Sidney Rayburn was born Siegfried Julius Rautenberg on March 8, 1922, to Yakob Rautenberg, and his mother, Kaete Jacobsohn Rautenbergonin in Halle um Saale, Germany, near Leipzig. He had two siblings, Gerda, twenty months older, and Werner, although five years younger, died of meningitis at three. During World War I Yakob served in the telegraph unit of the German army. Sidney remembers his fathers’ army buddies visiting their home during his childhood.
The Rautenbergs lived a comfortable life in their six-room first floor apartment in Halle.The neighborhood was mixed ethnically. Jews and gentiles lived together peacefully until 1933, when Hitler came into power when life changed drastically. In school, the teachers generally treated their six or seven Jewish students fairly, but the others students, would taunt and call them names. During recesses, the Jewish students would stick together, as they were shunned by the others.
In 1933 there was a boycott of Jewish stores in which the Nazi SS and SR would parade in front of Jewish stores with signs that read, “Do not buy from Jews.” By 1934 Yakob Rautenberg’s three clothing stores failed, and the family moved to a smaller apartment on Ludwigstrasse. Sidney, a student at the Gymnasium Reform Real, remained until eight grade when school became unbearable. In 1936 his parents sent him to a small, private tutorial school until early 1938 when he went to Leipzig to be an apprentice at a knitting factory, the Gebrueder Frank Company. He worked for three days and went to technical school for two.
On the morning of November 10th, 1938, Sidney, seeing the synagogue burned and all the Jewish stores smashed, returned to his family in Halle. As his parents informed him about people getting arrested, the Gestapo banged on their door, Sidney’s mother hid him in a locked room. When they demanded to know where Sidney was, she lied and told them he was in Leipzig. With a record of his apprenticeship there, they did not question this excuse, but they arrested his father and took him to the Sachenhausen Concentration Camp. HIs mother advised him to leave Halle and stay with her brother Georg Jacobsohn in Berlin, a WWI veteran who had been injured and was married to a gentile woman who was somehow connected to the Nazis.
When Sidney went to the railroad station to depart for Berlin he saw the Gestapo and witnessed several scuffles with the Gestapo. Everybody was whipped up because a German had been killed by a “Jew boy.” He put the collar of his coat up and walked through them unnoticed. He bought a ticket and went to Berlin where he stayed for three weeks. Once Sidney learned that his father had returned home, he returned to Halle. By this time the German government had informed the family that they had until February 8, 1939, to leave Germany.
Kaete contacted her brother Fritz, in Israel, whose wife had a cousin living in Manchester, England. The Rautenbergs were under great pressure. Uncle Fritz Jacobsohn in Israel said that he would send money to their cousin in Manchester, England to help Sidney and his sister Gerda. On February 22, 1939, Sidney and his sister Gerda left for Manchester by way of Holland. Sidney was sixteen years old. His mother, Kaete, made him a photo album to take with him. It also included other documents such as a certificate of good behavior from school, a birth certificate, passport and his Jewish ID.
Yakob now tried to leave Germany, but emigrating to the US was out of the question. Born in West Prussia, he fell under the Polish quota for US immigration which had a six-year wait for entrance. They tried to go to Shanghai, but that fell through. Chile was another opportunity for refuge but Chile had closed its borders. Like most of their friends, the Rautenbergs could get their children out, mainly on Kindertransports, but not themselves.
In England Sidney found work, sanding furniture for a Jewish man, who had an unpainted furniture factory. At night he enrolled in an English course at the Athenaeum, paid for by the Jewish Aid Society. In September 1939 World War II broke out and there was much fear among the English that a fifth column had infiltrated. All the Jewish men were rounded up and sent to a tribunal. Sidney was arrested and taken to an old factory in Berry, then to Bradford and, finally, to Shrewsbury where he was interned in a camp. Internees were ranked in the following way:
A – they could be released from the camp
B – they were sent to the Isle of Man
C – they were sent to Australia
Sidney decided to join the British Army and was placed in a group of other refugees, referred to as “Pioneers.” Always hungry, he managed to be assigned to kitchen work. For a while, Sidney received heavily censored letters from his parents via the Red Cross. Later, the letters became postcards. His parents wrote about how they were trying to get out. Not until February 2004 did Sidney find out that his parents had been deported by train from Halle on June 1, 1942, and taken to Lublin, Poland, where, according to Werner Winkelman, Halle historian, the records show that all the passengers on the train went to their deaths.
Sidney was stationed outside of London between 1940 and 1941 when he witnessed the ravages of the Blitz. In 1942, he was transferred to the Royal Regiment of Engineers. It was at this time that the British War Office encouraged him to change his name. He selected Rayburn at random from an English telephone book. After D-Day, Sidney “Rayburn” was sent to India and Burma where he witnessed great strife and suffering. He finally ended up in Rangoon which had just been freed from the Japanese by the British.
The city was devastated: the streets were dirty and the buildings were smashed.There was a little Sephardic Jewish community of thirty Jewish-Burmese citizens there.
Even though the war in Europe was concluded in 1945, the war in Asia was still going on. For five months into 1946, Sidney remained in Ragoon for demobilization and repairing tank instruments. Once dismissed from duty, he was given shoes, a gray suit and a ticket to go home.
In the spring of 1946, Sidney returned to Manchester. He found his sister Gerda, now married to his friend Bernie Pearson, and their child. Gerda introduced him to her friend, Annaelise Pfingt from Minden, Westphalia, who had been an army forecaster. They fell in love and were married in 1947. As a dress designer/dressmaker, she had no trouble finding work.
In late 1947, with the trouble between the Jews in Palestine and the British authorities resulted in an upsurge of antisemitism in England. The Rayburns decided to emigrate to the United States where they joined Annaelise’s sister in Waterbury, Connecticut. Sidney found employment with the Scofield Brass Company until they visited an uncle living in Rochester, New York. They liked what they saw and decided to stay. Sidney got a job in optics and Annaelise in dressmaking.
They had a wonderful life in Rochester with their extended family. They had three children: Alan born 1949, Julian born 1953, and Carol born 1955. Annaelise passed away in 1987 four days after their fortieth anniversary. They have five grandchildren; Mark Rayburn, Kaete Rayburn, Alexa Rayburn, Jake Hirschelman and Daniel Hirschelman. In 1993, Sidney married his second wife, Golda Lasker, of Rochester, NY. Sidney passed away on November 28, 2014 at age 92.
Biography written by Jane Rushefsky