Ernst Rudolph Philipp (1916-1996)

Ernst Rudolph Philipp

Written by Thomas Tuohy


Ernst Philipp was a Viennese Jewish intellectual who was displaced by the Nazis and found refuge in England in 1939. He served in the British armed forces until 1947, when he became a schoolmaster at Seascale Preparatory School. In 1972 the school closed and amalgamated with Cressbrook School, near Kirkby Lonsdale.  Phil, as he was always known at the school in Seascale, found this unsatisfactory and left Cressbrook in 1974. He worked briefly at a school in Pangbourne, but he returned to Seascale, buying, in February 1975, Flat 13, Burnett House for £4,500 cash down, part of the prep school building which had been converted into flats. He remained there until his death in 1996, so for forty seven years he lived in Seascale, but he also travelled extensively.

The choice of the unlucky number 13 was characteristic. He suffered from depression, recorded in journals, in English from 1939, before reverting to his native German from 1974 onwards. Hand written and yet to be transcribed and shared with a wider public, these journals bear witness to an extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity, recording his thoughts on philosophy, history, literature, music and art, with substantial passages devoted to his travels. But they reveal an anguished soul who refers frequently to death. He wrote poetry and translated poetry from various languages into German, but became increasingly isolated and depressed in his final years.

Isabel Burnett, widow of Roger Burnett, Headmaster of Seascale prep school, kept a protective eye on him and was his executor. His German books, together with several boxes of poems in typescript were given to Lancaster University.  It is through the publication of some of his poems by Margaret Ives in 2005 that Philipp came to academic notice, in conjunction with his cousin Adolf Placzek (1913-2000) who enjoyed a distinguished career as an architectural historian and librarian in the United States. Placzek was married to the writer Joyce Maxtone Graham (1901-1953), who, using the pseudonym Jan Struther, became famous for creating the character of Mrs Miniver, featured in the film starring Greer Garson, made by William Wyler in 1942. Her granddaughter Ysenda Maxtone Graham wrote a book about her, published in 2001, and in 2005 Margaret Ives published some of the poems written by the two cousins[1].  In a letter to Margaret Ives, written by Placzek (AP 4.10.1998) he describes his cousin: ‘to all this tale of sadness, loneliness and repression should however be added that Ernst possessed a luminous intelligence, a sharp wit, occasionally a real merriment, and a keen ability to enjoy beauty in art, music and architecture’ The poems, and diaries are now deposited with the University of London.[2]

His Family and Early Life

Ernst was born into a prosperous Jewish family, assimilated within the highly cultured upper middle class, Bildungsburgertum, who for the most part saw themselves as Viennese first, Austrian second, and Jewish third. He was the youngest of the four surviving children born to Edmund Philipp (1890-1936) and Karoline Selinko (1878-1941), who married in Vienna in January 1900. Edmund was Hungarian, born in Pressburg, then in Hungary (Pozsony, after the Roman Posonium), now in Slovakia (Bratislava) to Jacob Israel Philipp (1836-1893) and Hermine Mayer (1844-1901) born in Zalaegerszeg. He became a partner in a textile weaving company in Vienna, Teltscher & Philipp, which had headquarters at 3-5 Rossauergasse, and had a substantial shop selling silk and woollen goods at 6 Golschmiedgasse in the very centre of Vienna between Stephansplatz and Graben. In his diary (27 March 1947) Ernst refers to antipathy with his father, and he was closer to his mother. Although her parents lived in Vienna, she was born in Kis Igmand in Hungary, which is where her Selinko ancestors originated, near Komáron. Involved in the cloth trade, from 1869 the company Brüder Selinko, Korbgasse, Vienna, came to dominate this trade in Austria Hungary. Karoline’s elder brother Ludwig Selinko (1869-1935) was a partner of the company, which in 1902 had offices in Gonzagagasse.,

