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By Esther R. Starobin

I don’t remember when I first met my cousin Suse. Suse was the daughter of my Aunt Rosa, one of my father’s sisters. Once I was an adult, I visited Suse whenever I was in London. It was always fun and very English, these visits. She and her husband, Frank Underwood, lived in a lovely section of London on the third floor of an apartment building. No elevator here, just a lot of stairs. Making tea was a definite ritual in their home but somehow very relaxing. The teapot had to be warmed as well as the cups. Suse was very exacting in all she did. When Suse developed diabetes, she carefully adapted her favorite cake recipes so that she could still eat them. The Underwoods loved to walk all over London and take walking trips in other parts of England. When my husband, Fred, and I visited, we often spent time with them walking in a nearby park.

As the years went by, her son Simon spent a summer in New England as a camp counselor, which provided the opportunity for him to visit us. Later, when Simon married, he settled in the Norwich, England, area where my foster brother, Alan, still lives. Alan had gotten to know Suse when he was a student in London. Once the Underwoods started visiting Simon, Alan would often pick them up at the train and take them to Simon’s or vice-versa. I visited the Underwoods when they were in Norwich at the same time that I visited Alan. On one of these occasions, we took a trip to the seaside. This picture shows us (Frank, Suse, Alan, me, and Fred) enjoying the sea air, but protected from the wind.

—Courtesy of Esther R. Starobin

Suse and Frank came to the United States to visit after Simon had come for a summer to work as a camp counselor. We had a lovely time introducing them to all the children in the family. Suse remembered two of our uncles who also lived in the Washington, DC, area. In true Suse fashion, she came with carefully picked gifts truly representative of British culture. I received a beautiful pair of silver earrings with a traditional Irish design.

With the advent of email, it became very easy to stay in contact with Suse. I would write a short email, and she would send a very long response. Suse, unlike my sisters and me, had very strong memories of life in Germany even though she left on a Kindertransport when she was 13. Suse was in between my two older sisters in age. Bertl and Edith only talked about Germany when they were asked questions. One of the few things I heard about Germany was that Suse’s mother died when she was young. After that, she was sent to live with different aunts, which made her childhood difficult. Suse was in contact with distant family in Freudental, Germany, and also a historian, Steffen Pross, who wrote about the Nazi period. She traveled to Freudental several times and was there when Steffen Pross’s book was published.

Our Irish cousin, Peter Bruck, became part of our family after he contacted Reinhart Lochmann in Adelsheim, Germany, while tracing his family history. Reinhart, a high school teacher in Adelsheim, has done research that has helped my family and many other Jewish families learn more about their relatives. Peter’s grandfather and our great-grandfather were brothers if I have the relationship correct. Peter then contacted Bertl. Peter visited us in Maryland, and we visited him in Ireland. I’m not sure how Suse became aware of Peter, but she soon included him in her lively correspondence. Peter and Suse also visited each other.

Suse continued all her activities after Frank died. She had a bout with pancreatic cancer but miraculously survived. She started to decline a few years ago but would not let that slow her down. When I was in London a few years ago on a theater tour, she took several trains to visit with me. Two Aprils ago I went to see Alan in Norwich. We took a day trip on the train to visit Suse. It was lovely and yet sad to visit with her. Clearly her memory was failing her.

Suse died July 22, 2019. In true Underwood fashion, she had a green funeral with burial under a tree, just as Frank had. Suse is buried next to Frank. Steffen Pross gave one of the eulogies. Peter went to the funeral and sent me the order of the service.

The readings were beautiful. I quote the Words of Committal:

Into the darkness and warmth of the earth      

We lay you down      

Into the sadness and the smiles of our memories      

We lay you down    

 Into the cycle of living and dying and rising again      

We lay you down      

May you rest in peace, in fulfilment, in loving      

May you remain forever in our thoughts

Suse was a unique individual who followed her own path. I will miss her. Now I’m the only family member left who was born in Germany.

© 2020, Esther Starobin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.