Otto Schiff’s secretary celebrates 100 at Otto Schiff care home

20 Aug 2020

Alice Frank who worked as a secretary for Otto Schiff in 1936, celebrated her 100th birthday on 13 August at the care home named after her once employer, Otto Schiff MBE. He had come to the UK in 1896 from Germany and aided refugees for many years. Otto Schiff persuaded the British Government to allow thousands more refugees than they had planned to escape Nazi Germany and settle in the UK, arranging for the community to sponsor them.

Born in 1920, Alice came to London at the age of 16, aided by the Jewish Refugee Committee set up by Otto Schiff, she spoke German, Italian and some French. She worked as Schiff’s secretary in her first year whilst also attending secretarial college. Alice then found paid employment as a secretary living in a boarding house with other Jewish refugee girls. Later in life, her connection with Otto Schiff continued once again when she volunteered as a secretary of the Otto Schiff Housing Association.

The centenarian enjoyed celebrating her birthday at the Otto Schiff home on a Zoom with her two sons, Peter and Tony’s families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren from Canada and the UK as well as her younger brother who lives in the US.

Alice’s son, Peter Frank, says, “Alice moved to Otto Schiff care home when increasing dementia and frailty made living alone in her flat in Golders Green too difficult. When we came in for the first visit to the home she looked at the oil painting of Otto Schiff in the entrance hall and said, “Of course I remember him, we sat in the same office for a year”.

“Her health has improved as a result of the excellent care she receives and we’re so pleased that she recently celebrated her hundredth birthday. Both she and her family miss the visits and wish that a solution will be found very shortly notwithstanding Covid.”

Danuta Krysiak, Jewish Care Social Care Coordinator at the home, adds, “All the staff at the home feel privileged to look after someone who’s worked for Otto Schiff and we were pleased to celebrate such a special occasion with Alice. It was a lovely online celebration with her family on Zoom. Alice was so pleased to see them all and was delighted to see her grandchildren and young great-grandchildren on the screen. We wish Alice many happy returns.”

Alice grew up in the suburbs of Elberfeld, Wuppertal, a centre for Jewish textiles and where her father, Max Ferber owned a successful textile business. In 1934 along with some other German Jewish children, she was sent, aged 14, to school in Gardona, Northern Italy to be out of Nazi Germany. Her parents considered retiring there as Max had lived in Milan for several years before World War One. However, as the Mussolini Government became antisemitic in the mid 1930’s, this no longer appeared a safe option so Alice moved to London. Alice greatly enjoyed her relatively independent teenage years in both Italy and England.

In 1939 her parents and the younger of her two brothers came to London en-route to New York, where they had family. However, while waiting for their visas, war broke out, so the family stayed in London until after the war. Alice moved back home with her family to a flat in West Hampstead until this was destroyed by a bomb and they moved to a flat in Finchley.

In 1942, Alice married Herman Frank a dentist who had come to London from Cologne in 1936. After their civil wedding at Hampstead Town Hall and a Jewish wedding at Alyth Gardens Shul they moved to West Hampstead and then Maida Vale, to be near Herman’s Maida Vale dental practice where Alice ran the practice administration and the household. They joined Belsize Square Synagogue, which had a large German community.

After Herman passed away in 1998 Alice continued as an active member of the Leo Baeck Lodge where she was for a time President of the Women’s section, volunteered as a secretary of the Otto Schiff Housing Association and a volunteer archivist at the Wiener Library, using her language in skills. She later moved to Golders Green and moved to Jewish Care’s Otto Schiff home in 2019 due to her health deteriorating.