Karoline had several siblings and the web of family connections is described in a visionary dreamlike account by Adolf Placzek, son of her sister Pauly, in Traumfart mit die Familie[3].  This reveals where members of the family lived, but has no surnames. However information available on websites[4] enables a more detailed reconstruction. Most lived in Alsergrund, 9, Bezirk, outside the Schottentor, or in the city centre, Innere Stadt. Tante Fanny (1867-1947) married to Lajos Reichl (1858-1928) in Blassstrasse, lost 2 sons in WW1. Uncle Ludwig, who ran the Selinko business, married Tante Ella Stern, a Placzek cousin from Brunn, Brno in Moravia.  Tante Marie (1871-1940) married to Adolf Schlesinger (1857-1912) lived in Renngasse; and Tante Pauly, Pauline (1885-1968) married to Alfred Placzek (1873-1918) in Wasagasse ( Sigmund Freud lived on the corner of Wasagasse). These last were the parents of Adolf, known as Dolf, and Susan (1914 -2005). After the death of her first husband, of Spanish flu, in 1918, Pauline married Dr Fritz Eisler (1883-1936), a prominent radiologist. Dolf found him most unsympathetic as he forced him to study medicine for three years, years before dismissing him as an idiot (Trottel) when he started his Art History studies at Vienna University under Julius Schlosser, in 1934, at the same time as Ernst’s brother Franz Philip (1914-1970).  Dolf was earlier educated at the Volkschule, Schottentor, then 1923 -31 at the Wasagymnasium.  Like Dolf with his step father, Ernst had a difficult relationship with his authoritarian father, and they later reminisced about the irritations of growing up in Jewish bourgeois Vienna. Ernst referred to the hothouse of family life, where, as the youngest offspring of the Selinko sisters he was treated as the promising Benjamin (AP 30.11.1974) of this extended family.

In Traumfart Tante Karry is described as Dolf’s favourite aunt, with a long face, who only ever spoke friendly words. He mentions her two younger sons of his own age; these were Franz (1914-1970) and Ernst, and there were older children, Helene, Hella (1901-1941) and Walter ( 1904-1980). Dolf refers to Cousine Hella’s interest in a young man being spoilt by her family and she never married. Unlike the others members of the family who lived in apartments close to the centre of Vienna, the Philipp family lived in a garden villa at 64, Peter-Jordan Strasse, very close to the Wärhinger Türkenschanzpark, between Wärhing and Döbling, but it was still only a short tram ride to the Ringstrasse.

Ernst and his siblings attended the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Döbling[5]. He had a ‘dear, old Mme Dufour’ as a French teacher, and like many boys from his background in Central Europe was sent to Switzerland to learn French in summer holidays. Ernst was sent in 1927 (21.6.1947), when he was only ten. Dolf records his family having summer holidays in the Salzkammergut in the 1920s, and Altausee in Styria in 1932.   Karry Phillipp and family joined the family of her sister Pauly Placzek Eisler on similar holidays. There is a photograph showing  both families together at Gmunden on Traunsee, Upper Austria, in1932 and Dolf remembered a holiday together with Ernst in  Pirano, a coastal town in Slovenia, in 1934, (AP 4.7.1984) when he recognized the seventeen year old Ernst’s precocious poetic talents. Dolf, who throughout his life gave people nicknames, referred to Ernst as Löbl[6] (estimable) and as such refers to him in Traumfart. Ernst was first taken by his mother to the Staatsoper in Vienna at the age of 10 to see Don Giovanni, in which the great tenor Richard Tauber sang the role of Don Ottavio (27.9.1947). Ernst and Dolf both played the piano. At Seascale, Ernst was often heard playing Bach in the school reading room, and had a piano in his flat when he retired. The cousin’s tastes differed at times; Ernst liked Scarlatti, though Dolf did not but he had all of Haydn piano music (AP.23.10.1987), a composer also played by Ernst.

Ernst’s interests were largely in the arts and humanities, but because of a numerus clausus rule severely restricting the number of university places for Jews, the subject of a short story by Dolf Astronom,[7] he chose to study mathematics at the University of Vienna from 1934. He studied under Professor Sexl, at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, and his dissertation, about the angle dependence on the scattering of neutrons by protons was published in Berlin in 1937. He was awarded his Vienna University PhD on Mathematical Physics, with distinction, on 19 October 1938.[8] He was just short of his 22nd birthday. Dolf Placzek and Franz Philipp began their degree courses in Art History at the University of Vienna, but, as Jews, were not allowed to continue their studies after the Anschluss.

