Heinz Bernard

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Heinz Bernard
Heinz 1970.jpg
Born Heinz Messinger (became Heinz Löwenstein at the age of 2)
(1923-12-22)22 December 1923
Nuremberg, Germany
Died 18 December 1994(1994-12-18) (aged 70)
London, United Kingdom
Resting place Ashes are at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan
Other names Heinz Lowenstein
Occupation Actor, Director, Producer
Spouse(s) Nettie Lowenstein
Children 3

Heinz Bernhard Löwenstein was a British actor and director and theatre manager. Of Jewish origin, he also lived and worked in Israel from 1971 to 1981. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), graduating in 1951.

After graduation he worked in the Peter Allan Theatre, possibly the last group of travelling players to operate in the British Isles, performing every night in different towns and villages in the British countryside. He went on to become the manager of the famous leftist Unity Theatre, London. As manager of Unity theatre he staged the first professional British production of a Brecht play, The Visions of Simone Machard. Lionel Bart, who later gained fame as the author of the musical Oliver!, designed the poster.

Heinz Bernard also acted and directed in the travelling Century Theatre and taught at RADA, where he was director of admissions.

Heinz's name at birth was Heinz Messinger. He was adopted as a baby by a family called Löwenstein. After leaving RADA he worked under the professional name Harry Bernard, eventually dropping the Harry and becoming simply Heinz Bernard.

German Childhood[edit]

Heinz Bernard grew up as a Jewish child in Nuremberg in Nazi Germany. He was adopted by the Lowenstein family after his biological father died of Tuberculosis. His biological father was the hazzan of the Orthodox Nuremberg synagogue. As was usual at the time, he was not told by his parents that he was adopted.

In March 1932, when Heinz was nine, his adoptive father Max Lowenstein, committed suicide following the collapse of his business.

In 1933 the Nazis came to power in Germany and began persecuting the Jews. Jews were banned from state schools and only one Jewish school, the Israelitische Realschule in neighbouring Fürth was allowed to operate where Heinz attended.

In November 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Heinz and his family of their German citizenship. In December 1936 Heinz had his Bar-Mitzvah in the main orthodox Synagogue of Nuremberg where his biological father had been the hazzan. In August 1938 Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer, ordered the large Nuremberg Reform Synagogue torn down. In October 1938, during Kristallnacht, the orthodox synagogue where Heinz had his Bar-Mitzvah was burnt down along with most of Germany's synagogues. Heinz hid with relatives in Frankfurt that night, in which more Jews were killed in Nuremberg then in any other city in Germany (which by then included Austria).

In August 1938 Poland issued an order depriving Polish Jews residing outside of Poland of their citizenship. Although Heinz was born in Germany and adopted by native German Jews, his real father had emigrated from Poland. In return, Germany began expelling Jews of Polish origin to Poland. The Poles refused to admit them and some 17,000 Jews became trapped between the two countries.[1] At some point the Germans also began tracing adopted children of Polish emigrants and in 1939 began proceedings to expel Heinz.

Jews in Nazi Germany were eligible for one-way passports only, usable only to leave the country, and other countries would not admit them because of this. Heinz was not eligible even for this kind of passport because of his Polish origins. He was not eligible for a Polish passport either. His mother eventually procured a forged Polish passport for him.

In July 1939 the MP Josiah Wedgwood, who dedicated his life to saving Jews, asked a parliamentary question directed at the Home Secretary:

"Colonel Wedgwood asked the Home Secretary whether he will authorise a visa to Frau Betty Loewenstein, and her son, Heinz, Nurenberg, guarantee and application for whom was made by Walter Block, Alsager, Stoke-on-Trent, on 10th May, in view of the fact that the boy, aged 16 years, is under expulsion orders for 10th July?"[2]

As a result of this question Heinz and his mother were granted transit visas to pass through England and join his uncles who had migrated to the United States.

On 28 August 1939 Heinz Bernard was sent to England by his mother, who meant to join him a few days later. On the day she planned to leave Germany, war broke out trapping her on the continent. In mid-1940, she took the Trans-Siberian Railway, travelling through Japanese occupied China to Japan and sailing from there to Seattle. From Seattle she took a bus to Pennsylvania.[3]

Heinz remained trapped in England and learned English by sitting in cinemas watching movies. He eventually joined a home for Jewish orphans run by exiles from the German communist party where he organized weekly plays. Heinz worked in a variety of low-paid jobs, including as a rabbit skinner and a waiter, saving enough money to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London.

After the war Heinz's mother informed him that he was adopted. A real brother and sister had reached Palestine before the war and now made contact with him. Heinz's brother was a co-founder of Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan and Heinz was a communist party member at this time (despite his conservative adopted family). Heinz went on to run a legendary Communist Party-affiliated theatre in London (Unity Theatre) and staged the first productions of Brecht in the English language. Heinz left the Communist Party in the fifties after antisemitic plotting by Stalin and the invasion of Hungary.

In the early Sixties' Heinz was director of a travelling theatre in the Lake District in Cumbria called the Century Theatre. At the time television was rare and the travelling theatre provided a major form of local entertainment. In the late Sixties' he played the role of the Rabbi in the West End production of Fiddler on the Roof (at Her Majesty's Theatre).

Israeli Period 1971 - 1981[edit]

Following the death of his Israeli brother in 1968, Heinz decided to emigrate to Israel. He acted the part of the Rabbi in the West End production of Fiddler on the Roof to raise money for the move. In Israel he became a legend on account of his performances in English teaching television programs, "Neighbours" (written by his wife Nettie) and "Here We Are". Each of the series was broadcast twice a week on the single national TV channel for over fifteen years, making him a familiar face to most Israelis. He appeared in many Israeli films of the seventies, working with Shaike Ophir, Ephraim Kishon and Menachem Golan.

Return to England[edit]

After 10 years in Israel, Heinz returned to England where he had to restart his career. He continued to work until his death of a rare blood disease in 1994.


External links[edit]

Youtube Clips[edit]