PSYCHOTHERAPIST and author Geoffrey Windham has certainly had an interesting and varied life.
Born in a Salvation Army hospital in Manchester’s Ancoats, Geoffrey grew up in a Hightown house with no inside toilet.
Although Geoffrey suffered hardships, including poverty, they paled into insignificance in relation to those suffered by his German refugee father who was born Hans Windmuller in the small German village of Kobern-Gondorf, near Koblenz.
In his recently published autobiography, The Hightown Boy (Heart & Mind), Geoffrey has extensively described his paternal family history.
Because of Nazi restrictions Hans was unable to go to school and had a secret barmitzvah in 1933.
Hans’ half-brother Oscar became a pupil at Ahlem Jewish School of Horticulture, which was not yet affected by Nazi laws prohibiting Jews from attending public schools.
Around the time of Kristallnacht in 1938, Hans was on a cycling holiday. While staying with his grandparents in Kobern, he was arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he stayed for nine months.
On his release, Hans found that his family was now living in the Ahlem School.
Hans was the only member of his large extended family who managed to escape Germany to England in 1939.
In London, Hans was approached by the Pioneer Zionist organisation to teach agriculture to young Jews wanting to go to Israel.
They arranged for him to train on a farm in Northern Ireland.
Thanks to the testimony of the then-Chief Rabbi, Hans was classified as a friendly enemy alien and not interned.
His name is recorded on the certificate as Hans Israel Windmuller, as the Nazis had made all Jews add Israel to their names.
Hans lived on the farm for three years and then moved to Manchester with a view to later going to Israel.
In Manchester he worked in a munitions factory in Trafford Park, staying at the Habonim bayit.
At a Bnei Akiva dance, Hans met King David Schools teacher Rose Samuels. They were married, first in a registry office in April, 1945, and then at Central Synagogue in December that year.
Hans joined the British army’s Jewish Brigade. There his German name was changed from Hans Windmuller to Dennis Windham, in case he was accused of being a German spy if captured. He served in Germany, Italy and Belgium.
As Dennis wasn’t naturalised British till 1947, on her civil marriage Manchester-born Rose was deemed a German citizen as she was wed to “a subject in a state of war with His Majesty”.
In November, 1946, she was naturalised and regained her British citizenship, swearing allegiance to the King.
On his demob, Dennis was appointed general manager of Rudy’s Kosher Restaurant on Cheetham Hill Road.
In 1954, the family moved to Southport where Dennis bought and ran a kosher butcher shop for many years.
Geoffrey grew up in Southport’s Jewish community, of which he became an integral part.
He told me: “I lived a semi-public life in Southport. Windham’s butchers was not just a shop in which people came to buy. They stood around and chatted. There was a social aspect.
“I hung around with a big group of people. I knew most of the Jewish people in Southport, Liverpool and Manchester. Everybody knew me.
“It was almost like being a bit famous. I couldn’t do anything privately. Sometimes it was an issue.”
Although he went to Southport’s King George V Grammar School, Geoffrey was not academic, preferring his social life and playing guitar in several bands.
He left school early to work in his father’s shop for 17 years, expanding it into a delicatessen and catering business, selling to Liverpool and Leeds, until they were clamped down upon by the Manchester Beth Din and the Southport Hebrew Congregation, which raised kashrut fees even when the Southport Jewish community was beginning to diminish.
At cheder, Geoffrey had been particularly close to his teacher Rev Moshe Glazier and Chazan Philip Copperman. As an adult Geoffrey was a member of Southport Chevra Kadisha.
But he told me: “I was gradually falling out of love with Judaism.”
To this day septuagenarian Geoffrey has a love-hate relationship to Judaism.
The back of his autobiography claims that the book charts Geoffrey’s “religious evolution from traditional to a personal belief in God and my own spiritual philosophy”.
But in the book he writes: “I do not believe in God, but there is something that is not a thing that is not dependent on anything.”
He and his wife Carole, nee Sylvester, who was his childhood sweetheart in Southport, recently decided to buy burial plots in a green burial site in a bluebell wood near their present Essex home.
The salesman asked for their religion, to which they replied, none.
But Geoffrey wrote: “This was a real wrench for me. In my dislike and criticism of all religions, being born Jewish still holds a powerful sway over me.”
After the closure of the butchers in 1982, Geoffrey, Carole and their young daughter Heidi joined some of their New Age hippy friends in California, living financially hand-to-mouth and having the occasional recreational drug while Geoffrey trained in Gestalt therapy and Carole used her artistic skills.
After four years of what Geoffrey later called “unstructured” existence, the family returned penniless to the Windham’s Southport home.
But Geoffrey claims that his four-year adventure was worthwhile.
He said: “I gained a real experience of being able to deal with difficult real-life situations, like having very little money.
“When I later worked for a drug and alcohol agency with people who were addicted, I could understand them.”
For a time the family lived in Southport with Geoffrey’s parents until Carole, an artist and teacher, found a job in a Harrow grammar school.
Once she gained a full-time job at Havering College of Further and Higher Education in east London, Geoffrey and Heidi joined her and they settled in Essex.
As a mature student, Geoffrey studied counselling and psychotherapy, rising to the top of his profession.
So why did he decide to write his autobiography, after publishing two psychotherapy books?
He told me: “About two and half years ago, I had a heart attack. As I was not working I had a lot of time. It made me think about my life. I enjoyed researching my family history.”
On the moot subject of religion, he said: “I recognise that religion was very important to me and still is.
“I am struggling to make sense of a world of being brought up Jewish and having problems with structured religion.
“The book brought up a lot of issues for me. It made me delve into half memories I had not delved into very deeply before.
“Part of it was very difficult to write.”
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