OBITUARY: Eva Gross fled Nazis to build new life in NI

Eva Gross, age 16
Eva Gross, age 16

Eva Gross was a half-Jewish immigrant who fled the horrors of Fascism and built a new life for herself in Ulster.

A well-respected teacher and charity volunteer, she died on Friday, February 13, 2015. She was aged 95.

Eva Gross with young Nigel Dodds

Eva Gross with young Nigel Dodds

Born on December 8, 1919, she grew up in eastern Pomerania, in an area which is now part of Poland.

Her father was ethnically Jewish but had converted to the Irish Presbyterian Church – which had an overseas mission in Hamburg – in 1911.

When the Nazi Party won the 1933 elections, the situation for her family grew increasingly fraught; her father Alfred was fobidden from continuing his legal practice, among other racist restrictions.

It was decided that she should leave for the UK – specifically for Belfast, where the daughter of the family’s church pastor was based.

Eva Gross

Eva Gross

She arrived in the Province on September 9, 1936, and remained here for the remainder of her life.

She initially lived at Victoria College boarding school, Belfast, where she was tutored and also given a supervisory role over other students.

She was technically classified as an “enemy alien”, and her movements – especially after Dunkirk – were restricted.

She was subject to police checks, and forbidden to visit the coast in case she signalled to enemy submarines.

From 1941, she was given a job as an au pair at Friends’ School in Lisburn.

During the war years, the only contact she had with her family were occasional 25-word Red Cross cards, which arrived in a more-or-less random order.

It was through one of these that she learned her father had died of cancer at home, having been refused hospital admission for being a Jew.

During the war she also studied social sciences at Queen’s, and was later granted a teaching job in the German department.

She was naturalised in 1947, and a year later began working at Grosvenor High School, where she taught German. She remained there until her retirement in 1985.

She had lived for most of her time in Wellington Park in south Belfast, then later moved to the Cregagh area in the city’s east.

Post-retirement, she worked as a tour guide for Belfast Telegraph, the travel department of which was running holiday packages around the UK.

She had also become heavily involved in volunteering with the Chest Heart and Stroke Association, and the Parkinson’s Disease Society.

She was awarded an MBE in 1998 as a reward for having taken part in charity work during her years in the Province.

Andrew Dougal, chief executive of the Chest Heart and Stroke association, said: “She was a very dedicated lady, who wanted to help other people... She was very highly thought-of and is remembered very fondly by all her pupils.

“When I’d be out collecting, people would be asking about her. SHe was involved in events, fundraising, and was especially good at street collections. She seemed to have a very warm personality, and she was very outgoing with people.”

She died on Friday, February 13, at 2.10am, in Belfast City Hospital from pneumonia and heart failure, having been admitted three days earlier.

Her mother survived the war, and lived well into the latter part of the 20th century.

Her brother, Wolff Gross, remained in Germany and survives her.

She is also survived by Wolff’s two daughters, Susi Shulte-Gross and Cristiane Angermaier-Gross, as well as their three children.

She never married or had children herself.

There will be a Quaker funeral service at 11am on March 2 at Roselawn, after which she will be cremated.

Her wish was for her ashes to remain in Northern Ireland.