The Second World War, Dachau and Refuge in England

Ernst and his brothers were interned at Dachau concentration camp, near Munich. Ernst was there from 15 November 1938 until 7 March 1939. Thanks to British immigration visas, all three brothers were released, and Ernst declared his intention that in the event of a war against Nazi Germany, he would volunteer to fight.[9]  A group of letters sent to Ernst in England in 1939, provide details of the dispersal of his family from Vienna. Ernst left on 23 April, Dolf on 28 April and Walter and Franz on 30 June. Other members of the Selinko family were able to escape from Vienna, to France, Australia, New Zealand and America. Only Ernst’s mother and sister remained.  After the Anschluss and Kristallnacht in 1938, the family house in Peter Jordan Strasse was ransacked. Records from the Asset Transfer Office from 1938 detail the value of Karolina’s house and her shares in Teltscher and Philipp as 65,277 Reichs Mark.[10] Karoline and Hella moved to 8, Auergartenstrasse in Leopoldstadt. No letters from them after 1939 have survived. They were both taken from Vienna on 28 November 1941 and perished in a camp near Minsk. Ernst never saw them after their farewell on 23 April 1939, but this date, together with Hella’s birthday were remembered annually in his diaries. Dolf said he never spoke of them.

 It is not known exactly when Ernst arrived in England, or what route he took but Dolf, who left Vienna by train, travelled to England via Passau, Würzburg, Cologne and Flushing.  Phil recalled (23.4.1947) ‘on May 15 1939 I left for Upper Winchendon the next stage on the long journey’.  When Dolf arrived in London, he lived in an attic at 100, Denbigh Street, Pimlico, where he was joined by Walter and Franz. By August 1939 Walter and Franz were living c/o Robinson, at South Cotes Farm, Masham, Yorkshire, and like Ernst they joined the Labour Corps, but were deported as Enemy Aliens to Australia.

By 18 October 1939, when Ernst received an exemption from internment from the Enemy Alien Tribunal, (the PhD may have helped) he was living in the house of a Mrs Gurney at Upper Winchendon, near Aylesbury and working as a farm labourer looking after poultry, in the employ of J de Rothschild on the Waddesdon estate. He began training in the Pioneer Corps in January 1940. He was serving with 220 Company, when he tried out for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He never completed the course, being not as well developed physically as other recruits, and suffering from the cold. In 1943 he ‘broke’ his neck during an unarmed combat training exercise ‘on the fateful day, the 13th of May’ (13.5.1947). He spent a month in hospital in Pyrford, near Woking, with a dislocated neck, before being released to 253 Company Pioneer Corps. On 14 December 1943 he was posted to 219 Company and transferred to the Army Air Corps on 29 February 1944. He passed a parachute training course at Ringway aerodrome early in 1944, and he mentions being at Hardwick Hall as well as Ringway (14.5.1947).  He was sent with the intelligence section of 1st parachute battalion at the Battle of Arnhem, 17-26 September 1944.   The casualties at Arnhem were very high, Ernst relates: ‘when, after Arnhem, I rolled drunk through the streets of Nottingham sobbing “I should not have come back” I made a perfectly truthful statement’ (6.5.1947).

He was in Savona, Liguria, presumably on holiday in November 1945 (19.5.1947) but signed up for further military service, with the intelligence corps, being sent to Palestine, where, ironically, after fighting the Nazis for years, he narrowly missed being killed by a Jewish bullet (Dolf letter to Ives).[11]

His Career after the War

After Ernst was de-mobbed in London in 1947, he lodged in Maida Vale, Clifton Villa, making the most of museums and galleries, musical performances, cinema and the parks – he loved trees.[12] He sought employment, as a physicist or a teacher, with the BBC, the Ministry of Education, the University of London and the British Council, and applied for teaching job in Croydon and the Sudan, all without success, partly because of his lack of testimonials. He gave up thoughts of pursuing a scientific career, but a later journal entry refers to his earlier work: ‘Interesting discussion on Quantum mechanics on the wireless: some of the ideas coming close to my long cherished critical theories’ (29.5.1961). He responded to a letter which came out of the blue from Roger Burnett (1913-84), Head Master of Seascale Preparatory School. It has been suggested, by Margaret Ives, that the men had met when in the army, but as Roger Burnett was invalided out in 1943, this is improbable.

