Friederike (Bocki) Barkow


Friederike Barkow (née Laubhardt) was born on 18 March 1926 in Breslau, where her father Rudolf was a school teacher. Her paternal grandfather, Ernst Laubhardt, was a successful lawyer in Berlin and was appointed as a judge in 1895. At this time he converted from Judaism to Protestantism and changed his name from Lewinsohn to Laubhardt. Her mother Charlotte Ziesche was from the small town of Lauban (now Luban in Southwest Poland). After marrying Rudolf, Charlotte seems to have broken ties with her family and to have no further contact with them. She kept no letters or photographs and at present nothing is known about this branch of the family. The suspicion is that the family objected to her marrying the son of a Jew.


Photograph of Friederike Barkow
Friederike aged about three, with her aunt Ilse

Friederike’s childhood was a happy one, despite suffering polio, which confined her to bed for many months and affected her walking for the rest of her life. In old age she suffered from post-polio syndrome, which caused her a great deal of pain. Friederike was seven years old when the Nazis came to power. Initially this affected her life very little, except that two of her aunts, Hilde and Ilse, emigrated to Palestine (both having converted to Judaism). Her third aunt, Eva, also underwent religious conversion, becoming a Benedictine nun in the convent of St Lioba, in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany. Rudolf was able to continue teaching, although he was eventually barred from teaching German on the grounds of his ‘insufficiently Aryan blood’. He taught Greek and Latin instead.

The Family During The Holocaust

Photograph of Friederike Barkow with her parents
Friederike with her parents in the 1950s

In 1943, the family experienced its greatest crisis. Friederike’s aunt Hilde – who had returned to Germany in 1937 – and her husband Fritz Löwenthal were arrested by the Gestapo after fleeing Berlin when their deportation notices were served. Hilde, who had trained as a teacher and had been teaching Hebrew at Berlin’s Jugend Aliyah Schule, found shelter for Fritz and herself with a Quaker couple, Karl and Eva Hermann, in Mannheim. Eva Hermann had been a fellow trainee teacher. Friederike’s aunt Eva (Sister Placida) provided Hilde and Fritz with identity papers and ration cards, for which she too was arrested. Fritz committed suicide after his arrest (the city of Saarbrücken subsequently invoiced the Jewish Community in Berlin for RM 101 for the burial costs). The Hermanns were also arrested and imprisoned. They were later recognised as Righteous Among the Nations. Hilde was imprisoned in Berlin and then deported to Theresienstadt. There she contributed to the lecture programme organised by Philipp Manes, and befriended Ernst Moos, whose brother Ludwig had fled to Palestine and he married Friederike’s aunt Ilse. Hilde was deported together with Ernst Moos on 12 October 1944 and murdered in Auschwitz. Friederike’s aunt Eva was held in Ravensbrück concentration camp from 1943-1945, where she was a slave labourer in a Siemens factory. She attributed her survival to the decency of the foreman in charge of her section at the factory. She left Ravensbrück on 28 April 1945 on a death march, which ended at the labour camp of Malchow in Mecklenburg three days later, after which the SS guards fled. Sometime in 1943 Rudolf was taken away for slave labour, from which he escaped at an unknown date. Friederike and her mother Charlotte were left alone from 1943-1945, and moved from place to place. They were eventually reunited with Rudolf in the small town of Eschwege (where there was a DP camp) and Rudolf resumed his career as a teacher. The family lost everything they had owned in Breslau.

Personal Life

Photograph of Friederike with her first born child, 1951
Friederike with her first born child, 1951

In later life, after her parents’ death, Friederike was very close to her aunt, Sister Placida, and visited her in Freiburg most years. As a young woman Friederike pursued training and a career as an actress. It was during this time that she acquired her nickname, Bocki, after a teacher had praised her in class for being as energetic and agile as a springbok. In May 1951 she married Nick Barkow, a young journalist, giving birth to their first child, Marguerite, later that same month. The couple had two more children, Henriette and Benjamin and by 1960 were living in London, where Nick’s work had taken them. In 1962 the family returned to Germany but only until 1964 when they were back in London again. Friederike and Nick’s marriage ended in 1967. Nick eventually returned to Germany, while Friederike stayed in London where her children were all at school.


Photograph of Friederike as a young actress
Friederike as a young actress in the 1940s

Not having worked since being an actress as a young woman, Friederike faced the huge challenge of supporting herself and her children. With the help of friends she was introduced to Christa Wichmann, the Chief Librarian of the Wiener Library and worked at the Library for a period. Then a family friend, George Clare, helped her to begin what would become her career, working as a literary scout in publishing. Her first employer was Ullstein Verlag in Germany – she became fast friends with Frederick Ullstein, and for many years the two enjoyed lengthy chats on the phone, almost daily. One of her great achievements was to talent-spot and secure the German language rights to Aharon Appelfeld’s two novels, Badenheim 1939 and The Age of Wonders. This also led to a lasting friendship with Appelfeld, recognised as one of Israel’s greatest writers. In 1985 Ullstein was bought by the Fleissner Group – headed by a man with close associations to neo-Nazism and the far right in Germany. Friederike felt that she could not, as a matter of conscience, continue to work for the company. Her decision showed immense courage – she was 59 years old – an age when most people would think of retiring, not looking for new job opportunities. It is a testament to her professional talent that she was quickly employed by S. Fischer Verlag (the job interview took place over afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel). She continued with that company until 2002, when she was forced to retire, very much against her will, at the age of 76. In retirement she returned to the Wiener Library as a volunteer, as well translating stories.

Later Years

Photograph of Friederike at 83
Friederike at the age of 83

Friederike final years were blighted by physical weakness and later dementia. She endured much hardship and suffering, but embraced life wholly. She loved her working life and the numerous friendships it brought her – she was never happier than at the Frankfurt Book Fair every autumn and her energy was inexhaustible. In her private life she was at the centre of a close and loving family. She was an enthusiastic and expert gardener, a keen (but in truth not very good) cook, and a passionate and knowledgeable lover of music (she was a regular at the Wigmore Hall, and annually made a pilgrimage to hear the Matthew Passion). Late in life she and Ben went regularly to Sunday morning performances of the Bach Cantatas at the Royal Academy of Music. Her favourite holiday destination was the Scilly Isles, where she went for 25 years with her close friend Kay Stout. She especially enjoyed once meeting Harold Wilson on the train to Penzance. Friederike was a strong, independent, hard-working and inspiring woman whose kindness, moral courage and humility made her wise. She was admired, respected and much loved. She died on 7 February 2015, survived by three children, two grandchildren (Alice and Amelia) and two great grandchildren (Josie and Oscar).

An obituary appeared in The Bookseller, written by her colleague and close friend Peter Sillem, formerly Editorial Director at S. Fischer Verlag. Please visit The Bookseller website to read his tribute to Friederike.

About the Donor

This plaque was donated by Friederike`s son Ben Barkow. Ben Barkow is the director of the Wiener Library and the information on Friederike’s life was written by him.

Photo of Friederike at home
Friederike at home in Hamburg, circa 1960


Friederike (Bocki) Barkow
born 18 March 1926
died 7 February 2015


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