms; the same calm, studious atmosphere; the same lovely gardens shaded by ancient trees; the same flagstoned terrace in front of the main building where we sat in late afternoon embroidering or stitching as we listened to reading aloud of French classic literature. And, no doubt, there is the same curriculum demanding the same conscientious study and endeavor as in the days of my childhood, when we walked up and down in the early morning in the open air learning our grammar lessons from Larousse or memorizing French prose pieces, before classes began.
I can still recite the opening passage of the piece by Alphonse Daudet which begins; “Les chevres de Monsieur Seguin s’en allez tous dans la montagne,'” telling the tale of the beautiful little white goat who, despite the love and care lavished on her, was eventually gobbled up by a wolf because like Monsieur Seguin’s other goats she would not stay in his lush pastures but sought adventure in the mountains.
So unchanging, widespread and influential are the disciplines of French education and the patterns of French culture that, in Algeria in September 1963, driving in the countryside where goats abound and conversing with my young Arab Moslem chauffeur, I started to quote the above passage and found that he, too, had learned by heart the same Daudet story about Monsieur Seguin’s beloved little white goat!
Our places in school each week were determined by the “Dictée” which started classes. By my second year I was often at the top, and always near the head of the class, being able to take French dictation almost without spelling mistakes. I had perforce learned French fast since during my first year there was only one other girl who spoke English. Her name was Gretel Muthmann and her mother was an Englishwoman who had married a German velvet manufacturer from Crefeld in the Ruhr. Gretel helped me and cherished me like an older sister and we have remained close friends until today, in spite of the two wars which split our worlds into contending halves, and in which she suffered both physical and mental anguish.
Whenever I now cross the Atlantic to Europe I visit Gretel, my oldest friend in all the world. During the Second World War she lost her husband and was twice bombed out of her home in Cologne where she practiced as a dentist. After taking refuge with relatives in East Germany she fled before the Red Army with her teenage daughter who was wounded by machine gun fire from an American plane. At the Elbe, in 1945, like so many other thousands of German women and children seeking escape from the Communist terror, they had waited in vain for permission from the U.S. Army to cross over. Luckier than most, thanks to being able to claim kinship with relatives in England, Gretel and her young daughter were eventually permitted to cross over the Elbe to safety. And her English relatives helped them with food packages to survive the hunger years which followed during the Allied Occupation.
Gretel’s daughter, Liligret, is today the only woman musician in one of West Germany’s most famous orchestras. Gretel herself is slowly dying from an incurable disease, having been finally laid low after her long and gallant fight to survive the vicissitudes of her life.* Today I remember her best in the role of Cyrano de Bergerac as performed at La Combe before an audience which included the staff and boys of my brother’s school, the townsfolk of Rolle and leading representatives of the landed aristocracy of the vicinity. Gretel gave a superb and unforgettable performance as the swashbuckling Gascon hero of Rostand’s famous play, shocking some of her audience by her fluent colloquial use of French swearwords which she added to the text. The play was not in any case one calculated to uphold the chaste principles of a school for young daughters of the respectable middle classes. Gretel, carried away by her exuberant interpretation of her role, and fortified by champagne, made it even less suitable. But she brought the house down in roars of applause.
It is not possible to remember what one was like in childhood. Nor are the memories of old friends reliable since they are prejudiced in one’s favor. But perhaps one’s best aspirations are mirrored in what one would like to believe is true according to their recollections. When visiting Gretel in Braunschweig in 1960 I asked her to help me understand myself and the course of my life by telling me what kind of a child I was. She said: “Even as a little girl, you seemed to me to be motivated by a passion for justice.” Which reply, I realize, may be due not so much to Gretel’s recollection of me at La Combe, as to the books I have written.
Gretel was not the only friend of my childhood days in Switzerland whom I still know, or with whom I have renewed contact in recent years. Following the publication of The High Cost of Vengeance (The Henry Regnery Co. Chicago, Noelke Verlag. Hamburg). in the U.S. in 1940 and in Germany two years later I received many letters from Germany thanking me for having written this book in which I pleaded for justice and mercy for the defeated Germans and argued that only the Communists would profit from the dismantlement of German industry. Among the hundreds of letters I received from Germany several said: “You must be the Freda Utley we once knew at La Combe.” Thus, forty years afterwards, I renewed contact with German friends of my childhood.
Best of all was to receive word from Madmoiselle Marthe Dédie, already in her eighties congratulating me on the publication of The High Cost of Vengeance, and telling me she was proud that I had been one of her pupils when I was a child.
On the other side of the ledger, I was attacked and smeared as “pro-German” or even as an apologist for the Nazis, by most “liberal” and even some conservative publications in America. It was then considered outrageous to insist that the Germans were no more inherently wicked or aggressive than other peoples, nations or races. I, with my experience of the kindness of my schoolmates at La Combe could not believe in the myth of German beastliness, and I knew too much history to accept the thesis of Germany’s especial aggressiveness.
Peter Blake, himself of German Jewish origin, (and today editor of Architectural Forum in New York) gave me much consolation when he wrote in Don Levine’s Plain Talk: “It is said that cruelty is the result of fear; perhaps Freda Utley’s great compassion is the result of her courage.”
I should like to think this is true but in fact my compassion for the Germans arose from my own experience. Having myself not so long before lived under the shadow of terror in Stalin’s Russia, I understood how dreadful had been the situation of the Germans under Hitler. Unlike most Americans or English I knew that the subjects of a totalitarian state cannot revolt, without outside help, and that the Germans during the war had had no choice but to fight for their country under the Nazi regime, or submit to Communist conquest. “There but for the Grace of God go I” was a precept I could never forget after my experiences of the terrible compulsions exerted on its subjects by the modern totalitarian state.