The school was founded in 1897, and a new building designed for the purpose had been erected on an elevated and exposed position overlooking the Irish Sea. It was a boarding school preparing boys for the Common Entrance Examination required before going to public schools at the age of 12 or 13. Ministry of Education inspections carried out in 1949 and 1962 report the number of pupils as 63 and 64. In 1944 the neighbouring house Mona Lodge was acquired, and a gymnasium, also used for school plays, was built at the back of the house. In 1957 a five acre field, beyond the golf course, with views to the Scafell range, was acquired for games, and a pavilion erected. A cottage at Boot, in Eskdale, belonging to the Burnett family had an outbuilding converted into a dormitory for 12 boys, and they would be taken there at weekends, on a rotational basis, offering a special experience in an unspoilt part of the Lake District. In the 1962 report Ernst was described: ‘An able, scholarly teacher, whose effectiveness would gain from greater attention to the pupils’ written work. On very good terms with the boys’, and furthermore ‘the challenge of the lively and scholarly mind of the senior mathematics master is fully accepted by the boys’. The report also mentions reproductions of Old Master paintings in the dining room and art room. These were selected by Ernst and included Stefan Lochner’s The Virgin in the Rose-bower, in Cologne, Giovanni Bellini’s Pietà, in Venice, Altdorfer’s Susanna and the Elders, with its remarkable architecture, from Munich,  and The Man with the Golden Helmet, by ‘Rembrandt’ from Berlin. Breughel’s Triumph of Death, from the Prado was a surprisingly gruesome image for a boys’ school, and was removed, to the disappointment of at least one of the pupils. Ernst also selected films to be projected, some reflecting his own travels in the Loire Valley and Florence.

Ernst taught Mathematics, History, French and Art.  His French lessons were particularly stimulating, he had French nicknames for some of the boys, had them sing Avez vous plantez les choux?, as well as Frère Jacques, and introduced them to Renard the Fox, La Fontaine’s Fables and Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories.  He looked after the library, which subscribed to the London Illustrated News and Punch; he introduced ‘gramophone recitals’ with short explanations; talks with the epidiascope on subjects including Giotto, Breughel, Rembrandt and English cathedrals, and there was a strong emphasis on ‘General Knowledge’.[13] His Viennese accent was very distinctive, as was his manner of smoking. He rolled his own cigarettes, with Boar’s Head tobacco, but chewed the end, leaving the rather soggy ‘Phil’s fags’ in ash trays. When he beat a boy it was with a paddle tennis racquet, not a cane

Ernst writes in some detail about his reception at the school in 1947, finding saying grace at table and teaching games awkward initially.  He was surprised how welcome he was made to feel. At a dinner dance in Irton (16.5.1947)’I got over the initial stiffness quickly. Very strange to be in company, a thing I really never did in my previous life. Even went so far as to venture to dance, in my awkward and utterly inept manner. When all is said all these people to whom I was a complete stranger only 3 weeks ago and to whom I still am and probably shall always be a strange and not quite comprehensible animal are exceedingly kind to me’. And again (31.5.47) ‘It is amazing how nicely all these people accept me. I seem, owing to my position at the school, to belong to the local gentry. For the first time I realise the practical view of education and upbringing for one’s social standing. I like this class for still living in the aristocratic tradition which takes a man for what he is, disregarding a lack of money and even if he is a stateless outcast without any governmental backing’. The milieu he first encountered in Cumberland changed, but he was sustained by the kindness and concern of the Burnett family for the rest of his life.

Ernst joined Seascale Golf Club, initially as a non-playing member, and met other people in the village, where the population included a high proportion of scientists and their families drawn from all over the country by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. A particular friend was Dr Thomas: ‘ Lunch at the club where Dr Thomas often joins me, not for the meal but, strange to relate, for the pleasure of my conversation, in fact we had about six hours of it last Saturday: first a walk, then some frugal tea in my place.[14]  Dr Thomas left the area in 1961, but they continued seeing one another in London. The last of his neighbours, apart from the Burnetts was John Moore, who died in 1987, eliciting a comment from Dolf: You must avoid misanthropy. We all become like Lear as we age, and Prospero, without Caliban, Ariel and Miranda (AP 15.4.1987).

His first purchases when he arrived in Cumberland were a bicycle and a wireless. The bicycle enabled him to explore the unspoilt local scenery, and the wireless gave him access to broadcast music on the BBC. He missed the cultural life he had enjoyed previously, and to make up for this escaped from West Cumberland at every opportunity. In 1957 Dietrich Fischer Dieskau gave a recital in Seascale, probably invited by SASRA, but this was exceptional. …  He could be a rather sour critic, writing of a performance at Rosehill Theatre, where the audience was encouraged to wear evening dress, and rarely talked about music in the interval (4.1.1961) ‘Last Wednesday at a concert in the “Cumbrian Glyndebourne”, Rosehill -rather a snob affair, where it seems to me, music is only a pretence for a superior social meeting. Programme was mediocre and the piano playing was decidedly poor’[15]. There is an irony here, as the founder of Rosehill Theatre, a Hungarian Jew Miki Sekers, and a sizable portion of the audience, were, like Ernst, exiles from Central Europe. 

