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This image shows sisters Fanny (on the left) and Bertl Höchstetter shortly after their dismissal from the German civil service in 1933. Their gestures show what they thought of Hitler.

Fanny and Bertl Höchstetter – a short biography.

Fanny and Bertl Höchstetter were sisters who worked as civil servants in Germany. In 1933, they were both sacked due to their Jewish heritage.

They fled to Britain on domestic service visas (Bertl in 1938 and Fanny in 1939) and initially worked in the Wirral, near Liverpool. Fanny had no experience of domestic service, although her uncle had written her a glowing reference highlighting (falsely) her skills in cleaning and housework.

Once the war began, they were ordered to move to Llangollen. Bertl worked as a seamstress while Fanny gained a job as a chambermaid at the Hand Hotel. She did not enjoy her time in domestic service. In Wales, she met fellow refugee Anton Hundsdorfer, and the pair quickly married. They left Wales for Manchester in 1945, and Fanny later set up a DIY business, while Anton founded his own joinery firm.

About Jewish refugees working as domestic servants in the UK in 1939.

One avenue for refugees to enter the UK in the interwar period was to gain a visa as a domestic servant (or domestic). Although the British government was very reluctant to accept refugees in any number, the perceived shortage of domestic workers forced them to make an exception. Around 20,000 women from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia arrived in Britain on domestic visas before the outbreak of war in 1939.

Some were accepted to work in private homes as housekeepers, companions, nursemaids or governesses, but the vast majority were admitted for basic domestic work – cleaning and cooking. There was also a small number of Jewish men admitted as butlers or gardeners. These refugees were not allowed to change jobs without Home Office permission, although most left domestic service quickly if they found an alternative.


Centre for the Movement of People, Aberystwyth University, Oral history interview with Ernie Hunter (19 January 2022)

Buresova, Jana, Refugees in Domestic Service in Britain (2020) [accessed 23 June 2022].

Cacciottolo, Mario, Nazi persecution saw Jews flee abroad as servants (2012) [accessed 23 June 2022].

Craig-Norton, Jennifer, The untold stories of the Jewish women who became domestic servants in Britain to escape the Nazis (2019) [accessed 23 June 2022].

Depository: Ernie Hunter’s private collection.

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