All about Ella Spiero

Spiero was created in tribute to my great great aunt Ella Spiero who imported my German family to England. 

Although she died before I was born, Aunt Ella, or Tante Ella as we called her, was famous in our family. She wasn’t famous for being a published author or for holding a doctorate of philosophy or for rescuing our family from Nazi Germany. She was just a favourite auntie to three generations of nephews and nieces.

  Ella aged 19 in her home town of Konigsberg 1903.

Ella aged 19 in her home town of Konigsberg 1903.

Like all good aunties Ella was wise, generous and kind.  But she was an unusual figure for her times.  Independent and highly educated she was one of the first women to attend university in Germany. She was also a heavy smoker (as the photos below will attest).

  Ella as a student in Berlin 1912.

Ella as a student in Berlin 1912.

Ella’s father Joseph was forward thinking in his attitude to the education of women. He even allowed his daughters to travel.  

This may not seem radical but this was pre WW1, before women had the right to vote or own property (German women wouldn’t get this right until the 1960s).

With the support of her father, Ella gained a doctorate in philosophy and became a school teacher. Later she said that her true ambition was to be a university lecturer but that career path wasn’t open to women at the time. 

  Tante Ella (with cigarette) and her niece in Berlin 1929.

Tante Ella (with cigarette) and her niece in Berlin 1929.

After teaching for 17 years including stints in Florence, Seville and New York , Ella was sacked from her school in Berlin. It was 1933 and the Nazi government had passed a law banning Jews from civil service.  Ella's intelligence and foresight meant she understood worse was to come.

She contacted a friend in England to ask for help.

This friend came good and in 1934 Ella moved to Leicester to take up a position as language teacher at the Girls Collegiate school. She didn’t go alone. Her nephew Hanns was getting a reputation for himself as “a troublesome Jew” so she took him with her. The fact that Hans was only ten years old shows how grave the situation had become. Ella then went on to arrange the escape of her sister and niece Susanne (my grandmother) in 1935.

  Tante Ella with my mum and uncle in the house they shared in Balham 1949.

Tante Ella with my mum and uncle in the house they shared in Balham 1949.

Ella was sanguine about the forced departure from Germany and displayed a dry sense of humour about it , saying "Leaving Germany saved me from living with my mother".

Ella was thoughtful, modest and determined. She never married or had children and said "I am one of those unusual people who are happy to be alone".

Ella was proud of her British passport and became a member of the Labour party. In an interview in 1970 at the age of 86 she said "There is so much I want to read, and to learn, and to know. I am interested in history, and politics and such matters, and the world is so rich now, terrible in many ways, but there is so endlessly much that one wants to learn and most importantly, one doesn't have much more time"

She died in 1975 at the age of 91.

  Ella in London 1966.

Ella in London 1966.

When things went drastically wrong in Germany Ella didn't cry for a life that was and never will be again.  She went out to make a new life for herself and her family. Tante Ella’s name was Ella Spiero and so I’ve named my business Spiero – in honour of this great, great aunt.