Ernst formed close friendships with younger male members of staff.  Ken Perkins (1928- 2016) was born in Devon, his father died of war wounds, and his mother died when he was eighteen. He taught PE at Seascale from 1950, and found Ernst a helpful mentor. He left the school in 1957, having met his future wife Gill, who was filling in for a friend Margaret Ashby who taught at the school. He did PE training at Rencombe College Gloucester and married Gill in 1958.  Ernst used to stay with the couple when they were living in Snape in Suffolk and the two men undertook several trips in Europe on Ken’s motorbike. Ken regularly features in the diaries, and Ernst kept a group of letters dating from 1981, when Ken was suffering from depression. The letters refer to their shared interests in music, stained glass windows and art galleries. Bill Osborne was a pupil at Seascale, but returned to teach Mathematics in the 1950s, leaving in 1962 for Canada, with his wife who taught piano at the school.  Bill gave Ernst driving lessons and they drove through Wales to London in 1961.[16]  Herbert Foley who studied Liverpool taught art from 1960-64. He and Ernst shared enthusiasm for books published by the Folio Society as well as others about art.[17]  Ernst drove the family or a day trip to Kendal, but Nesta late described the experience of his driving as terrifying. Nesta Foley later described how good Ernst was playing with their young daughter, and Gill Perkins had the same experience, writing to her sister in the late 1960s: ‘Phil is very good with the children, willing to spend time with them just talking and playing games- we couldn’t have a more helpful visitor’. Gill ‘hadn’t realized that Phil also suffered from depression. He was always very cheerful when I knew him’ (10.2.2024). To schoolboys his depression was never evident, but this is a recurring theme in the diaries.

Leaving Seascale and the Move to Kirkby Lonsdale

The diaries do not reveal much about the normal activities of the school, but are filled with personal reflections and comments on the large number of books he read, and musical performances. Ernst was apprehensive about the move to a new school:

A week ago, the liquidation of this school became official; it is politely called an amalgamation (rather like saying that a mouse has an “amalgamation” with a boa constrictor.  Roger and I, with some of our boys, going to join a prosperous, but it seems, not well run school in Kirkby Lonsdale. So, oddly, I have a new job without ever having met my future employer! It’s rather a feeble way out, but it saves me, at least temporarily, the bother and humiliation of applying, interviews etc. I don’t feel very hopeful and doubt whether my association with the place will last for long. Vedremo. Naturally worried about economics’ (10.12.1971). In 1974 the diary entry:’ Beginning of term in less than a week, which I view with a marked lack of enthusiasm; all this has become a fearful bore, once the years and with my limited responsibilities here, I can allow myself to grow more detached and disinterested. It’s almost exactly 2 years that I started my dismal career at Kirkby Lonsdale - and on this pleasant note I close this volume (20.4.1974). According to Roger Burnett, Ernst was treated very badly by Cressbrook School. Teaching at Pangbourn did not last long, and he bought his flat in Seascale on 19 February 1975 when he was still teaching there. Letters offering his services to local employers, the atomic establishment at Sellafield and the chemical factory, Albright and Wilson in Whitehaven resulted in negative replies (8.5.1975). It is not clear how Ernst managed financially, but there seems to have been restitution paid for the family house in Vienna (Heard that the claim to the old house in Vienna has been confirmed and find myself, on paper at least, owner of 1/3rd of a house (27.12.1949).

Ernst’s Diaries: Describing his Travels

The diaries are particularly interesting for recording his repeated wanderings around Europe, starting with a two week visit to France which included Versailles, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Albi in 1947, and the travel sections alone would provide a good subject for study. Ernst sometimes travelled alone, as he did in Spain in 1960, where he was improving his Spanish (PLA/box 7/20). Apart from Ken Perkins, Ernst had other travelling companions, and for a decade regularly travelled with Dolf Placzek and his wife.

