Published: 30th June, 2011
NORA Gutmann, who died last week, aged 97, after being involved in a collision with a lorry in Marylebone, was a lifelong lover of language.
Excerpts of her poetry, fine short stories and cherished letters were read aloud at her funeral on Friday, when the East Chapel at Golders Green Crematorium was filled with mourners young and old.
Many were friends Ms Gutmann had acquired during stints as a translator and later as a teacher, and there were tributes read by family members from the United States who described her as “one tough broad”.
After retiring from teaching at the age of 92, Ms Gutmann took courses at Hampstead’s University of the Third Age, and she retained her independence to the end. She would walk for up to an hour every day, according to her grandson Nick Alexandra, who said she had lived “with zest”.
“Anyone who has met her knows that she was always ready to engage, sometimes for hours, listening intently about what people were doing or thinking, discussing politics or philosophy, ready to be challenged and to gently but persistently challenge back,” added Mr Alexandra.
Ms Gutmann was born Eleonore Winternitz in Augsburg, southern Germany, in February 1914. Her family were wealthy and her nationalistic father was killed in one of the early battles of the First World War. Her mother remarried another nationalist and member of the Nazi Party – but the Nazis’ rise to power would subsequently force Ms Gutmann from Germany.
At the age of 15 she met Bob Gutmann, a bohemian and a Communist described as “the love of her life”. His politics combined with her “race” – though raised as a Christian, Ms Gutmann had a Jewish grandfather – were no doubt the cause of her decision, in 1937, to move to London, where she worked as a maid and later as a cook.
Two years later, Bob joined her, and was interned on the Isle of Man – as were many German nationals – for several months before being released. The couple had two daughters, Eva and Monica.
In 1959 Ms Gutmann started work as a translator for news wire service Visnews, which was later incorporated into the Reuters news agency.
In 1971 she was made redundant and began teaching English as part of “neighbourhood English classes” run by Brent Council. She continued doing so until she was 92, only stopping when she became hard of hearing. Some of those she taught were refugees from Uganda.
She later wrote: “I had come, as it were, full circle: 35 years before I had to escape from persecution in my country and had found asylum in England. Surely this common experience would be a bond between us and would help me help them.”
Ms Gutmann, who lived in Kilburn, died in hospital shortly after the collision on Friday, June 17. A postmortem concluded that she had died of multiple injuries. An inquest was opened at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and has been adjourned until September. The driver of the lorry involved in the crash has been arrested and bailed.
The service ended with words, spoken by her close friend Sigrid, which had been written by Ms Gutmann herself to mark the death of her daughter Eva a year ago: “Thank you for all you have given us and taught us, about life and the living of it.”
She is survived by her daughter Monica and by four grandsons and numerous great grandchildren.