In 1952 and subsequent years when again visiting Germany, I found some of the dimly remembered friends of my childhood in comfortable circumstances, while others had barely survived the Nazi era, the war, and its aftermath. But our class of 1911 still managed to meet, occasionally, at some place on the Rhine. Moving spirit of these reunions, until she died in 1959, was the fair haired, blue-eyed and still comely Liselotte Euler, from Bielefeld, who had written in my “Birthday Book”:
Tout change dans ce monde
Vie, plaisir, climat
Seul, mon amitié pour toi
Ne Changera pas.
Liselotte’s son, at the age of sixteen, had been mobilized during the last months of the war and taken prisoner by the French, who sent him to do forced labor in the Lorraine coal mines where he was overworked and underfed for two years before being set at liberty. Visiting her together with my Prussian friend, Count Joachim Kalckreuth who had for four years been a starved prisoner of the Russians in worse conditions, we both vainly tried to persuade Liselotte’s son that he should adhere to the West. He repeated the German equivalent of the American expression, “I’ve had it. Don’t talk to me about democracy, or try to tell me there can be anything worse than being a prisoner of the French.”
In contrast to Liselotte’s bitter young son, there was Else Wollstein-Stolberg, who had been my companion at weekly riding lessons in Geneva, and who being Jewish, had suffered terribly during the war. She and her non-Jewish husband, who stuck by her, had survived, thanks to peasants, who hid them in a “fowl house,” to use her own English description of their refuge. I was deeply moved when Else thanked me for having written The High Cost of Vengeance and glad to learn that her husband had been reinstated in the important job in the Cologne Municipality from which he had been ousted by the Nazis.
I was in my thirteenth year when, in 1911, I left La Combe to return to England. The four years I had spent on the Continent at an impressionable age were to have a lasting influence on my outlook. They were golden years of happy memories of a time when the world had seemed a most friendly place and I was little aware of national barriers created by ignorance, pride and prejudice. Never in the future would it be possible for me to think that my own country, or any other country, was the repository of all virtues, or to believe that “my country right or wrong” is an admirable sentiment. “Menschen sind menschen,” as the Germans say-meaning that humanity the whole world over is much of a muchness. In short, my “Continental Interlude” had for good or ill given me an international outlook for the rest of my life. Like Tom Paine, who said, “Where liberty is not, there is my country,” I came in later years to identify myself with those struggling for freedom and justice anywhere or everywhere on the globe.
No doubt I was spoilt at La Combe. Not only because I was a precocious child among teenagers and for most of the time the only English girl. There was also the fact that my parents were then rich, or seemed to be so, since my father spent his money as easily as he then made it. No other parents in those days came to visit their children in Switzerland in an automobile driven across the continent. As Gretel has told me, my handsome father and my beautiful mother dressed to perfection, made a terrific impact on La Combe, which gave me a special status of which I was totally unaware.
I remember only that the special privilege I asked for, by cable to my parents during my first days at La Combe, was that I should not be compelled to consume soup or drink wine at dinner!
How strange this sounds today when I like nothing better than wine with my meals! In those days on the continent half a century ago the purity of water was not taken for granted even in Switzerland, and wine, or wine and water, was the customary drink for young and old.
My father and mother, besides ensuring my freedom from alcohol later interfered with the disciplines of La Combe by objecting to the system which was so effective in forcing us all to learn French. This system seemed abhorrent to my liberal parents because it entailed “spying” and “denunciation.” There were some dozen “billets” which one passed on to anyone one heard speaking their native tongue – meaning generally German but in my case English. Anyone in possession of one of these tokens at mid-day dinner time was kept in to write in full every conjugation of a French verb – which task, including I, thou, you and it as well as we and they in every tense, took most of the afternoon.
My parents’ moral objections to this most efficacious system for forcing us all to learn French eventually persuaded Mademoiselle Dédie to abandon it for a short time during my last year. Instead of a hectic scramble to get rid of the “billets” before noon, we were put on an honors system of reward. Once a week, anyone who could get up and say “Je jure devans tout le monde”-swear to the world – that she had not spoken anything but French for the past seven days, received a cheap paper copy of some masterpiece of French literature. By this time French had become almost my native tongue so that it was all too easy for me to collect a book every week, thus acquiring a small library of French classics. The rules were therefore changed in my case to ensure that I should speak German, which I spoke very imperfectly. This created such confusion that the new system was abandoned before I went home to England.
Temple had not been as happy at the Chateau de Rosey as I at La Combe. He had come “to hate the food, the cold and the discomfort” and with the departure of Jimmy Reiss and his Latin master, Mr. Hammond, he would have “no one in the whole world to talk to.” Suggesting that Hammond be engaged as his “tuteur” Temple then aged fifteen wrote:
“I find him one of the nicest men I know, he is very interesting and very well read, an atheist, a liberal and his socialism is the same as ours, and he is not at all fast. He does not want at all a big salary. This is my suggestion, not his.”
Following our return to England our situations were to be reversed. I was to endure four generally unhappy years at boarding school in England. Temple escaped a “public school” education and was tutored at home before enjoying a year at Cambridge University before the 1914 War.
More to follow!
The social and political circumstances of the time are certainly of considerable significance, but their importance for the weal or woe of...