Ernst’s diaries reveal little fellow feeling with his brothers. Walter, the eldest, was an engineer. Franz was an art historian, but a tour with him and his wife June, to Belgium and Holland in 1956 was fraught: ‘I am deeply disturbed by the arrogant, sarcastic, and at least on the surface, beastly fashion Franz treats his wife: in fact to a neutral observer his obstinacy, his way of taking offence and becoming aggressive towards her when he obviously has made an ass of himself reminds me strongly of my other brother, though intellectually they are a world apart.  I have so far avoided getting involved in their continuous quarreling (and the right, in as far as I can judge, is decidedly on her side in each instance) but how long this can go on I doubt; seriously thinking of returning before we get too deep into the Continent, perhaps after spending a few days in Belgium (2.8.1956 Roermund ).  Franz taught art history in Melbourne, but he was a research fellow at the Warburg Institute in London 1955-6. The director Ernst Gombrich, like Franz has studied under Julius Schlosser in Vienna, and they may have known one another in Vienna before Gombrich left in 1936. Ernst met Gombrich in London and the highly successful The Story of Art, was recommended reading at the prep school. Ernst refers to other books by Gombrich such as: Art and Illusion, which he describes as: ‘a remarkable if difficult book, brilliant in details, though one could wish for a firmer thread through the fascinating maze of the author’s reflections’ (2.2. 1965) and Meditations on a Hobby Horse of which he wrote: ‘I liked less than his other book’ (28.7.1967).

Ernst had a much more sympathetic connection with his cousin Dolf. After Dolf went to America in 1940, they did not meet again until Ernst went to New York in 1964 (AP 25.2.1984). Tante Pauly was the Mittelpunkt of their friendship (AP1.5.1968), and Ernst’s visit to New York in 1968, shortly before she died of cancer, was described by Dolf as the last great joy of her life (AP 18.2.1968). Thanks to his first wife, Jan Struther, Dolf studied to be a librarian in New York and rose to be director of the Avery Architectural Library at Columbia University.[18] In Vienna, his last seminar work in 1937, was on the architect Fischer von Erlach (AP 19.4.1982). Jan died of cancer in 1953. In 1957 Dolf was married for the second time, to Laura Beverly Kalitinsky (nee Robinson) whom he called ‘Kathi’. She was the niece of a Canadian, John Beverly Robinson, who was a trusted friend of Jan, and Bev and Dolf remained on good terms with the extended Maxtone Graham family. Beverly Placzek translated books from German, including the correspondence of the educationalists Wilhelm Reich and A.S. Neill, founder of Summerhill School.[19] They had an interesting circle of friends to which Ernst was introduced. Arnold Jacobius (1916-2002) born in Augsburg, emigrated to America in 1940, became bibliographer in Washington Library of Congress, then Field director Overseas Service, Wiesbaden, Germany from 1966 -1979.  Alexander Mitscherlich (1908-1982), founder of the clinic for psychosomatic medicine at Heidelberg University, who then with his wife Margarete was co-founder in 1960 of the Sigmund-Freud-Institut at Frankfurt which was committed to psychoanalytic research. The first major book they wrote together was Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour), was translated into English by Bev Placzek, who also translated lectures for him.

Ernst stayed with the Placzeks in New York five times between 1964 and 1974, and they regularly met in Europe during that period. In 1969 they met in Freiberg, before travelling to Basel, Belfort, Ronchamp to see Le Corbusier’s chapel, Dijon, Bourges, Blois, Albi and Carcassonne. In 1971 they visited Vienna and Innsbruck, where they met a cousin Carli Schlesinger (1894-1982), son of Tante Marie. In 1972, after the Placzeks stayed with Jurgen in Freiberg, Dolf described them as a Triangle K.KK.Lobl (Kathi, Kraut Kopf and Ernst, using the name Dolf applied to him when they were adolescents) when they visited Brussels, Netherlands, and Copenhagen (AP/28.6.1972).

This period of regular companionship took place while Ernst was still earning money as a school master, and his travels, and contacts with German intellectuals, may have been reflected in his teaching. Dolf was very supportive at the difficult time after the closure of the Seascale school.  He visited Ernst in 1975, referring to the Seascale flat, with golf course, coast, hills and piano (AP29.9.1975), and arranged for Ernst to have a heavy typewriter, which was delivered by one of his Columbia students ( AP 15.6.1975).  He asked about his experience teaching at Pangbourne, asked whether he took trains to London to visit museums (AP/ 25.1,1976), and referred to the ‘compromise between your private stronghold in the North and companionship with half civilised, well born people, near London with a pleasant landscape. Your greatest activity is in your head, and recently also with your typewriter’ (AP10.5.1976). Dolf sent 60th birthday greetings ‘raising a glass to life-long brotherhood and again more to the friendship of our maturer years’, but also warning ‘it is too early for the column of Simon (Stylites) for the complete isolation, but it is already too late for reforming and improvement’ (AP 14.11.1976). It is not clear when Ernst finally left Pangbourne, but as late as 1977 Dolf was urging him ‘you must make peace with the school (AP10.7.1977).  Dolf continued sending sympathetic advice: ‘You must keep playing golf, less smoking and whisky, and regular piano playing (AP10.1.1979).

There was an improvement in Ernst’s finances in 1980 (AP 21.7.1980) as cousin Carli Schlesinger left Ernst some money when he died in 1982, enabling Ernst to go on an Ionian cruise, visiting Greece and Turkey, later that year ((PLA/box 8/9). Ernst met Dolf in Edinburgh in 1981 (PLA/box 8/8) and visited the Placzeks in New York in 1983, and for the last time in 1985 when he attended a Selinko wedding: ‘a great grandson of grandmother Selinko having a folkloric wedding in a meadow’ (AP2.1.1985). On his 70th birthday, Ernst was sent a message where Dolf referred to him as his German-Mosaic-Kantian-Puritan-Selinko alter ego (AP10.12.1986). In 1987, he wrote of being naturally disturbed by his metaphysical position: ‘helplessly hanging between radical nihilism and pantheistic mysticism’ (AP11.6.1987). In one of Dolf’s last surviving letters he writes: ‘our exchange of letters is very important, a blood brothers’ oath’ and offers congratulations on Ernst’s translation of the Rubaiyat (from Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation into German). ‘I hope you enjoyed doing it as much as I enjoyed reading it’ (AP21.8.1987).

An important component of the letters was the exchange and commentary upon one another’s poems and translations of poems into German.  Dolf suggested that Ernst subscribe to der Spiegel; ‘a little contemporary German is important as language always changes. English does not stand still and even Latin did not remain silver. The greatest difficulty of contemporary German is the whole vocabulary (“The Unmensch’s Dictionary” as someone called it) was or had to be thrown away overnight in 1945 and that American language nestled itself in this vacuum to an unseemly extent. For us exiled poets however there is a danger that although tempora mutates, we do not mutate cum illis so please pay attention to New German so you can continue to produce essential things as you so gracefully portray in Adiaphora. Thanks for the detailed discussion of the Tempest translation and my suggestions’ (AP13.11.1983).

His Final Years and Legacy

Ernst’s typewritten work, now at Senate House, dates from 1968 until 1987. All written in German, there are also playful Limericks and Haikus. Some poems are specific to Cumberland – ‘Farewell to Seascale’, and ‘On the little train to Eskdale’ but a number take works of art as a subject, Piero di Cosimo and Velazquez, Philip IV, (AP 28.7.1974); the Five Sisters’ windows in York Cathedral (AP6.1.1986). The background reflects Ernst’s extensive literary, historical and philosophical experience, with translations of Dante, Petrarch, Michelangelo, Donne, Milton and Wordsworth and Baudelaire. Dolf particularly admired his translation of Tennyson’ Ulysses with ‘the ending like a Beethoven closing chord (AP16.3.1982).

Diaries exist of the final years of Ernst’s life, but no letters survive. Ernst would never have a telephone, much to Dolf’s frustration. He had some visits from former pupils, notably Will Alp and Richard Hall, and Isabel Burnett continued to concern herself with his welfare.

At Ernst’s funeral in Egremont in 1996, a guard of honour was organized by Gordon Savage MBE of the Parachute Regimental Association.  As an ex Para who served in Palestine, Savage may have come across Ernst there. In his brief obituary for the Arnhem 1944 Veterans Club Newsletter in 1997, he reports the presence of an army Padre, Rev Ray Bowers. Ridley Burnett who attended the funeral recalls the Padre knew a lot about ERPs war record. Ridley also mentioned that the undertaker put the wrong name on the coffin plate, so this was hidden by a military cap.


[1]  Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Real Mrs Miniver, John Murray, London, 2001. Cousins in Exile: An Anthology. Poems by Adolf Placzek and Ernst Philipp, with an introduction by Margaret Ives (Occasional papers in German Studies, Department of European Languages and Cultures, Lancaster University), 2005. This obscure publication is cited in Anthony Grenville, Jewish Refugees from Germany and Austria in Britain 1933-1970, London,2010, p 26. Grenville is Chair of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies.

[2] Institute of Modern Languages Research (Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies) University of London School of Advanced Study, Senate House.  Further material has been added to the Placzek/Philipp material. Ridley Burnett gave a series of letters sent by Placzek to Philipp, 1965-1987 to Peter Stern, grandson of Susan Placzek, Dolf’s sister, and another series of letters written in 1939 by various members of the Philipp/Selinko family in Vienna sent to Ernst in England.  These were given to Coralie Evison, granddaughter of Ernst’s brother Walter Philipp, together with Ernst’s academic certificates, a copy of his published Ph.D thesis, and family photographs. In 2024 Mr Stern and Mrs Evison gave the letters, all in German, to Senate House. Letters from Placzek are cited here as AP followed by the date of writing. Dates in brackets refer to extracts from Philipp’s diaries.

[3] Sinn und Form - Akademie der Künste, Berlin May 1988. This Dream Journey has a setting inspired by Gericault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre. One raft supports members of his mother’s Viennese family, another his father’s family from Moravia. Some figures have haloes, his father, who died when he was a small child is represented by an albatross. 

[4], and

[5] Jaynie Anderson: Franz Philipp, in Australian Dictionary of Biography.  From 1933 he studied Art History under Julius von Schlosser at the University of Vienna, began a doctoral thesis on Mannerist Portraits in Northern Italy, but was expelled in March 1938. After Dachau, he arrived in England in 1939. He was deported to Australia as an enemy alien, enrolled to study history of art at the University of Melbourne in 1942, where he subsequently taught. He was a senior research fellow at the Warburg Insitute in London from 1955-6. He died of a heart attack in London in 1970. 

[6] Meine Jugendfreundschaft mit ihren (Pauly) zwei jüngeren söhnen, die meine Alters waren, nach einen Operetten schlager; das ist mein Freund, der Löbl, fur den hab ich ein Fäbl p.61.

[7]  Astronom PLA/box 4/3-4

[8] Ernst Philipp, ‘ Über die Winkelabhängigkeit bei der Streuung von Neutronen an Protonen’, Zeitschrift für Physik, Berlin, 1937, pp 683-708. Thanks to Coralie Evison, granddaughter of Walter Philipp, for providing documents. See also… Tetley.

[9] Letter 19.9.1939 from Julius Spinner c/o Mrs Montague, Kitts Quarries, Burford. Spinner emigrated to Chile where he continued his studies as archaeologist/anthropologist.

[10]  Vermögensverkehrsstelle Information from  Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Archiv der Republik/ Entschädigungs- und Restitutionsangelegenheiten/ Vermögensverkehrsstelle, AT-OeStA/ AdR/ E-uReang/ VVSt/ VA/ 4541. Information provided by Jory Brentjens, together with information about Ernst’s military career and Dachau, research material for Fled to Flight, the Jewish refugees of 1st Airborne Division, Airborne Museum at Hartenstein, Oosterbeek, 2024.

[11] The archival material relating to family and property in Vienna, and to military service has been gathered by Jory Brentjens of the Airborne Museum near Arnhem, in the Netherlands. He has very kindly shared this information with me, and it should appear in more detail in an exhibition 2024.

[12]  Kensington Palace, then Kew, where more at home among my brothers the trees. Sadly, I left thinking of death and how aimlessly I have spent my life. Spent around 3 hours there. (15.8.1958).

[13] The Seagull, school magazine,  February 1961, p 18

[14] 9.1.1961

[15] The pianists were Jani Strasser and Martin Isepp, both were accompanists rather than concert pianists. Their Schubert Piano Duets may not have been up to scratch, and the programme, put together by Strasser, Head of Music Staff at Glyndebourne, was rather scrappy, with solo songs by Schubert and Schumann interspersed with songs for four voices. Elsie Morrison, Janet Baker, Richard Lewis, and Derick Davies were the soloists, although Philipp does not mention them. Thanks to Robert Baxter and Barbara Clark, Whitehaven Record Office, for sending a copy of the programme.

[16]  In afternoon my first driving lesson with Bill Osborne. My young colleague, and ex pupil. Rather nervous and finding the intense concentration quite a strain. Seriously considering buying a car if I should ever overcome the difficulty of handling these monsters  (29.5.1961).

[17]  To Kendal, pleasant run, pretty town, but found driving a strain. Both journeys intended as a treat for the Foley family, in return for their kind provision of meals (10.9.1961).

[18] New York Times Obituary by Edwin McDowell, 21.3.2000

[19]  Record of a Friendship, the correspondence between Wilhelm Reich and A.S. Neill, edited with an introduction by Beverley R Placzek, Canada, 1981